How to make a Vacation Folder (Simple Organizational Idea)


How to Make a Family Vacation Folder - Simple Organization Idea to make your next trip stress-free!For the past four vacations our family has gone on, I’ve assembled a simple Family Vacation Folder. Prior to this, I used to suffer from what I’d call Vacation Planning Anxiety. You know, those nagging thoughts that may come: Did I book the airfare for the correct dates? Do our hotel check-in/check-out dates line up with our schedule? Have we forgotten anything? 

Not only has putting a folder together like this reduced so much stress, it’s become a wonderful document to refer back to. We can see where we stayed, how much the trip cost, and how we laid out past itineraries. I keep the folder in the car or plane with me and typically find I use it constantly during the trip. Even if you’re a person that likes to handle everything via mobile, I believe you would find a folder like this to be of good use and a nice “back up” plan.

I like to use a simple pronged portfolio with 2-folders on the inside. You can often find these on sale during back-to-school season in the summer. Even off-season, you can probably find one for under a $1.

Here are some of the components I put in mine. Of course, you could add whatever applies to your particular trip:

Make a budget for your family's next vacation.

A budget. 

I love having these high-level pieces in place. We have an upcoming Disneyland trip and we’ve been budgeting for it since last June. It really helps to pay for things in stages like this! On my budget I’ve made notes about how we paid for it, if we still need to pay for it, etc. I’ve also estimated incidentals.

Ideas for organizing a simple family vacation itinerary.

An itinerary.

An itinerary is useful, particularly if you’ll be going to different places on different days.

I loved the way I laid out my itinerary on last year’s roadtrip: I included important phone and confirmation numbers right on the sheet. I loved being able to email this to a few family members for emergency reference, too.

Here’s another easy method for laying out a rough itinerary:

Easy method for planning a vacation itinerary.

I just printed out a blank calendar for the month of our trip in Outlook (but you could also find a similar template online, I’m sure). Then I made rough notes about where we’d be, and when. This may be useful for the initial planning stages of your vacation too.
Printing out hotel and air reservations for your family's vacation folder.

Hotel and Transportation Reservations. 

I know many people may like to have this available on their phone, but I personally like to print out this information as well and keep it tucked in my folder. Our folder for our upcoming Disney trip includes reservation print outs for hotel, air, rental car, and dog boarding. I still need to reserve our airport parkingIncluding maps & directions for a family vacation folder.

Maps, directions, and other helpful notes. 

I don’t print many maps, because we do use a phone and atlas for bigger roadtrips, but I may print out directions to points of interest or things that I’m curious about during my vacation planning. Here, I printed out a map with directions from our hotel to Disneyland because I was curious about the distance.

Using receipts to track vacation expenses.

Envelopes for Receipts. 

I very much use this folder throughout the trip, which means stuff often gets added to it along the way. One tip you might find useful is to put some envelopes for sorting receipts. At the end of the trip, you’ll be able to see how much you spent on food, gas, souveniers, etc. This can help you more effectively budget for your next trip.

Here are a few additional things I’ve put in my folders before:

  • Copies of insurance cards and paperwork. Good idea if you’re planning on renting a car! Last year, I also ended up at an urgent care clinic on a trip (don’t worry – nothing too serious!), and realized I’d left my insurance card at home. Thank goodness my husband had his in his wallet. I now have a copy of all four of our cards that goes in the folder, along with a copy of our most current car insurance policy and roadside assistance information. You may wish to use this as a gentle nudge to call your insurance rep prior to your trip to make sure you’re adequately covered.
  • Car rental agreement. If we rent a car, I like to put the agreement with any receipts into the folder for safekeeping.
  • Attraction & event information. One of the reasons we’re headed to Disney is so I can run the Star Wars Half Marathon. It’s important to me that I’ve included information about the Expo, my race waiver, and course map in my folder. If you have a special event or attraction you’re hoping to hit on your trip, you could include necessary information in your folder.
  • Brochures and mementos. A trip folder is a good way to keep those postcards, brochures, and other similar souveniers neatly organized when you get back from your trip!

I love having these vacation folders as reminders of special memories our family has shared. Not only do they help you stay organized for your vacation, they serve as a nice token of your trip after you return, too.

Now it’s your turn: have you ever put a folder like this together before? Do you have any ideas on what else you might include?

PS you might want to check out these posts for more reading:


101 Resolutions You May Not have Thought Of!


101 Resolutions you might not have thought of! - {perfect for brainstorming this year's goals!}

Yesterday I shared a post entitled 6 Tips for Achieving your Resolutions. But what if you’re stumped about what your resolutions should (or could!) be for 2015? To help get you thinking, I’ve brainstormed a list of 101 Resolutions. Of course, these are met to help get you thinking. Feel free to take them, modify, and expand to apply to your life. The idea is to provide you with some inspiration!

1. Read one book a month.
2. Host a dinner party once a month.
3. Take a cooking class.
4. Write a handwritten letter or card once a week.
5. Try a new recipe once a week.
6. Run a 5k.
7. Get your SCUBA license.
8. Go skydiving.
9. Return your library materials on time, every time this year. (*AHEM!*)
10. Make regular time for your children, one on one.
11. Read a book aloud with your spouse.
12. Grow a vegetable garden.
13. Sign up to volunteer for a cause you believe in.
14. Sponsor a child.
15. Run a 5K.
16. Complete a triathlon.
17. Volunteer in your child’s school twice a month.
18. Declutter your home.
19. Climb a mountain.
20. Travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go.
21. Fund a $1,000 emergency savings. 
22. Pay off your credit cards.
23. Start a blog.
24. Meet with a friend for coffee at least once a month.
25. Take up a new exercise (kickboxing, yoga, crossfit).
26. Keep your kitchen counter clear of clutter.
27. Get up a half hour earlier every morning.
28. Go to bed a half hour earlier every evening.
29. Reduce the time you spend watching TV/surfing the web and invest it in a new hobby.
30. Start logging your food intake.
31. Run a half marathon.
32. Run a full marathon.
33. Clean your closet.
34. Drink 6 glasses of water each day.
35. Swap out your second cup of coffee for a cup of tea each day.
36. Take a multivitamin.
37. Adopt a pet from the local shelter.
38. Teach your kids something they aren’t learning in school.
39. Learn a new language.
40. Complete a nagging home repair project.
41. Make amends with someone you’ve wronged in the past.
42. Help a friend meet one of their goals.
43. Seek out and support locally-owned businesses in your city.
44. Take a photography class.
45. Create a better system for handling your mail.
46. Create a scrapbook of your memories from last year.
47. Organize your kids’ artwork.
48. Stay on top of doctor and dental visits.
49. Seek counseling for an issue that’s been difficult or painful for you to face alone.
50. Make conscious efforts to befriend someone you know who’s lonely.
51. Make dinner from home 5 nights a week.
52. Limit the coffee you buy out to twice a week.
53. Have a date night with your spouse twice a month.
54. Put a will and estate plan in place.
55. Review your insurance policies.
56. Review your credit report and identify areas for improvement.
57. Move to using cash for certain expenses, like groceries and entertainment.
58. Find a way to earn $100 extra per month.
59. Start planning a dream vacation.
60. Try a new fruit or vegetable once a week.
61. Visit someplace in your city you’ve always wondered about, but never stopped to explore.
62. Find an accountability partner.
63. Start journaling.
64. Write a book.
65. Make a career change.
66. Learn to paint.
67. Go hot air ballooning.
68. Pursue a pilot’s license.
69. Go back to school.
70. Organize your family’s photos.
71. Organize a family photo shoot.
72. Plan a family reunion.
73. Plan a reunion with old friends.
74. Learn to sew.
75. Get regular manicures.
76. Run a faster mile.
77. Schedule at least 30 minutes of “me time” everyday.
78. Read the Bible through, chronologically.
79. Watch 100 of the best films ever made.
80. Watch all the films Wikipedia lists to be the worst ever made.
81. Learn to do a handstand.
82. Learn to do a back flip.
83. Learn to do the splits.
84. Repaint your bedroom.
85. Learn how to restore furniture.
86. Go back and complete a goal from last year that you didn’t finish.
87. Make a pen pal.
88. Mentor someone.
89. Learn to can.
90. Eliminate impulse grocery shopping trips.
91. Learn to salsa.
92. Learn how to make salsa.
93. Face something that scares you.
94. Clean out your car and trunk once a week.
95. Organize your garage.
96. Make regular time for social outings.
97. Bring a friend or family member in need a meal once a week.
98. Start each day by identifying your top 3 goals. 
99. Start a Facebook accountability group with your friends.
100. Start a new family tradition.
101. Tell your family you love them every day.

Phew! I hope you’ve got some good inspiration for your goals today! What else would you add to my list? 


6 Tips for Achieving your Resolutions


How to make resolutions that matter - and how to achieve them

Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting a lot on my resolutions for 2015. Part of that process has been thinking about goals from prior years. Some of them have been successes while others, failures. What has made the difference? After consideration, I came up with six tips that can make a difference in turning your goals into realities.

Tip #1: Make clearly-defined, actionable goals. 

If your goal for the year is to “become more healthy,” I’d encourage you define what that looks like. “Lose 20 pounds,” “attend kickboxing lessons once a week,” or “cook from home 5 nights a week” are all better goals because they are specific and most importantly, you’ll know when you’ve met them.

Sometimes the process of writing your goals out will force you to define them. Have you taken the time to do that yet?

Tip #2: Break a large goal into smaller parts. 

When I set out to lose 30 pounds last year, I decided to break it out into increments of 4-5 pounds that I would focus on monthly. Each month, I’d print out a calendar and write a workout schedule. On the top of that month, I’d write my current weight and then my goal weight. I would then tape this up on my refrigerator where I’d see it frequently. Every day, I’d refer to that schedule and make that day’s workout one of my 3 Most Important Things to accomplish.

While it sounds very simple, it absolutely worked. It’s much easier to focus on what you need to do in a given day or even month than the space of 6-12 months. For 2015, I’m approaching our financial goals in a similar fashion.

Tip #3: Share your goals with a friend. 

The tendency a lot of us have when we start a new goal is to blab about it on Facebook. “Hey everyone! I’m going to start a new workout program this month!” I get it, trust me I do. I’ve done this before (and probably will continue to do it!). But you know what’s far more effective? Finding one or two friends or accountability partners you can meet with and discuss your goals at length. I’m so grateful to have a dear friend in my life that I share this with. Currently, we’ve decided to come up with a goal for a number of categories (spiritual, physical, family, community, etc.) and then we’re going to meet for an hour or so next week and discuss. We meet regularly which means I know I’ll be asked about my goals throughout the year. Even better, she challenges me and I know she’s going to have some great thoughts and suggestions for how I can meet my goals in 2015!

Tip #4: Consider coming up with a word focus. 

Last year, I was inspired by a number of blogs that I read that encouraged coming up with a one word focus for your year. I came up with the word Intention and it was perfect for 2014. That word frequently would come to mind as I’d go about my day. It was among my most successful years, ever. Even though we’re into 2015, that word will continue to have a huge impact on my life.

This year, my word is “Serve,” and so the majority of my goals will tie into the focus of giving to and helping others. Some of the words my friends have chosen for 2015 include home, minimal, discipline, conquer, and focus. I love all of these words and the potential for how they could inspire a year’s worth of goals and action! You could also use an image or symbol if you tend to be visual.

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12 Favorite Items for Top New Year’s Resolutions (hint: some are free!)


12 Resources & Products: for top new Year's Resolutions

Can you believe it’s New Year’s Eve already? If you’re like me, you’re madly planning your New Year’s Resolutions! What will your goals be – to finally declutter your home? Pay off that nagging credit card bill? Maybe lose those 30 pounds you’ve been carrying?

For fun, I thought I’d share some of my favorite products and resources to help you with your New Year’s Resolutions this year. I’ve worked to include a number of low-cost and no-cost resources for this list, too.

Resolution: Weight Loss


I know I’m starting this list with a shameless plug, but what can I say? It’s free! Yesterday I kicked off my January series – Losing Weight on a Budget. I’m going to be talking about everything I did to finally lose weight in 2014 and reach my goal! The series is going to cover all aspects of healthy weight loss including the mental aspects, how to make peace with food, fitness tips, and more. I promise: I’m not endorsing any weight loss product. I truly believe you can lose weight without spending money and I invite you to join me. Read the introduction, and then watch for new posts every Friday and Monday through January.


If you have a goal to lose weight, get in shape, eat better, or any combination of the above – please do yourself a favor and check out MyFitnessPal! It’s a free website and free app that you can use to track your food and fitness. MyFitnessPal can be custom tailored to ANY diet you are already following – Paleo, vegan, Whole30, reduced calorie, etc. MyFitnessPal was one of THE most instrumental tools in helping me get real about my eating in 2014. It was easy to use and didn’t consume large portions of my time because many foods and their data are already in the massive food database that millions of users have contributed to! Now that I’ve reached my weight loss goal, I’m still using MyFitnessPal to track my maintenance calories. I also regularly make use of the forums and community there to support my journey.

I consider MyFitnessPal to be a budget-friendly alternative to Weight Watchers.

garmin152The Garmin Forerunner 15 made my list of My Favorite 10 Products for 2014 and for good reason! This GPS running watch tracks my pace, my distance, and my calories! It has been so helpful for my running this year. The other day I was shocked to see my sprinting pace was 5:30! And, the watch helped me keep pace to hit a 5K PR! I also love that I can just head out my front door and run for 6, 7, 8+ miles without having to map a distance out ahead of time.

The other benefit to the Garmin Forerunner is that it tracks your steps per day, much like a FitBit. I set my goal to 10,000 steps daily. (This morning I’m only at 195 thanks to all my blogging, so I’d better get cracking!)

The Garmin Forerunner 15 is currently priced at $139.99 on Amazon, down from $169.99. While it’s not cheap, I think it’s worth every penny if you are serious about running or planning on getting into racing this year. When compared to the added functionality it gives you over the FitBit, I think it’s a much better choice for the runner.

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family calendar

2015 Wall Calendar (Wet Erase; Laminated): $8.98 (& why we’ve done this for years!)

family calendar

family calendar - laminatedFor at least the last 5 years now, my husband and I head to the office store and purchase a giant at-a-glance laminated calendar like the one pictured above. This calendar gets filled out with my husband’s work schedule (he’s a firefighter, so the days he works rotate), special days/vacations, and birthdays. We then tape it up on the inside of our pantry door, like so:familycalendar

I know it sounds so simple; but it’s really been a life saver! Before implementing this method, I’d never know what to say to friends when we received an invitation three-four weeks out. “I’ll have to check with Terry’s schedule and get back to you!” Now I can just go over and glance at the entire year to see when he’s working and what we’ve got going on.

I know that many people love using their phones and programs such as Google Calendar to track stuff like this, but there is definitely something nice about being able to just glace at your family’s schedule in one spot, easily.

Today I paid over $20 for our calendar from the local office store, but I’m kicking myself because the one pictured above (which is extremely comparable!) is only $8.98 on Amazon right now.


You may also wish to pick up a pack of Wet Erase markers, like these 8-pack for just $6.05 (or this 4-pack for $2.99 as an add-on item). One idea my husband came up that I love is color coding our calendar. He selects one color for birthdays and another for work days. What else could you track on your family’s calender?

  • Sports schedules
  • After-school activities
  • Volunteer schedule
  • Garbage/Recycle days
  • Home & Car maintenance reminders
  • Date nights
  • Goal tracking (to sync with your New Year’s resolutions!)
  • Many other ideas!

Head to Amazon to check out the calendar and wet-erase markers.

Do you do something similar like this in your home? Other tips for organizing your family’s 2015 calendar?


“All out of” Magnetic Grocery List Reminder Pad: $5.60 shipped!


alloutofHave you ever had the unfortunate experience of getting home from the grocery store only to realize you forgot you were out of kitchen waste bags? Or flour? Or canned tomatoes?

If so, I found a (cute!) solution to this problem: this “All out of” pink pad is selling for just $5.90 on Amazon and ships for free with Prime. It contains 60 sheets and has a magnetic backing so it can fit on your fridge. As you run out of items, just tick the boxes. There are even blank lines so you can write in your own items, too. While there are several colors available, the pink seems to be the best deal at the moment. This item also has an average 4.5-star rating after 300+ customer reviews.

But wait – it gets better! There is a Subscribe and Save option for this item, which means you can save an additional 5% and score free shipping (whether or not you have Prime).



To take advantage of that discount, just schedule a recurring delivery of this item. Your price will then drop to $5.60. After your first item ships, you can easily change the frequency or even cancel future deliveries through your Amazon account without obligation or hassle.

Even better, if you end up having 5 or more subscriptions in a month – you will save 20% off ALL of them (this particular deal would work out to $4.72). For more information, please see our post on How to Maximize your Savings with Subscribe and Save. As a reminder, we also publish a weekly list of the top Subscribe and Save deals on Amazon. Take a look – adding a few low cost subscriptions (such as this one) to get your goal of 5 per month, means you save 20% on your higher cost subscriptions too!

Head to Amazon to check out the All out of” deal! As a reminder, prices and availability can change at any time and without warning on Amazon.



10 Storage Solutions for Handling Kid Paperwork


10 Storage Solutions for Kids' Paperwork #organization #storage

Kids Paperwork Organization Ideas

Just yesterday, I was chatting with a friend about how difficult it can be to stay up on kids’ papers! It’s one of those categories that can create real clutter real fast if you don’t have systems in place to handle it. This week, I’ve been getting my house ready for fall and back to school and organizing those papers is very much on my mind. I thought I’d share a few items I found on Amazon that may help create control.

These items cover a number of situations you may encounter with kids’ paperwork – storing it, dealing with the day-to-day homework, and displaying the very best peices.

alexart#1 – Alex Art Expanding Portfolio: $18.49 (ships free with Prime)

My friend said she ended up buying these expanding portfolios for her kids. They have 9 pockets so you can store special projects from grades K – 8. There’s even a slot for the child’s photo on the front! I love how these portfolios hold oversized artwork up to 12″ x 18″. I’m definitely thinking of picking up a couple of these to store my kids’ very best work. This is a best-selling item that has received very solid ratings on Amazon from other customers!


#2 – Paper Storage Box Organizer: $5.99 (ships free with Prime)

How do you handle all the papers and homework that come in on a daily basis from school? This attractive paper holder could fit on a kitchen counter or other space to attractively hold paperwork until it’s time to deal with it.

classroomkeeper#3 – Classroom Keeper 6 Drawer Storage Shelf: $16.99 (ships free with Prime)

There are so many possibilities for how you could use this organizer! Give each child their own drawer, store filler and computer paper, create incoming/outgoing slots, use it for sorting mail. I am envisioning cute labels on this one and I think it would tuck nicely in a pantry or counter space.


#4 – Classroom Keeper Magazine Holders, set of 6 in assorted colors: $17.69 (ships free with Prime)

Here’s another option for dealing with paperwork: color coded holders! One could be for homework that needs to be done, another could be for items to be filed, another still for your own bills/action items.



#5 – Set of 10 Bankers Boxes: $33.65 – $3 clipless coupon = $30.65 (ships free with Prime)

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MIT Challenge Month Recap: Reflecting on Goals

MITThe funny thing about time: it  goes by fast whether you make the most of it, or do nothing at all.

This month, I challenged you to join me for one month to identify your 3 Most Important Things every day – the 3 tasks or “to do” items that you wanted to make sure you got done, no matter what else did (or did not). I’m going to share how my month went, and then I want to hear how yours did, too.

My Monthly Results

June went really well for me. I got a lot of stuff done, yes, but the biggest benefit of prioritizing my to-do list has meant I feel calm most of the time. This is very unusual for me, because I am normally a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants girl and typically feel chaotic and frazzled. I know it sounds cheesy, but this is honestly the first time I’ve ever felt this balanced with everything that’s on my plate.

Here are some of the things I accomplished in June:

  • I lost 5 pounds! One of my monthly goals was to lose 5 pounds. I *just* made that goal today. I worked out very hard this month, between 40 and 70+ minutes 5 or 6 days a week. I’ve now lost a total of 11 pounds. I still have a few more to drop, but I’m feeling so good about my fitness level right now. The other day I cranked out 5 miles on the treadmill and did 20 minutes on the stairmill and woke up, not sore a bit!
  • I organized our family’s photos. This was another one of my goals for June. I purchased a back-up plan for my computer (so if my computer ever crashes, I won’t lose all my photos!). I then went through thousands of photos and organized them into neat and tidy folders. This is one of those tasks that sounds like a lot worse than it really ends up being. I just listened to some This American Life podcasts and cranked it out.
  • I made most of our meals at home. I made a meal plan every week this month and a corresponding grocery list. This greatly reduced meals we ate out and random middle-of-the-week purchases.
  • My house is more manageable. I don’t want to paint the picture that my house is super clean, because it’s not. But I’m finding I’m doing a much better job of staying up on things like keeping the dishes clean and laundry done.
  • I read a couple books! I finished The Alchemist and The Fault in our Stars this month. I just started The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of those who Survived the Great American Dustbowl over the weekend. (I was in the mood for something non-fiction. PS – those are my Amazon links, if you click on them!)
  • I made time for friends and family. I think often the first thing to go on our schedule is hanging out with friends. But relationships are so important. We got to have a couple dinners with friends this month, and a couple others with family. I met with my spiritual accountability partner a few times, made time for church, and book club. I like feeling connected!

While this might sound like a lot, again, it was accomplished by simply prioritizing the 3 Most Important Things I needed to accomplish in a day. Of course, my to-do list is always much longer than that, but knowing that the most important things are getting tackled leaves you feeling satisfied and that you are making progress.

Now It’s your Turn

So, enough about me – I *really* want to hear from you now!

If you participated in this challenge, sound off! What benefits did you see from it? Challenges? Do you think you’ll be sticking with this method, even beyond June? Please leave a comment!

If you didn’t participate, but have another method that works for you, I’d love to hear about that too!

Previous posts, in case you missed them:


MIT Challenge Monday Inspiration: Setting Weekly & Monthly Goals


For the month of June, I’m running a Most Important Things challenge! Participating is free and easy. Every day for the month of June, I want you to note on your to-do list the three most important things (MITs) you want to accomplish that day. If you are just joining me – it’s not too late. Please head back to my Most Important Things Challenge post to learn more about what this simple method has done to transform my life over the past several weeks and how you can get started, too.

Each Monday, I’ve been sharing a simple tip/inspiration post to keep you going with this challenge. Here are the last two Monday tips I’ve shared, in case you’ve missed them:

Why Set Weekly & Monthly Goals

Getting back into the habit of setting daily goals was nothing short of amazing for me. As the days and weeks wore on, I found that I was reaping all kinds of benefits, such as:

  • My house was getting cleaner
  • We were eating more meals at home – and saving money
  • I started to get fit, and drop a few pounds
  • I actually had more free time, not less
  • I began to feel calmer, more balanced

As I felt like I was achieving some semblance of order in my life, I realized there were other goals (some I’d been procrastinating on, quite frankly!) that would take me more than a single day to achieve. I began to realize that in addition to ticking off the boxes on my daily to-do list, I wanted to start to think about my weeks, and even my months.

For June, I decided to try setting just two goals: 1) lose 5 pounds and 2) organize our family photos. Are there other things in my life I need to do and work on? Absolutely. But I wanted to come up with two meaningful goals I could really make a dent on, given my time. Too many goals (or too vaguely written) and I knew I’d just be setting myself up for failure. Three weeks in, I can tell you, I’m making good on those two goals and should be able to meet them by June 30th!

When you take the time to define your weekly or monthly goals, it will help you more readily focus on what you need to do each day. For instance – my goal of losing 5 pounds in June meant making sure I had “working out” as one of my top 3 goals most days. You might take one of your monthly goals and divide it into small, manageable chunks that can get added to one of your daily to-do lists.

The Funny thing about Achieving a Goal

When you make a goal that is realistic and then you achieve it? You feel empowered! This is totally how I feel going into July. I’m nearly done completing my June goals and I’ve already begun brainstorming of what I might tackle for July – organizing and backing up important family documents, organizing my closet, updating our family portrait wall, losing another 5 pounds. I truly feel like I’m living up to my 2014 word of intention.

Yesterday as I was walking the dog, I was taking stock of how amazing things are going for me right now. It’s taken a few weeks of persistence, but for the first time in longer than I can remember (maybe, ever?), I’m finally feeling balanced and less fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants (my usual MO). I am NOT a disciplined, super organized person. I’ve just found a system that’s working for me.

Now it’s Your Turn!

Do you take the time to set weekly or monthly goals? I’d love to hear about it, and what works for you. If you are following my MIT challenge this month, how are you feeling, now that we’re in week 3? What kinds of benefits are you reaping? Any challenges you’re encountering? Please leave a comment below!

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MIT Challenge Friday Check-in: Week #3

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This month, I am running a challenge: every day for them month of June, I want you to note your 3 Most Important Things to accomplish for that day. The goal is to encourage productivity, as well as help you take stock of all you are likely accomplishing on a day-to-day basis!

Every Friday in June, I’ve been providing a quick check-in for those that have accepted this challenge, as well as share how my week has been going with you.

Meeting Goals

The photo at the top of this post isn’t super flattering, but mind you – I’d just completed a 12K race – that’s 7.46 miles! I have to admit, I’m rather proud of myself. You see, for the last year or so, I’ve been a real funk when it comes to fitness. I just could not seem to get on a good workout regimen and managed to pack on more than a few pounds.

In the last week of April, I decided to start running again. That week, I ran 2 miles Monday through Friday. By the end of the week, on a complete whim, I decided to register for the Sound to Narrows 12K race, which was less than 2 months out. I’d run this race several times before, but mind you – the last time had been 9 years prior! In order to stick to my goal, I printed out a monthly calendar and created a training plan. I then plastered this to my refrigerator. Every day, I consulted it and made sure to include that day’s workout as one of my Most Important Things to accomplish.

I’m now completing week 8 of working out like this – and it’s been nothing short of amazing. In just a few weeks I went from feeling like I could barely run 2 miles to completing over 7 and feeling great at the end of it! Some days, like yesterday, I’ve felt so good I’ve actually gone above and beyond what I scheduled myself to do in a day.

Whether or not running is your thing, I really encourage you to think about setting a fitness goal. There are few things that “click” with me and encourage me to stick with working out like signing up for some event where I’ll *need* to be in shape to do well.

Monthly Goals Update

Before I set daily goals, I set two monthly goals for June. Here they are, and the progress I’ve made on them.

Goal #1: Lose 5 pounds. I’m so proud of myself – I’ve already lost 4 pounds for June! I should easily meet my goal of 5 pounds this month, and possibly exceed it. This brings my total weight loss to-date to 10 pounds. I’m starting to feel like myself again and a lot less “bloaty” (for lack of a better term).

Goal #2: Organize Family Photos. I haven’t done anything related to this goal in the last week. I am hoping to make time this weekend to make some progress on this one. Some of you have asked how I’m doing this – let me finish this project myself and then I’ll do a post on how it went along with some tips.

I feel that my goals are realistic and achievable given the transition of this month from school to summer vacation.

Now it’s your Turn!

If you’ve been following this challenge, I’d love to hear about your week! How did it go? What kinds of tasks did you complete? Are you having to adjust your expectations/routine now that end of school is here? Please share!

And if you’re just finding this challenge – it’s not too late to jump on board! Please visit the MIT Challenge postto learn more how to get started, a free Daily Docket download, and what it’s done for my life.



MIT Challenge Monday Inspiration: Creating Downtime


For the month of June, I’m running a Most Important Things challenge! Participating is free and easy. Every day for the month of June, I want you to note on your to-do list the three most important things (MITs) you want to accomplish that day. If you are just joining me – it’s not too late. Please head back to my Most Important Things Challenge post to learn more about what this simple method has done to transform my life over the past several weeks and how you can get started, too.

Last Monday’s tip was Setting Reasonable Goals. Make sure to check out that tip, too!

Structuring Guilt-Free Downtime

One of the misconceptions of a system like this is that you’ll always be go, go, go. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth! When you know you’ve accomplished your Most Important Things for the day, you’ll begin to feel like you can truly relax and kick back at other parts of the day – without feeling guilty or like there is something else you should be doing.

Here are some of the ways I’ve worked to create downtime in my week:

  • I strive to get my MITs done early to match my natural motivation and energy levels. I find I’m usually best mid-morning (after a cup of coffee – *cough!*). This is when I generally do my best work. Today, for instance, my goal is to complete my MITs by 2pm so I can take my kids to the park and library this afternoon and enjoy a leisurely summer evening with them.
  • I spend most of my weekend unplugged. I’ll admit, I love catching up on Facebook and blogs over the weekend – but the time I’m online is very limited. I have structured this blog in such a way that neither I or my content developers do much (or any) work on the weekends. For me, weekends are about family and building my faith.
  • I monitor my media time. Increasingly, I’ve come to believe that one of the reasons we feel busy so often is due to the fact that we are never unplugged! Computers, phones, tablets… these things can be great tools provided we control them and not the other way around. After a small stint with a smartphone, I’m back to using a plain ol’ dumb phone. It’s just not for me right now anyways. I moved my computer back to the office so it’s not as easy to just plunk down and waste time online. Being deliberate about your time online, in particular, how you use social media sites, can really help you cut out wasted time in your day. You might be amazed that if you can cut back in this area, you suddenly have time to join that book club you’ve been thinking about, getting back into running, or going out to the movies with your spouse.

Making time for hobbies and just “downtime” is so essential to my health and well-being. To me, it takes work and intention to make sure that downtime happens. The truth is, there is always something that can be done, isn’t there? It takes real work to pull in the reins and say, “no, I’ve ticked enough boxes today – I can feel good about what I’ve done today. Now is the time to rest and enjoy being with my family and doing the things that bring me fulfillment.”

Now it’s Your Turn!

Do you feel that you have enough “downtime” in your life? If so, how have you worked to create that balance in your life? If not, how do you think you can get to a place where you can create even a small amount of downtime to recharge?

If you’re following the MIT Challenge, I’d particularly love to hear from you. How is it working? What changes are you beginning to see? Any observations or tips you can share? Please leave a comment below!


MIT Challenge Friday Check-in: Week #2


This month, I am running a challenge: every day for them month of June, I want you to note your 3 Most Important Things to accomplish for that day. The goal is to encourage productivity, yes, but also begin to feel better at the end of the day knowing that you have a way to measure your success.

Every Friday, I’ll want to provide a place to check-in for those that have accepted this challenge, as well as share how my week has been going with you.

End of Schoolitis

Today is the last day of my kids’ school and I’ll be honest, I’m kind of freaking out! All year long, I’ve enjoyed having concentrated time to work, clean, run errands, and workout during the day, which has meant I’ve also had concentrated time to spend with my kids in the afternoons, evenings, and weekends. I’m about to head back into work-family mode and I’m nervous how my new MIT routine is going to mesh with the change in pace.

This week, I’ve crammed in some last-minute activities…

[Read more…]


MIT Challenge Monday Inspiration: Setting Reasonable Goals


For the month of June, I’m running a Most Important Things challenge! Participating is free and easy. Every day for the month of June, I want you to note on your to-do list the three most important things (MITs) you want to accomplish that day. If you are just joining me – it’s not too late. Please head back to my Most Important Things Challenge post to learn more about what this simple method has done to transform my life over the past several weeks and how you can get started, too.

Setting Realistic & Measurable MITs

Every Monday this month, I want to share a little nugget with you of what I’ve learned…  a little inspiration to keep us going! Today I want to talk about how to set MITs that are realistic for your life. Here are 5  key tips I’ve learned through trial and error:

#1 – Make one MIT a small, quick item. 

If all three of your goals are time consuming, you’re liable to feel discouraged at the end of the day! I like making one of my MITs something small, yet still important. For instance -

  • Write and mail off a thank you card to a friend.
  • Schedule the kids’ dentist appointment.
  • Order a new filter for the fridge.

I find you gain momentum early on in your day if you have a goal you can cross off right away! Notice these are still important tasks – things you may have even been putting off or wouldn’t get to otherwise. I actually recently created a list of small “naggy” things (I really need a better name for this list). This has helped me fill in some of the MITs this month and cross off items I’ve been procrastinating on.

#2 – Make one MIT about self-care. 

If all I’m doing is this, that, and the other for work or my family, I’m going to feel really burnt out! One of the best things I’ve done for myself is make one of my standing MITs working out.

Since I’m currently training for a 12K, I created a month long training schedule and taped it on my fridge. Every morning, I consult with the schedule and plop that workout on my MIT sheet. It’s amazing to me how I’ve actually been able to stick with working out 5-6 days per week for the last 6+ weeks now!

#3 – Make your MITs specific. 

Your MITs need to have a start and a finish so you know exactly at what point the item gets crossed off. For instance, I’ve stopped writing, “do the laundry” and started writing things like, “complete 2 loads of laundry and put away.” Make them measurable and adjust your expectations, if need be.

#4 – Temper high activities with low activities. 

You don’t want to have clean the whole house, do this year’s taxes, and plan the garage sale all in one day. You’re just setting yourself up for failure – or burnout. No one can sustain that.

At the beginning of the day, I like to consider what activities we have naturally going on. Today, for instance, we have swim lessons and a special school event in the evening. I also have some work projects that need to get addressed. I will factor in the blocks of time I will have left to determine what can get done, and what can get moved to another day. Also consider your energy level! Today I do have a few higher-level energy activities that need to get completed. Given that, I’m going to make sure that tomorrow or Wednesday is a bit lower key.

#5 – Break bigger goals into smaller ones. 

Last Friday, I shared that one of my goals this month is to organize my family’s photos. They are just on my computer, which is a huge liability in case anything happens! I knew it would be foolhardy to write, “organize family digital photos” for an MIT. It’s just too big and overwhelming of a task!

Instead, over the weekend I researched options and bought a digital backup plan. I started organizing one year’s photos, but I know I still have several hours to go. Some MITs that I might consider over the next few weeks for this goal could include:

  • Spend one hour on family photo organization project
  • Purchase flashdrive for family photo project
  • Organize family photos from 2014 (or whatever set amount of time)
  • Create a list of photobooks I’d like to create from the past several years

You might find it’s helpful to even write down your larger goal first and think of the smaller steps you’d need to complete to make it happen.

Now it’s Your Turn!

I’d love to hear how this process is working for you. Did you find your week was more productive or successful? What kinds of MITs are you including each day? What goals do you have for this week?

Please leave a comment below.


(Most Important Things) MIT Challenge Friday Check-in: Week #1

Most Important Things Challenge - June!

This past Monday, I kicked off a challenge: every day for them month of June, I want you to note your 3 Most Important Things to accomplish for that day. The goal is to encourage productivity, yes, but also begin to feel better at the end of the day knowing that you have a way to measure your success.

Every Friday this month, I want to provide a place to check-in for those that have accepted this challenge, as well as share how my week has been going with you.

When Life Interrupts

I’ve been following the MIT process now for several weeks and have seen real, measurable results with it. I’ve dropped a few pounds, started to gain traction on keeping my chores up, and even made time for friends and hobbies that I enjoy. This week I had high hopes for getting a lot done and entering into the final training week for the race I’m running next Saturday (Tacoma’s Sound to Narrows – 12K).

[Read more…]


June: Most Important Things (MIT) Challenge Month at The Coupon Project!


Most Important Things Challenge month = join in!

Imagine if I told you you’d just won $10,000.

I can almost guarantee you’d start ticking off in your mind how you’d use it. Maybe you’d pay off a pesky loan, make a nagging home repair, set some aside in savings, and perhaps even donate a portion to charity.

Now suppose I told you that the $10,000 would be paid to you in $5 daily increments. That’s right, for the next 2,000 days (5 years and 5 months!), you’d receive a $5 bill. Would you apply the same amount of discipline in how you allocated that money as if I’d paid it to you in one lump sum?

So it is with time. Every day, we have a finite amount of hours. We make choices, most of them small, that lead up to the sum of our lives. Those small choices can either build patterns that drive us to achieve our larger goals, or take us farther away from them. The older I get, the more I’m convinced of the importance of making wise decisions about the small stuff.

What the MIT process has done for me

I’ve been pondering the importance of small decisions a lot in 2014 and in the last several weeks have decided to do something about it. In the month of May, I:

[Read more…]

Proctor -Silex 1 Liter Electric Kettle

Proctor Silex Electric Kettle for $8.99 – Boil Water without Using Your Stove!

Proctor -Silex 1 Liter Electric Kettle

Proctor -Silex 1 Liter Electric Kettle

For a limited time you can get this highly-rated Proctor Silex 1-Liter Electric Kettle for $8.99 + free shipping with Amazon Prime (or get free Super Saver shipping on orders of $35 or more).

This is the lowest price this kettle has been on Amazon and $7 off the list price of $15.99. It’s highly-rated with 4.2 out of 5 stars from over 2,000 customer reviews!

I can think of a bunch of ways to use this: boil water for tea, coffee (instant or French press), oatmeal, ramen noodles, hot chocolate, etc. all without having to turn on your stove! What other uses can you think of for this electric kettle?


Anchor Hocking Jar, 1 Gallon for $7.44 (Great for Pantry Storage, Frugal Decor!)



These beautiful 1 gallon Anchor Hocking 1-Gallon Heritage Hill Jars have dropped back in price to $7.44 right now on Amazon! They have an average 4.5-star rating after 200+ reviews. These would ship for FREE with your Amazon Prime account or total order of $35 or more.

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE beautiful glass jars like these… there are so many uses!

  • Store your own homemade dry laundry detergent
  • Store your bulk food purchases in your pantry
  • Display holiday-themed or seasonal objects
  • Use as a candy or cookie jar
  • Store fruit for decor or kitchen use

Here’s my favorite use for over-sized jars like this… I have a rock and shell collection! I actually have a rock in there from the first time I went out with my husband 13 years ago (we were hiking with some of his friends at Deception Pass). I also have shells from around the sound, and sand friends have brought back from tropical locations. I think this makes for fun and beautiful decor without having to spend a lot of money! In this photo, I have them on my bedroom dresser, but I also think they look great in the bathroom.

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I’d love to know any additional ideas you can think of! As you probably already know, prices on Amazon can change quickly and without warning.


Zulily: Stylish Curtains $40 and under


If you are in need of curtains, get thee to Zulily! Right now, they have a curtain sale with very deep discounts! If you’ve never shopped Zulily before, you will need to set up an account (this just requires an email address and a password you create).

Check out some of the deals I spotted just now:


Blue & Chocolate Bridgette Thermal Curtain Panel – Set of Two: $24.99 (reg. $150!)

  • Includes two panels
  • 40” W x 84” H
  • 100% polyester
  • Machine wash
  • Imported


Gray Behrakis Chevron Curtain – Set of Two: $29.99 (reg. $200!)

  • Includes two curtains
  • 80” W x 84” H
  • Polyester
  • Imported


Silver Southport Diamond Thermal Curtain Panel – Set of Two: $27.99 (reg. $150!)

  • Includes two panels
  • 40” W x 84” H
  • 100% polyester
  • Machine wash
  • Imported

These are just a few of the many styles you’ll find. I found several other thermal-type blackout curtains as well as curtains as low as $14.99. This is actually quite timely for me as I have a couple rooms in need of curtains!

Head to Zulily to check out the curtain sale.

Thanks, Frugal Coupon Living!


Organized Simplicity: My FAVORITE book about Living Simply & Decluttering!



Now that Christmas is over, perhaps you’re a little like me… looking at the aftermath that is your house! I currently have decorations and wrappings strewn about, a serious lack of empty floor and kitchen counter space, and a very sad excuse for a laundry room.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, can I recommend a fabulous book? It’s called Organized Simplicity and it is the best book hands down I’ve ever read for how to live simply. It also includes one of the most helpful step-by-step (or should I say, room by room?) instructions for how to declutter your home.  I appreciate that the author (Tsh of Simple Mom) starts by helping you define your family’s values and lifestyle. This will then inform how you keep your home, versus imposing “systems” or “methods” you’ll only fight.

I actually followed the methods with GREAT success a couple years ago. Below is a photo of how my kitchen looked just after decluttering, thanks to the methods outlined in this book. I think I need to tack this photo to my fridge and get started today!


Organized Simplicity is currently $15.07 on Amazon for hardcover or $9.99 for Kindle (please note, prices subject to change at any time). I assure you it’s worth every penny and is not some of the “fluff” you’ll find in other similar books. I also love that the decluttering plan is doable enough to tackle in a week, unlike a site like FlyLady (which I found was way too much for me.) It’s a book I’ve read through at least a couple times now and will probably pick up and read again as I approach 2014. Warning: once you get started reading it, I doubt you’ll be able to put it down!

Incidentally, Simple Mom was also the one to develop the Daily Docket download which I’ve written about before and found to be THE best daily “to do” list I’ve found yet.

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you own or have read this book. I’d also love to hear if anyone out there has a plan for decluttering their house? 


Homemade Christmas Gift Ideas


Homemade Christmas Gift IdeasOver the course of my blog, I’ve shared a few tutorials and recipes that would lend themselves well for Christmas and holiday gifts! Here are some of my favorites:

Homemade Sugar Coffee Scrub.  Easy and quick to make. Would make a nice gift for a hostess or teacher.

Homemade Spa Gifts in Jars. Additional ideas on the homemade bath salts and scrubs. Easy to customize and very simple to make.

Candied Fruit Tutorial.  I’ve candied ginger, pommelo, and citron (Buddha’s hand). While they all turned out great, citron is my absolute favorite!

Mommy & Me Aprons. Requires basic sewing ability and equipment.

NOEL Boxes. Cute decor for your home or creative gift wrap idea!

Brownie Mix in a Jar. Easy and inexpensive to make. Another good option for a teacher’s gift when paired with box of cocoa!

Peg Doll Nativity Set. Beautiful homemade gift idea!

Christmas Almond Bark. A nice treat to bring to a holiday party.

Homemade Coffee Liqueur Recipe. For the person that has everything.

Fruitcake Recipe. Because what would Christmas gift giving be without a fruitcake? Warning: this recipe takes at least a couple weeks to make and requires copious doses of brandy. Not frugal. Not quick. But, delicious!

Miniature Mince Pies. These things … are amazing. If you’ve never thought of making this traditional recipe, or you think mincemeat just sounds wrong, you need to take a second look. STAT.

Figgy Pudding. Another forgotten about, brandy-laced dessert from Christmas Past. It’s time to bring it back, baby!

Soup Mixes in Jars. An easy, inexpensive food gift idea that doesn’t involve sugar or butter.

Candles in Baby Food Jars. Simple way to repurpose old baby food jars. Easy.

Vintage Snowglobes. Adorable snowglobes using old jars. A fun one to do with the kids. Warning: these might turn out a little *too* cute and you might not want to part with them. (Speaking from experience here.)

Pear Vanilla Bread. Deliciously different sweet bread! Would make a nice gift for a teacher, hostess, coworker, or friend.

snowglobeWill you be making your own gifts this holiday season?


Save $5 on Household Management Downloads, Inspirational Prints & More!


My pal Kelly is super talented. Not only does she come up with easy ways to organize your meals, she also has a fabulous Etsy store!

You might recall me mentioning the Life Notebook she designed before. The concept is simple: one place to store all that important information you need to manage your household and life. Right now, the Life Notebook is selling for $55 on Kelly’s site:


(You might want to visit her blog, Bringing Crafty Back, to learn more about the Life Notebook.)

Kelly has also informed me that she now has all the downloads of the Life Notebook available for $25. The benefit here is that you can just print off the sheets you need, when you need them.

I personally own a Life Notebook and I can tell you, they are very cute!

Make sure to check out the other items at Kelly’s store. I love this print, in particular (Dave Ramsey fans should know what’s up with this one!):


Coupon Project users can use coupon code TCP5OFF TCPOCT5 to save $5 off ANY purchase at Kelly’s store through October 25th!

Anchor Hocking Penny Jar

Anchor Hocking Penny Jar: $5.96 (Free shipping for Prime members)

Anchor Hocking Penny Jar

Anchor Hocking Penny Jar


These Anchor Hocking Penny Candy Jars, 1 gallon size with lids, are currently selling at $5.96 on Amazon!  These would be perfect for storing bulk food goods in your pantry or homemaked cookies on the counter. I also wonder if you couldn’t remove the lid and create a terrarium or other centerpiece.

These have received an average 4.5 stars after 16 reviews.

I also wanted to remind you that the Anchor Hocking Jars with Glass Lids I shared with you last night are also still selling for $7.44!



Either of these styles ships FREE with your Amazon Prime membership or total order of $25 or more on Amazon.

If you’ve not signed up for Amazon Prime before, you can try it for FREE for 30-days and take advantage of free 2-day shipping on most items, a wide variety of movies and TV shoes through Amazon Instant Video, and more.

Thanks, Thrifty NW Mom!


How I’m Organizing My Bills


About a month ago, I sent out a cry for help regarding my bills. I was ashamed to admit that whenever it was bill paying time, I was having to fish bills out from my car, office, counters, and various other places. Not good.

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Clearly I needed something more than just a folder, so I asked you for suggestions. Many of you were kind enough to comment on that post and some of you even emailed me privately. Thank you so much to everyone who responded!

After reading through everything you sent and considering the kind of mail I receive, I recognized I was in need of two systems:

  • Something for sorting mail quickly & painlessly
  • Something for organizing bill paying

I decided to be honest with myself: I don’t like carrying mail/paperwork up to the office every day. I am far more likely to set the mail on the kitchen counter. Given that this is my natural inclination, I decided to put my mail sorters in the kitchen.

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I checked the office section of Fred Meyer, but honestly all they had were the office-style mail organizers and I wasn’t wowed by the price. So I decided to take a spin down one of my favorite aisles at Fred Meyer. It’s the basket aisle in Housewares and they always have some sort of clearance section at the end of this aisle. Sure enough I found these cute blue-gray lined wicker baskets for 50% off clearance. They were $6 each, but after the clearance + sale, just $2.78 each!

DSCN1646 (800x600)I purchased two: one for stuff that needs to get filed (think insurance paperwork, benefits paperwork, retirement statements, etc.) and bills/action (think stuff that needs to get paid or addressed in some way). Everything else? Get recycled.

I’ve had this going for a couple weeks now, and I have to say, it seems to be working! Mail has a place to go now.

Here’s what I have going for bills:

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Reader Ari had emailed me a great post on a way to organize bills via a binder system. At first I was like, really? Another binder system? But as I read through the post and stopped and considered, I realized this method makes a ton of sense for my head. (I did tweak some of how that blogger does things though.)

Once a week (or whenever I have an opportunity), I shuffle the bills from my bill bin into the binder. I have folders for various bills: utility, debts, medical, other. I also created a tab for a calendar. I made sure to get the tabs with the folders in them, so when the bills need to be paid, they go into the folder. Once they are paid, I put a check mark on them with the date, and hole punch them in. My thought is that at the end of the year, I’ll remove everything, and start afresh.

I printed out a blank calendar and jotted down my bills on the date they were due that month. This was a really helpful visual! I’m also thinking of creating a checklist that I could print out for each month to include in the binder.

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Some of you suggested keeping everything handy with the bills: this was such an excellent tip, and another reason I’m glad I went with the binder system! As you can see from the picture above, I have highlighters and pens in my binder, along with a $0.19 Fred Meyer notebook just as a scratch pad.

DSCN1649 (600x800)I also fished out the stamps from a junk drawer and a small calculator. I feel I’m forever misplacing these things, too! You can’t tell from the pictures, but there’s also an expanding file folder in the binder. I’m not sure yet how I may use it – I suspect possibly for storing tax documents.

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There’s even a nice pouch in the back that’s big enough to store my Roadtrip folder, too!

I did spend $15 on this binder at Fred Meyer, so it wasn’t super cheap, but I do think it was worth it. I love all the built in organizers and I really love how the whole thing zips up and has a handle. I think in the end I will save a lot of time and stress because everything I need is right at hand. Yesterday my kids had swim lessons and I was able to bring this with and note what bills we had and when they were coming due. This might sound really corny, but this was the first time in a long time it was almost fun to figure out the bills. (I know, I’m a dork!)

If you’ve been feeling really disorganized about your paperwork – whether it’s bills, taxes, business-related stuff, or mail – this would be an excellent time of year to consider updating your method because so many office supplies are at the lowest prices they’ll be all year thanks to back to school. All told, I bet I spent about $25 on the baskets, binder, new pens, notebook, highlighters, and folders.

Thanks again to everyone who took the time out to share what has worked for them! I hope I’ve encouraged a few of you to get better organized with your important papers, too!


Nine Kitchen Appliances I Own & Love


I thought today I’d share with you some of the kitchen appliances I own and how I use them! I don’t have every gadget in the book, so the ones I give valuable cabinet space to I try to make sure get real use.


#1 – Slow Cooker

How I use it: for reheating freezer meals, making my own vegetable broth, and making my own soups and chilis.
How often I use it: about once weekly, sometimes more.
Tips for scoring a deal: wait for October (also known as “Crocktober” for deals and rebates both in stores and on Amazon. Fred Meyer had some particularly HOT deals. I’ve had my same slow cooker for 10+ years, but I’d love to upgrade to a better one, such as the Hamilton Beach pictured above!)
Pictured above: Hamilton Beach Programmable Slow Cooker is currently selling for $49.99. We’ve seen this drop closer to the $30 range before.


#2 – Electric Griddle

How I use it: for making pancakes, burgers, bacon, and sliders.
How often I use it: about once every other week.
Tips for scoring a deal: watch around the holidays – this is one of those items that department stores like to feature in Black Friday and other holiday sales. Sometimes you’ll find rebates for. I would consider $19.99 or less a solid deal! I had a reader suggest last week to check Grocery Outlet. She found one there for $19.99 fairly recently.
Pictured above: Presto 22″ Griddle with Removable Handles is currently selling for $24.99. This definitely looks like a nicer model than I have.

#3 – Mandolin Slicer

How I use it: to make even, thin slices of vegetables for salads and garnishes or for my son’s bento lunches. It would also be perfect if you are a raw foodist or like to make beautiful salads or coleslaws.
How often I use it: honestly, probably only once a month or so, but whenever I pull it out, I’m always delighted by the result and think to myself, man. I need to use this thing more!
Tips for scoring a deal: I want to say I ended up paying about $20 for mine on Amazon (and I did buy the one pictured above). Also watch Groupon Goods – I believe I’ve seen these there before. While you might be tempted to go really cheap on this gadget, I’d discourage you from doing that. You want a unit that sits solidly on your counter and has a sharp blade.
Pictured above: Progressive Folding Mandolin is currently $16.72 on Amazon + free shipping for Prime members. It comes with a storage case and a number of attachments. I do consider that a pretty nice deal for the quality!

vitamix#4 – Vitamix

How I use it: primarily for making green smoothies, because this thing blends like nobody’s business! Previously I did have a $20 cheapie blender and it just did NOT pulverize the greens properly. About once a month I’ll use it to puree up hot soups or other foods. Less occasionally, I’ve made stuff like homemade almond milk, pesto, and salad dressings (it will emulsify oil & vinegar together perfectly). I also do not own a food processor, so I will use my Vitamix in place of that at times.
How often I use it: about 3-5 times per week, sometimes oftener. It’s easily the most used kitchen appliance I own.
Tips for scoring a deal: a lot of people have sticker shock when they realize a Vitamix will run you about $400. I knew I wanted one for quite some time because my mom has had a Vitamix in her house since before I was born and swears by them. I watched her use them daily (and sometimes multiple times per day) for years and saw how they held up. She also sung the praises of their customer service, so I was willing to save up to buy one. Admittedly, saving on one is a bit of a tricky business, but I do have some thoughts in a separate post entitled Saving Money on a Vitamix.
Pictured above: Vitamix 1782 TurboBlend, 2 Speed for $361.88 shipped.



#5 – Dehydrator

How I use it: to dry my garden-grown herbs, making no-sugar added fruit rolls, dried fruit, dried teas, and potpourri.
How often I use it: I’ve probably used it 10 times in the last year since I’ve owned it, and loaned it out to friends about 3 times. I would consider a dehydrator a good appliance to have around if you grow a garden and/or are into making your own herbs, spices, and healthy snacks.
Tips for scoring a deal: watch Amazon – and possibly, Groupon Goods. The dehydrator pictured above is the one I personally own and paid $60 for, but it dropped to as low as $50 on Amazon a few months back. I’ll definitely report a price drop like that again!
Pictured above: Nesco 600-Watt Food Dehydrator is currently $59.88 shipped on Amazon. It’s been at this price for quite some time and I definitely feel it’s worth that cost. It’s a real workhorse! I do store it out in my garage as it’s a bit on the bulky side. It’s also one of those items you could consider buying jointly with a friend or your mom and share as it doesn’t tend to get used every day.


#6 – Boiling Water Canner

How I use it: to can high-acid foods such as jam, fruit, and tomatoes. (Note: you CANNOT use this to can up low-acid foods safely such as meat and vegetables - for that you’d definitely need a pressure canner.)
How often I use it: probably 10-12 times in the last year since I’ve had it, particularly around late summer and early fall when many items are harvested. Given the infrequent use and size of this beast, I also keep it stored out in my garage (next to the dehydrator!).
Tips for scoring a deal: I think the canner pictured above currently IS a deal for $19.95 on Amazon. It’s also the one I own! You can also read my post on How to Save on Canning Supplies and Jars for more targeted advice. If you’re new to canning, I also encourage you to read my post on How to Learn to Can Safely. Starting with boiling water canning is less intimidating and less expensive than pressure canning, in my humble opinino.
Pictured above: Granite Ware 0707-1 21-1/2-Quart Steel/Porcelain Water-Bath Canner with Rack for $19.97 + free shipping with Prime on Amazon.



#7 – Ice Cream Maker

How I use it: to make homemade ice cream. You can also make dairy-free ice cream or sorbet, but I’ve not tried this yet.
How often I use it: I’ve only used it twice to date, but plan on using it more in the near future. If you follow a dairy-free diet and love ice cream, you should consider buying one of these puppies given the high price of store-bought dairy-free ice cream!
Tips for scoring a deal: watch for end of summer clearance or holiday clearance at department stores, particularly JC Penney.
Pictured above: Cuisinart ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker, White is currently $53.99 shipped on Amazon. This is the one I own and it’s easy to use and clean up. I recommend it.


#8 – Coffee Bean Grinder

How I use it: to grind coffee beans (duh), but I also use mine to grind nuts, make breadcrumbs, or grind whole spices. While sometimes the manufacturers warn you this dulls the blade, I am happy to take the risk of just replacing the thing out every couple years so I can grind small amounts of whole foods quickly.
How often I use it: maybe once a month or more.
Tips for scoring a deal: watch department stores around the holidays. I’d also check out a store like Grocery Outlet. They usually carry stuff like this on their kitchen aisle and I bet you could snag one there for about $8-10.
Pictured above: Mr. Coffee IDS57-4 Coffee Grinder, Black for $17.99



#9 – Kitchenaid Mixer

How I use it: for baked goods, primarily – such as my banana bread recipe, chocolate chip cookies, or any batter that’s really “heavy” to mix by hand. There’s no way I could’ve hand mixed this fruitcake recipe, for instance, without a major hand/arm cramp! I also love to use it to make my own whipped cream for desserts using heavy cream + vanilla + powdered sugar.
How often I use it: probably once or twice a month, more during holiday baking season.
Tips for scoring a deal: Kitchenaid Mixers are a HOT item come holiday shopping season. Consider following my blog more closely during this time if you’re looking for a deal. I reported several last year, with the most notable deals happening at Kohl’s. Kitchenaid seems to put out rebate around that time and Kohl’s was offering coupons and cash back offers that resulted in some crazy low discounts on Kitchenaid Mixers. I’ve also spotted strong deals on Amazon and Groupon Goods.
Pictured above: KitchenAid KSM75WH Classic Plus Tilt-Head 4-1/2-Quart Stand Mixer, White is currently selling for $249.99 + $10 shipping on Amazon.

Gadgets I don’t own, but maybe I’d like sometime in the future (and I’d LOVE your thoughts on if you think they are helpful or not!):

  • Bread Machine
  • Rice Cooker
  • Food Processor
  • Food Saver

What would you say are your essential kitchen appliances – the ones you couldn’t live without? And how do you like to use them?


My Advice for Learning how to can Safely



Last night I decided to set up a Pinterest board on all things food preserving, as it’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. (You can follow my board there if you wish!) There are no shortage of fantastic blogs out there that post on canning, freezing, and other methods of food preservation and I’m having fun exploring them.

However, in going through some posts and watching some Facebook pages, I’ve sometimes observed something that’s bothered me. I should caveat this heavily by saying I’m not a canning expert – just someone who has read, re-read, and triple read the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and Blue Book Guide to Preserving (both of those are Amazon links, but both books can readily be found at your local library as well).

To cut to the chase – sometimes I’m seeing canning methods that don’t look safe, or recipes a blogger has “come up with.” On one such post last night, I found the following comment, buried in the thread:

I am a Cooperative Extension Agent for Food Safety and this recipe/process is NOT safe! It contains low acid foods and therefore MUST be pressure canned to destroy deadly C. botulinum spores. This is not an approved and tested USDA recipe and it also contains thickeners which slow down the process. For correct processing PLEASE refer to and see their guidelines…

Um, yikes.

Botulism spores, as the comment refers to, can grow in improperly canned foods. The results? Can sometimes be deadly. Perhaps you read about the California man last week who took some shortcuts canning elk and ended up with double vision a couple days later. Thankfully, the doctors caught the botulism poisoning before it was too late.

Botulism poisoning is definitely rare – in 2011, 145 cases were reported and only 15% of those were foodborne (so about 22 cases total). You are three times more likely to die by lightning. But nonetheless, botulism poisoning is a risk you take when you decide to not follow trusty recipes or experiment with ingredients (particularly low acid ones) or processing methods. (For more reading on this topic, I encourage you to check out NW Edible’s most excellent post & infographic entitled: How to Not Die from Botulism.)

So where am I going with all of this? What’s a newbie canner to do?

  • Learn to can from a reliable source. Start by learning how to can from either one/both of the books mentioned above, from an Extension Food Safety specialist, or even through Ball’s website. (Basically, use good common sense where you learn!)
  • Remember that anybody can start a blog. I think it can be easy to read a blog and accept that information as fact. You don’t have to play Devil’s Advocate about every last blog post you read, but you can remain a critical thinker and come to your own conclusions, too.
  • Beware of anecdotal evidence. I don’t know about you, but I get really wary anytime I hear someone explain away their questionable canning methods with “my grandma/mom/dad/etc always did it this way and we’re still alive” or “I canned celery in a boiling water canner last year and ate it all and I felt good.” Folks, that’s not good enough.
  • Don’t forget common sense & good judgment. Like most things in life, they’ll serve you well.

I have shared several canning posts on my blog, and I want you to know, I’m always going to include a disclosure. Following a canning post on a blog is not the same as following a cake or meatloaf recipe. There are some best practices that are involved to keep everyone safe.

My goal today is not to scare you away from canning if you’ve been on the fence. I definitely think it’s worth the effort to learn this important life skill and it’s hard to describe the pride you’ll feel seeing a row of beautiful jams you’ve “put up” by yourself. (Even more so if you grew or foraged all that produce yourself!) I just want to encourage you to be smart and safe and arm you with information you need to be successful.

With that, I’d like to end today’s post with some solid references for learning how to can. Any of these will help break things down for you. Provided you follow the instructions, you should be just fine!

You might also wish to read some of the other canning posts I’ve written on my own blog:

I’d love to hear from you. If you’re new, what about canning intimidates you? If you’re an old pro, I’m curious to hear you weigh in to. Do you feel I’m being overly cautious in my post today, or have you seen things that bother you too?

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HELP ME! I need a better system for this.

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I know I have a ton of savvy and well-organized folks out there, so I thought – why not ask you for some help?

Here’s the deal:

DSCN0655 (642x800) (2)This file? Is currently where I’m storing bills that need to get paid, bills that have gotten paid, and general mail and stuff that needs to get filed. Clearly, this isn’t working. I feel like I constantly have mail and papers in various stacks in my car and kitchen counters. This is a bad, bad habit and it needs to stop. However, I’ve got to believe I’m not the only one who battles paper clutter!

If you have a good system for keeping your mail and bills organized, I would love to hear about it! Feel free to leave a comment on this post, or if you’re so inclined – send me some pictures and details to angela @ thecouponproject dot com. In the next week or so, I’d love to implement a better routine and share some of the best tips I receive here at the blog.

Here’s what you should know about my current system and organizational needs:

  • I do have an office with a pretty good long-term filing solution. I have a place to store important records like insurance paperwork, paystubs, and licenses. My main struggle is the day-to-day paperwork. 
  • I can be pretty lazy. I don’t want to have to take my papers upstairs and file them away in the office everyday. I’d love something that I can quickly shuffle mail into right when I walk in the door. I’m OK with filing away perhaps once a week.
  • I get a decent amount of mail. I receive both personal and business related mail at my house. If I do nothing with my mail for a few days, it really starts to pile up.

Do you think you can help me? Please leave a comment or email me at  angela @ thecouponproject dot com with your system!


Teaching Kids to Clean: FREE Ebook (today only 6/19)



Today only, you can download the ebook Teaching Kids to Clean, for FREE. It also includes printables! This is written by Dana White, blogger at A Slob Comes Clean. If you’ve not checked her blog about before, you really should! Her blog is honest, refreshing, and encouraging – particularly if you struggle with a less than perfectly clean house!

If you don’t have a Kindle, remember you can still take advantage of this offer by downloading free reader software to your phone, computer, or mobile device.

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Picking Strawberries and Making your own Strawberry Jam

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Canning Strawberry Jam

Last weekend, the kids and I hit up Picha Farms in Puyallup, Washington, for some strawberry picking. They are currently offering u-pick strawberries for $1.50 a pound and the strawberries are just beautiful! (Make sure to follow their Facebook page for updates on availability if you’re interested).

DSCN0366 (800x600)At first, the kids were a bit skeptical about strawberry picking. My son’s biggest concern is that we’d be home in time to set up the lemonade stand I’d been promising to let them do for a few weeks now. He had decided awhile ago it *needed* to start at 11am, so I said we’d do our best.

DSCN0367 (800x600)I don’t think this grumpy face was intentional on her part – but it does pretty much sum up my daughter’s feeling about produce. So yes, lest you think my kids go out to my garden and are content to eat raw kale for lunch, let’s keep it real a moment. I have one picky eater. Yes, I do. However, I’ve not given up on her yet and I will make a plant eater out of her! Instead of treating food like a punishment, my approach has been to drag her to the farmer’s market, include her in our gardening adventures, and take her to farms. While she may look rather pissed off holding this strawberry, the truth is she can identify many vegetables and herbs both in the ground and in the produce section. We’ll get there.

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Picking the strawberries is actually quite easy. They assigned us our own “row” to pick from. When we were finished, we put a flag in the ground to indicate where we’d stop and where the next pickers could be begin.

DSCN0371 (600x800)After about 15 minutes or so, my kids started to get into it. They discovered if you parted the bushes, you’d find the ripened berries underneath!

Strawberry Picking

We picked for about an hour, and managed to pick…

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Just over 20 pounds! I was so surprised we picked that amount so quickly! So word to the wise…when you go strawberry picking? Bring some helpers!

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Now what to do with all those berries? Of course there are lots of things you could, the simplest of which would be to simply freeze them. But I did want to can up some pretty strawberry jam to put up!

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I decided to check out one of my favorite blogs, Food in Jars, for some inspiration. I found it with this Strawberry Vanilla jam. You let the macerated strawberries sit overnight with a split vanilla bean and 2 cups of sugar. I double batched this and made another small bowl for Strawberry Shortcake for Father’s Day (it was delicious, by the way!).

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This jam is just heavenly! My son begged to try some while it was still warm, so I drizzled it over a small bowl of vanilla ice cream. I had to sample some myself later on a few crackers. Beautiful!

DSCN0399 (800x604)This morning, I tested the jars for proper seal. Here’s the final result: 9 half-pint jars and 4 pint jars. I’m thinking the prettier pint-size jars in the front will be gifts. We probably used about 10-11 pounds of the berries to yield this amount, too! The remaining strawberries need to get processed today so I’m thinking of throwing a good mess of them into the dehydrator, and freezing some for green smoothies. My son wants me to make homemade strawberry ice cream, and I’m thinking homemade strawberry liqueur sounds divine, too!

If you want to repeat this recipe, please head to Food in Jars for step-by-step instructions.

DSCN0401 (800x668)Are you going strawberry picking this time of year? What are your favorite strawberry recipes?

Related reading:

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How We’re Getting Organized for the Summer

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Tomorrow is my son’s last day of first grade. It doesn’t seem too long ago I was snapping this picture…

100_4795 (630x800)For real, can someone please tell me what the heck happened to this year? Also, can someone tell me why *I* feel like I have a major case of senioritis when I have a first grader and there are no major projects to complete or finals to sit on my kid to study for? Well at least Jen Hatmaker knows what I’m feeling. (Seriously, if you’ve not read her post entitled Worst End of School Year Mom Ever, do yourself a favor and read it!).

As you might imagine, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about summer these days. I’ve also found myself saying over and over “we’ll do that this summer” or “this summer, we’ll…” etc etc etc. So yesterday I decided I should actually map out my summer, because I was feeling that my plans and ideas were in la la land, and not anywhere concrete where I could see them!

Now, I’m not a smartphone user; I’m pretty old school. So yesterday I went to my Outlook – Calendar view – and print off blank months June, July, August, and September – and grabbed a pen. Is there an app for that? I’m pretty sure there is. But I enjoy pen and paper. And judging from the sheer volume of printables on Pinterest, I’m going to go on a limb and say there are others out there that share my love for writing stuff down.

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My goal with this wasn’t to micromanage our days or weeks, but to simply jot down important dates. Here’s what’s important to us this summer:

  • Swim lessons. My kids both started swim this year and are making great progress. I want to fit in as many swim lessons as we can before soccer starts. (And no, I have no intention of doing soccer and swim at the same time thankyouverymuch.)
  • Vacation Bible School. We love VBS around here! Not only does it give the kids something fun to do, it gives Mommy a much needed little break in the middle of summer. We’ll be doing two this year. If you’ve never done this but are interested, many Vacation Bible Schools are free. Sounds Fun Mom has a great list of Puget Sound area Vacation Bible Schools. (And no, you usually do not have to be an attending member of any of these churches to have your kidlets participate.)
  • Road Trip. A couple nights ago we mapped out the route for what will be one crazy family road trip this summer. We plan on hitting up Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, and New Mexico. Bring on the Dramamine, it’s going to be a long drive kids!!

I know it sounds really simple, but I could not believe how good I felt after taking an hour to write out our family calendar for the summer. I’ve also had my son write down an extensive list of things to do so the kids avoid getting bored. Some things that went on that list include…

  • Going to the library and doing a summer reading program.
  • Running a lemonade stand. (My son is saving up for Legos, my daughter is saving up to go to Taco Bell. No lie.)
  • Visit the zoo.
  • Watch TV or movies.
  • Play outside.
  • Take a long nap. (OK, that might be my addition…)
  • Go bowling for free.
  • Watch old TV episodes on YouTube. Currently my kids are working through Small Wonder. (Anyone remember that sitcom from the ’80s about the girl robot?)

There are some other great resources out there for planning your summer, and I’d be silly to not share them with you!

What things are on your family’s agenda for the summer? Any tips for staying sane and organized? I’d love to hear ‘em!


How to Can Pineapple



Canning is a little like painting a room. You’re initially excited about the process and you may even start with gusto, but at some point you realize there’s a bit of monotony involved. But at the end you stand back and admire your work and decide it was all worth it. And then you plan your next project. Such was my second go of canning pineapple today!

A few things about canning, if you’re new to the process:

  • Make sure to thoroughly acquaint yourself with the steps involved. Today’s post is a quick and dirty “how to” tutorial, but if you’re brand new to canning, get thee a book such as Ball Book of Canning (currently $9.45 on Amazon) and read through everything carefully first. 
  • Gather all your supplies ahead of time. Before you start, make sure you have everything handy from the ingredients, tools, canning supplies, and jars. I recommend you read and re-read your recipe twice. You don’t want to be halfway through and realize you need something vital.
  • Start this project when you have a solid chunk of time. If you have to pick up your kid in an hour, don’t start a canning project. I try to give myself at least three hours’ time for even the simplest of canning projects.

I’m canning pineapple today mostly because they were on sale at Fred Meyer for $1 last week and I bought 8 of ‘em.

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I started by prepping my jars. I decided to go with 8 pint-sized jars. To start, I washed each of the jars and rims in hot, soapy water. I did the same with the lids, and left them in a bowl of hot water. After this, I filled up the jars about 2/3 of the way with hot water and set them in the bottom of my boiling water canner, also filled with hot water. One of the keys to canning successfully is keeping all your elements hot!

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Just keep the jars hot – you do not need to boil them or the lids. At this point, I turned my attention to the pineapple.

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Start by decapitating your pineapple. To do this, just twist of the top. It’s really easy.

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Next, make a thin slice on each end of the remaining fruit. This will allow it to stand upright on a cutting board.

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From here, I strip down the pineapple scales until its nekked.

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I slice the pineapple in half, and then half again. (So basically, quarters). With each quarter, I slice out the core, then chop it in half yet again and cut 1/2″ size tidbits.

DSCN0219 (800x600)It took me about a half an hour to process 7 pineapples and the result filled a rather large pot! Now the recipe I’m using – which comes from the Ball Home Preserving cookbook(~$17 on Amazon) says to use 12 lbs of pineapple and that will result in about 8 pint-sized jars. Well, I don’t know about weight, but I will say roughly 6 of them filled 8 pint-sized jars – so yes, I had lots of pineapple leftover! (Hang tight, I’ll show you what I did with the leftovers!).

DSCN0220 (800x600)Make a simple syrup solution to pack in your pineapple. I sprung for an extra light syrup because pineapple is naturally very sweet! To do this, I mixed 1 1/4 cup sugar with 5 1/2 cup water and brought to a boil. I then quickly brought the temperature to simmer at medium low. You don’t want the syrup to reduce.

DSCN0221 (800x600)Now you’re going to heat the pineapple up in single layers in the syrup. You don’t need to cook it, just warm it. My recipe says this should take about 1 minute per layer.

DSCN0222 (600x800)At this point, remove the jars one at a time from the boiling-water canner and empty them. As they are going to be filled with hot liquids, there is no need to dry them. Using a slotted spoon, pack in the hot pineapple leaving 1/2″ headspace. I find using this ball funnel very handy and highly recommend it!

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Next, ladle in the hot syrup so you have 1/2″ headspace. Make sure to remove the air bubbles! This tool came with the funnel in the Ball Canning accessory kit (currently ~$10 on Amazon) I picked up last year. Very handy.

DSCN0225 (800x600)Here’s what 1/2″ headspace looks like, incidentally.

DSCN0224 (800x600)Add the lid and screw on the band until just tight (but not too tight). The magnetic lid grabber pictured above also comes in that accessory kit. (I hate to convince you to buy stuff for the sake of it – but seriously, get yourself that accessory kit. I promise you’ll use all four items in there on every canning project you do!)

DSCN0226 (800x600)Now you are ready to process the jars! Close the lid and wait for a rolling boil. Note that the processing time starts from when a rolling boil is achieved! For pint-sized jars, this will be 15 minutes. After this point, turn off the heat and remove the lid. Wait for five minutes. Then using tongs, gently remove the jars.

DSCN0228 (800x582)I like to set my jars on a wire rack to allow air flow all around the jars. Make sure they are not touching one another. Please take care as they will be extremely hot! Let them sit, undisturbed for 24 hours. You might hear “popping” sounds as the jars begin to cool off. This is normal – it’s good even! It means that the lids are sealing properly.

DSCN0230 (800x600)The next morning, press on the top of each lid. If it does not pop back up at you, it means that the lid has sealed properly and is ready to store! You can remove the bands at this point and store in a cool, dark location for up to 12 months. That’s it!

As for my leftovers?


I am dehydrating two trays’ worth in my Nesco Food Dehydrator! I think this is one fantastic appliance, but you could also opt to dehydrate them in your oven, too.

Supplies mentioned today (that I own and recommend!):

Want to read more posts I’ve written on canning? Here you go!

Disclaimer: Canning isn’t difficult, but it does require some basic food safety know how and best practices. While I hope my post today has inspired you to get out there and can, I do want you to make sure you’re doing so safely! Please take the time to read through a book like the Blue Book of Canning or read the step-by-step instructions on (Ball’s website). Then, make sure to stick to approved recipes and follow them exactly. Happy canning!