Archives for March 2013

5 simple back-of-the-box recipes

I am always on the lookout for new and simple recipes that I can use for dinner. I have some recipes that we eat regularly, but I like to throw in new ones when I find them. But the recipes need to be simple, easy and use common ingredients.

A great source of recipes: the back-of-the-box (or the back of the bottle or jar, or inside the packaging, etc.). To keep it simple, I’ll just call them back-of-the-box recipes even though they may not always be technically on the back, and on a box.

Here are 5 of my favorite back-of-the-box recipes.

Simple Bolognese

I had never made Bolognese before, and I am not even sure I had ever had it besides in a microwave meal. Now, this is one of my favorite meals. The recipe is simple, and the result is absolutely delicious. It makes a beautiful and delightful meal.

You can find the recipe on the back of the Giada de Laurentiis Fusilli Col Buco pasta box, which you can buy at Target.

Fusilli Col Buco NoodlesSimple Bolognese

Oven-Baked Meatballs

The Kraft Fresh Take packets are great. I have used the Italian Parmesan one to make chicken parmesan and the Cheddar Jack and Bacon one on pork chops and both were delicious. Plus, they are simple to use.

But the best use for the Italian Parmesan packet can be found inside – a recipe for Oven-Baked Meatballs. They are so good. The recipe is so simple and easy that you can make them every night, and they taste so good, you might just want to.

Fresh Take Parmesan PackageMeatballs Recipe

We recently had these yummy meatballs with some pasta so I quickly grabbed a picture. They are very filling; one box of pasta, one jar of sauce and the meatballs make three meals for two people easily.

Meatballs with Pasta

Peachy Chicken

The name says it – this chicken is down right peachy. It is sweet and savory – with just the right amounts of both.  You may be surprised where this recipe comes from – a bottle of Malt Vinegar. If you enjoy peaches, this is definitely a recipe to try.

Malt VinegarPeachy Chicken Recipe

No-Bake Rotini, Ham and Cheese

When I cook pasta, I usually use Ronzoni Garden Delight because it includes vegetables! This is a great way to get vegetables into the mouths of picky non-vegetable eaters. They offer several different types of pasta with recipes on the back. The recipe I tried is on the back of the Rotini box (not pictured). Again, it is simple and easy and pretty good for an evening meal.

Garden Delight PastaGarden Light No Bake Ham Pasta Meal

Seasoned Chicken and Rice

Here is a super simple meal that I started making on my own before they either put the recipe on the back of the box, or I noticed it. With two simple ingredients – a box of rice and some cooked chicken, this meal is super easy and very delicious. You can find the same recipe, but for the beef version, on the beef flavor box.

Rice a Roni ChickenChicken and Rice recipe

What are some of your favorite “back-of-the-box” recipes? 



2 solutions for carrying loyalty cards

Nowadays every store you go has a customer loyalty card. They are free. They offer discounts. It is hard not to sign up.

But soon your key ring looks like this, or worse.

Image of keys with loyalty cards

It is a lot to carry around with your keys.

So here are two solutions:

Solution 1:

Use a separate binder ring for your loyalty cards. You can buy a package of 8 at Target (in-store) for a little over $2, or you can buy a package of 5 from my Amazon store for a little under $3.

Package of Binder Clips

The benefits of using the binder ring instead of your key ring:

1. You can use your key ring for its true purpose – keys!

2. It is much easier to add and remove loyalty cards from a binder ring than a key ring.

Open Binder Ring with Loyalty Cards

I used the larger ring in the Target package so I have plenty of room to add more cards.

Loyalty cards on binder ring

Solution 2:

Use a mobile app. I recently downloaded Key Ring and started adding my loyalty cards. It also lets you enter gift cards and join more loyalty programs. For certain retailers, you can view the weekly circulars and special offers. The app walks you through how to add cards, and how to use your app in place of your loyalty cards in stores (I haven’t tried this part yet.)


Download Key Ring from iTunes (affiliate link):

How do you carry your loyalty cards?



Making time for what’s most important

It is easy to complain. Doing something about it is the hard part. We can easily complain that we don’t have enough time in general, or that we don’t have time for something or someone.

If only, we had more time.

We can’t add more hours to the 24 hour-day. We can’t make an hour longer than 60 minutes. Even if we all stopped having fun in our lives, time wouldn’t move any slower. It would just feel that way.

So what then are we supposed to do to get more time?

Face of clock

Here is my recommendation and what works for me: Prioritize.

What is most important to me? What do I value the most? What do I enjoy doing the most?

Step 1: Figure out what is most important to you. List your top 3-5 priorities.

Examples: Family, Career, Health & Exercise, Education, Volunteering, Friendships, Hobbies, etc.

How do I make time for those priorities in my day?

It is okay if you gasp and say, “Ah! I don’t make time! I have no time!” It’s life. It has a way of taking over. Hopefully with a bit of thinking and planning, you can take back control.

Step 2: Create a schedule of your day from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed. Add in your top 3-5 priorities to the time slots (half-hour, 1 hour, 2 hour  – however much time you want or need to spend on that particular priority).

Example: View the printable example and schedule template.

You can create a schedule every week and be very specific about what happens during each time slot. Or, you could create a schedule with open slots for activities that may vary from day-to-day, such as the 6:30-9:00 p.m. slot in my example. For each day or week, fill in which activities you plan to do that day. Over time, you will start to get a sense of how long you actually spend doing those activities and how much you can really fit into your day. It only takes a few minutes to modify your schedule each day or week once you created it the first time. I think it is worth the time. Try it and see if it works for you.

What priorities can I be more flexible with than others?

Step 3: If everything doesn’t fit into your day, consider if something can be moved, deleted or delegated.

a. Depending on your schedule, you could move something from a weekday to a bigger block of time on a weekend.

Example: Family time is very important to you but the half-hour drive-by at the dinner table isn’t cutting it. But maybe that is all that can fit in your day during the week. So on the weekend, plan for a couple of hours to do something together as a family. This way you are getting quality time together each week instead of trying to cram it in where it doesn’t fit.

b. If something doesn’t fit in your schedule, pull out your calendar and schedule another time for it.

Example: You really want to remodel the guest room or [insert another] room, but you can’t seem to find the time. Schedule out a time when you think you can work on it – perhaps sometime over the summer? Nothing is set in stone so don’t worry about it too much, but also try not to constantly cancel the appointments YOU make for something YOU want to do. You are most important.

c. There are things that you may have to “delete” from your day. Yes, that’s right, delete. You can’t do everything, so why not do the things you can do and stay sane! 🙂

d. The other thing you can do is delegate. If possible, teach someone else how to do some of the things you typically do so you can free up some time in your day.

Any other ideas on how to make time for what is most important to you?


Unexpected finds make perfect gifts

Yes, it is spring. But we received some unexpected snow today.


So I thought it was a perfect backdrop for posting a topic on finding gifts when you least expect to.

Image of holiday presents

We typically associate gift shopping with the holidays, but we engage in it year-around for birthdays, weddings, graduations, anniversaries, and so on.

But do you plan ahead for it in any way? Here is how I make gift shopping simpler, less stressful, and more rewarding.

I created a private wish list on Amazon for gifts. Whenever I am browsing magazines or shopping online and I see something I think someone may like or that would be a good gift, I add it to my private “gifts” wish list.

My general advice is that whenever you are shopping, look at the items for not only yourself, but also for others. Don’t wait until it is a week before someone’s birthday, or a few days before the holidays.

When someone’s birthday is coming up, or there is a special occasion or a holiday, or I have a “just because” moment, I scan my gifts wish list for any items I have for that individual. I can quickly make the purchase, and I’m done.

One of the best parts is that because I located this item while doing some “general window shopping” instead of doing “targeted window shopping” (where I am looking for a specific item, or an item for a specific person), the gift usually turns out to be quite special, unique, or incredibly loved by the recipient. There is less pressure to find something by doing it this way, and when it is time to get someone a gift, I don’t have to grab the first thing I see.

We have heard the saying that things happen when you least expect them to. Well, finding the perfect gift for someone can happen when you weren’t necessarily looking. You know it is perfect because as soon as you see it, you say “Oh! [Insert Name] would love this!” or “That looks like something [Insert Name] would like.”

If you are out shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, either buy the item and store it away or take a picture of it to remind yourself later to add it to your “gifts” wish list.

If you buy it months, or even a year, ahead of time, make sure to store it some place where you’ll remember where you put it. Create a place in your home where you store all gifts that are yet to be given. It can be as simple as a large cardboard box or an area in a closet.

Have you ever found a perfect gift when you weren’t looking?


Foyer Redesign

View the full post about this foyer redesign.

Photo of foyer after redesign

Foyer Redesign

When we moved into our house, the foyer was decorated nicely, but the wallpaper was peeling off in some places. Plus, I really wanted to design a foyer that fit more of my style. I found an inspiration piece and based the design around that.

This is an image of what the foyer used to look like.

Photo of Foyer

Here are some pictures, after the redesign. We added the following:

  • New wallpaper that has small burgundy stars.
  • White beadboard wainscoting.
  • Three burgundy stars on the side wall.
  • A sign above the door, “Hugs, Kisses, Stars for Wishes.” This was the inspiration piece for the whole design.
  • New door mats with stars and country house.
  • A small black bench with a country pillow featuring a country house.
  • A boot tray and a burgundy pail that has a star on the front. It holds slipper socks for guests, if they would like them.

Sign Above the Door

Photo of Foyer

  • We also added a burgundy wood cabinet and, of course, hung some stars below (stars for wishes!). The blocks on top of the cabinet also have stars and say Welcome to Our Home.

Photo of foyer after redesign

On the other side, we keep the white mirror that was already there (I liked it anyway), and added a distressed burgundy cabinet.

Photo of foyer after redesign

The key to this design was the inspiration piece. Once I had found that, everything else fell into place. And I think I have a knack for finding items that coordinate together, so it was easy and fun to find the rest of the items that made up the design.

Designing around an inspiration piece really makes the whole process simpler. You can use it to help you develop a color scheme and a design concept, and inspire your furniture and accessory selections.

Do you use inspiration pieces when you design a space?


Closet Organization

View the full post about this master bedroom closet remodel and reorganization project.

Closet photo

Closet photo

Reward Yourself Daily

We all have days when we feel like all we can accomplish is to just get through the day. Wake up. Survive. Go back to sleep.

Image of a written to do list on a white board

No matter if it is a day like that, or a day when you feel extremely productive, I recommend that you always take a moment to reward yourself.

Before you start a task, think of what your reward will be for completing that task.

As you work on the task if you start to feel like giving up or distracting yourself with something else (like browsing Facebook), think about your reward. Use it to keep you motivated.

When you complete the task, give yourself that reward you promised yourself.

Believe me. It works. I have been using this trick for years to get through high school, college, graduate classes, work tasks, household chores, or anything really.

Ideas for rewards:

  • Piece of chocolate, cookie or candy
  • Schedule or go to a spa appointment
  • A cup of tea or coffee
  • Time – finish something now, have time for something fun later!
  • A small gift you get for yourself (or a significant other can get you a gift and save it for a special occasion, like this!)
  • A cat nap
  • A walk
  • Time to chat with a friend
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Afternoon snack
  • Cuddle time with a loved one or a furry family member
  • Reading a chapter of a book

Wake up. Be Productive. Always Reward Yourself. Sweet Dreams.

photo source

How do you reward yourself daily?


Tidy Kitchen Tools

I love to cook and I have collected a lot of kitchen tools over the years. While I use all these various tools cooking or baking, my kitchen tool drawer wasn’t making it easy to find what I needed when I needed it.

It was time to organize!

All the items were taken out and sorted. The hand mixer was moved to another cabinet. And I purchased five very inexpensive plastic drawer organizers from Rubbermaid.

View the products (affiliate links) by using the links below. Make sure you measure your kitchen drawer before purchasing so you will know what you can fit.

15 x 6 x 2 tray – I bought 2 of these.

15 x 3 x 2 tray  – I bought 3 of these.


Image of a kitchen drawer before


Image of a kitchen drawer organized

It is so much easier to find items now!

How do you organize all your kitchen tools (spoons, spatulas, pizza cutters, whisks, etc.)?


Storing Gift Cards

We are often given gift cards to restaurants and stores as holiday, birthday and thank-you gifts. While they are wonderful to have, they needed to be organized in some way.

I searched online to find a credit card organizer to store the gift cards in. I knew exactly what I wanted because I had seem them in stores years ago, but I didn’t know exactly what they were called.

Eventually, I found one and I bought two. A red one for restaurant gift cards and a blue one for retail store gift cards.

I am sure there are plenty of others available, but this is the one I choose and I love it! And, honestly, now that I have the gift cards all organized, we are using them more!

View this product (affiliate link).

Image of a card case

Image of card case open

How do you organize your gift cards?