Crafts | DIY | Organization | Simple Style

Designing a She Shed for Your Teenager

By on June 10, 2019

It all started with a cardboard box and a creative teenager. Last Christmas I ordered a new chair for the living room and my daughter confiscated the box. She said she'd only keep it for a week, but then I saw what she made out of it. It was the most creative box clubhouse I'd ever seen. I talked her dad into letting her keep invading his workshop for a little longer, and then she started making bump outs. This kid needed a real project, so for her 13th birthday she built a she-shed with her dad in the back yard!

Last summer my son wanted to fix up our back yard a bit, so he came up with a deck project for him and his dad to complete. They had some left over decking materials, so they added a little deck space on the other side of the yard.

The problem with this side of the yard is that it is either in full sun, or getting Pecan tree sap dropped all over it. No one wanted to sit over there, so it gave us the perfect base for our she-shed.

So we mapped out the space and dreamed up a design and my two little worker bees got to work! I scoured Pinterest for inspiration and we found these two projects extremely helpful:

This project offered great opportunities to learn the basics of building from how to drive a nail, to framing walls and a roof. Our baby girl worked hard at every stage of the project. It's easy to overlook my baby because she's my youngest, but I'm learning to let her grow up and do amazing things like this!

March surprised them with chilly temps for Texas, but that didn't slow down these two workers. They finished the whole roof in a day!

I was more interested in the design of the space. We found some used windows at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. My husband made sure to frame out the windows to fit our unique window sizes.

Since the decking was pieced together, it was a little uneven in some places. That was just fine under the table, but once it was the front entry of the clubhouse, we needed to reinforce it a bit. We found this fun flooring at IKEA, and it worked beautifully as a sidewalk with grass to the front door.

They painted all of the inside white and laid some easy peel and stick vinyl tile on the small 8'x6' floor. This will help keep the place clean while offering a little bit of style!

My girlie couldn't have been more proud of her outdoor retreat:

I found this sensory-friendly water-resistant crash pad at Target that made a perfect window bench cushion. My husband built the little bench system with scraps from the build. It was a great use of the materials!

On the back wall we hung this cute SKADIS pegboard from IKEA to organize all of her treasures. A clear tray at the bottom holds all of her bouncy balls.

On the other side of the space, we mounted the NORBERG wall-mounted drop-leaf table from IKEA to provide a little desk space for working on her school work.

This table is a great space saver for the small footprint of this room.

We also tried to use all of the framing as built in shelving. Her friend even gave her a cute hexagon letter board for her birthday that fit perfectly in the space.

This project quickly became a family favorite. I wanted to help her realize her clubhouse dream so that I could go and enjoy the space with her. I'm looking forward to endless fun in this cute little space for all of us!

It's amazing how this little underwhelming deck space can turn into a backyard highlight. The best part is that my little girl experienced her creative engineering come to life.

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Challenge | Home School Resources | Organization

Planning Through the Years – Tips From a High School Senior

By on February 11, 2019

by Andy Strauss

After a convicting missions conference, I, now a high school senior in my final semester of high school, stood praying, attempting to listen to God, and begging him to spontaneously reveal word for word His plan for my life. While I have had an idea of the vocation God wants me to pursue, I felt unsure and impatient. Wrapped up in the emotion of the moment, I said: “God, I’m ready. Just tell me what you want me to do with my life.” And softly the words came, whispering to me like a breath of fresh air. “Finish your senior thesis first.” I laughed. Of course, God didn’t need me to know every detail of my future in order to adequately serve him. He wanted me to love him by taking the present one step at a time.

In light of this experience, It seemed important to examine the history of my planning life, and give ideas on ways to maximize efficiency, relieve stress, and ultimately take the present one step at a time.

The Bumper Method

Ever since Challenge A, my mom has been training me in the art of planning my week of school work. Over the years, my planning has definitely changed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean for the better or worse. Each year has had a new set of challenges to overcome, and, consequently, a new plan. My first method of attack, used in my 7th grade year, I am going to call the “bumper” method. Basically, this method is like bowling with the bumper wall that keeps your ball from falling pitifully into the gutter. And hey, there are no rules in the world of planning that say that using this method counts as cheating.

Mom bought me a planner with nearly all the details printed out for me: room for six subject rows, and a column for each day of the week. All I had to do was fill in what I wanted to do each day. This helped me to not only visually see my tasks for the week, but also allowed me to break for the day after I had finished my daily assignments.

The Belaying Method

The second planning method I attempted I am calling the “belaying” method. This method allows you to freely climb the rock wall by yourself, but there is still someone on the other end of your rope keeping you from falling to the bottom. Enter stage right: the bullet journal. A bullet journal is a blank notebook reserved for taking notes, writing down phone numbers, (occasionally personalizing with doodles), and of course, planning your week. All together, the journal allows you to plan for your schoolwork and your life on the same page.

My first attempts at effectively applying a bullet journal to my plan began in Challenge 1, or my 9th grade year. Every week on Tuesday nights I would brain dump. Considering the upcoming week, I would write down every piece of school work (I found that writing lesson 1, lesson 2, and lesson 3, made me feel more productive than just writing ‘math’) into my journal. Then I would draw in a check-box next to each task. However, I color-coded the check-boxes (I don’t remember how I came up with that idea) to each color of the rainbow. The first color, red, stood for the first day of my school week: Wednesday. Orange stood for Thursday, yellow for Friday, and so on.

One thing I would like to note is that there are many pages in journal of planning (most prominent in my 10th grade year) that are not in my handwriting. They are in mom’s handwriting. It wasn’t that I had trouble writing or understanding my assignments for the week. I needed moral support and a healthy serving of advice. A student is never too old to ask for help!

The Strict-Planting Method

Over time as my school work and overall life began to change, my plan began to lack effectiveness. If planning is an art, my art began to languish. Incidentally, these were the weeks I found myself most overwhelmed. Writing this blog post does not mean I am an expert planner! There were weeks when my plan consisted of either furiously scribbled pencil markings that could probably be taken for cave drawings or Hebrew, or nothing whatsoever. It was only recently that a new strategy formed.

This method I am calling the “Strict-Planting” method. I borrowed this term off of a guitar teacher of mine. The concept of strict-planting is that while you are playing a note on your guitar you are at the same moment preparing your open fingers to play the next note. This seems like an obvious thing to do. Not so! And why can this idea not be applied to our planning lives as well? With this idea in mind, I realized that most of my struggle did not come from knowing what I had to do over the week, but when to do it. The stress did not conquer my castle if I made the focus of my plan the time of the day, instead of the day itself.

Vertically, I wrote out every hour of the day in columns at the top of the page. My first row on the left consisted of the days of the week. Because of the layout on the page, I forced myself to not only include what I was doing per day, but also to “strict-plant” my assignments by scheduling how long I planned on doing that assignment. Surely everyone has spent at least one three-to-four hour period on math alone. Whatever subject it is, this amount of time tends to kill your brainpower and thus your productive day! After applying this method, I found that I actually had free-time in the evenings. A few focused hours can save you several stressed ones!

As I said earlier, none of these methods are better or worse than the others (excluding the cave-man scribbling). These are just some tips from a High School senior. Whatever method you use, use it to its full potential! Even if writing out a plan means taking an hour or two out of your morning, you will find it worth it! No sane general in the army rides into battle because he feels like a strategy would be a waste of time. No one purposely avoids checking their nearly empty gas level before driving because they think it won’t save themselves quite a bit of trouble in the near future. God isn’t asking you to write a hour-by-hour plan of your entire existence. That’s His job. He requires you to honor Him by taking the present one step at a time.

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Family Life | Food | Organization

Save Time & Money by Cooking Once & Eating All Week

By on October 15, 2018


For the past couple of months my family has been experimenting with the concept of cooking once and then enjoying the fruits of our labors all week with healthy meals. It's been pretty revolutionary. We've been eating better than we were before and totally saving money by not eating out as often. Even better, when we have to "pack a lunch" we just grab something already prepped and head out. I love it!

Initial Investment

I've done the freezer meals route of precooking for a week or a month. While that's great, it still requires someone to pull it out on time to cook for dinner. I've struggled finding time during the week to cook while accommodating everyone's work schedule. We have seven eaters in our house this year and three of them are teens with jobs. It's really hard to all get on the same schedule.

So we spend two hours each Saturday working together to prepare meals that we portion out into individual servings. When we started, I purchased to-go containers to hold all of our meals. This also helps me with portion control! We've used the same containers for the past two months and they're still going strong.

Making it Work

First of all, I do all of my grocery shopping online. I've started using Kroger's ClickList to order my groceries. Thirty minutes before we're going to do our great meal prep, I go pick up my groceries. It takes me about 15 minutes. This way I don't waste money on non-essentials or energy on shopping!

We pick a few meals for the week and make a double batch of everything. Our cooking prep covers breakfast, lunch, and dinner for seven people. Then there are no rules for how many times you have to pick each meal. If you like one more than another, you're welcome to have it every night! If I find a meal isn't getting picked by anyone, it doesn't make the list again. All of our meals end up being under $1.50 per meal. That is a steal!

Here are our best options:

Hot Meals

I find sometimes I like hot meals for lunch better than I do for dinner. However we have a hard time all agreeing on the same meal at the same time, and I don't have time to whip something up for everyone at lunch time. I need something quick so I can get back to homeschool!

The number one favorite hot meal when I polled my family was Egg Roll in a BowlBasically all it is is 1/4 cup of rice, a sauteed bag of coleslaw mix (with soy sauce), and some teriyaki meatballs that I buy pre-made from Costco. It is really so good.

Add some fresh green onions once you've heated this baby up, and it is a great brain boost for hitting the books again!

We've also loved:

Salads

All girls desiring to eat healthy know that salads can be great options for getting in the greens. Since we're prepping so many meals, it's nice to have one that is a quick fix and a good price. We've loved these little Chicken Salad On the Run boxes from Bumble Bee. It is a surprisingly satisfying little meal, and paired with some greens, it is such a fast and easy salad to pull together.

Other salads we've enjoyed:

  • Chef Salad: chopped up chicken deli meat, boiled egg, black beans, tomatoes, and cucumber
  • Protein & Green: spinach, chick peas, edamame, grilled chicken, roasted asparagus, with goat cheese

Copycat Meals

I really do love eating out, so it's nice to have meal options that feel like something we might pick up while we're out. I love burrito bowls from Chipotle, so that's one of our favorites. I always make sure to have some avocados around so that if someone wanted to upgrade their burrito bowl, that is available to them!

Sandwiches

I have to admit that sandwiches are generally not my favorite. I finally realized that it was due to the bread to meat ratio. When I found these little Flatout Foldit flatbreads, I changed my mind. We spread a little wedge of laughing cow cheese on the flatbread, top it with 2 oz of lean lunch meat (which is the serving size...and a surprising amount of meat), and a little lettuce. We save the dressing for later (but I generally don't add anything else), and these are great little premade sandwiches.

We've also made wraps, which are just as quick and yummy. I have to be careful to not include these to the menu every week though because we can get worn out on them quicker than other options.

Sandwich Alternatives

Of course what really got me going on this type of meal prepping was finding meals that knocked me out of my typical white bread sandwich with Cheetos. If I'm going to avoid that cheesy goodness, I need some healthy variety. One of my husband's favorite sandwich alternatives is what we call Mediterranean Mix. 

It includes all of my favorite things: naan bread (we found these cute little "dippers" at Costco), hummus, bell peppers, and grilled chicken. It's so yummy!

Soup

Each week we make sure to include a soup option. This is so easy! Lately my girls have LOVED these Snapdragon Japanese Pho bowls. They just add whatever veggies we had left over from making the other meals to own this meal. 

Other soup options we've tried and loved:

Breakfast

We love the Bistro Boxes from Starbucks, but they are pricey. We've made several different varieties of these, but lately we're loving the fruity mix. We have little Smucker's Peanut Butter cups that are easy to add to this if we switched the cucumber out for celery.

Basically it just has Greek yogurt (sweetened with a bit of stevia), berries, Kind granola, a mini cucumber, and a hard boiled egg. This option works any time of day because it is so light and snacky.

We also make breakfast burritos every week. If you keep them in the fridge, you only have to reheat them about 35 seconds in the microwave to have a hot breakfast ready to go.


For our family, having all of the week's meals prepped in advance just lifts the burden of making healthy choices when we're all worn out. It also saves so much money because we're not just opting to eat out when exhaustion hits and nobody has any more brain power to think about cooking.

Do you do anything like this? What are some of your favorite options?

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Family Life | Food | Organization

10 Must-Haves for Successful Meal Prep

By on January 3, 2018


It's a new year, and that means the unpredictable holiday schedule is over. As much as I love the break, I always love getting back into a routine again. I actually love getting back into our studies, but it's the rest of life that I struggle finding success when we start back. In the past, it's really helped in the winter to take a little time to prep meals ahead of time so that I don't have to think much about dinner when the time comes! Here are some of my favorite tools to have on hand to make meal prep fun and easy!

Mason Jars

Mason Jars are a fantastic tool prepping individual meals. Early risers can grab oatmeal for breakfast when they wake up, your salad will be prepped and ready to go for lunch, and pasta-for-one can be easily reheated when soccer practice runs late.

Meal Prep Containers

Meal prep containers are sectioned boxes that make preparing meals convenient. One section containers are great for portioning out pastas and other one-dish meals. Use two section or three section containers separating side dishes or dressings and sauces that might make your food soggy in the fridge.

Gallon Freezer Bags

If you're freezer prepping, be sure to grab some heavy-duty gallon freezer bags. You will have plenty of freezer space when you use gallon bags to store your meals flat and stack them up. Choose good quality gallon bags and have peace of mind that you won't wake up to a BBQ Chicken fridge explosion!

Casserole Dish or Foil Bakeware

You'll want a casserole dish that you absolutely love for meal prepping. In fact, you might want to pick up two and double your recipe. You'll have a hot dinner for tonight and prepped dinners for the next three weeks all at once.

Muffin Tins

If your family is on the move, tiny muffin meals are the way to go. I recommend four 12-section muffin tins for easily prepping and cooking meals for the entire family. There are dozens of recipes out there for muffin tins. Everything from egg cups to chicken pot pie.

Knives

I'm not kidding when I say a quality set of knives is a must when you're meal prepping. I've had my Rachael Ray knife set for thirteen years, and I still love them. I've replaced one of the knives over the years, but it's been an excellent investment. Chopping a vegetable or two with a dull knife is not a big deal, but when you're prepping for the week (or the month!) a sharp knife will save you a lot of frustration.

Food Processor

Speaking of knife work - a food processor will save you tons of time chopping onions and peppers or mashing those potatoes. If you're planning on using a lot of fresh ingredients to prepare healthy family meals or prepping veggie alternatives to higher carb foods, like cauliflower rice (I could live on this stuff), a food processor is a must have.

Instant Pot

If you don't mind the smell of Tex-Mex Chili at 9am, a Crockpot will do. However, a pressure cooker is the newer, faster alternative to your old slow cooker. What used to take 6-8 hours in your now takes only 60 minutes.

If you find a recipe made for slow cookers, you can convert your Crock Pot recipes to Instant Pot recipes easily. It goes the other way, too. But be warned, slow cookers are notoriously temperamental. What takes one 6 hours takes another 10!

Fridge Organizers

Meal prep means that you'll have more food in your fridge that you usually would in a normal week. You'll still want room for your yogurt and coffee creamer, so get organized with drawers and baskets that will keep everything in place.

Labels and a Sharpie

With more meals read-to-go than ever before, you will want to keep track of what you made and when. Teriyaki and BBQ look a lot alike in a freezer bag. You don't want to end up with Teriyaki Chicken with cornbread tonight! You can write directly on plastic bags or foil bake ware lids. For glass containers and fridge organizers, pick up a few labels to keep everything straight.


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Family Life | Home School Resources | Organization

A Peek Into My Homeschool Bullet Journal

By on November 15, 2017


I have tried many varieties of planners out there. I used to always love when the new school year started back again, and I could browse the latest releases for planning out our school year. The problem is that I'm not just a homeschool mom. I have other jobs and other events that require a calendar and scheduling. As much as I love digital versions of planners, I still need to physically see what my schedule looks like to really bring clarity to my organization.

A bullet journal has been my go-to planner for the past three years, and I LOVE it. It offers so much flexibility and helps me track and plan so much more than just one segment of my life. It's like my brain is all in one place. I'm so thankful that it connects all of the things I try to manage in one place, and it's super simple to keep up with. There are so many brilliant layouts on Pinterest that starting a bullet journal can feel overwhelming. So I wanted to give you a peek into my homeschool bullet journal so that you can see that while I dream of making the beautiful layouts, most of the time function and time prevent me from realizing those aspirations. And that's okay.

Function over Beauty

I am always making lists of things to remember, whether it's planning for the next family vacation or getting ready for a new school semester. My bullet journal has the dot grid paper which allows flexibility for any type of information you'd like to include. In basic bullet journal style, you just add your checklist to the next available page and then add the details of the entry to your table of contents. This way you get maximum use out of your journal, but you can still find what you've written. My husband's is crazy messy, but it works for him!

My favorite function is keeping track of my week. I used the spread below all last year. When you cut a couple inches off a page, you create a dutch door effect in your bullet journal. This was awesome because I could keep my week at a glance on the top of the page and then itemize tasks below in box checking style. I used a strip of cute washi tape to quickly elevate the style of the page, and I was good to go. The only problem I had with this layout is that I really only got a half of a year out of my book.

I tracked all kinds of information in that weekly layout though. I took notes from Sunday morning there, tracked what was going on in our world, kept up with blogging tasks, and tracked birthdays and holidays. It was super helpful, but it did take some extra time to set up.

My new weekly layout is a bit simpler, but I've really loved how successful I've been in not only maintaining setting it up, but also in how it helps me not only keep track of my week, but also keeping track of my time during the day. I use the simple bar under each day to layout the time spent in a day. This gives me a visual representation of the free time I'll have in a day and really helps me not over schedule extra tasks in an already packed out day.

It also doesn't take up as much space in my book, so it will extend the life of my bullet journal, which is a good thing!

Unifies All Worlds

Moms really have thousands of jobs. We are managers of a lot of moving parts, so it's really important for our sanity to have a way to not have to hold all of that information in your brain. If you're anything like me, having babies really did a number on my ability to hold bits of information in my brain in a clear way. Things have become foggy, thus I need to write them down!

Aside from keeping track of my day-to-day tasks, I also include big picture vision for my homeschool in my bullet journal. I use color to help me track a variety of items. For example, below in blue are the subjects the kids said they felt confident to work on independently, and the orange shows me the subjects they said they wanted help with. I want to remember those conversations I have with the kids and honor their requests. It might change as the year goes on, but at this point it gives me a good idea of where to start.

I also love to set goals and track accomplishments in my bullet journal. Here are some things I like to keep record of:

  • Family budgets or vacation budgets
  • Weight loss and exercise
  • Daily Bible reading challenges with my daughter
  • Savings

I really just love that all of the things I'm working on or contemplating are all together in one place. It helps me breathe a little easier!

Historical Records

I'm still a girl that has been raised on a traditional calendar. Therefore, when I first get my bullet journal I use my little ruler to create a small calendar at the beginning to track the big picture items. It takes a bit of time to set up, but once it's there, you can quickly reference it for the lifetime of your bullet journal. It's super handy!

I love that it's a place I can look back to find the information to questions that have been asked like: when was the last time you went to the doctor? I hate that question. You aren't limited to doctors visits though for historical records. Why not keep grades, reading lists, traveling information, church events, volunteer hours, dinner menus and so much more in your bullet journal.

You don't have to keep fancy records, just basic information in order to really have a great resource to look back upon for building your student's high school transcript or journaling in your family scrap book.

Make it Your Own

The bottom line to me is to find a strategy that works for you and stick with it. When it stops working, tweek it to something that works. As fun as those elaborate spreads are, they really are not the only way to keep a bullet journal.

There can be times when you need a brain break and feel the urge to doodle, and that's a great time to insert a playful spread. Other times, you just might not have an hour to dedicate to luxurious spreads. Keep it simple and get your lists on paper, then enjoy the thrill of checking off those boxes.

And get fun pens...lots of fun pens. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Paper Mate flair pens - I love the color options and the way these pens write effortlessly. You really can't go wrong with these!
  • Micron pens - These are excellent for precision writing and keeping things neat and small. They don't bleed through the paper. You'll treasure these writing utensils.
  • Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens - At a little lower price, these thin pens come in a huge assortment of colors and come with a case that makes them portable and easy to use.
  • I also love my Quiver pen holder that fits on my bullet journal. It's a bit pricey, but you can take it off and add it to your next bullet journal when this one runs out. It keeps my special pens accessible at all times.

So there is a peek into my homeschool bullet journal. I keep a Pinterest board of inspiration for a rainy day, but typically I just keep it simple, which means I keep using it!

Check out my fun ideas that inspired my kids to start using a bullet journal, and my son's thoughts on why students can benefit from using a bullet journal. You can also see my full list of fun bullet journal tools that my kids love to use!

 

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