DIY Art Journal (a.k.a. Smash Books)

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I’ve said it many times, I loooove scrapbooking supplies but I don’t have the patience for actual scrapbooking. A year or so ago I was introduced to the concept of “smash books.” They are something like scrapbooking-lite — just stick stuff (or smash) where ever you like without fussing about with fancy spreads. They also came with a bevy of books, tapes, bits and bobs that you could spend a small fortune on.

Consumeristic random spending? So not my style!

I decided to combine my love of cheap graph paper composition notebooks with the spirit of a smash book. This way I’m not totally depriving future generations of embarrassing photo album glory, but I also don’t need to spend more than a few minutes here and there on the damn thing.

First off, I covered the notebook in lovely paper, using washi tape to reinforce the seams where I didn’t trust the glue to hold. I also stuck a pocket (made from a manila envelope) inside to catch items before I have a chance to “smash” them in.

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at art journaling, but I didn’t want to over commit. My answer? I drew a calendar page for each month with large squares. I can make a quickie drawing of that day’s highlight if I feel the urge.

For the actually photo pages, I search for a coupon code each month for one of the photo places nearby (Walgreens, Riteaid, etc), and then I pick my favorite photos off my phone and send them to print. Thus far I have spent more than $2 on prints in any given month, so this is a pretty inexpensive hobby!

In case you’re worried about discoloration — I did a bit of research, and almost all modern paper is acid-free, everything from a simple post-it note to that fancy stationary. It may not be archive quality, but for simple journals and projects like this it will  work.

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Productivity Series: Daily Habits

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Turnip Money Daily HabitsBzzz! Bzzz! If it’s a good day, my hand shoots out and turns off the alarm before it has a chance to buzz, but most days start with a bit of fumbling as I remember both how to use my hands and how to operate an alarm clock. No snooze button for me though, that is a dance with disaster! Instead, my feet hit the ground, no matter how reluctantly (and some mornings it is very reluctantly!) and I fumble to get dressed. Yawning and half blind from sleepiness, I grope my way to the kitchen to brew that first holy cup of tea.

Daily habits are both good and bad. I’m in the habit of waking up on time — this is a good thing. But I am also guilty of sitting down at the computer before I am fully awake, which leads to a day started with distractions — Yeah, not such a good thing. The great thing is, though, we can change our habits and slowly get rid of those that are holding us back.

First I like to start with a list of my usual daily habits, as follows:

  • Wake up and get dressed promptly
  • Tea and computer time
  • Breakfast and finish getting around
  • Harass the boys awake
  • Work, work, work some more
  • Lunch. Yippee! A break!
  • Work some more, school the kids, stare slack jawed at the computer following rabbit trails
  • Begin dinner — same time every night!
  • Clean away the day’s messes
  • Chill out — with the fam, with a book, or..um..with the computer…

Now that I see my daily habits, I can see what needs to change (computer anyone?) and come up with a plan. My first goal is to change the morning computer time, which sets me up for a whole day of technology fails. I’ve found three tricks for starting a new habit:

  1. Introduce one new habit at a time
  2. Start slow and build up to the desired habit
  3. Forgive myself for the days I fail and try again tomorrow

So my final goal is to work exercise into my morning routine, but I’m setting myself up for failure if I jump right in. So instead, I take my tea out to the deck, where I listen to my favorite podcast and update my journal instead. The computer isn’t turned on until it’s time for work. This is a pretty simple change, and except for a couple of false starts where I checked my email on my phone, success was pretty easy.

After a week or two of this, I moved on to walking around the garden and yard while sipping my tea. This was a bit more physical activity than I was used to right after waking up, and a couple of mornings I couldn’t get myself to leave the deck, but at least I wasn’t turning on the computer. I spent a few more weeks getting into the garden walk habit, and when I found myself walking more than sitting, I decided it was time for the next step — a brisk couple mile walk.

And BAM! Brick wall. I could not make myself do it. After a week of trying and getting anxious because I was failing, I was tempted to go back to the computer habit. Uh-uh! No backsliding. So I reassessed. Yep, we have to do that sometimes. I reassessed and came to the conclusion I was not a morning exerciser.

So I looked over my habit list and thought about my daily energy levels. My mental energy is highest in the morning, but my physical energy tends to wax in the afternoon right before dinner. BINGO! I began fading out the afternoon/after school screen time and began working in exercise. This time it stuck!

And the biggest benefit? In the end I freed myself from two bad habits — wasted mornings and wasted afternoons!

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Homemade Mondays: Simple Blank Books

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DIY Blank BooksThere’s something special about a blank piece of paper. All the better ff that piece of paper is part of a larger booklet of blank pages ready for the pencil or crayon. When my youngest was learning to read and write, his favorite school activity was making his own books.

A 5 or 6 year old can go through a lot of blank paper in short order. He also always wanted both sides blank. Eep! Fortunately, I found a way to both reuse paper that was only printed on one side, and to create as many blank books as his heart desired.

For the pages, I simple folded a sheet in half lengthwise and glued the printed sides together with a quick swipe of a glue stick. Voila! Blank paper. Fold it in half and you have four sheets to write on.DIY Blank Books

We had more fun with the binding. We used a couple of different variations on this simple rubberband method. It begins with two punched holes in the spine of the book. Pass the rubberband through and secure the ends with paper clip.

For a more decorative look, skip the paper clip and place the ends of the band over the ends of a twig. We have even used pencils, crayons and wooden skewers, depending on his preference that day.Handmade Blank Books

What are some of your simple methods to encourage a child to love writing?

Find more homemade ideas at the Homemade Monday Link Party!

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Menu Plan: Quick Yakisoba

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Frugal YakisobaThis is my first full week’s menu plan since we got back from our trip. Thus far, the boys have wiled away their time with Lego’s, in the pool, riding bikes, and generally just enjoying their summer break. I’ve been trying to find my footing again in my old routines. Yep, I’m a creature of habit so I’ve felt quite discombobulated these last few days!

We keep breakfasts simple — eggs, fruit, homemade muffins. Lunches tend to be leftovers, or sandwiches (usually egg or PB&J), or a giant salad (my preferred lunch).

Saturday: Chicken Yakisoba for our traditional take-out, fake-out Saturday. RECIPE BELOW!

Sunday: Keeping it simple with BLT’s.

Monday: Ham and Cheese on rolls, parmesan broccoli

Tuesday: Chile Relleno Casserole and cucumber salad

Wednesday: Chicken cordon bleu bread, roasted broccoli

Thursday: Bacon Ranch Pasta, honey carrots

Friday: BBQ pinwheels and coleslaw.

Frugal Yakisoba

Quick Yakisoba

Ingredients

  • 2 packages ramen noodles
  • Cubed cooked meat of choice (or no meat!)
  • 1 to 2 cups chopped vegetables of choice
  • SAUCE INGREDIENTS:
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Instructions

  1. Cook and drain the noodles according to package instructions. Discard the yucky flavor pack.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Saute the vegetables in the oil until they just become tender. Begin with slow-cooking veg, like carrots, and add quick cooking vegetables, like mushrooms, near the end.
  3. Stir in the meat, if you are using it. Stirring in a couple of eggs and scrambling with the veg is another way to add protein and flavor.
  4. Stir in the cooked noodles and the sauce. Heat for about 2 minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken.
  5. Enjoy!
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Frugal Wins This Week

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Handmade CardsThis week I:

  • Was given several large bunches of basil which I turned into pesto and froze for later use.
  • Made a card for a friend using supplies I had on hand.
  • Finished knitting six more squares for the boys’ Lego blankets.
  • Used a 50% off coupon I found in the parking lot (!) to buy the last skein of yarn I needed for said blankets.
  • Taught myself how to crochet the knitted squares together using free YouTube videos.
  • Purchased three books we need for the upcoming school year for .25 cents each at the thrift store: “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” “Fahrenheit 451,” and the “Outsiders.”
  • Mended two pairs of shorts.
  • Used a $5 of $20 coupon to purchase a month’s worth of cheese.
  • Gave Brandon a haircut at home.
  • Froze a bunch of blackening bananas for smoothies later.
  • Harvested and dried herbs from the garden.
  • Made all of our meals from scratch using lowcost but wholesome ingredients.
  • Enjoyed a free lecture with Aioden’s astronomy club.

What were your frugal wins this week?

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Productivity Series: Weekly Prep Night

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If I was Superwoman, my house would always be spotless, laundry would be done in the blink of an eye, and I would never get behind on anything. Well, superwoman I ain’t, but I do have a Super Secret Trick for getting more done and experiencing less stress during the week.

Weekly Planning Method
Random beach picture my son took. Why? Because I can!

This trick doesn’t come without effort, though. For it to succeed, you must dedicate a couple of hours once a week to it. What is the trick? I call it weekly prep night.

Our weekly prep night occurs on Sunday afternoon/evening, because that is the one night every week where I can pretty much guarantee nothing else is going on. Over the course of two to three hours we get everything done that we can in advance so we aren’t rushing throughout the week.

Here’s some of our weekly prep items:

  • Before we start chores and other prep items, I toss in the first load of laundry. Each person is responsible for gathering and sorting their own laundry, and then bringing it to the laundry room. Who ever is nearest the laundry changes the loads at the end of each cycle. Once everything is washed for the week, Drew or I separates out everyone’s clothes and it is delivered to the owner for folding and putting away. We each only spend about 15 hands-on time with laundry.
  • Everyone does their cleaning chores for the week — bathrooms and kitchen deep clean, vacuuming and floors, dusting and wall wipe-downs. We each have a different zone/chore we do, so it takes less than an hour to get the house clean. We only clean like this once a week, although we do pick up after ourselves throughout the week and wipe up counters and such as needed.Weekly Planning -- Productivity
  • I make breakfast baked goods for the entire week. The menfolk like muffins and pastries, along with their fruit, for breakfast. I make up a big batch and stick them in the freezer and they defrost them as they go. Occasionally I get a request for something heavier, usually in the summer, so I may also make up a batch of breakfast burritos or sandwiches to freeze. Breakfast each morning is inexpensive and lightening quick! This only takes a few minutes of hands-on time.
  • I boil up some eggs and prep snacks. Egg salad sandwiches are a normal lunch around hear because of our excess of duck eggs. Boiling them ahead ensures lunch is almost instantaneous. I also pop popcorn and slice vegetables for weekday snacking. This with breakfast prep takes about 30 minutes.
  • Paperwork and supplies are assembled for the week. I verify we have all the supplies and printouts for that week’s schooling and stick things in binders or backpacks as needed. I check my planner and gather anything else that will need tending to that week near the front door (library returns, permission slips, borrowed items, donations, etc). Then, I can just grab and go without searching for them on the day they are needed. Much simpler than several last minute searches or returning for forgotten items throughout the week! This whole process takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.

There you have it! Sure, we give up a big chunk of time, but it’s only once a week  and it helps us save more time during the week. If I did all this myself it would take the whole day, but since we work together it goes much more quickly.

You don’t have to have older kids to make this work. Our kids start helping out as soon as they are able. When they were very young, they would mainly help gather their laundry or they would do simple chores like dusting, so Drew and I did much of the work. By the time they were five the boys could handle most of their current chores on their own. When they were young and learning, we were very forgiving — if they forgot to dust the mantel one week, oh well, they could dust it next week. Now that they are older the quality of their work and their speed at getting it done is excellent. And since they have to expend effort doing it, they are less likely to leave behind messes during the week!

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Frugal Celebration Planning

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Frugal Party Planning
DIY Moon Cake – Using Toys for Toppers!

Around here, we rock the birthdays. Each person gets their own personal holiday once a year. Sure, we do the more common holidays even though we aren’t religious — Halloween, Christmas, Easter — but birthdays are my favorite. Regardless of the occasion, I run a pretty tight ship and the goal is always to make the most with what we have. So without further adieu, here are my top 10 tips for a frugal celebration:

  1. Pick your theme. Some themes are a given (Christmas, Fourth of July), others need a bit of tweaking (pumpkins or vampires for Halloween), and others your imagination is the only limitation (birthdays). Once I have the theme, putting together the rest of the pieces is cake.
  2. Brainstorm. This is the fun part. I usually start this at least six weeks before the big day. Decor and colors, food, activities — I brainstorm on everything. I keep a page in my Bullet Journal just for the event, and I use my Pinterest boards to store ideas I find online. (I use a circled “P” in my journal to indicate what ideas are on Pinterest for easy reference later.) Come up with more ideas than you need, because I guarantee at least one won’t work out.
  3. Assess your decor. My box of decorations is my first stop. I have one for each of the major holidays, plus a box just for birthdays and general celebrations. Each box has an inventory sheet with the contents taped to the outside, but that’s only because I am anal. Hey, at least I own up to it! I pull out anything that will work from the box, and then II hit up the boxes for the other holidays. Do I need  black tablecloth for a birthday party? Hey, maybe there’s one in the Halloween box!

    Frugal Party Planning
    Make ahead spinach dip and tartlett tray
  4. Plan the menu. A celebration menu has two components — cost and ease. If I must feed an army, I might avoid a mealtime celebration if I can’t work it into the budget. Hors d’ouevres or desserts are much more budget friendly when the pennies are tight. Sandwiches, hot dogs, homemade pizza, drumsticks, and pasta or casseroles are all lowcost options. If you need something more formal, few things beat a roast chicken for both the cost and wow factor.
  5. Set a Budget. Once I know what I have, the budgeting begins. I see a budget as a challenge. I always try to spend less than budgeted. Remember to include food and gifts in your final budget number.
  6. Fill in the gaps. I never have everything I need. This is where creativity comes into play. I may raid my paper or fabric stash to make theme-appropriate garlands and hanging decorations. I’ll ask family and friends for creative ideas to replace things I don’t have and can’t figure out how to make. If I can’t make it, then I ask around to borrow it. If I can’t borrow it, then I thrift it. If that fails, I alter the plan. I try not to buy new if I can’t avoid it, because that is a budget buster for sure! The one exception here is gifts — I WILL buy those new on occasion!
  7. Make a timeline. My method is to work on one task per day. I break down everything that needs to be done (food prep, present making, decor creating, game/activity designing) and then I further divide these into bite-size tasks that take less than an hour a day. The day before and day of the celebration I may make an hour-by-hour time table to ensure I get setup and last minute food prep done on time.

    Frugal Party Planning
    A well set but el cheapo party spread.
  8. Work ahead so you aren’t rushed at the last minute! If I’m serving mini-pizzas to a room full of hungry 9 year olds, I may make the crust weeks before and freeze them for the big day. You can make much of the food ahead of time and freeze it so party day only requires reheating.
  9. Relax! Don’t expect everything to go perfectly. Things will go wrong, or they won’t excite your guests as much as the idea excited you. That’s okay. Once the party starts, sit back and enjoy it. That awesome game was a flop? Who cares, move on to the next thing. You forgot to buy ice cream for the punch? So what. Serve just the soda instead.The goal is to have fun and make memories, not to be perfect.
  10. The party is over but your work’s not done. I scavenge leftover supplies and decorations after every celebration and file them away in my boxes for future use. I also make notes on things that worked and things that didn’t. Damn straight I reuse ideas (and disposable cutlery) from year to year!  Taking a few moments for a post-celebration assessment helps make the next celebration easier and more fun to plan.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s enjoyable work! What are some of your favorite tips for planning a party?

See more great ideas at the Homemade Mondays Link Party!

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Menu Plan: Pizza Crescent Rolls

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Pizza Roll UpsSummer can be tough time on the grocery budget. Oh sure, food is abundant, th3e garden is producing, and everything seems to go on sale. But who wants to cook? We play outside until it gets dark (around 10 ppm at our latitude!) and the oven heats up the house. I encourage myself to cook by planning ahead. I cook things that need the oven in the morning when the house is still cool, then reheat for dinner. I plan more meals that don’t require the oven — stove top and wok meals mainly. With a bit of planning, we avoid the temptation to eat out or buy expensive, unhealthy convenience foods.

Saturday: Leftovers

Sunday: Egg salad sandwiches (look Ma, no oven!)

Monday: Ham and cheese pretzel bites, and salad (Baked in AM, reheated for dinner)

Tuesday: Jambalaya bowls (quick wok meal!)

Wednesday: Pizza Rolls, coleslaw (Recipe Below!)

Thursday: Crepes, broccoli (another no-oven meal)

Friday: Pesto pasta, and carrots (stove top meal FTW)

Pizza Crescent Rolls

Pizza Crescent Rolls

Ingredients

  • ROLLS:
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • FILLING:
  • Cheese
  • Pizza sauce
  • Meat of choice
  • Vegetables of choice

Instructions

  1. Dissolve the sugar in the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top. Wait 10 to 15 minutes for the mixture to become foamy.
  2. Stir in the salt, oil and flour. Turn out and knead it on a floured surface until smooth and pliant, or mix it in a stand mixer for five minutes (my preference).
  3. Allow the dough to rise until doubled, or for about 1 hour.
  4. Punch down the dough and roll it into a large, 1/4-inch thick circle on a floured surface.
  5. Cut the dough circle into 12 wedges, much like cutting a pizza. Each wedge is a crescent roll.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Brush each dough triangle with pizza sauce. Substitute tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce or even pesto.
  8. Sprinkile about 1 tablespoon of cheese on each triangle, placing the cheese near the wide end of the triangle.
  9. Lay the meat and vegetable on top. Use about 1 to 2 tablespoons of filling per roll.
  10. Roll up the crescents, beginning with the wide end. Moisten the tip of the dough and secure it to the crescent.
  11. Place the crescents on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until they are evenly brown and the cheese is bubbling.
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