Monday, November 28, 2011

Little Turkey, and Menu Monday

We did it.  We survived Thanksgiving and all the festivities that come a long with it.  It was just my own little family for the big turkey day this year, so we kept things pretty simple.  After all, who wants to spend forever cooking in the kitchen for just 2 people??  (Okay, technically 3 people needed to eat…but I knew my little turkey would take about 2 bites of his dinner, so I didn’t really factor him into the food preparation equation).

So we just had the basics.  Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls, carrots, and we tossed in a glass of sparkling grape juice just for fun.  And pumpkin pie for dessert.  LOTS of pumpkin pie.  We ate at 1:30, were finished by 1:40, had everything cleaned up by 2:00, and were all taking an afternoon nap by 2:30.  It was great!


112111_0912 edited This is my little Turkey at his Preschool “Thanksgiving Feast.”  One adult was invited to join them for their feast (snack time) last Tuesday.  I was the fortunate one to attend, and Miles was soooo excited.

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We got to make our own turkeys out of a bagel and cream cheese, veggies, cracker and raisins.  The kids also worked very hard in class preparing a pumpkin pie pudding.  (And I was shocked that it was actually REALLY good!)

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The Judesters was there too…but managed to sleep through the entire thing.  As usual.

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I had a great weekend eating good food and enjoying time with my little family…but now it’s back to the real world!  (Which means planning weekly menus) 


So here’s mine for this week:

Nov 28-Dec4


Turkey Pot Pie  (it’s my cheater chicken pot pie recipe…only I am using leftover turkey)

cheater chicken pot pie

Breakfast for Dinner – there’s no “official” recipe.  I don’t know for sure what we’ll have, but probably french toast.  Or waffles.  Or bacon and eggs.  Or all of the above.

The_Sisters_Cafe_-BreadBowl_&_Clam_Chowder_-_wmark Bread-Bowls-BLOG-450x305

Clam Chowder & Bread Bowls – My friend Erin (from The Sisters Cafe) invited me to a luncheon last week to celebrate my birthday.  She served this clam chowder…and it was to DIE for.  I mean it.  And my friend Anona made these awesome bread bowls to go with them.  The combination was heavenly…(Thanks again to my amazing friends!!)

Tshirts,_July_'08_009_bestSouthwestern Crockpot Chicken


Cafe Rio Sweet Pork, Cafe Rio Cilantro Lime Rice, & Cafe Rio Beans

     The recipe I use for my Cafe Rio “copycat” dinner is one I have sort of made-up from several different recipes.  I’ll post it soon…but it still needs to be typed up, and since it’s almost 2 am…I’m going to BED!

Happy Monday Everyone!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Paper Monster – kitchen organization project #1

Forgoing my menu this week. It seems I have amassed quite the supply of leftovers!  So we will be eating anything and everything left in the fridge, trying to make space for all the goodies that will need to be stored there come Thursday.  (MMMMM…can’t wait!)

Instead, I’m finally getting around to the “how'-to” of my clutter-free kitchen counters.  Finally!!  For some reason, I deluded myself into thinking that when my oldest little tike started preschool this year I would suddenly have “all this FREE TIME!”  I seriously believed that I would gain an extra 3 hours a day of peace and quiet, in which I could sit and ponder, and write, and craft, and pretty much do anything I wanted! 

Ha!  I laugh about that now.  Boy, was I wrong!!!  I still have to do everything I did when he was home with me.  True, it takes me a little less time to fold the laundry or go grocery shopping than it did with all the typical little boy interruptions, but any precious time I gain gets all used up again doing the “school routine.”  You know, helping the big guy get ready, doing reading and handwriting lessons, books and backpack packed, kids buckled into the car, driving to school, waiting outside classroom until he is allowed in, getting baby buckled back into car, and driving home.  Then doing it all again 3 hours later.  Extra time???  I must have been CRAZY!!

So, yes.  It has taken me much longer than anticipated.  But here is my finished product.


You’re looking at my new Kitchen Command Center.  It was a lot of work to get it that way.  But the great thing about getting a space organized and functioning smoothly is that now, it takes very little time to maintain.  For a mom that already feels short on time, that is a HUGE blessing! 


Remember the “Before”?

Before - edited

YIKES!!! Oh man…that’s bad.  That random rooster popping up there cracks me up.  Want a closer look??

110211_0574 Oh…if only it was actually true!!


Unfortunately for me, I didn’t just have one craptacular, catch-all counter.  It gets worse!!


I had TWO!!!  As well as a completely ineffective (and over utilized) mail sorter, an under utilized and awkwardly positioned magnet board, and bags cluttering up the floor, because there was no place else to put them.  I had good intentions.  But it was COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTROL! Something HAD to be done!! 

I knew I needed storage.  I needed a place to corral all the clutter, sort the mail, save papers and keep schedules and notes.  AND I knew I needed a SYSTEM to make it all work together and function smoothly.  Before I could brainstorm solutions to get this all cleaned up, I needed to know EXACTLY what was coming in and cluttering up my kitchen in the first place. So I cleaned off all my counters and went to work.

I sorted everything into piles and realized my main problem.  I was battling a paper monster!  I had been inundated with paper, paper, got it.  More paper!  It was coming in from EVERYWHERE!  And I knew corralling it HAD to be my first priority.  So I came up with a filing system to sort it all as it comes in.

111411_0624After sorting through my mounds of paper, I was able to put everything into 7 main categories.

1. “Take Action” - This includes things like permission slips that need to be returned to school, magazine subscriptions that need to be renewed, bills that need to be paid, and Netflix envelopes that need to be returned.  Anything that requires me to DO something, goes in this folder.

2. “To File” – Things I want to store on a more long term basis go in this folder.  Credit card and utility statements, Receipts, product manuals, etc. are all corralled here and stored temporarily, until I get a chance to transfer it to our “long term” filing cabinet upstairs.   (Because lets face it.  We all know I would NEVER trek every little bit of paper upstairs immediately.)  Instead I  empty the folder about once a week.  (Usually every Sunday night when I sit down to plan my next week’s schedule.)

3. Miles Preschool papers – Papers I want to save forever and ever go here!  (That’s a pretty tall order!) Mostly things like his weekly handwriting sheets (I am going to make them all into a book at the end of the year), special awards he has received, and any other extra special projects he comes home with.  These papers are stored here temporarily.  When the folder starts filling up, I transfer them to the school paperwork storage box I created a la Jen from iheartorganizing.  (A super fun project.  More to come on that later.)  :) 

4. Miles Art – Holy Cow!  I had no idea how many “masterpieces” my little man would bring home every week.  Sweet little gems like this one……

111711_1013 edited Seriously???  Hi-Larious. BEST part of having a kid in pre-school, hands down.

BUTTTTT  the question remains.  What in the heck am I supposed to do with this thing???  (Besides of course, snap so many pictures of myself wearing this little dandy the artist himself becomes insanely jealous and is forced to tear it off my head.)  True story.  See that little hand in the corner??

This is where having a “System” in place is important.  No my dear friends, having a file folder labeled “Miles Art” will get you nowhere.  TRUST ME!  (especially if you don’t have a kid named Miles.  Ha!) There are usually 3 or 4 projects coming home from school every day.  That’s about 15 a week, and 60 every month!!!  There is no way storing all those papers in one little file is feasible.  So, here is our system.  First, I snap photos of every single one of his masterpieces while oohing and aahing over them for an appropriate amount of time.  Then we remove the previous days art from the fridge, Miles gets to choose 1 or 2 new pieces to display, and I file the others in his “art” folder.  The REALLY special pieces will get filed in his special school specific filing box to keep forever and ever.  The rest of them get thrown in the garbage at the end of the week when my little man is sleeping.  Sorry Dude.  Flog me if you will, but I have absolutely no remorse, because I took photos of ever piece he created.  And at the end of the year, those photos will be combined into a lovely photo book, displaying the entirety of his preschool creativity.  And that is WAY more awesome than having random triangles and turkey legs floating around my house.

5. Grocery Ads – I like to keep my Meijer, Rite-aid, and Kroger ads to refer to when making my weekly menus, and throughout the week for couponing purposes.

6. Coupons – I like to use coupons.  It’s fun.  But they are messy if you don’t have a way to contain them.  I file all my coupon inserts by date upstairs in my “main” filing cabinet.  But sometimes I clip coupons I don’t use.  Or I print coupons to use later. Or I cut a coupon from a cereal box.  Those kinds of coupons go in my "Coupons – Grocery” folder.  I also get coupons to stores like Bed Bath & Beyond, Ulta, Joanns, and restaurants like Arby’s and McDonalds.  All those “other” types of coupons get filed in my Coupons-Store folder. 

7. Recipes– Any recipes I print out for my weekly Menu Plan are stored here.  If they are great, I will transfer them to my recipe binder.  If they are NOT great, they go in the garbage with the leftovers.

I also gave myself and Mike our own folders.  These are for things we want to keep around for awhile.  Things we might want to use or refer to every so often.  For instance, I have been drawing up plans to build Miles a play table and chair set for Christmas.  My drawings and supply lists are in my folder, a long with extra copies of the to-do lists I like to use, my printable calendar pages, blog idea pages, etc.

111411_0623 2 Once everything was sorted, I labeled some folders, filed all the paper away, and put the folders in a cute basket I bought in the Target clearance section.  

Mission Accomplished! 

All my paper has a place to go, and I have a system to make sure it doesn’t get out of control again.

Then, I just added a few extra accessories to turn the space into the Command Central I  had envisioned.

111411_0626A Calendar.  No family command center would be complete without one!  And I love mine.  I just print one off every week to keep track of our comings and goings.  I also have a monthly calendar underneath, to keep  track of all our long-term appointments.



My cup ‘o markers and a cute notepad to write down reminders and add things to the calendar


A simple basket to house our modem/router and hide their cords.  I also stashed my stapler, tape dispenser, and iPad charger in there to minimize the “stuff” on the counter.

I also added a couple small, leather journals to my filing basket, (one for each boy), where I can write down their milestones and funny things Miles says.  And my iPad rests in the basket too.  (That is, when it’s not out and streaming the Polar Express station on Pandora for me.  Listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving is AWESOME!!!)

so that’s it my command center in a nutshell!  (A very large and overly wordy nutshell.)  It is working FANTASTICALLY, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. 

Let’s take a gander at that before and after just one more time, shall we?

Kitchen organization before & after

It DID take a bit of work and a lot of time to get it looking this way, but by having this space so streamlined and organized, I also actually SAVE time.  No more digging through piles and piles of papers to find the one thing I was looking for.  Everything is right at my fingertips and I can find anything I need in a matter of seconds.

My Command Center was by FAR the biggest project of my quest for kitchen organization, but it was just the beginning!  I cleaned up my other catch-all counter, found a solution for my bags, and even DIY’d a simple keychain holder!  Then there was Miles’ schoolwork filing project, and my medicine cabinet redo.  So much to share!  Can’t wait to show you how it all works together to keep me organized, and our family functioning smoothly.

How about you?  Any major organizing projects going on in your neck of the woods?


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Monday, November 14, 2011

Menu Monday & organizing fool!

It’s true…

I have been an Organizing FOOL around these parts.  (These parts meaning my out of control home.)

And okay, it’s not really “out of control.”  But it could certainly use a little sprucing, if you know what I mean. 


(Please say you know what I mean???!!!)


I have been hard at work and am so excited to show you exactly how I transformed my catch-all, cluttered, make me want to tear my hair out, countertops, into a streamlined, organized, and fully functional space.

Here’s a sneak peak:


Kitchen organization before & after

Ahhhhhh…I can just breathe easier now that it’s finished.  It was a lot more work, and took SOOOO much longer than I anticipated, but was TOTALLY worth it.  Who knew looking at a kitchen  countertop could make me feel all giddy inside??

There were lots of little projects that went into creating my new and improved, clutter-free counters, and I’ll post all about them this week.


But for now…enjoy my weekly menu!

Nov 14-20

Creamy Garlic Alfredo Penne, Parmesan Rolls, Olive Garden Salad

Baked Potato Soup & Lion House Rolls

Honey Lime Enchiladas, Cafe Rio Rice, & Cafe Rio Beans


Crockpot Southwest Chicken


Happy Monday everyone!!

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Menu Monday – simple meals (and a couple repeats)

Back today with my weekly menu.  And before you judge me on its lameness…just know we had a rough week around these parts.  With a husband and a little boy both getting the stomach flu, and a Mommy who was sick (not the flu…just felt like it), several of our meals were “postponed” to this week.Nov 7-13

Links:  Spinach Quiche, Honey Lime Enchiladas, Rumbi Island Chicken

***It’s a busy week for us, so these meals are quick, easy, and crockpot friendly.  The Honey Lime Enchiladas are a freezer meal I made a few weeks ago.  SWEET!!!***

bonus for me:  I save $$$ on groceries

bonus for you:  well… there is no bonus.  You just get to see all my repeats.


But there is one thing that should make you happy.  Like, very very happy. 

I’m making spaghetti this week.  And OHHHHHH it is so good.

So good, in fact, that after I took my first trip as a teen to the Old Spaghetti Factory in Salt Lake City, I thought, “What’s the big deal???  My mom’s spaghetti is WAY better than this.”

Sorry OSF…But I still stand by that statement.


Behold…the oft requested Atkinson Family spaghetti sauce recipe.  You can thank me later.

spaghetti sauce & mastaccioliDownload HERE 


Happy Monday Everyone!!!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Menu Mania: Part 2

Menu Mania Part 2

When it comes to creating a menu plan, there are a few things you should know.

First…I’m no expert! There’s really no right or wrong way to create one. The IMPORTANT thing though, is that you just DO IT! Not only will it save you from pulling your hair out when that 4:30 after school/dinner time witching hour rolls around, but it will save you lots of $$$ and hours of time in the kitchen. Hours that you COULD be spending on more important things…like oolgling your next craft inspiration on Pinterest! Or, you know…playing games with your Littles. Whatever……

(And speaking of littles…here are mine just before heading out the door Halloween eve. Oh, I DIE they are so cute! )


Wait…what was I talking about? Oh yeah, Menus. Continuing on…

So, let’s get down to it. Here is the play by play of my weekly menu planning process.

check, check, check First, I check my husband’s work schedule. Nothing is worse than slaving away in the kitchen, ready to welcome my beloved home with a big hug and delicious dinner…only to find out (much too late) that he was on-call at the hospital and wouldn’t be home for dinner at all. I’ll be honest…if the hubs won’t be home to eat it…I usually won’t cook it. Instead, I usually plan a big dinner (as in, something that makes a LOT) the night BEFORE, so there will be leftovers Miles and I can eat when Mike is working.

Next, I look at the rest of our calendar. Are there any special occasions that might warrant a special meal? Are we having guests over for dinner sometime that week? Are we attending any functions where dinner will be provided, or do I need to plan for a potluck? If so, I make a note of it on my menu planner so I can keep it in mind as I select my meals.

The NEXT thing I check is the weather forecast. I know I know…it sounds a little strange. Now that it’s fall and winter is fast approaching, it’s not really an issue. (It’s always COLD!) But trust me when I say planning a week full of new recipes you want to try out on the Grill, only to have it be rainy and miserable the ENTIRE TIME, is a TOTAL BUMMER!! Lesson learned.

The LAST thing I check before starting my meal search is the weekly grocery sale circulars. Planning my menus around items that are on sale each week (or items I stocked up on previous weeks) has really saved our family mucho $$$. For instance, last week Haas avocados were advertized at their lowest price of the season. (I don’t usually buy them, because they are pretty spendy!) So for dinner I planned Chicken Tortilla Soup, Club Sandwiches, and Taco Salad…all meals that used avocadoes. Many of the other ingredients for the meals (like the chicken and beef, canned tomatoes, chicken stock, etc) were things I had stocked up on from a previous weeks sale and already had in the pantry. (Which REALLY helped my bottom line at the grocery store.)

Then all that money I saved gets put into a special account for me to spend on pedicures, and massages, and just pampering in general! (Okay, not really. But wouldn’t that be AWESOME!!!)

Whew! It sounds like a lot of work when it’s all written out like that. But really, its not. The whole process takes me maybe 15 minutes. Now that all our checking is out of the way, we are FINALLY ready to start picking out our meals.

What's For Dinner Now THIS is the fun part!

There are so many AMAZING sources out there to go to for yummy meals for my family. Here are a few of my favorites:

thumbnail sisters cafeMels kitchen

(Click pictures to be taken to the website)

Those are my three go-to sites for great, yummy, tried and true recipes that never disappoint. But there are SO MANY MORE out there!!

So I peruse these fantastic sites looking for new recipes, or old stand-bys, or just anything that “calls out to me”, really. Then I hit up my cook books and my trusty Recipe binder. When I find something I like, I print it out (if I don’t already have it in my Recipe Binder), and write it on my menu plan. That’s it. Easy. More often than not it’s narrowing down the selection of yummy recipes I want to try that is the hardest.

And that’s it. Well, ALMOST. Here are just a few tips and tricks I’ve learned through the years…

(translation…Let me share all the ways I’ve messed it up…so you don’t have to!) tips and tricks

  • Read through every recipe in its ENTIRETY at the beginning of the week to avoid “surprises” at dinner time. (Like the time I made the Chili’s Fajitas and discovered 30 minutes before dinner time I was supposed to marinate the meat overnight. Oops!!) Or today when I set out to make my Corn Chowder, and realized I forgot to take the bacon out of the freezer yesterday, and I forgot to start the rolls this afternoon. Ummm, can you say “Epic Fail??”

  • Jot down any prep work you might need to do in advance, (like say…taking the bacon out of the freezer, or starting the rolls) right on the menu, so it won’t slip your mind. (This is a skill I’m still trying to master.)

  • Spend the time to create a Recipe binder. (Or Recipe box, or recipe…whatever) Just devote the time to organizing and storing all your favorite recipes in one location. I promise, you won’t regret it.

So there you have it! My steps for creating a menu plan.

What about you? Do you have any meal planning tips and tricks? I’d love to know!!