Friday, February 27, 2015

Dollar store baskets that look like a million bucks: Part 2

I am back with some more baskets today. Up next are my friend Courtney's baskets. Courtney's baskets are actually to thank some people who were extra helpful during her battle with breast cancer, which is why they are so plentiful. While she elected to fill the baskets with expensive gourmet goods, the baskets themselves were from the dollar store and were styled for little money. We began with $1 buckets, which we personalized with vinyl. I cut these on my Silhouette machine. You could do it with stickers easily, however, if you do not own one.

We separated her goodies into individual bags with labels. I started to cut these on the silhouette, but it was giving me fits (I have the original model and it may be nearing it's end). So, I free-handed these toppers instead:

To affix them, simply staple the back to the bag and then use a glue stick on the front (this way the staple won't show). Here they are arranged in the basket:

Finally, she made baskets for her nieces with traditional Purim cookies, known as Hamantaschen. She denoted the different flavors with tags made from a circle punch and a label maker (even though I have a fancy machine, sometimes it is nice to use old school supplies). You can easily make these at home:

Delivering these sweet baskets will certainly show the recipients how much Courtney appreciated their aid in her darkest hour! How's that for a Friendly Friday?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dollar Store Baskets that Look Like a Million Bucks: Part One

According to Mr. 31-derful, I throw a party every time someone sneezes. He's probably right, and it gets expensive. That's why one of my favorite stops for entertaining and clever crafts is the dollar store. Specifically, I like Dollar Tree, but any $1 store works! I have a legitimate reason to party as we are celebrating a holiday next week. I am very excited to share the first in a series of baskets I am either making or helping friends make for the occasion (more on the tradition after the pictures)! May I "Take You Out to the Ballgame?":

These baskets are being made by my neighbor, who was scared of the dollar store. We went with no particular ideas in mind. That is the best way to go there, because it is "like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get!" I spied those pretty felt baseball baskets with in a minute of being in the door. Instantly, we had a theme. We began shopping the store for peanuts, popcorn, baseball themed items, Baby Ruths and root-beer in bottles. To be fair they didn't have the peanuts in the shell or the root-beer, but they did have Redbird Mints that we stumbled upon. They are a must in a St. Louis Baseball Basket. Here are the pretties all put together with a baseball stress-ball and cute, themed card:

The total cost was $43.10 for 8 basket (about 5.60 each), but they look expensive. The baskets would be great for hostess gifts, wedding hospitality, Easter Baskets, May Day, Teacher Appreciation, etc. Mine, however, were made to celebrate the upcoming Jewish Holiday of Purim.

Purim baskets, or mishloach manot, are gifts of food or drink that are sent to friends, relatives, neighbors, teachers, business associates, and any other acquaintances on Purim day. The tradition derives from the Book of Esther. It is meant to ensure that everyone has enough food and to increase love and friendship. Traditionally, the baskets include at least two different types of food. The practice is a fairly prominent feature of Purim among the religious community but not as much among Reform and Conservative Jews. As you know I am not religious, but I do care about tradition, and this is a really easy, fun one to keep. I will be back with another friend's baskets tomorrow and mine on Friday!

No Minimalist Here

What's Next Wednesday (February revamp)

This is not a cop out, I swear, but I am indefinitely cancelling my What's Next (Workforce) Wednesday series. The reason is that I have already accomplished what I wanted to do this year, and gained clarity about what I don't want to do. For the rest of the year I will have a small (and I do mean small) partnership with my old work. I can't go into too many specifics because of the nature of the organization. I can say that I always loved that job because it was a great mix of my legal and social work degrees (both in terms of the social welfare system and not-for-profit management).

I supervised a group of highly-trained community volunteers to advocate for the best interest of children in foster care. While I was doing the legal work, they were doing the leg work and forging meaningful relationships with the kids. In turn I "fell in love with" so many of them. They were busy professionals donating their time and talents. I thrived off of their energy and truly loved getting to work with them. It is now my pleasure to announce that I am going to have a small role in shaping the next generation of volunteers as a trainer.

I will "work" teaching training a total of about 8 nights this year. This is just enough for me to earn and pay for my own continuing education credits and bar fees this year (if you are going to be a stay-at-home-attorney, the least you can do is pay for your own professional fees). I will also learn about the vast growth the organization has undergone since I last worked there. They, too, can see me. Perhaps in the far future after becoming re-acquainted with each other, there will be actual employment with them or someone else.

I plan to re-evaluate this all in the Fall. If and when I begin work again, I would like to chronicle those first few months of stepping back into the working world. For now, however, I feel like I have much to accomplish at home before looking for work elsewhere. There are household things to do and celebrations to orchestrate while my kids are still young enough to enjoy them. I want to sop up this Spring (when it ever gets here) and have a lazy summer. Quite frankly, I also need to get busy with my projects and organization in order to finish by the Fall. Accordingly, you can expect more organization, decor, teacher appreciation, and special celebrations on the blog on Wednesdays. It keeps me accountable to blog about that and it is much more fun to read!

Without further ado, I bid What's Next Wednesday adieu!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Total Health Tuesday: Getting Real about Getting Real

As I have been chronicling on this blog, my family started the year by taking 100 days of Real Food's 10 day challenge. We ate nothing processed for ten days which was shockingly harder in some respects than I thought and surprisingly much easier in some ways than I anticipated. After the challenge I was able to maintain most of the rules for myself while returning to normal routines including occasionally eating-out (though far less eating out than we had been indulging in during the hectic holiday corridor from Halloween to New Year's). I really dramatically cut out white sugar and white flour--over this past weekend I indulged a little at a party and family dinner, which slid into a soda and candy yesterday.

When the results didn't show on the scale, I publicly proclaimed that I need to go back to Weight Watchers, which I have yet to do three weeks later. First, I am scared (plain and simple). I am also embarrassed that I have gained so much since the last time I was there. Mostly though I had hoped that simply eating real food, regardless of the quantity or caloric density, was going to be my new miracle diet. I said that this wasn't for weight loss, but rather for my family's health, which it was. But secretly, despite my claims, I hoped. Most of us who have battled weight on and off hold out hope that there is going to be some next thing that makes us thin (and right-quick too).

Real Food is awesome and I am going to stick with it--I don't want to be dependent on sugar substitutes or "diet" products. Simply eating real food probably is a great way to maintain health and, over a period of many years, I would probably accomplish my goals with this method alone. But it isn't "it." Coincidentally, just yesterday Lisa at 100 days of Real food wrote about this.

Tomorrow morning I am going to a spin class at 9:30 and it is right across the street from Weight Watchers. I want to go but I know I won't be able to stay for the meeting and make the spin class. I know I have a HUGE wine dinner this weekend where I have been looking forward to breaking all the rules. I have a million excuses why this isn't the week, but I am praying that I have the strength to walk in that building. Have you ever desperately wanted and needed to do something but had a hard time willing yourself to do it?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Come to Order Monday: Quick Project and Goals Check-In

These are our 2015 goals (most of them have been articulated on this blog and are the reason for a particular series like "Come to Order Monday" or "What's Next Wednesday"). After two months, I am re-evaluating. I am patting myself on the back a wee bit (hooray for dramatic decrease in sugar, white flour, and soda consumption). I also recognize areas where I have veered off course both in real life and with my blog topics (did I ever do a post on savings? no, well that is because I didn't save anything yet).

Rather than getting super disappointed with my lack of progress (and subsequently just throwing in the towel), I am going to break my work into really small tasks. When enough of these are accomplished, I will be much closer to the overall goals. A perfect example of this is today's "Come to Order Monday," which focuses on just one problem drawer in my kitchen.

I would like to re-organize every nook and cranny in my kitchen and label everything using my silhouette machine. This would take loads of new storage bins, fridge coasters, and several days. Because I haven't had time to delve into that yet, I have avoided it altogether (except for one little paper goods drawer that was addressed as a tangent when I cleaned my laundry room here) . Truth be told, most of my kitchen is actually fairly well organized. I have loads of storage space, and it is pretty easy to keep everything grouped with like-items and neatly stowed away. The exception to this is the drawers that the kids can access--like the paper goods drawer above, which I am proud to say is still neat as a pin. Accordingly, I decided to just do one drawer today rather than tidying up areas that don't really need it.

This drawer holds seldom-used equipment (aprons, piping bags, push-pops, creme brule' cups, etc). We also have a lot of kids baking "stuff" that we have been gifted over the years in that drawer. My general thought is that the kids can use my equipment and learn to cook using the real things, but they prize these items. You can see that they do use them--so much so that the drawer has started to look like this:

I emptied it out and put 20 minutes on the oven clock. I have learned that allotting myself only small amounts of time on small projects helps to keep me on task.

At the conclusion of the 20 minutes, I had this:

There are no lovely bins, and I didn't whip out the vinyl. The drawer,however, functions again and I am inching towards my goal!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Favorite Things Party

Our PTO sells tickets to house parties with all of the proceeds benefiting the school. For the past several years, my friend Lauren and I have been the host of one such party, The Favorite Things Party. Even though the participants have technically bought tickets months before, we always send a reminder invitation. This year we went with a chalkboard theme:

While planning this year's soiree at Starbucks, Lauren leaned over to confide something to me. I thought it would be something seriously juicy. Instead the confession was, "I am not over mason jars yet." I laughed so hard because I am not over them either (Don't tell anyone, but I still like burlap and chevron too). I am from Tennessee and I have liked mason jars my whole life. I threw some in with our chalkboards for good measure.

The whole thing was seriously cute and, of course, I didn't take any pictures until my friend Becky reminded me. These are what I could get shooting around people :(. Trust me it was presh! I couldn't even get near the bar through the throng of thirsty moms, but I did get these of the chalkboard buffet:

Lauren and I can never figure out what to serve at the party. We had a full dinner once when no one ate at all. Another year, we adjusted to serve only dessert (and a few very close friends mentioned they missed the food). This year, after much thought, we served a simple menu of cheese, fruit, veggies with two dips (one healthy, the other not-so-much), chicken skewers, and light, fluffy glitter balls from a bakery in town. The display was over-sized and looked far more significant that what we actually served. Sticking with the chalkboard theme, we wrote everything out in chalk:

I am still sticking with a relatively whole food plan, and I wanted to make sure I was comfortable with anything that was leftover being in the house. Accordingly, we served seasoned popcorn in lieu of chips or crackers (there were a few Triskets were down by the cheese). I skipped the glitter balls :(.

I got these sweet french fry containers and the berry baskets at Micheal's in the 70% off Valentine's area. They were $ 1.38 for ten and don't look a bit Valentines-y to me!
Run and hoard some like me.

The bar was similarly-styled featuring beer, bubbles, red wine, white wine, nuts, and scattered candy bowls.

After an hour of socializing we began the game. Each participant presents her favorite item and then draws three names out of a hat. Those lucky three receive the gifts! By the end of the night everyone has three new goodies to enjoy (and a few inevitable trades take place, but its all in good fun). Here are the gifts all lined up before the game:

This year was our swan song as our oldest kids are transitioning to a new school next year (sadly elementary school is pretty short around these parts --we have a fifth grade center much to my dismay). I was a bit misty that this was the last one. Being at this school with these moms has been one of my favorite things!
No Minimalist Here

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sweet Valentines

This week, I haven't posted because I wanted Jenn to be the star of the show (if you are a single, please check her out below)! Instead of a real Throwback Thursday, I am throwing it back to last week.

Here are a few quick, un-edited shots of our Valentine's decor! Every place imaginable in our house had a tea towel or hand towel emblazoned with hearts. I also put up some sweet decor in the dinning room:

The grown ups dined in there Saturday night (it was buffet so the table is only partially set), while the kids had a table in the kitchen:

I ended up serving a Brunch-for-dinner, as it was the best common denominator among lots of picky eaters. I made a side of salmon, bagel set-ups, heart-shaped bacon and heart fruit kebabs, but the star of the show was the whole wheat waffle bar with all the fixins:

And just for fun, here are all my sweethearts before our club's father daughter dance (note the peace and love banner in the background):

Tonight is our annual Favorite Things party that we give for the school auction, so I have oodles to do to pull it off. Its going to be cute! I will be back tomorrow with that and then back on track next week!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Jennifer of Knoxville: Southern Lady of Faith and Style!

I am linking up with Kelly's Korner to tell you about my sweet friend from college, Jennifer. (We are 38--39 on the link was a typo)!

First and Foremost, Jennifer is a woman of faith. She is very involved at her church with the Women's ministry and in helping to lead worship. Her faith is the most important part of her life. This was was evident to me when we met as college sophomores; she was extremely involved in Campus Crusade for Christ and her home church. Though we are as different as can be, particularly in our faiths, she showed me such love. I will always look back on our college conversations as some of the most meaningful and influential talks on faith I have ever had.

Jennifer was born and raised in Knoxville, TN. She holds a bachelors degree in Social Work from UT (GO VOLS!). After college, her passion and faith took her to Middle Tennessee State University, where she served for Campus Crusade for Christ. Later, she lived in Russia before settling back home in Knoxville.

While faith has defined Jennifer's path and choices, there is also so much more to know about her. She is smart. We wrote a million papers together, and I can tell you she is so bright. She is also the most fun. She always had ideas for activities; I know she still does this because I always see her on Facebook running 5k's with her friends and road-tripping to conferences! She is beautiful and full of life. She is kind to everyone she meets.

Jennifer has impeccable style and taste in everything she does. She has always dressed beautifully. Even in college, she always looked like a million dollars (she had a knack for finding clothes that were affordable to a college student but were the highest fashion). Her homes have always been beautifully cared for and decorated. I know one day she is going to make the most perfect home and life for her family. Because of Jennifer's amazing style, it is no surprise that she ultimately decided to go to beauty school.
In 2011 she added business-woman to her impressive list of accomplishments. That year she opened her own salon and boutique. Of course, she has been successful at this too. She formed a tight-knit "family" with the women who work with her. That is just who she is--a person of substance who forms real and lasting relationships!

Jennifer's life is already full and fulfilling. She has 6 nieces and nephews that she adores. Between work, family and church she stays pretty busy. She is open to meeting a man with the same beliefs and values she hold so dear, though. If you know someone who would be good for her or you are someone, you can email her at:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Eric Carl Birthday Party

I am throwing it back to the baby's 2nd birthday in 2009 as it is next in my digital chaos photography organization project! It is actually one I blogged about at the time, but here are some photo montages just to keep me accountable!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Total Health Tuesday: Real Food Valentine's Menu

I am menu planning for Valentine's Day Dinner Party for us and two other families. I am torn between a sophisticated menu that pleases kids and adults alike and a Breakfast-for-Dinner Extravaganza that also pleases kids and adults! In either case, I plan to keep it clean. That is to say that while neither the fancy meal nor breakfast for dinner will be low-cal, I do want to use real food. It is so easy to rely on boxes of processed sweets for this particular holiday as I have in the past (and did on Groundhog's Day just last week). If I do the breakfast-for-dinner, I will be substituting my own healthy recipes. I am using these as my "pin-spiration!" Which do you think I should go with? What are you cooking up for your loved ones?

Photo-credits and recipe links: (clock-wise from left corner)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Come to Order Monday

With this being a short week for my kids and Valentine's week, complete with class parties, I don't have time for a major organizational project. Of course, that doesn't mean I get out of having to do my regular activities! I am running way behind on the dreaded camp paperwork and figuring out the whole summer. In addition to a laundry list of other things, I am trying to figure that all out today. Last Friday, I realized that my Valentine's Day decor is a hot mess (worthy of it's own reorganization ). I have to sort through it before I even put it up. I know this doesn't seem like a necessity to anyone but me, but my kids have come to love the house swathed in pink and red one week a year. We are having an annual family dinner party on Saturday to mark the occasion. Obvi I want it pretty for that!! Once it is all up, I'll snap some pic's. We have already been begun celebrating even without our decor.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Valentine's Week!!!!!

I am a BIG fan of letting each holiday have it's own special moment. We celebrated three around these parts this week. Groundhog's Day, Tu B'Shevat, and Mr. 31-derful's 41st birthday each had a special day. Now it is Valentine's Week! The girlies began their cards around February 1st. Big Girl N is going with a chalkboard and school supply theme (pencil sharpeners with a note that says, "you are sharp"), while little sis went with a playful, krazy straw motif! I'm off to decorate before they return from school.

Friendly Friday: Our Tree Celebration

We had some old, good friends over as we celebrated a minor holiday sometimes called the birthday of the trees! This little chalkboard has been hanging on the door to our art room as long as I can remember. There is an entire chalkboard wall in that room, so I am not sure how this originally got there. Anyhow now it is a tradition! We change the ribbon and message all the time.

We set up a little planting station on the kitchen table for the kids to make mason jar terrariums. Since the idea of the holiday is about trees waking from their winter slumber, I thought this fit right in. You will see the book A Tree is Nice in the background of one picture. It is such a sweet book, and I would really recommend it for kids of all ages.

Above are a few shots of my table. You'll notice we didn't have any silverware or plates down at this point because we were reading from placemats I created. We noshed on the fruit and nuts in the center as we read about four categories of fruits, which represent the four seasons and aspects of the human personality. The four sections of the service each have a corresponding glass of juice to symbolize the same--from Winter (white) to Fall (red). These are just thimble size glasses--I know they look huge in this picture!

After the service (it was six minutes tops), we served a buffet dinner of colorful, natural dishes. We had zucchini boats, tomato-cucumber salad, cut veggies for the kids and orzo. I used twigs and lemons to decorate the buffet to represent trees:

It was a quick weeknight celebration, and all was neatly put away by 8:30. Overnight, we had a snowfall that dusted our yard, but the terrarium in the window reminded me that Spring is not far off!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Fancy Nancy 2008

Today I am throwing it back to July 2008 for my eldest daughter's 3rd Birthday Fancy Nancy Party. For anyone keeping track, this was 1.5 months after we moved into this house and just two weeks after the baby's first birthday housewarming. In those days, I was horrible about photographing party details, but I do have a few. Guests received invitations created on my beloved Mountaincow. Of course, there was clever language that I have no photographic evidence or memory of. I remember that the invites were addressed to Fancy Olivia, Fancy Will, etc., and that they called for fancy dress.

When they arrived, guests took "Fancy Photos with Granddaddy" in a Hollywood-style step and repeat. The birthday girl and I colored the backdrop together!

After their paparazzi moment, the kids went to the kitchen and art room to create fancy crowns and color (though most were already donning their own). I didn't picture this because of guests' privacy. When a critical mass of guests were in place, "Fancy Nancy" arrived. This is our beloved babysitter Susie who was a super-trooper during my kids pre-school parties. She now has a very serious job in DC!

Susie Fancy Nancy ushered the kids to our then unfinished (but spacious, new, and clean) basement. In hindsight, that was sort of tacky, but it was a great place to hold a large crowd. Nancy read her namesake book, while 30+ kids hung on her every word. When the book was over she announced that lunch was served and "opened" the room that I created out of purple pipe and drape. You can't see it here but the ceiling was strung with pink lantern party lights. A sign on the exterior matched the invites and read "frilly toothpicks do make sandwiches taste better."

Each guest found his or her seat by placecard before being served a fancy fruit parfait, butterfly-shaped sandwich with toothpick (of course), chocolate dipped pretzel wand, and I am sure some sort of vegetable. Then, of course, there was cake:

After lunch, we had a fun round of pin the fancy on Nancy's room and a good old-fashioned dance party!

This "formula" worked so well that I used it until just this year. If you went to my kids' parties, you could always expect a craft as guests gathered, an activity to bring the group together, and a game to keep the momentum up after the meal. It was always matching the theme of the party and always with cute signage, needless to say! Coincidentally it was while prepping for this party that I discovered the world of blogging. I fell head over heels for SippyCups . She no longer blogs after some twists and turns in her personal life, but it holds up. If you are looking for Southern Traditional Decorating, food inspiration, or swoon-worthy parties check her archives out!