Productivity Series: Building Routines

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setting routines
Routines leave us time to bake….

Every morning we all wake up around the same time. I make my tea and get dressed, Drew lets the dog and ducks out, my older son empties the dishwasher, and my younger son starts his breakfast. This is our routine, and if someone is off we all feel it.

I like routines. We don’t live by a set schedule, but each member of our household has daily responsibilities and as the parents, we taught the kids to attend to these responsibilities around the same time each day. These routines form the framework of our day, with everything else fit in between them. By keeping our routines, we never feel rushed or behind, and we have plenty of room in our day for both work and leisure.

Weekly routines are also important. For example, I grocery shop on the same day at about the same time every week. We clean on the same day, and we do laundry on the same day. My son knows if he wants a certain shirt clean for an event on Thursday, it has to be in the laundry basket on Sunday. No need to ask, no need to panic, no need to search wildly for a clean shirt at the last minute. He knows my routine, so he can plan his accordingly.

I don’t write down our routines anymore, but in the beginning a visible list helps. Start with just a couple of routines you want to start. I think a mix of one or two daily and one or two weekly routines works well in the beginning. Move your laundry to the same day every week, or make it a goal to have dinner at the same time each night. Once those routines become habit, add a few more. You may even want to make a separate list of all the routines you would like to integrate into your life, and then mark them off once you succeed.

setting routines
…And they provide time to play!

Keep in mind routines aren’t set in concrete. For example, if we have something that alters our normal dinner routine, there is always a back up plan. I have emergency meals in the freezer if something comes up last minute and we have to eat earlier or later, or if someone else has to take over the dinner routine. If I have advance notice of the event, I will adjust the dinner plans and routine in advance.

Try a routine, I think you will like the extra time and productivity it adds into your day!

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Homemade Mondays: Coffee for Two

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Turnip Money Frugal LivingI scored these sweet chairs for $5 at an estate sale this weekend, and I can hardly wait to re-do them! Drew and I had the expensive habit for awhile of going out on nightly coffee dates. While we really enjoyed (and needed) the grown up time with just the two of us, it was starting to strain the budget.

When I saw these chairs, I knew just what we needed to replace our nightly dates! I’m planning to restain them a darker color so they match the other wood in our living room, and I’m going to reupholster them with the same teal and brown fabric that I used for my accent pillows:

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I’m keeping my eye out for a low table to place between them, and then I will p0lace them in the large empty space in front of out picture window. I also scored a sweet wooden tray for 50 cents, so I can bring out our fancy home-brewed coffee (or wine!) in style when we enjoy date nights at home.

I’m already looking forward to sitting in front of the window and watching the snow fall together this winter — and I never look forward to falling snow!

What’s your favorite way to spend a homemade, at-home date night?

Find more great homemade ideas here.

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Menu Plan: Spinach Pesto Pasta

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Spinach Pesto PastaAnother week, another meal plan! I have to say, we have been highly successful with our menu planning this year. So successful, we haven’t gone out to eat once with the exception of the occasional breakfast with my mom. Exciting stuff, I tell ya!

Saturday: Chicken fried rice to celebrate fake out-take out Saturday

Sunday: Easy-breezy BLT’s

Monday: Sausage Alfredo pasta with broccoli. I’m trying a frugal alfredo recipe off Pinterest, so I’ll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday: Chicken quesadillas with cucumber salad

Wednesday: Spinach Pesto Pasta with roasted carrots (RECIPE BELOW! Holla!)

Thursday: Barbecue chicken pizza with coleslaw

Friday: Ham sliders with broccoli

Spinach Pesto Pasta

Spinach Pesto Pasta

Ingredients

  • For the pesto:
  • 12 ounces frozen spinach or 1 pound fresh
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup powdered Parmesan (although fresh is better!)
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • A sprig of fresh basil (optional, but a nice addition)
  • Pine nuts or walnuts (optional but a traditional pesto ingredient!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • For the pasta:
  • 1 pound cooked fettucini noodles (Other pasta shapes work, this is just our favorite)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions

  1. Thaw the spinach if you are using frozen. Wash and chop fresh spinach.
  2. Throw all your pesto ingredients in a blender or food processor. I use a bowl with an immersion blender, but any of the above works just fine.
  3. Drizzle in 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Blend everything to a paste, adding more olive oil if needed to get the desired consistency.
  4. Toss the pasta with 2 tablespoons of reserved olive oil.
  5. Stir in the pesto to the hot pasta. This pesto is pretty thick, but it tends to distribute pretty well as it heats up.
  6. Jazz it up with some ham or bacon chunks, sliced kielbasa, or even some chicken. Heck, this stuff tastes even better when you reheat it the next day!
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DIY Art Journal (a.k.a. Smash Books)

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(I apologize for the delay in getting pictures up! We had a weird summer storm come through that left us without electricity or internet for 24 hours, so I couldn’t keep up with my blogging duties.)

DIY Smash BookI’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.DIY Smash Book

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.

DIY Smash BookI’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!DIY Smash Book

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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