Thursday, February 19, 2015

Real Life Menu Planning

I made this dry-erase menu board a million and six years ago.

If you've been around my blog over the years, you've seen it in several different kitchens now. It's simply a piece of burlap sandwiched between the frame and glass of a picture frame. The tags and stickers are squished under the glass too, then I write on it with permanent marker (a Sharpie) which erases with window cleaner (or just white vinegar on a paper towel). Dry-erase markers work too, but they don't show up as well with the darker burlap behind.

So I'll write this menu on there and we'll mostly eat the things it says one week, and there it sits. Never updated. This one is from last fall.

This year I'm trying this.

I've heard so many good things about menu planning. It's the only way to stick to your grocery budget. You never buy extra. You have so much mind freedom because you know what's for dinner. It'll make you rich and thin and an amazing wife and mother.

So there I sit while I work with one of my boys on his schoolwork. He works, Mommy works. I troll Pinterest and get ideas and write up a list of what we'll eat and what we need. I take my list to the store and several items aren't there or are really expensive this week and I end up getting asparagus instead of green beans, or not making an additional stop to get the Greek yogurt, or the sweet potatoes look awful and I refuse to buy them...

Or my sweet husband goes and makes breakfast early one morning and uses one of my ingredients for a meal later in the week. I'm not going to complain about him making breakfast (one of my least favorite chores--I'm so not a morning person), so things get switched up and crossed out and I'm STILL scratching my head at 4 o'clock, wondering what I'm going to come up with for supper.

Does that ever happen to you? Do you menu plan? Does it work? Maybe it's me, but I feel on the weeks I really plan out the menu I end up spending MORE at the store instead of being creative with pantry items. Maybe that's part of the learning curve with menu planning.

Paleo breakfast cake + berries sweetened with Truvia (a stevia blend you can use like sugar).

This week I literally planned my menu after I went grocery shopping. It was a lot easier! I guess I shop for staples and if I see a great deal on something or an unusual item falls into my cart, I plan for that to be a meal later that week. I like the flexibility of deciding any particular day what we will eat that night.

So I guess I'm not much of a menu planner. Some days soup just doesn't sound good. Other days I don't feel like cooking. And some days I do! Or I see something on Pinterest that I want to make right away!

Tossed salad with tomato bruschetta and grilled chicken.

Here's my tip, or at least what works for me. I keep my cupboards stocked with staples. I try to keep our favorite condiments on hand, from BBQ sauce (we all put it on our eggs), to Greek yogurt to peanut butter. I try to keep everything on hand to make basics: a pasta meal, some variation of rice and beans, tacos, soup + bread. Yes, there's a little headache each day, but to me it's easier than planning a whole week at a time.

How do you plan meals? Do your meal planning attempts help? What tricks do you have?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Real Life Homeschool

This year we have finally gotten into a good, sustainable routine with homeschooling. We don't spend a bunch of time sitting still and cranking out worksheets, but I do sit and work with my two oldest boys for awhile each day.

We have curriculum from My Father's World that I love and we'll come back to, but since most of December was spent unexpectedly at the grandparent's, I bought these mega books at Walmart and we've been working on them ever since. There's no rule you can't switch curriculum mid-year, right?

But what I really wanted to chat about today is where we work. Let's say it just evolved this way. If you recall, we have this adorable classroom/playroom.

As cute as it is, it wasn't meeting our needs. The other kids (including some that I babysit) need somewhere to play and make messes and it was hugely distracting to me to try to do school while that was going on. I also like to get up and do stuff while my pupil is working. Start lunch, write lists, check on stuff... All of which was in the kitchen.

Gradually I started having the boys work on a project at our little table in the kitchen and it just clicked. We have a little more space at the table, there's more room for those NOT studying to play, I can wash dishes or start the next meal, or whatever I need to do.

At first I was a little frustrated that I had this big classroom that we never use, but it is used, just not for school. It's great for all the supplies and for its other purposes-my sewing room, the boys' toys and books, and lots and lots of free play.

I bought two or three of these metal buttons at the dollar spot at Target last fall, and a couple the fall before. I moved out our school/art supplies where I could supervise them (in the kitchen) and ended up storing them on this lazy susan my father-in-law made.

It's perfect for glue and pencils and scissors and markers--and they came with the chalkboard labels! Adorable!

I keep some of our most-used workbooks and supplies like paper in a napkin holder, actually. You can see them and the lazy susan hard at work below.

 So where do they go when we're not using them? On top of the fridge!

No, it's not beautiful and perfect, but it's just what we need right now, so I'm going with it!

I didn't move the calendar and things out to the kitchen for several months. I just didn't want my kitchen to scream HOMESCHOOL, but school has gone better since I did move them. The boys see and talk about the calendar before breakfast. We have holidays and field trips to look forward to, and they've all learned how to properly say the date.

I find it handy that things are magnetic because it's on the side of the fridge right next to our table. Perfect solution!

Behind our bill-paying station is my command central. I'd love to have more storage for things like this, but this works for now. I have my babysitting schedule, doctor reminders and important numbers pinned to the inside of the cabinet door. On the shelves are things we sometimes need on the table for meals (peanut butter, salt shaker, trivets) and everything else non-cooking related, from essential oils to candles to UNO to cookbooks and lunch boxes. The stack of workbooks in the middle is where the others currently on the table are put away when it's meal time. (Finished work and so many more supplies and resources are kept in files in the closet in the playroom. That is a nice thing to have!)

So there you go! Now you know how we're making homeschool work with busy schedules and small spaces. I don't know if we'll always homeschool in the kitchen, but it's working now.

How do you homeschool? Or if your kids go to school, where do they do homework? Desks in their rooms? A homework station in your playroom? At the kitchen table?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

How To Style a Long Jean Skirt

I've been really drawn to the long jean skirt trend. I know not all things are equal to your favorite jeans, but it seems that when you find the right jean skirt you can style it in many different ways, just like jeans.

I've taken a few minutes to collect 15 different looks from Polyvore members of how they have styled long jean skirts. There's everything from dressy to sporty, from winter to summer and everything in between.

Summer Day

I'm a girly girl.

blush and gray

Untitled #38

Untitled #30


Untitled #179

"Black And Pink"

Untitled #28

Pretty in Bows


Untitled #50

Blue Denim Outfit

Classic Casual

Untitled #40

How do you like to wear your long jean skirt?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Ellie's Closet {Jean Skirt}

I remember mocking those crunchy homeschooling mamas in their jean skirts and tennis shoes herding their small flocks through nature walks at summer camp in the 90s.

Now I am one.

But I do have to say, jean skirts have come a long way. So have practical walking shoes, and being crunchy is cool in more places than just Portland! I think a lot has to do with accessories and paying attention to details.

Just for fun, I thought I'd see what would happen to Ellie's closet if she added a practical, nicely cut, long jean skirt. And you know what? Every top she has goes with the jean skirt! I quickly was able to throw together a ton of new outfits, and that's not even with layers!

*Please accept my apologies for the weird arms and boring shoes. They are attached to Ellie's skirt but I couldn't crop them, and I spent hours looking for another acceptable jean skirt without arms and feet and just couldn't do it!

Jean skirts are similar to a well-fitting classic pair of jeans. Once you find a comfortable one in the style that fits, the options in your closet might just multiply exponentially!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Kitchen Makeover on the Cheap

I hesitate to do this, but I went down a rabbit hole.

We rent. Sometimes I get tired of it. Sometimes I'd like to knock down a wall, remodel the kitchen, or at least paint.

Sometimes I like looking a real estate listings in random towns. Towns where I know no one and have no plans of ever living. Yesterday I was looking at a tiny little town in Kansas. Please don't ask why. I'll sound like an idiot trying to give you a reason when I don't really have one.

But I found a cute little place. Something my family could actually afford and it would hold us and our stuff nicely. It's a regular 1960s ranch, the type I gravitate toward.

I was looking through the pictures (there were over 40! Good job, listing agent!) and fell hard for this kitchen.

Again, I hesitate to say that, because compared to some of the amazing kitchens we've all drooled over on other blogs and in Better Homes and Gardens and on Pinterest, normal kitchens are so dark and dated and small... At least in houses I live in, and in those I can afford.

But there was this!

Not high end, not white, not granite or anything fancy. Just.... normal. But better. The wood is pretty, not orangey-oak. And so much work space!

I started daydreaming of what I would do with that kitchen. I though immediately of Thrifty Decor Chick's wood cabinets with a white beadboard backsplash.

Adding beadboard or beadboard wallpaper would help brighten up the kitchen, as would painting all of those brown walls a pretty gray, like Benjamin Moore's Wickham Gray.

Next I would address the one big blank wall where there is now some art. I'd love to add some shelves and a rolling cart that could double as an island. I would keep baking supplies here, then roll my cart over to where I wanted to work on making bread or cookies. I could leave it in the middle of the kitchen as an island, or tuck it out of the way under the shelves. I think only one would fit in this particular kitchen, though I love what they did at Cozy Cottage Cute! The carts and the shelves are from IKEA.

I might prefer the look of wood and white shelves like this cute display at Rooms For Rent. I would use two instead of three so the cart could fit underneath.

It's hard to tell from the picture how wide the eat-in kitchen space is. I would love to have a farm style table built for me, and I like the idea of benches that tuck under it. I would like to have two contrasting chairs at the ends, either tolix metal chairs, or something upholstered. This beautiful table is from Hometalk but based off of Ana White's plans.

To give the dining area more interest, I'd like to continue the beadboard around behind the table, capped with a shelf like this one. (I found this image on Pinterest which linked it to this post at The Frugal Homemaker from 2011! But it's a link to the House of Smiths where Shelly linked it to something Layla from The Lettered Cottage was working on, but I don't think it was in Keven & Layla's home, so I didn't chase that rabbit any longer.) I would put my chalkboard menu, artwork by the kids, seasonal banners and things on the shelf and enjoy the white with gray above instead of the dark brown wall. Can you picture it?

To add more color to my kitchen, I would use my blue Ball jars. I have a set I use for drinking glasses, and I'd keep an eye out for more ways to add some turquoise, like these adorable cafe curtains!

Or a soap dispenser!

I also like the look of this rug to add more color, either a small one in front of the sink, or a large on under the table, though with little kids I like to be able to sweep.

So no, it's not the perfect kitchen, but I think I could be perfectly happy with it. What about you? What do you look for in a normal kitchen? How would you add color and personality to this space?


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