One thing to do Before the New Year

The Christmas tree is still up and sparkling a cheerful greeting today.  My organized friends are already put away for the New Year, but I’m letting the 12 days of Christmas linger on.  It’s not our usual thing, but we’ve been working in extra doctor visits this week which included a 6 hour trip to see a specialist in the next state over.  Times like these call for grace.

I know you’ll understand, when I say it was an accomplishment to just get the dishes washed and find clean underwear.

This week between Christmas and New Year’s, when you still have some lingering memories of Christmas and how you felt about everything, is the perfect time to make your life better next year. Were you joyful? Disappointed? Super Organized? Stressed?  While you can still remember what went right and what went wrong, write a note.  I have an excel document that I add a new tab to every year for gift budget planning.  That way I can easily reflect on past year’s happenings and improve my plans for the next year.

How I Make My Christmas Budget

At the end of the year, I write a few lines under the budget about things that I want to remember.  (And trust me, we won’t remember if we don’t write it down.)  For example, one year my daughter had a meltdown about not having a cute outfit to wear to our family gathering where her really trendy cousin would be. It’s not a big deal in the scheme of things, but it sure disrupted the happiness at our house. I made a note to work with her at the beginning of the season so that she’ll have a good option and then this year she surprised me by not caring anymore.

One time, I was surprised by “family gifts” that were passed around at our white elephant gift exchange party.  I had thought we were doing the white elephant to avoid individual gifting and save budgets and stress on family members….but then I was handed a gift and had nothing to give in return, and I was the ONLY one who didn’t bring family gifts.  That felt awful.

There are a myriad of possible ways to give charitably during the season. Our church sponsors families and we have the opportunity to buy gifts for those less fortunate.  I also belong to a charitable giving group of local friends and we sponsored our local foster care system and women’s shelter this year.  It was an awesome way to show my kids the joy of helping others, except I failed to plan for it in our budget.  At the time of year when things are already tight, this had me scrambling.  I wrote a new budget line just for that for next year’s budget.

Our grandmother passed away a year ago, and several of the grandchildren gave her daughter the grandmother’s favorite Christmas candy to remember her.  It was really meaningful and I didn’t think of it, so it went into my notes.

One year I made several homemade gifts to help with our budget and improve the quality of the gifts I was able to give.  The only problem was I got both kinds of flu 2 weeks before Christmas and had to wrap unfinished gifts to take back and finish at home later.  Now I give myself a calendar notification in September to start choosing projects and a before Thanksgiving deadline to have them all done.

You see where this is going?  It could be a good thing too, like wrapping my gifts as they came (with a code number on it so I can remember what’s in it!) and putting them under the tree and there was no last minute scramble or danger of the gift being found and the surprised ruined.

While I have the excel file open, I go ahead and copy my old budget over for the new year, then tweak it.  If I have gift ideas, I add them in as well.  In 2017 I’m doubling my gift budget for my own kids.  It has been so small since they were born, that if we wanted to give them anything big, it had to be a family gift and use all the budget for all the kids–no individual gifts.  I’m ready to change that and breathe a little.  When we started out, we budgeted $20 per kid for Christmas. Then when we were debt free, doubled it to $40. For the last 4 years we raised it to $50.  Next year I’m budgeting $100.  I also raised the birthday budget to $100 per child. Since Darren’s salary didn’t go up, that means I’ll need to make up the difference. I kept the amount the same that comes from our regular household budget, and the rest I will earn extra each month to make it a reality.

This is also a great time to update the addresses in your Christmas card list.  I almost forgot about that, because we haven’t managed to mail any out for the last 3 years or even take an updated family photo.  I’ve set the bar low to improve next year, bwa ha ha.

Meet Aspiring Kidpreneur, Brandon

Kidpreneur Brandon

Brandon turned 8 on the 5th of this month and hopes to launch his business this summer as a personal consultant on Kid Bedroom Organization and Interior Design.

I’m going to be up front about this, Brandon is unusual. He was born organized and likes things to be tidy. He made his own lunch from the first day of kindergarten, wakes himself up for school with his own alarm, and frequently brings me items to get rid of because he doesn’t play with them enough. He chooses his own clothes and slicks down his own hair. He likes to wear belts, tucked in shirts, bow ties and vests. He loves an opportunity to put on a business suit, tuxes are even better. If I need assistance, he’s the first one to volunteer. We sometimes joke he was born an old man. (He considers that a compliment.)

I wouldn’t have talked with my other kids about starting a business at age 7, but he’s interested in it, has skills and an unusual sense of responsibility for his age.

He begged me to let him start working last summer as a recent first grade graduate and I held him back. I wanted to make sure he had the attention span and maturity level necessary to follow through on the job. I’m not sure he’s quite there, but we are going to try a few clients over winter break to get him some experience PLUS some before and after pictures and customer reviews for his website.  I plan to be his personal assistant until I’m sure he is ready to fly on his own.

I’ve been spending time talking to him about the steps he will take when he starts a new job, how he will respond if someone shows an emotional response to cleaning up or letting things go, and the importance of sticking with a job and working hard especially when someone is paying you.   He’s also thinking about simple systems and checklists to leave behind, so the parent and child can work together to keep the child accountable on keeping his room tidy.

He plans to work in 2 hour increments 2-3 days a week and has a list of items he can up-sell such as a virtual room redesign with shopping and work lists and subscription for weekly inspections and treat delivery .  He is also planning ahead to be able to hire people to work for him so he can take on even more clients and launch an online training program so other kids can start satellite businesses in their own areas.

Here’s his interview:

This is day 7 of our series 31 Days of Kids and Money

It’s “Getting Food on the Table” Month

Getting food on the table month

Happy August!  It’s my birthday month and my husband’s too.  Plus our daughter, his mother, his sister, my grandfather, my aunt, our niece, and a cousin too.  Everyone shall eat cake!

It’s also the month that school starts.  3 of our kids start in 9 days.  Honestly, I’m not done with summer yet but que sera.

In light of all the crazy that is happening in homes across the nation Read more

Free Printable Lunch Planner

How do you feel about school starting again?  I love my hour I spend with the High School choir every day, and I love that my kids go to school in a place with small classes where the scriptures are woven into every subject.  One the other hand, we trade a little bit of peace and calm in the mornings and evenings for that privilege (vs homeschooling), and all day alone with a 3 year old is harder than it sounds.  Last year was so stressful and the summer was so awesome, that I’m not ready to let go of that yet.

Part of what made last year so hard was our level of disorganization at home.  I love being organized, but half of last year we didn’t have a functioning kitchen.  There wasn’t a room in our house untouched by the chaos of remodeling. The kids were going in all different directions and every night had an activity of some sort. I craved a quiet evening at home. We were often late or forgot to show up places, stayed up all night to finish assignments that were assigned long before, tried to dress when there were few clean clothes (We own 10 red ties and you can’t even find ONE?!!!), and THIS:

“Ring, ring”

“Hello, This is Angela.”

“Um, Mom…..Were you going to pick me up?”

I became “That Mom.”

So instead of freaking out about doing that again, I’m getting organized.  I <3 labels.  I just bought these from Amazon, and have been using Power Point to print Business Card Size labels on cardstock to slip inside.  Here they are in action.

Next I will be putting labels on each shelf so the baskets end up in the right spot. Don’t hate me because it’s beautiful.

And yes, we labeled both sides, so no matter which way you put the laundry basket away, it’s still labeled.

In honor of not freaking out because school is starting, I made a little printable lunch planner gift for us.  I printed mine out on cardstock and then laminated it to use over and over with a dry erase marker.  You can download your own here: Brown Bag Lunch Plan


It comes with several different background choices.  But they all have cupcakes and cookies (over the top of headings like produce and protein) just because I’d rather look at a cupcake than a carrot–true story.

The one thing we did well last year was the kids made their own lunches every day.  It’s the only way we got out the door on time.  Even my kindergartener made his own lunch.   The only thing more stressful than packing 5 lunches every day is paying an extra $300 a month to buy them, lol.

Sometimes the kids are late/lazy or forget their lunch in the car.  Then they borrow money to eat a school lunch and pay back the cafeteria from their own piggy bank.  Yes, it feels really mean and I’m sad when this happens.  But if I helicopter mom in every time my kids are irresponsible, they’ll never stand on their own.  (Ok, I did go back a couple of times when I saw it in the car before getting all the way home.)

Here’s how we do it: After dinner I pack leftovers into lunch containers and stick the in the fridge..  In the morning, the kids choose from those or make a peanut butter or meat sandwich instead, then choose a couple of side dishes from their snack basket.  They drink water, so no juice boxes for us, unless it’s a special occasion.  The school provides silverware and napkins and has a couple of microwaves to use.  Though sometimes the line is so long, there’s no time to eat once they get their food warmed up.

This year, I plan to cook the packable lunch dishes from the GSP menu with Grant at noon.  He and I can eat together and then have the leftovers ready to go for everyone else the next day.

How do you stay organized for the school year?  Seriously, I need ideas, (especially if they involve labels.)

Crocheted Baskets Vs. Target

I’ve been makin’ stuff, because it’s Spring break–and besides cleaning up vomit, I needed a diversion. (Yep, 5 of the 6 kids are down with the flu–and it’s been lasting 4 days for each of them–sigh.)

I purchased 3 huge skeins of natural cotton worsted weight yarn after Christmas (using a gift card :).) I was planning to make 4 baskets to hold piano music for the kids.  Inspired by these cuties from Ravelry:


I made up my own pattern to get something square and sized for the books and dug in, holding 3 strands together and using a huge size P hook. The thing was slow going and super floppy.  I set it aside, discouraged and still unorganized in the music department.

A few months later, I found these baskets at Target:


They were the perfect size, cost less than crochet, so much faster and already sturdy.

DSC_2746 DSC_2744 DSC_2745 DSC_2743

(Don’t mind the hole in the wall and the cans of paint at the end of the cabinet…I don’t even see them anymore.)

I bought the Target baskets–immediately, but I had the yarn leftover and a guilty conscience about what to do with it.  I had been eyeing these rugs on Etsy for awhile. And really the price isn’t too bad.  But since I had the stuff, I decided to attempt a DIY.  It was easy to unravel the partial basket and recoup the yarn.  It hurt my husband more than it did me who yelled, “What are you doing!?” as he watched me tear out hours of work.

He’s not a big fan of crochet.  It takes my time and he can think of a hundred things more fun to do together (wink.) The last thing he wanted to see was undoing the stuff he thought was a waste of time to begin with.  What was he going to think of this new project?  I’ll show you tomorrow.

Bulk Cooking: Slow Cooked Ground Beef

As the weeks drag on without a kitchen, I’m starting to loose it a little.  Our project was delayed in an unforeseen scheduling conflict with one of our professionals and our finish date is two months in the future…..sigh.  But when it’s all said and done it will be worth it.

Part of holding it together, is making sure my family still eats while sticking to our tiny food budget, which DH lovingly raised to $500 a month (for the 8 of us) at least while our kitchen project drags on.  This allows me to buy a few more convenience items to make meal prep in our alternative kitchen space a little easier.

“If only I had a bunch of cooked up ground beef in the freezer!” I thought to myself last week.  That would make life so much better.  So I did a search on all the ways to cook large batches of ground beef–only I don’t have a stove, so it can’t use a wok, lol.

Finally I decided to try it in the slow cooker.  And it worked, beautifully–though until the very end I was sure I had wasted 6 lbs of meat.  Here’s how it played out.

I unwrapped three 2 lb logs of frozen ground beef and stuck them into the slow cooker.  Then I added 6 cups of water, because I wanted beef broth.  To make the broth and hamburger taste good, I added 2 finely chopped onions; 1 Tbs of salt; 1 tsp of garlic salt; and 1/2 tsp black pepper.

The lid wouldn’t close.  No worries.  I covered it as well as I could and cooked in on low overnight.  After about an hour, I could push the lid down.  That made me feel better.

In the morning I had 3 logs of cooked hamburger–oh no!  I was hoping for it to form crumbles automatically while I slept. But the broth looked delicious.

I chopped up the meat into huge chunks and then used a colander and bowl system to drain out the broth.

It had great color and smelled amazing.  I was surprised what little fat hardened on the top after it cooled.  This was grass fed beef direct from the farmer.  I could see the quality when cooked this way.

I was pretty sure at this point that it was all a waste.  But I decided to try the two fork shred method that I use on my pulled pork. I ended up mashing it with the back of a huge fork.  It worked beautifully–and fast. Perfect fine crumbles of ground beef!

I divided up the meat into 5 freezer bags.  Each one weighed about 1.4 lbs. And pressed them flat.  Once they were cool, I put them in the freezer.  

I got about 2 quarts of broth also.  It smells and looks so yummy.  I’m definitely doing this again.  No more thawing meat, no more standing over a hot stove.  Win win win.






School Supplies and the Budget Part 2

Now that I’ve paid attention this year and see what school supplies cost, I’ll know to budget $25 per child next year. Plus more for shoes. We can split it up over the year and put $10 a month into an envelope tucked away in the safe. Or we can choose to fund the whole thing in July. I’ll let Darren decide, but usually we do the little bit a month method.

I’ve found Wal-mart to have the best prices overall for school supplies. Target’s stuff is cuter, but a tiny bit more. If you have a few dollars extra in your budget, it’s nice over there.  And occasionally you can find a great deal at an office supply store or a corner drug store, such as fill paper for 25 cents a package, limit 2. Usually though the rest of their supplies are over priced to compensate for that low price to get you in the door. You’ll pay more overall just to get that deal, unless you only grab the low price items and are willing to go to more than one store to get everything you need.

Dollar Tree has school supplies too and some of them are a great deal. Others are cheaper at Walmart–such as rulers; composition notebooks, and stretchy text book covers. Know your prices so you aren’t fooled.

Here’s the best money saving tip I have:


At the end of the year, collect all the school supplies they bring home and sort them into “trash” and “reusable” piles. I keep them in a plastic tub tucked away for next year. We “shop” there first when the school supply lists come out. I cleaned up everything with a soft cloth and spray cleanser until it looked like new. We were able to reuse scissors, rulers; pens; pencils; highlighters, backpacks; binders etc and keep our costs down for new items to $20 per child.


School supply items are cheapest this time of year. Crayons will likely double in price after labor day, as will brad folders, fill paper and spiral notebooks. I usually buy a few extra so we have them to use the rest of the year in emergencies. And for gifts–like to pair with a handmade crayon apron and a cute Dollar Tree coloring book.
crayon apron





School Supplies and the budget Part 1

I have 5 children going to school this fall.  How can this be?  Grant and I are going to have a wonderful time together just he and I. But we will be excited for the brothers and sisters coming home in the afternoon!

I miss homeschooling sometimes….the total influence I had on their lives. Always being together. I could decide what I wanted them to learn and make it happen.  But sometimes my dreams and reality didn’t always mesh. Poop happened.  Dirty dishes distracted me.  The baby cried so loud we couldn’t hear each other and he refused to sleep. Every child sometimes said, “Mama, mama” at the same time and my head would pound.  And when I was busy with one, another might sneak off in a quiet corner and read….and I might not miss him for awhile…because he was so quiet.

Homeschooling took all of me–my every minute.  And I would sit and wonder what I could do with my business if I had a little more time.  (Which is funny because now while I work on my business I sit and think about what it would be like to be with my children instead.)  I was a public school teacher before children and could easily handle 25 kids in a classroom.  When I taught school, there were no babies to poop and cry, no laundry to wash, someone else cooked our food, and cleaned up.  All I had to do was focus on those kids.  But still, if the time was right, I’d homeschool again.


Dollar Tree baskets hold each child’s school supplies off the floor in my office until the first day of school. Somehow it looks messier in this photo than it feels in real life. The shelves will be getting some TLC while the kids are at school.

While somehow they got a great education at home, they are getting a great education at our little private school too.  They enjoy seeing friends and doing messy projects (that I never managed to fit in.) I love that they are memorizing scriptures and having prayer service together. And I love teaching High School choir there….LOVE. IT.  I love the friendlier relationship I have with my kiddoes now that I’m not the one assigning the work. So this time of year comes a little bittersweet for me.  It’s a chapter in my life I never saw us living…but the living is good.

Anyhoo, We purchased most of our school supplies this week.  And for 5 children that added up to over $100!!!!!  That was without the backpack or art smock for our kindergartener or the 12 pairs of shoes we need.  Yep you read that right, 12 pairs—gulp! Or the complete set of scriptures for my 2nd grader….not sure how we are going to do that, but God always provides.

We somehow missed budgeting for school supplies…..??? Um, they come every year.  So I think I may dust off my sewing machine and use up some stash to fill our needs.

Check out this adorable back pack:


Source: From pinterest--cites Made-By-Rae but link is broken.

Source: From pinterest–cites Made-By-Rae but link is broken.

This next backpack has a complete tutorial.  I’ll leave off the front pocket since Brandon just needs to carry a folder and his lunch and then add the spikes form the photo above.  I love her method for the straps:




And this art smock



And thinking ahead to cooler weather, I love these mittens:

Tutorial here:

Tutorial here:

They look so easy to make. I might add a ribbing cuff to keep them on better. Wouldn’t they look darling with a dino backpack?

What if….

…I ran my home like a summer camp?

There’d be:

Rise and Shine–at the same time every day.

Morning worship.


Breakfast and KP and bathroom cleaning (and songs during clean up.) (And of course staff to cook and young men to serve it ….bwa ha ha.)

Cabin Inspections in the morning with public recognition and prizes awarded during dinner.

Rest time

Swimming…..hmmmm (Not sure how to do that every day at home….but thinking.)


A sit down dinner together


Best Friends–that’s me (on the right) and my matron of honor (on the left)-it had been nearly 20 years since we served at a camp together. So. much. fun.

Teamwork: (Their job was to keep the giant sea-saw balanced while they move into order by height.  This was my cabin of lovely ladies. Only my daughter’s face is turned to the camera in this shot so I can share it with you. They were really good at this activity.)



Bedtime Snacks

Evening Devotions

and off to bed.

Sounds wonderful.

We just got home from Camp Tiona.  The schedule was packed tight and I enjoyed every  minute of my only job being to be with the girls.  I’m glad my daughter, Heather, was in my cabin this year, but next year we plan to let her be with someone else.

Camp ran like a well oiled machine and a lot had to do with the schedule and being with friends made clean up that much more fun.  But more than that, the girls were rewarded with a bead for their name tag necklace for doing things well.  It was amazing what they would do for a bead or a little recognition.  I’m not much different as an adult.  I love recognition and attention–I’ll admit it :).

So while we unpack from camp and gather our supplies for the new school year, my mind is searching for ways to have more family time–less crazy time, less unproductive time; more relationship time. And to somehow do it without giving up every extra social or learning experience.  I’ve tried schedules before and they wear me out…but maybe if I tried one that wasn’t so packed, that had time for rest and reflection.  One with built in recognition and motivation for doing jobs well…maybe it would work.

How about you?  Do you you have a schedule or chore system that works for you? Have you tried one that you loved for a few weeks and then didn’t anymore?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Disclaimer (all recognizable pictures were of staff or my own children for the privacy of the families.)




Small homes can be Beautiful too

Please read all the way to the end to see how to vote for Carmella in the Small Cool Contest.  There aren’t very many families in the running with 3 boys!  I’d love to see her win.


I’m so excited about this post!  I get to introduce you to my friend Carmella.  I thought I was queen of crazy when it came to drastic moves to get out of debt, but Carmella is a notch above.  She took her family (husband and 3 sons), sold it all and built the best house they could debt free. That turned out to be a 665 square foot cabin!


Not only is she amazing, but her prose is poetry and her poetry is so beautiful it has flavor.  Everything Carmella touches is beautiful, but not extravagant. This is one blog post you’ll want to grab a cup of tea for and absorb every word:


Q. Carmella, Your home is amazing and I can’t wait for my readers to meet you. But even more inspiring than your home is the story behind your choice to build it. Will you introduce yourself and your family and the reason why you decided to live in 665 square feet?

A. We are just us, a husband and wife, with an assortment of boys (9, 11, & 13), living our days in the largeness of small at the foothills of Wyoming’s mountains.

We didn’t set out to live this small, unusual way. We set out for steady jobs and progressive careers, for even keel and sound decisions, for work hard and buy a good house. We set out for normal. Our life wasn’t frivolous or fancy or over-the-top; it was normal and mortgage notes and furniture and fun, that’s how you work this American Dream. But then the keel went akimbo, the market crashed, the steady jobs weren’t, and suddenly, shockingly, our normal was not, and nearly everything worth anything was totally gone.

Stricken and vacant, we wondered how, and we wondered when, and we wondered where we could go from here.

Then, right there in the middle of the mess of it all, a new inclination appeared, training our vision toward a different view. Simplicity called.


Instead of another house and a mortgage and a saddle of debt, the idea of a cabin settled itself into our sights. A cabin that we could live in and pay for now, that would become the guest house further on. With cautious excitement, we began to explore this big idea of small.

Six hundred sixty-five square feet small.

It wasn’t a magic amount, plucked from thin air. The size of the cabin encompassed a comfortable minimum of space for our family of five. Small was the goal; cramped and tiny were not.

We considered how we lived, what we loved, and what we’d need to get along, and I began to sketch: a kitchen here, bookcases there, a sofa tucked below this window, a dining nook below that one; a bathroom for five, a master bedroom for two, and a ship’s ladder stair to lead three to the loft. After a man who builds worked our vision into an unfinished shell, we took over from there. In each month of these past twelve, we brought this cabin closer to done, closer to home. And here we are now, living in what was only a vision just a short time ago.


Q. Who made the initial decision to build a tiny house and how did the rest of the family react?

A. I guess you could say that, even though we considered other options, the idea of designing and building a little house had a very strong pull for me. I’ve always had an affinity for small. There’s something about the feeling of enclosure that cradles the soul. There’s also something personally appealing to me about the challenge of making a small space work comfortably. This natural leaning toward small, along with my interior design and architecture inclination has lead me to be an informal student of small space design for a long time now. The more my husband and I considered and explored the idea, the more we knew this was something we could fully embrace, and when we presented it to the boys, explaining the goals in  front of it and the reasons behind, they were fully on board. The idea of living in a little wooden house? Totally cool.

Q. What are the hardest things you let go in preparation to move into a tiny house?

A. This change truly felt like walking from bondage into freedom for us. When we considered the magnitude of stress that we had endured over a seven year period, it wasn’t hard to leave hell behind. We had gained a new understanding that, comparatively, there were only a few things that were truly important to us, and the rest was just hollow stuff. Neither of us can remember anything that was hard to let go of.

Q. What did you think about that made this decision an adventure instead of a punishment?

A.  This decision was an adventure. A life-filled adventure. Punishment is what we left behind.


Q. Looking back is there anything you would do differently? What financial advice would you give to a young family just starting out?

A. Honestly, if I could advise our newly-wed selves, I would say to begin where we are now. I would say that, certainly, this living with less is not a perfect prescription for all of humanity, but I would offer a counterpoint to the widely-seeded assumption that more is better, that bigger is best, and that life is all about striving to attain some lofty material goal which could, in the end, be more empty than full.

Q. What influences and elements form your design style?

A. My design style is informed by a serene palette and natural elements. I respond to things that are time-worn and story-bound. I’m drawn to the interplay between the rugged and the refined. I admire the timeless quality of good design and careful craftsmanship, and I don’t believe any of this has to cost a fortune. Constantly reading and learning, I am a perpetual student of design, gleaning from the greats who have laid down their talent in photos and words.


Q. What is your money saving advice in furnishing a home?

A. If you train your eye in good design, you’ll soon begin to recognize it – in furniture, in art, in accessories, in architecture – and you’ll be able to find treasures in places other than glossy catalog pages or fancy showrooms. When you walk through a thrift shop or visit a flea market, you will be able to spot the good stuff and skim over the bad. The sofa in our home was a $50 thrift store find. An exchange of euro pillows for the existing back cushions, and a slipcover made from painter’s drop cloths turned an ugly blue couch into something that’s both fresh and timeless.

And from Carmella:

Friends, I’ve got some very exciting news!! Our little home has made it into Apartment Therapy’s Small Cool contest!

This means that we need your vote to get to the finals (my, my, there’s some great competition this year)!

If you’d like to cast your vote our way,  you may go to our entry here and click on the red heart. If you’d like to give us even more of a boost, you can retweet this post, feature it, facebook it, hold a banner on a street corner, shout it from your rooftop, whatever. The polls will remain open until May 31.

You can also read more of Carmella’s beautiful writing on her blog.