{What’s Working}

So, what didn’t actually work is the template I set up in July  to make it easy to keep up on my {What’s Working} posts on Wednesdays. Sorry, I love alliterations too much to let that go by.

Back on task: here are a few things that are working for me lately. Would love to hear what’s working for you or  your questions about how other people handle daily dilemmas, if you’re too shy to ask, I’ll do it for you since asking questions is a key part of what I do for a living and all.

Click here for {What’s Working} archives.

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What: My clutter-busting DIY tickler file* system

When I got the form for picture day last week, I wrote the check so I’d be on top of things and then stuck it in the 16th’s file and this morning when we were rushing out the door, there it was. No frantic pile searching for us, finally!!! Whether it makes it out of Sam’s backpack or not is another story.

Why: If anyone is interested I can follow up with a step-by-step post but essentially the awesomeness in this system is that there is literally a place for every piece of paper I want to keep because I customized it to my real life. This one thing is a huge accomplishment on my Mission: Organize Everything project.

How it works: Condensed version – there’s a file for every day of the month, 31 files and then a file for every month plus “next year” … a bit more to it than that and happy to share if it would help.

Note:

*(Please, please help me come up with something better to call this awesomeness than “tickler file.”)

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What: Kelly Lester’s Easy Lunch Boxes

So, so much more on this to come when my article publishes in the News-Register’s Green Living special section – soonish because I’ll be hosting my first ever giveaway to include some of these cool lunch boxes and cooler bag.

But for now, just wanted to say my ELB system is making packing lunches (and cleaning containers at the end of the day) much easier.

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{Also what’s working … holiday fun, it’s the little things, right?!}

*Lunches include from top left to bottom: “Dippy sauce” which seems to be key to getting the vegetables down their gullets, pirates booty (why? why do they love that stuff so much?!) pumpkin-shaped pb&j with the crust leftovers underneath and apple slices hidden under the top layer of “crinkle carrots.” I don’t know why I put that in quotes because I think that’s really what they’re called.

Why: It’s a formula for me – I fill the big box with the main dish, one with fruit the other with a veggie and find room for a little snack or treat. Done.

How it works: It takes the whole finding the right container and feeling guilty about all the lunch waste off the table and puts a good, easy to make, lunch on there instead.

Note:

If you want to buy some before my giveaway post runs –  you can click on my affiliate links below and hey, I’ll get a few pennies for your linking through my Amazon store – yayness.

 

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2013-10-16 10.46.10

What: Asking other people what’s working for them.

Sarah, one of my high school BFFs, tennis partner and college roommate (who’s picture I’d love to post but forgot to ask for permission) is a person I admire for lots of reasons but lately I find myself wondering “how does she do it?”

So, this weekend she came down for a visit, I got to ask her how her life works right now – and because we’re bffs she knew I meant … exactly. 

She described her crockpot strategy in the morning and I asked for her recipe, exactly.

“No, that’s it. I just gave it to you. Frozen chicken and a bottle of teriyaki sauce, on low for eight hours, done. Add rice and edamame.”

Tried it – everyone loved it – thank you Sarah! Mostly for being you, and being real.

This morning I tried her frozen chicken breasts + jar of spaghetti sauce and set out the boxes of noodles so the first person home tonight can get right on that.

Why: Because it’s nice to point out where you think someone else is being successful and asking people who are doing what you want to be doing for tips is how you can be more successful at what matters to you. I guess that kind of went without saying, huh?

Note: 

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Not like the picture

I found another entry for my kitchen memoir Not like the Picture this weekend.

I am working on a personal life improvement project. One of the concepts I’m working with is how to stop complaining about the everyday things that must be done whether I’m cheerful about them or not, things like making meals for people three times a day, every day.

I’ve mentioned before that I kind of hate dinner and the fact that it comes around every. single. night.

But I don’t hate dinner, really.  And I certainly love the people I make meals for … so it’s actually a matter of figuring out how to streamline the whole process so I’m not re-creating the wheel every morning/evening.

I saw this super cute idea on Pinterest:

NO WAY!!! - cook a dozen at once. Put in the oven on 350 for 15-20 min. Comes out the perfect size to put on an English muffin!!

 

http://www.macheesmo.com/2010/03/breakfast-sandwiches/

Eggs cooked

So, I figured I’d try it at home. In keeping with the apparent theme of my life where things don’t turn out like the picture, here’s how the eggs actually turned out:

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See how mine aren’t perfectly round … or perfectly anything?

But, whatever, with a couple slices of ham tucked between a whole wheat English muffin … I think I’ve got breakfasts made for awhile.

I put them in sandwich baggies and then a freezer bag so we can heat and roll. No, I don’t hate the Earth, yes I plan to reuse the bags and absolutely I’d love to find a better way to do it.

Regardless of appearances, I do love knowing I have a bag full of pre-made, good for us breakfasts that were super easy to make. Thank you, Pinterest.

(You guys are on there, right? It is pure awesome sauce!)

Next time I think I’ll toast the muffins and try the updated version with spinach … and as per her suggestion, I will try scrambling them.

cooked

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DIY Draft Dodger

You know I’ve been getting so crafty around here I just had to share this DIY Draft Dodger I’ve been wanting to make. We found one like the one below in the pantry/laundry room/storage closet upon moving in but the boys quickly trashed it. I found a few cute ideas on—where else?—Pinterest and ended up coming up with my own alternative version.

DIY Twin Draft Dodger

Betz White draft dodger

Here is the one I finally settled on … it works perfectly!

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Green Zone: Pitter-Patter

If you get a chance to pick up Saturday’s News-Register, my “Confessions of a Green Wannabe” column ran in the special Green Zone section. I don’t have a link to share yet but the issue is on newsstands around the county, for local readers who don’t subscribe to our community paper(ahem!).

I only have 600ish words to work with so I couldn’t list all these links in the paper but am happy to do it here and encourage you to check out the cool and cute stuff created by local (mostly) stay-at-home mamas.

I absolutely adore this store and love going there with my kids because there is a playroom for them and the staff is super understanding when they don’t stay right where they’re supposed to. I also love shopping there because awesome deals are to be had like Sam’s $3.00 Cars slippers!

I’m excited to share the awesome owner, Jennifer Johnson, is willing to take some Nathalie’s Notes products on for a test-run. I am so, so excited about that!

Pitter-Patter Children’s Consignment store in Newberg (619 E. Hancock). 503.538.4215

www.pitter-patternewberg.com

Little Red Wagon

Little Birdie & Me

Burp-EASE

Sweet Pea & Pumpkin

Heidi Boos with Stampin’ Up

Mo’s Bows

Glitter Bug Girls

Baby Bumz

Betty Jane Designs

Casey & Kyle Comics

Simply Cute Creations

Forget Me Not

Lil’ britches

BE your own kind of beautiful

Handknit treats

PJ Creations

p.s. Fun fact: love that I ended up having to do my interview with Jennifer with both of my children, in my sweaty work-out clothes sporting the frazzled-mom look. She didn’t bat an eye and knew I was just doing what a work-from-home mama’s gotta do!


I {heart} Grocery Outlet

 

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As you likely know, we are big fans of Grocery Outlet Bargain Market and were so excited to get a brand new one up the street from our house.

A few things you should know about shopping at Grocery Outlet Bargain Market – if you love it, stock up … it might not be there next time. Yes, that kind of sucks but the deals are too awesome to focus on that.

Secondly, you might have to make a second stop to get more produce or the exact items on your list … GOMB is better for your basics, goodies, random deals and ideal for people willing to base meals around bargains.

My favorite deals from yesterday:

cutie mandarins – a big bag for 2.99

Drew’s organic fizzy tea (Sparkling green tea) 3 for $1

Organic whole wheat elbow macaroni – 99 cents a box

And these frozen Ocean Market Wild Alaskan Mediterranean crusted salmon, packs of 2 for $4 (ish – I can’t remember, it was $4 or less per box)

(Two boxes feeds my family of 4 for two nights … my kids eat more than you might believe … First night is usually the salmon steaks with the boys splitting one between them. Second night, I split the leftovers into tacos).

Happy bargain shopping! You should know that I’m in no way affiliated with Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, just a fan. If they wanted to sponsor my blog … well, I’d be honored.


{What’s working: DIY furniture}

Of course, when I say “do it yourself” it’s more of a team effort where I’m the idea person (by which I mean rip-the-picture-out-of-magazine-person) and Matt’s the finisher. Here are two of our recycled materials projects.

A year ago exactly, I posted this picture I saw on http://www.designmom.com/.

 

bench

I didn’t know where we’d be living, only that we were moving and had put in (yet another) offer on a house. This one, though, I was pretty certain was The One. While the inspection was pending, I visualized this bench in the entry way, with my kids’ boots in it.

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This morning I took this picture in our entry way. Love, love, love it. Matt made this for me for Christmas. Should you fancy one for your own home … let me know.( Shoe bins are from Target.)

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A couple years ago, during yet another move, a door broke off our dining room cabinet, I kept it knowing I wanted to repurpose it somehow, just not quite sure how. Until I saw this idea in Good Housekeeping last year. I tucked it in my idea binder and waited for the right time to try it.

During my recent personal crisis I decided to do some self-esteem boosting – it’s amazing what seemingly small things can do! One of which was spray-painting for the first time. (Yes, I’m 35.) So with the help of some girlfriends, I sanded and spray-painted the door.

(Side note: I left it in Matt’s shop so long, he offered to paint the other side for me and I took him up on it.) He hung it up for me last night in my new studio and it’s just how I pictured it.

The little books are from a company I like called Compendium. For doses of inspiration visit their blog.

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- signature


{What’s working–simplicity}

 

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Two fun facts about me:

1) I’m the kind of person who can make simple complicated. But, I’m happy to share that a shift in how I spend my energy and money has lead to my working out a system for truly simple dinners that taste good, are generally healthy and not even a little bit gourmet, but work fine for weeknight “get ‘em fed” meals. Details below.

2) For the last couple years I’ve spent an inordinate time loathing dinner and everything about it from meal planning to grocery shopping to the actual making of meals while one, or two, hungry/cranky/daddy-craving kids clung to various parts of my body. By the time I finally got dinner on the table if someone so much as suggested they didn’t like something I had to resist the urge to dump the plate on their head, whether they were 3 or 38. This is a stress (and rage) I know I share with some of my friends and readers … so, here is my solution:

Grain + Protein + Vegetable + Sauce = Dinner.

Favorite grains: quinoa, brown rice (freeze batches add water and defrost), tortillas

Favorite proteins: eggs, canned tuna or salmon, chicken breasts, beans, cheese

Favorite veggies: whatever deal I can get on fresh or frozen

Favorite sauce: When my computer broke, I had to use my trust old cookbooks and learned to make a white sauce … really, it was new information to me and has changed how I make dinner. Sam hates tomatoes. Every time he tries a bite, he still hates it. So learning to make and dress up white sauce has been huge for us. I add artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, capers, sautéed onions, lemon juice … whatever. It’s been good every time. If anyone wants details or specifics, email me … when in a real hurry, melt butter, add lemon sauce and chopped up herbs, fresh if you can.

Another thing I’ve been doing is saving myself steps and cents, even little ones, where I can … hence, the homemade taco seasoning packets.

1 Tbsp chili powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 onion powder

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

1/4 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp paprika

1 1/2 tsp cumin

tsp salt

tsp pepper

repeat into as many snack-size baggies as you’d like and stash in your pantry.

I still wish dinner wasn’t every day … but I’m adjusting.


Meatless Monday: Salad Dressing

One of the first things I liked about my friend Barbara is that she made her own salad dressing. It just seemed like the kind of thing my alter ego {the me I didn't realize I would eventually become} would do. What's funny about being attracted to it then was that I didn't even really eat, much less make, salad back then.

As you may know we bought a new house, by new I mean two years newer than this one {1900} and it'll require, uh, adjusting to a new budget. We've got all kinds of ideas on how to make that work, one of which is not buying salad dressing for a year.

The tool that'll help me accomplish that goal is my Pampered Chef Salad Mixer where you literally measure, mix and pour. The mixer has recipes for four basic dressings printed right on the container: Asian, Caesar, Italian & French. I'd post some of the recipes here but they don't actually have measurements, it's more like "fill to this line, add to this line, dash of this, shake of that" and mix. A bonus cool thing about this little gadget is that you can use it to let your toddler scramble their own eggs. Very cool.

If you have the following on hand:

Vegetable oil, 1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, garlic cloves, sugar, Dijon mustard, coarse black pepper, lemon juice ... you've got the makings of your own Caesar dressing and a couple bucks back in your pocket. I'm not saying it'll pay the mortgage but it's a step.

If you're not so much into making your own, my two favorite dressings are:

Annie's Naturals Goddess Dressing and Blue Heron Blue Cheese Dressing. I'll be working on approximating those for the next year.


Meatless Monday: Asparagus Soup

My best friend from the crib mentioned the other day that I haven't been posting recipes. Yeah, about that. Another loving person in my life suggested that perhaps posting these recipes and my notes alongside them were boring to readers and that really, nobody cared. Which kind of bummed me out because I enjoyed sharing and writing about the things I'm doing these days ... I rather consider my life my muse, playground and office and it seems I spend a lot of time in the kitchen these days ... not quite what I expected for myself, but the shocker is actually how much I enjoy it. Sometimes. Plus, all these notes are drafts for my kitchen memoir, Not like the Picture.

This one's for you Mel ... 

The same day I discovered this delicious, easy to make, asparagus soup, my friend Emily's "On a Shoestring" column ran in our local paper.

Source: Google search of "asparagus soup" lead to allrecipes.com. One of the things I love about that site is the way you can enter how many people you're serving and the math gets done for you.

This posted recipe serves four but I don't know why you wouldn't just double it and freeze leftovers.

For four servings you'll need:

  • 1 pound fresh asparagus (coming into season right about now)
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion (Tip: while your eyes are already watering, chop extra for the week)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (whole wheat flour works great)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup soy milk (I was out but used almond milk which is on mega-sale at Grocery Outlet)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (you don't need this if you don't have it) 
    1. Place asparagus and onion in a saucepan with 1/2 cup vegetable broth. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer until the vegetables are tender.
    2. Reserve a few asparagus tips for garnish. Place remaining vegetable mixture in an electric blender and puree until smooth.
    3. Melt butter in the pan that was used for simmering the asparagus and onions. Stir while sprinkling flour, salt, and pepper into the butter. Do not let the flour brown. Allow the mixture to cook only 2 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth and increase the heat. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil.
    4. Stir the vegetable puree and milk into the saucepan. Whisk yogurt into the mixture, followed by lemon juice. Stir until heated through, then ladle into bowls. Garnish with reserved asparagus tips. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if desired.