Sunday, September 8, 2013

Children's Book Organization for Less than $3

I encourage my two daughters to read as much as possible so I always have welcomed books into our home, even when my girls seem to scatter them from one end of the house to the other! They have two small white bookshelves in their bedroom that house all of their books, but one of the problems they had with putting them away was that they would try to put taller books on shelves that were too narrow and then end up laying them down on their sides. This would then fill up the shelves and not leave any additional room for the other books so we would have stacks of books on top of the bookshelf and in piles on the floor.

So in order to teach my daughters how to put them back onto the shelves, and with the spines out, I devised a system that even my youngest can understand. I used Avery Reinforcement Labels that came in four colors, to label the shelves and then the books that would go on them. I got a pack of 924 count reinforcement labels at Walmart for less than $3! I have seen them elsewhere, but they usually cost much more so I recommend checking Walmart first!

Both of my girls eagerly assisted me in labeling each book, putting the reinforcement labels on the spine of each book. We made a game of it, pretending we were librarians. It also made a great fine motor development skill for my youngest!

Now after they look at books, they know which shelf to put the books back onto and know to be sure to put them spines side out. The colors would help them know which shelf to put them back on so that they would all fit. It was a cheap solution to a big problem!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pantry Organization

I have been wanting to clean out my pantry for FOREVER. I was getting so frustrated with not being able to find things, or having it take that much longer to go through everything when I purge the expired products.

So, on a whim, I decided to take a trip to Dollar Tree and get inspired as to how I could clean up and organize this one area in my home. I found these adorable red plastic bins and decided they would be perfect. So I picked up 11 of them.

After getting everything in it's place, I realize I need a few more. The OCD in me wants to replace the pink and other bins with matching red ones, but if I don't get around to doing that, at least I can say my pantry is neat and in order at last! Not shown in these photos is how I labeled the bins. I used Avery Strung Marking Tags (purchased at Walmart) to write the contents of the bins, then just looped them through the handles and holes of the various bins.

Now when I need something, want to take inventory, or have to go through my products and toss anything that is expired, it is much easier! And all happy housewives like things to be quick and easy, right?!

Friday, September 6, 2013

How to Plan Dinners for Your Family, The Happy Housewife Life Way!

Planning dinners for my family is very easy and it can be easy for your family too! Here is how you can plan dinners, almost effortlessly, the Happy Housewife Life Way, LOL!
  1. When you make a dish, and it is well received by all, keep that recipe in a favorites folder. Once you have gathered a minimum of 25 recipes, you could easily assign each recipe, once a month, with one day each week for left overs. Even things that are not really recipes, such as a favorite brand frozen pizza can be jotted down on a sheet of paper and added to the file- I'll explain why in a few, just keep reading!
  2. Planning is a cinch, as is shopping, since you already know what items your recipes call for, so when you see them on sale, stock up! The more supplies you have on hand, the easier it is to make dinner on the fly without having to make an emergency run to the supermarket, and the more it will save your family financially in the long run. B.O.G.O sales and coupons are your best friends!
  3.  After a while you could even start throwing in a "New Recipe Day" each week, in which you introduce a new recipe you have found, to your family. If it meets the approval, then it too can be added to the Favorites File. It will give you even more variety. 
  4. When making your recipes, see how many of them you could double or even triple and then freeze. Then all you have to do it thaw, heat and eat! 
  5. Here is how I physically plan out my meals. I use Post-It Page Markers on my planner pages to assign what meals I will make on which day. Using the recipes and even the 'non-recipes' in your Family Favorites folder, write the name of the dish on each Post-It Page Marker.
If you want to get really organized, you could even color code your dishes, as I have done. I use the pink page markers for beef, yellow for poultry, orange for pork, blue for seafood, and green for miscellaneous recipes. On my green page markers, I even have some labeled "Left Overs", " Eat Out", " Date Night"  etc. for those nights where I don't really have a specific meal planned per se, but have a proposed solution to the 'What's for Dinner?' dilemma. I even write the meals I would plan to prepare on these page markers, so that I can fit them into my planner. For example, I don't really have to do much cooking when it comes to frozen pizza, but I will put a green " Frozen Pizza" page marker on my planner so I know exactly what my family will be having. My local grocery store sells these delicious frozen Cordon Blue stuffed chicken breast that my family loves- they are labelled on my page markers and used in my planner, just as if I were to do the actually preparation of them myself.

Plans change? No worries!
One of the most wonderful things about using Post-It Page Markers to plan your meals, is that they are re-arrangeable and reusable. Family get a last minute dinner invitation even though you already had something planned for dinner? No worries! Just move your page marker to a different date. Kid's practice run over and you plan on grabbing something on the way home? No problem, just move that night's meal plan to the following day. Face it, even the most well thought out plan flops sometimes. Life happens. Its nice to be able to say you are able to stick to a plan, even if the plan doesn't stick with you.

Menu items all available at a glance. The empty spaces are all the meals that are already on my planner!
 In my planner, I keep one of those 9 pocket trading card pages. I put slips of paper in each pocket and then store all my unused menu items on the papers. I can quickly scan over the whole sheet and see all my menu ideas and pick and choose which ones to plan for the week. The page is added to my planner (which is a three ring binder). Recipes are kept on index cards in my kitchen, but also are typed out and stored inside plastic sheet protectors in my planner for reference while I am making my shopping lists.

Don't use a planner? You can still achieve the same results with a large desk pad calendar and regular sized Post-It notes. Or a bulletin board. As long as you have your Family Favorites recipes and a way to move around the menu items, you will have a easy solution to planning dinners for your family!

NOTE: Like the sound of some of the menu items you see here? I will be adding them to this blog as quickly as I can and the link will be saved under the Laufer Family Favorites Recipe Link List. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sour Cream Chicken

I love this recipe! The sour cream keeps the chicken extremely juicy and adds a perfect zesty creaminess. 

Sour Cream Chicken

 You will need:
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp dill weed
  • 2 1/2 tbsp butter, melted
    Love this sauce!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the first six ingredients well. Spray a glass baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Pour half of sauce mix into baking dish. Add chicken, then cover with the remaining sauce. I like to give the breast a good swirl around in the sauce to make sure its all coated. Then sprinkle the tops of the chicken breast with breadcrumbs and dried dill weed. Drizzle the melted butter on top. Bake for 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Serves 4

This is also perfect for freezer meal cooking! Just prepare the sauce and pour into a freezer bag. Add chicken, completely coating the chicken in the sauce. Label and freeze. Then all you have to do is thaw, add to baking dish, sprinkle with the bread crumbs and dill, drizzle the butter and bake!
Sour Cream Chicken is excellent with mashed potatoes as the excess sauce can be used as a yummy gravy!

Mexican Raviolis

Most kids like raviolis, right?
Here is our family's favorite spin on this classic kid-friendly dish- Mexican Raviolis!

Mexican Raviolis

You will need:
  • 1 packet of enchilada sauce mix (You could go with a jar of ready-made sauce, but to save money, we bought the packets at Aldi for way cheaper! )
  • 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1 cup picante sauce or salsa (we are Pace brand fans here!)
  • 1 cup water (omit if you are using a ready-made enchilada sauce)
  • 2.25oz can sliced black olives
  • 25oz (1 lb 9 oz) package of frozen beef raviolis 
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (Mexican blend is perfect for this dish)
Prepare the raviolis according to package directions. Meanwhile, mix the first 5 ingredients (sauce, paste, water, and black olives). After draining the pasta, mix the sauce and raviolis gently over medium heat until the sauce is warm. Mix half of the shredded cheese into dish while using the remaining half to top each serving. We like to add a dollop of sour cream to each serving too.

NOTE: We discovered that using the ready-made enchilada sauce made the sauce thinner. If you are using the packet of enchilada sauce mix, it seems to come out thicker, which is how we like it. If your ready-made sauce seems too thin, add additional tomato paste by the tablespoon until you get it thick enough to your family's preference.

Serves 4

 This is an easy recipe to make as a freezer meal too. Just prepare the sauce ahead of time and freeze separate from the raviolis themselves.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Yummy 3 Ingredient, No Fuss Catalina Pork Chops

I am all about saving time and money when it comes to dinners. This is one of our family's 'go-to' recipes that we simply love. Besides being very tender and tasty, it's also a no-fuss slow-cooker recipe made from only three ingredients!

Laufer Family No- Fuss Catalina Chops
1 (16oz) bottle of Catalina dressing (we especially like Kraft's Zesty Catalina)
1 packet of onion soup mix
1 1/2 lbs pork chops (we like the bone-in pork loin center cut chops)

Mix the Catalina dressing and packet of onion soup mix in the slow-cooker. Add chops, turning each one to coat. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. I like the bone-in chops because I know once the meat falls off the bone, its cooked to perfection! This is really great with mashed potatoes as you can add the extra dressing like a gravy.

Not a fan of pork? This is good with chicken too!

How easy is that?! I would have added a photo but we unfortunately gobbled it all up before I thought of taking a photo, LOL!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Our First Week of Home Preschool

It amazes me how quickly Kaylyn is catching onto her whole "ABC School", as she calls it. She really loves it! Every morning, its one of the first things she talks about after dropping off her older sister at the bus stop. Each morning we begin with singing a song about the seven days of the week, of which she has caught on. She now sings it and puts the days in the right order!

We follow that with her learning path lesson. I try to limit one lesson per day but she loves it so much that I have let her work ahead a little bit. After her computer lesson, we read whatever the Book of the Week is, as outlined by the curriculum. I am pretty much following that, with a few alterations and with a few things from the curriculum to supplement it. None of the curriculums seemed solid enough on their own, but together, it just made more sense to me.

My full curriculum lesson plans can be found on the calendar HERE.  For more information on each lesson, just click the link. I will try to put as much info including resources as I can. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask!

Some of the things we will be covering in this homeschooling type program are:
  • recognition of all of the letters of the week, both uppercase and lowercase
  • traditional nursery rhymes and fingerplays
  • reading of popular, age appropriate and classic stories
  • review of colors (she already knows them) and shapes (she knows the majority of them)
  • early mathematical skills such as spatial concepts, sorting, and patterns, and understanding simple comparisons
  • recognition of numbers 0 to 15, maybe even to 20
  • pre-writing skills such as how to properly hold a pencil and how to write her first name, and tracing a variety of lines which will help develop control for writing
  • fine motor and gross motor skills through play such as cutting with scissors, gluing, simple tumbling, etc.
  • early science which primarily consist of sensory play and learning about different environments through, recognizing a variety of domestic and wild animals and their sounds
  • self care such as good health principles, learning to dress oneself, and basic safety, manners and helping around the house with basic, age appropriate chores
  • social studies consist of familiarizing her of her immediate surroundings such as names of different family members, common foods, things around the house

Here are a few photos from our very first week:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Learning to Write Using the Laufer Method

I think I might have come up with the best way to teach children how to write on notebook paper neatly and correctly. I call it the Laufer Method. I have seen kids writing on notebook paper and most of their letters are all over the place, not neat and tidy, even if they do form the letters themselves perfectly.

Step 1: The top line is purple, the middle dotted line is orange and the bottom is light blue. By the time children are able to be taught how to write, they already know their colors. Having three distinctive colors helps teachers and parents be able to show them a clear difference in the top, middle, and bottom of where letters start and stop.

Step 2: The middle dotted line fades to yellow. This is to help those who still need it to guide them to form their letters correctly while having it less obvious for those who are progressing to writing without the middle dotted line so prominent.

Step 3: The middle dotted line disappears completely and children should now be able to have an idea where it would be, to properly form their letters. The top line turns from purple to dark blue, transitioning children to what typical lined notebook paper looks like while still helping them distinguish the top line from the bottom.

Step 4: The top line turns from dark blue to light blue, identical to the bottom line. This is to give children a feel of what regular lined notebook paper looks like.

Step 5: Children can now begin working on regular lined notebook paper. They learn that the bottom blue line works as the top line for the following line while writing.

This method should result in much neater penmanship using notebook paper, the type of paper preferred in schools and is the universal type of writing paper.
My colors didn't really come through as clearly as I wanted in this picture, but you get the hint.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

DIY Morning Haircare Caddy

Yay! School is back in session! That means getting back to a morning routine (no more lazy days where we hang out in our jammies all day!) but it also means there is potential for early morning chaos if things are not kept organized! I can not even begin to count the number of mornings we have had where we spent too much time looking for a lost hairbrush or a color coordinating ponytail holder while trying to get my oldest daughter off to school on time!

This year, I got smart, and made a morning haircare caddy. It contains all the things I need each morning to get my daughters' hair brushed, neat and tidy, and looking cute. I used one of those shower caddys you see all over the place in (purchased at Walmart) with the back to school/ college dorm supplies.

In it I put my daughters' detangling spray, Lice Shield spray (don't even get me started on the Battle of the Lice we had last year!), dry shampoo, brushes, Knot Genie, and styling things such as ponytail holders and their favorite hair bows.

To keep from losing any ponytail holders, I looped them through a shower curtain ring and then used another shower curtain ring to attach it to the handle of the caddy. This way I can keep them all together and not spend any more mornings digging through drawers trying to find one, while trying to hold the fistful of hair I just spent minutes sweeping into a perfectly coiffed ponytail or braid. It's been such a huge time saver!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back to School 2013-2014!

Having just moved here in February, my husband and I are still learning about things to do in this small town. We moved from a town population of 63,512 to 8,825, and discovered it is more difficult to find things to do with the kids than ever before, especially during the summer, and especially on one income. Summer vacation meant having them cooped up in the house, too hot to go outside and too broke to really go or do anything. This lead to bored, restless children who would get cabin fever and drive each other...and me...nuts. But I am learning and am determined that years following, that I will plan ahead and be sure to keep the kids busy and entertained next summer!

Anyhow, school is back in session! Sweet relief! Its quite an exciting time- not only because now my oldest daughter's day will be busy in school but also because I am making a point to keep my youngest, who is going to be three in November, busy throughout the day with our own little version of homeschooling. She calls it "ABC School" since part of our "curriculum" is using's Preschool curriculum online. I also incorporated basic curriculum into our day. I will post more about it as our days progress.

Back to School also means new stuff! My oldest, who has always been quite a girly-girl, was very specific in the look she was going for. Its a mash up of Teddy from Good Luck Charlie and the girls from Shake It Up. Its hard to believe that she is only in 2nd grade! Boots topped her list in must-haves this year.

Since my youngest is quickly outgrowing her size 2T clothes, back to school clothing shopping meant that she too got some new threads! One of our most exciting purchases has been "big girl" underwear for her as we are making awesome progress in potty training.

Look at that grin! Someone is excited to "start school"!
While I didn't score any new clothes for myself this year (I don't usually buy clothes for myself except during the back to school sales, especially during tax-free weekend) but I have to admit, I am such a geek- office/school supplies make me happy, maybe just as happy if not happier than new clothes since I don't have that whole dreaded process of trying on clothes only to be discouraged and realizing that I don't have a teenager body anymore. I love having new pens, notebooks, etc. That meant school supply shopping went something like this: " Pack of paper for you, pack of paper for me...Spiral Notebook for you, two spiral notebooks for me....", LOL!

It's an exciting time for sure!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I Hate Moving!

We are just finishing up the last of the packing for our move from Ft Myers, Florida to Avon Park, Florida and I am soooo glad its almost over! This has been a whirl wind move, having just found out that the Hubs got a fantastic promotion that required a move...just last week! On top of that, he has been spending days at a time in Avon Park, two hours away, so the majority of the packing has been done by myself, with two kids underfoot. Its been so stressful. I will be more than happy if I never see a cardboard box or a roll of packaging tape for a very long time!

I made a point to start with my daughters' room. I moved out the bed and all her furniture got cleared and pushed to one side of her room. This became the 'Loading and Boxing Room'. This way I could have all the boxes in one place, out of view of two mischievous little girls who like to peek inside and take out the contents of boxes just as quickly as I am packing them. 

I started off all this packing, very organized and precise. All like items went in with like items and boxes were organized by whatever room they would go into.  Everything that went into a box was thought over- "will this be something I will want in the new house?" "Will it have a place once we get there?" "Have I used it within this last year?" If it didn't fit the criteria, it went into the trash or pile to get rid of. All boxes were labeled neatly.....That was the beginning. Now I have the USPS Flat Rate motto in my head- "If it fits, it ships!" Things are getting tossed into boxes and taped up as quickly as possible. Bath towels, printer paper, and a box of batteries in the same box? Why sure! As long as everything ends up in a box before this Saturday, moving day, I don't even care anymore!

The start of the box stacking
Needless to say, Saturday, when I start opening boxes to put things away, things are going to get interesting!
Me and my mountain (oh look, a rare glimpse of me sans makeup too!)