Saturday, January 10, 2015

Pre-sale Event!

Pre-sale Event!! 

Click on picture below to take you to the sale! 
Don't miss out, sale ends March 31st!

Affiliate Link

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Starting Out On the Right Foot

I love the new year because it means a chance to start fresh! A clean slate.....and a great time to reset our homes and change them into a wonderful refuge! If your family is like ours, you've just been inundated with an onslaught of new toys, gizmos, clothes, and gifts that now need new homes. If your home was already feeling crowded and cluttered, these new items may be just the things that finally pushes  you over the edge or being frustrated to overwhelmed with the state of your home!

I'm a firm believer that ever item in a house needs a permanent(uncluttered) home and if homes are at a premium, then the only solution is to evict some items to make room for those items that are really treasured and loved. I want to add here, that sometimes the item that needs to leave may be something you just received. SHOCKING, I know! Many times we receive things that we don't like, enjoy, or need and while we should be thankful for the kindness of the giver, we don't need to keep the item. This is a great opportunity to bless someone less fortunate!

Have nothing in your house

that you do not know to be useful
or believe to be beautiful.
-William Morris

I've always loved this quote and feel that it really is the basic question we should be asking ourselves when we go through items to decide whether they make the cut. If we keep items around that we don't enjoy or use these items are basically sitting their taking up space, causing us stress, and adding work to our already busy schedule. Everyone wants to organize what they have, but the truth is you can only keep organized what you have space for.....clutter and excess cannot be organized.

Photo Credit

There are many ways of getting rid of that excess, but I'm going to share some of my favorites.

  • Go big or go home! 
    • This one is my favorite, I'm an all or nothing kind of gal! This decluttering method kills two birds with one stone because you are purging and cleaning at the same time. It starts off with taking everything out of the room and placing it in another area, such as the hall. If this seems too overwhelming, use this method on one area within a room, such as a dresser. Take everything out, clean the space, and then only bring back into the room the items your really use and love, and put everything left over in your donate box or trash box! I love doing this method because once you've finished the space, you have a beautifully organized, minimalized, and sanitized space. It's like an entirely fresh start!
  • Challenge Purging!
    • When I first started my adventure into decluttering and living a minimalized lifestyle, I did the 40 bags in 40 days challenge. Not only was it the encouragement and support I needed but it also gave me an attainable goal to reach. By breaking it into small chunks it didn't overwhelm me or take to much time out of my normal day with my littles. It helped me reach my goal, and once I got started I quickly exceeded it. I got to know the donation place guy by the first name! The bags of things could be trash, donations, or items to sell. Just get stuff into those bags and once you start you see and feel the weight of excess lift and you are inspired to give things away you never thought you would part with.
  • Hanger Switcharoo
    • Clothes have always been a hard item for me to part with. Because I'm tall it is hard to find items that fit well and when they do, I like to hold onto them. But just because an item fits the body it doesn't mean it looks good on you, that you like it, or that you ever wear it. This is basically the easiest way to purge...ever. Simply turn all your coat hangers around backwards and as you wear an item turn the coat hanger around. At the end of 6 months or a year whatever items are still in there backwards, simply grab them quickly and toss them into a bag. Unless it is a special occasion item or maternity item, if you haven't worn it in that long, there's a very good chance you never will and someone else could benefit from that item.
These are just a few easy techniques I've used and still use yearly to keep my house from feeling full and overwhelmed with stuff. I hope these ideas help you in your quest to start the new year off right!

What are some of your favorite ways to purge your home of unwanted items?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Curriculum: 2014 -2015

Every year before the school year begins, I always sit down and share my curriculum picks for our family. Well this year that never happened. The school year started off with a bang, we got engrossed in our studies, life, the lovely fall weather, and our homeschool co-op and it just slipped out of my mind.

Well, I didn't want to just gloss over our curriculum this year, because, well frankly, we love it! It's been fun, interesting, easy, and enjoyable and the kids have learned so much! Without further ado:

Group Learning:
Grant (age 7): 
Paige (age 3): 
So far we are loving learning as a family and the Beautiful Feet core has worked great for everyone. We enjoy cuddling together every day on the couch as we read great classic books, adventure stories, and other great read alouds as we journey through early American history. Most of the other items we are using in a group setting tie in with our history core. So as we read about history we are also drawing Indians, writing about the Pilgrim's voyage, building log :common houses", coloring maps of England, Holland, and the new world, journaling about the character qualities these brave adventurers displayed, and discussing what we are learned from their success and mistakes. It has taken our learning to such a practical level that allows us to apply what we've learned in our every day lives!
While plans may change, we hope to continue using many of these resources next year and continue learning in such a relaxed and easy format. I hope to review more of what we are using this year and share some things we hope to adventure into in the future! 

What things are you using this year that you just love and want to share? 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Showing Gratitude

While the art of writing a thank you note has mostly gone out of style, in our family taking the time to show gratitude for all the wonderful gifts they received for Christmas is not only in good taste, but is also a practical learning and character building lesson!

 It reminds our children that someone took time, effort, and money to choose a special gift just for them and now they should take time and effort to show how grateful they are in return! Even though we take a short break from formal schooling for Christmas, learning happens every minute of the day. So before we plunge back into our normal routine, we take time to focus on writing thank you notes to teach a practical skill that, I believe, every adult (and child) should have in their arsenal of good manners and habits.

Thank you notes also incorporate the use of handwriting skills, phonics and spelling, using formal greetings and salutations, grammar, punctuation, the art of addressing an envelope, and many more skills that could be taught from a worksheet, but are much more easily taught in this practical form.
Thank you notes in our home greatly change from year to year based on the age of our children and their current skill levels. When my first little guy was 2, I simply had him color and paint on a small piece of cardstock and I wrote the note on top of his masterpiece. As my littles have gotten older I've had them draw a picture of what they were thankful for, had them trace notes that I've "dotted" out, had them fill in the blanks with the item they received and their name, to now writing the note completely themselves.

If you are wanting some thank you notes that your kids can work on today, here are some links to some cute cards you can easily print off, fill out and get in the mail!

Do you think writing thank you notes is an important and thoughtful skill for kids to learn?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Resolution for Change

I talk to many women that feel overwhelmed in their jobs as wives, moms, teachers, and homemakers and in most of those discussions their chief complaint boils down to being overloaded with too much stuff, too little space, and not enough time.

For some reason, in this current season of life, God has called this former pack-rat to help other families battle clutter, disorganization, and help return their homes to a place of rest, a haven from the world. It was never anything I planned on doing.  It's not like I grew up neat, organized, or fact the exact opposite is true. Ask my mother about the state of my room while growing up and you'll hear things like....bologna peels under her bed, tiny bits of toys being hoarded, and pieces of papers with the most insignificant doodle being saved and treasured. Seriously, I was the poster child for hoarders anonymous!

I'm very thankful that God uses broken people and can turn their weaknesses into strengths! He has enabled me to move away from my dependence on things and the false security they offer, to the never failing, never ending security HE offers. That void that I once filled with stuff and busyness is now filled with His love!

In my casual conversations I hear things like, "My home is a stressful place", "What I do is never enough for my husband, we are always fighting about stuf", "I don't even know where to start with getting my time organized", and "I feel like all I do is clean up". It's hard to hear, but I've also been there, so I know how they are feeling.

People keep things for many reasons. Some are sentimental, some people feel stuff brings security, some people are just not organized or have a creative type of personality. Things (or STUFF as I lovingly call it) are not bad or sinful in themselves. It's when we hold on to them too tightly, hoard them, or turn them into our idol. 1 John 2:15 reminds  us to "not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him". It's a pretty straight forward warning to keep our eyes on our ultimate Home and on laying up our treasure Above, not here where they quickly decay, are lost or broken.....remember you can't take it with you! 

So why are we wasting so much time on cleaning, storing, moving, and organizing items with no eternal value? Why are our days filled with tasks that we don't enjoy, that don't benefit our family, or bring us closer to God? While being a good steward is an important in and of itself, I'm asking why do we have so many things we don't use, need, or even like?  Well that's a personal question we all need to answer for ourselves. 

While the answer will be different for all of us, the solution is usually the same - we need less stuff, fewer commitments, and more time with God.

As we move into the new year I hope we can all focus back on what God has called OUR families to. That we can find a way to drop the excess and get back to the basics of life so that God is in the forefront and the worldly stress quietly fades away.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Blessing Bags

While participating in new and unknown activities throughout the year can be fun, there is nothing like a family tradition to bring joy, happiness, and memories into the lives of our loved ones. Not only is it fun to see our children remember these special times from the past, but it's such a blessing to hear their little voices share the wonderment with younger siblings who have yet to participate in the experience!

One of our family's most loved traditions started about 5 years ago. I don't even know how it officially began, but it was a mix of our family's interest in the reaching out to the "urban outdoors-man" and our love of helping and serving others. For a long time, we had talked about the best way to help homeless people we saw out on the street and allow our children, at a young age, to help others, and to give in a way that didn't enable the homeless to use our gift on negative influences in their lives.

And through this discussion Blessing Bags were born!

 They have changed and grown over the years. Some years many family members have participated in purchasing, assembling and distributing the bags, other years it has only been our immediate family, while other times family has sent money or items to stock the bags. Some years the bags were the size of a gallon ziptop bag, sometimes a huge laundry bag, and sometimes somewhere in between. The beauty of the bag is that it is the heart of giving that determines what the bags look like each year!

After 24+ days of hectic Christmas preparation, filled with shopping, sewing, baking, and cleaning,  our attention is brought back to our amazing Savior and the awesome gift He came to give! It pulls us away from the distractions and the secular things, and focuses us on spreading His love to those who need Him most. It is also a wonderful time for our children to step away from the toys and goodies they've received that day and see how truly blessed they are....there's nothing like the realization that these special people are living on the street to make their "needs" turn into wants and even over abundance!

The fun begins with a shopping trip!! Most of what we need can be found at Dollar Tree (man I like that store! ;).  We start off by picking the bag we want to fill and deciding on how many we want to fill that year. This year we decided on 12 bags. I recommend packing bags in multiples of 6, 12, 18, etc., because most things at Dollar Tree come in multiples of 3 and 4's making it easy to pack bags without leftovers. Once we have the bag, we purchase things that will fit inside them.  Here is our list from this year:

  • Christmas card and candy cane
  • Bible/Christian literature
  • Gloves
  • Socks
  • Hand warmers
  • 3 in 1 shampoo, conditioner, body wash
  • Deodorant
  • Shaving cream
  • Razor
  • Lotion
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush and holder
  • Comb
  • Band aids
  • Q-tips
  • Wet wipes
  • Washrag
  • Travel mug
  • Hot chocolate packets
  • Instant coffee packages(1 cup size)
  • Lemonade packages(1 bottle size)
  • A water bottle
  • Hard candy
  • Gum
  • Raisins
  • Granola bars
  • Crackers and chicken salad
  • Honey bun
  • Cookies
  • Popcorn
  • Food in a cup
    • Mac and Cheese
    • Oatmeal
    • Noodles

The Kiddos assembling the bags!
The wonderful part about the bags is that they can be given out any time of the year as well. Our goal is not just to teach our children about giving God's love at Christmas time, but through the entire year, throughout their entire life! We make smaller versions of these bags in 2 gallon ziplock bags that we keep in our car all the time. Anytime we run into someone holding a sign on the side of the road that needs help, we have a real, tangible expression of God's free gift that our kiddos can hand out the window with a "God bless you!" to close the deal!

Family traditions are a wonderful way to instill great memories into the lives of our children, but most importantly they are a fantastic way of instilling the love of God into their hearts. Make sure that during this busy season, you are focusing on what is important, what will last.....Jesus, the TRUE Reason for this Season(and every season)!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

This is How We Do It: Laundry!

So the other day I explained how we do kid's clothes at the Howard House, now it's time to talk about another fun topic - LAUNDRY!!!

In the past, when we had too many clothes, too many towels, too many sheets......too many every-things, I was bogged down by laundry. It was my nemesis. Always sitting there in piles, piles to be washed, piles to be dried, piles to be folded, piles to be hung up, piles to be put away, piles to be ironed!!!! It was overwhelming and I was always behind. Always.
So one of the first areas I noticed a DRASTIC difference in when we started minimizing our possessions was laundry. Oh happy day! My loads were smaller, the hamper wasn't filling up as quickly, and laundry wasn't a DAILY chore anymore. Now that was something I could get on board with.
Once I figured on average how many clothes we needed as a family, knowing how frequently to do laundry was the next step. Since the kids had around 4-5 days worth of play clothes, on an average week I realized I would only need to do laundry 2-3 times a week. So I cut back to 3 days a week, with a hot and cold load each day. This was a welcomed change, however, my loads were really small and sometimes I was looking for laundry to wash. I took a leap and tried 2 loads 2 times a week.....voila!! The perfect arrangement! Not only were my loads the right size, but clothes got rotated better, so the same favorite outfit wasn't being washed over and over again.
Then all I needed to decide was which days I needed to do wash on. I decided on Mondays and Thursdays. Monday was a necessary day, because I don't enjoy doing household chores on the weekend or on the Lord's day and with all the fun we have together during family time, come Mondays, we NEEDED clean and fresh clothes, towels and sheets. It's great to start the week off with a fresh wardrobe and home! Thursday was a natural second day as it was at the midpoint from Monday, but also allowed me to have items clean going into the weekend while not being another huge task I needed to do on Fridays, the day we clean the house (but that's a different post!).
I've had this laundry schedule of two laundry days with two loads each day for over 3 years now, and it has yet to fail me. There are the exceptions, like when we have sickness in our home, are preparing for a trip, or have something special planned on a laundry day. On these occasions, I move the laundry day forward or back depending on the week, but still mostly no change is noticeable in the load size. Every 2 weeks I also have a load of sheets to wash, so on that day I do three loads.
(I will add here that we are a cloth diapering family, which means once a week I also have a load of diapers to run. Again, this usually falls on Monday or Thursdays and gets added on with no real change in schedule. Most people wont have to deal with this extra load, but I'm trying to keep it real here! ;))
This new way of doing laundry has been so freeing and made laundry day a fun event at our home now. Before laundry was always hanging over my head, was always in the back of my mind, but now, I only have to think about laundry twice a week and then it is over and done. With the 3 kiddos' help, we can get two loads sorted, washed, dried, folded, and put away in under 2 hours and are only touching the laundry itself for 15 minutes or less of that 2 hour chunk(man I'm so thankful for machines!!). We either enjoy a read aloud book while the kiddos sort and fold/roll their own items and put them away OR if we have gotten all our other work done, we will enjoy a quick cartoon while we are folding our items and then race at the commercial breaks to have everything put away neatly before the show returns!! Having helpers makes the work fun and quick!
Tips for getting laundry completed quickly:
  • Reduce overall amounts of clothes you own!
  • Pick a few days a week for laundry and then forget about it!
  • Train your children early to be responsible for their own items!
  • Don't let the sun go down on incomplete laundry!
*If you are super, super busy start loads the night before, go to bed with one load drying and one load washing, fold first load while second is drying and be done with it!
What are you favorite laundry hacks?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

This is How We Do It: Kid's Clothes

Clothes are something we all have to face and face routinely,  so having a system in place really helps our home life run smoothly.

Twice a year, I get really excited because the "changing of the clothes" time is upon us! And this year I had a sweet volunteer offer to help! I just love training this little momma!

It all starts by taking every item out of each drawer and vacuuming it clean.
 It's so lovely to start with a blank canvas!

I sort all of Grant's outgrown items into three stacks, one to keep to pass down to Morgan the next year, one to donate, and the other to trash. It is very rare to have to get rid of items, so most of  the time I just move these items to the left section of our trundle drawer under the boy's bunkbed.

Morgan's clothes get sorted the same way, but with his sort I am very strict on what I keep. Since Grayson is 4 years behind, it needs to be a very special outfit to warrant being stored that long. It's better to just pass most things onto someone else to enjoy. Also, after two boys, many things are ready to to be passed onto someone's ragbag. ;)

Now it's time for some fun!

At the end of last summer, I raided the clearance racks all over town to find some great bargains(something I do at the end of every season). As I find these cheap treasures, I stash them away in the trundle drawer. I keep a list of what I need with me as I shop as to not get miss matched items or too many things. (Like if I find plaid shorts with a red stripe, I would add a red golf shirt to my list or I would write 3 nice outfits size 6)

So now I get to pull everything out and refill the drawers with fun new outfits and "new to you" clothes!!!

 Here is Grant's new summer wardrobe above and Morgan's is below. Both pictures are missing one set of good clothes, as I had already laid out their church clothes for the next morning. I'll also be buying one more playshirt for Morgan.

Here are what the drawers look like after items are put in.  For the boys, I roll their laundry as this keeps their drawers tidy and clean. Most items I get for them mix and match, so I just line shirts up front and pants/shorts in the back. This also makes it really easy for them to fold and put away their own clothes.

Underwear lies flat, socks get balled, but everything else, including bathing suits, get rolled.

 Jammies, socks, undearwear, and swim suit drawers.

 Grant's play clothes.

Grant's nice clothes.
 I left his jeans in, just because it's Michigan and it could snow tomorrow ....or in June.

Morgan's play clothes. Again rolled with shirts in the front and bottoms in the back.

Again jeans are left in the nice clothes drawer, something I never had to do in OK! ;)

Now it's time to move onto Paige's clothes! It would be a lie if I didn't say I was totally giddy with this job!

So far, it has been a breeze to find girl's clothes on clearance, many for around $1. 

Paige's clothes get folded in outfit packs, with a bottom folded with its matchig top. Also, if their are leggings, a skirt, and top,  they all get folded together for easy grabbing by my little fashionista! ;)

Socks, tights, jammies, bathing suit, and undies(aka kitties)!

Play clothes!

Nice clothes. And she has three dresses hanging her closet.
By keeping clothing choices greatly limited, clothes aren't over taking our home causing stress, drawers stay tidy, and laundry day is quick and simple! Our clothes get a lot of wear since there are fewer option, so I don't buy used, especially when 2+ kids will be wearing them. However, by shopping clearance racks and buying less, our clothes budget remains small. 
When we first had kids, we had so many clothes that half of their wardrobe never got worn, or got worn once or twice and I was constantly folding, washing, putting away, and organizing clothes. I actually found items with tags still on them when packing up outgrown clothing. Such a waste. God has shown us that being a good steward and buying only what we need is a blessing to our family and also allows us to help others with the money and time we save!
Want to minimize the headache of clothes?
 I recommend the following:
~Less is More~
 Aim for (per person per season) 4-6 play outfits, 4-6 nice outfits, 5-6 undies, 2-3 jammies, 4-5 socks, 1 dress shoe, 1 nice shoe, 1 bathing suit/cover up
~Keep Drawers Tidy~
Roll outfits that can be mixed and matched
Fold set outfits into easy to grab packs
~ Evaluate Needs~
It's easy to buy things you don't need when they are cheap
Make a detailed list before you shop - stick to it!
What are some tricks you use to keep kid's clothes under control?
 I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Garlic Alfredo Sauce

So it all started with this recipe. I was so excited, thinking that I could enjoy chicken alfredo without gluten or dairy, not to mention that the base of the sauce was made from a healthy vegetable, cauliflower! If I could pull this off I would be super mom!

I got it all mixed up I was ready to take that first taste. Would it taste anything like what we were used to?


There was no way any of us were going to be able to eat this super sweet concoction. I don't know if it was the coconut milk or the cauliflower but something was wayyyyy off. There was no way all this food was going to waste,  so the frugalista in me pulled out the spice basket and went to town and what it turned into was something beautiful! When you've grown up with a father whose main ingredient in most dishes was garlic, you quickly learn that this delicious vegetable can do amazing things.

Garlic Alfredo Sauce


6 cups (1 head) cauliflower, chopped
1.5 cups of coconut milk
2 T organic olive oil
1/4 cup onion, finely minced
2 T of minced garlic
4 strips of bacon, cut into small pieces
2 chicken breasts, cubed
1/2 cup of water or chicken broth
1/4 t nutmeg
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
organic olive oil
1 t salt
2 T of garlic powder
2 T of onion flakes

Chop up cauliflower and add to pan with coconut milk. Bring to a boil, them reduce heat, cover, and simmer until soft(about 8-10mins). Move softened cauliflower mixture to blender, add 2T of olive oil, and blend until smooth. Start your pasta cooking. In a large skillet, put in 1T of olive oil, cubed chicken, and chopped bacon, saute until cooked through. Add onion and minced garlic, cook until softened. Pour cauliflower "sauce" into your large skillet and combine. Add 1/2 cup of your pasta water to thin a bit. Let flavors combine on medium heat while stirring. Taste. Add parsley, onion flakes, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Don't be afraid to play with the seasonings. We love garlic at our house so I kept adding until it was garlicious!! ;) You can use this on gluten free pasta or over veggies.

How the Howards Got Healthy

Now that 2013 is behind us, you know the year of seizures, year 7 of body pain and fatigue and new diagnoses of a plethora of food intolerances, we felt it was time to try something new.

I don't know much about the human body, but the one thing I do know is God has blessed me with this one body and has instructed me to be a good steward of His gift. I hope with His help to live the kind of life He would be pleased with.

I've eaten, cleaned, and lived a certain way for 30 years, so the transformation isn't going to happen overnight. By making small meaningful changes, we hope to feel better, be healthier,  and live long lives that bring glory to God! We also hope to teach our children healthy eating and living habits so they can grow up without facing many of the challenges that bad diets, chemicals, toxins and processed foods can cause.

We have really no experience with gluten free, dairy free, wheat free diets, cooking, or living or with natural cleaning, body care, or household items so this adventure is one we are jumping into with both feet and praying that our chamges will drastically change the way we feel.

We are also not tree huggers or hippies(even though I did love that era of music growing up). We love real food, hamburgers and chocolate chip cookies not tree bark or rutabagas,  so we are really excited to see what kind of recipes we will be trying and products we will be using.

I hope you will join us for the fabulous, the failures and the freak outs!