new dinner foods in January

I’ve gotten into such a rut with the foods I cook for dinner. I feel like I make the same things over and over — for two good reasons. First, one of my kids is an especially picky eater, so sticking to foods that we all love results in a more pleasant meal time. And second, when one child is practicing her trumpet, one child is reading aloud, and one wobbly child is either hanging onto my legs or climbing the step stool, it’s just easier to cook something that I can make on auto-pilot without having to consult a recipe 13 times.

But as much as we love chili and chicken fajitas and baked macaroni and cheese, I’ve been getting pretty bored with eating — and cooking! — the same things all the time. So one of my goals for January was to make something new for dinner. And I did. Five times!

new foods we ate in January 2014

Here are the links to the recipes and image sources:

The kids have been very good sports about trying all of these new things! I talk about it as an experiment that we’re all doing together, and I always ask for feedback. The crispy southwest chicken wraps were our favorite, but all of them are foods I would make again.

I’m planning to cook more new things in February, but I have no idea what they will be, so I’d love to hear your recommendations for kid-friendly dinner foods.

Ethan discovers playdough

first experience with playdough

Do you remember the first time you played with playdough? I’m sure most people don’t — but it’s such a classic experience of childhood, isn’t it?

Yesterday was Ethan’s very first encounter with playdough. He’s only 13 months old, so he obviously didn’t create anything with it, but it was fun to watch him explore the squishy blue lump. I set up my iPhone on a little tripod in front of him and took a video while he played. There’s nothing dramatic or amazing in the video, but I love that I was able to capture such a simple moment of childhood exploration.

You can watch the video here. My favorite part is when he tears off a little piece of playdough and then looks back and forth between the two pieces. My least favorite part is his high-pitched squeal! Oh man, I hear that way too much these days! But it’s such a real part of life right now that I decided to leave it in the video.

Are you surprised that Ethan didn’t try to eat the playdough? I was too — but after I stopped recording, I sat down next to him and rolled a piece of playdough into a snake. He picked it up and promptly put it in his mouth. And when I rolled a piece into a ball, he considered that an invitation to throw the playdough.

We played with the playdough again this morning, but the magic of the very first time had already worn off, so I’m so glad I took the video yesterday!

my Project Life title page for 2014

Project Life title page by Rachel Swartley

While Ethan took a two-hour nap on Saturday afternoon, I created the title page for my 2014 Project Life album… and I love how it turned out! The color scheme and design is similar to my Project Life title page for 2013, and yet every element of the design is new and different.

For the Hello card, I used a card from the Midnight Core Kit as the background. I covered up the little camera in the middle of the card with a flag I made. The font is Wendy LP, which is the same script font I use on my blog.

Project Life hello card

The blue and white polka dot paper I used for the background on this card is actually tissue paper I picked up at Target last year. It’s from their Spritz brand of party supplies. The font is Open Sans Condensed — the main font you see throughout my blog.

Project Life: this is our story

I bought a Silhouette Cameo with some gift money last year, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t sat down and learned to use it yet. That’s one of my goals for 2014, but meanwhile I just used my hands-on method to trace and then cut these numbers with an X-Acto knife. The textured silver cardstock is by Bazzill Basics — and it’s actually left over from our wedding!

number cutout for Project Life album

I love these little arrows I made with washi tape. It was so simple! Just fold the end of a piece of washi tape in half gently and cut on the diagonal to get a symmetrical point.

washi tape arrows

Project Life is the original pocket-based scrapbooking system, and I started using it a year ago to document some of our memories. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually do much with it last year for a variety of reasons, but I’m still planning to go back and create an album for 2013. One of my goals for 2014 is to create a Project Life album, and I’m happy to say that I’ve already made progress beyond the title page.

If you don’t feel very crafty/creative, or simply don’t have the time, you can definitely do Project Life without making anything yourself! There are kits you can buy with cards that just slip into the pockets. For the rest of my album, I’m planning to use lots of pre-made cards from a couple core kits and mini kits I have, but I wanted the title page to be completely my own design. And for me, the time I spent on it was absolutely worth it.

goals for 2014

goals for 2014

I love setting goals. Choosing a specific goal helps me to stay focused on things that are important to me. Writing them down helps me to clarify and remember what I want to pursue. I set goals for the day, for the weekend, for the month, for Ethan’s naptimes… and of course I set goals for the year.

In 2014, I’d love to:

  • create a Project Life album
  • give the kids’ bathroom a makeover
  • make lots of new foods for dinner
  • take more photos of myself
  • learn to use my Silhouette Cameo
  • read a dozen books
  • finish buying Christmas gifts before the week of Christmas
  • host a craft night
  • develop a more interactive community on my blog/social media
  • shoot in manual on my DSLR

I’ve started on several already, and I’m eager to dive into the rest. And no matter how many of these I achieve by the end of the year, I’ll be thrilled.

Have you set any of the same goals for yourself this year? Which are you most eager to hear more about?

choose: my one little word for 2014

For the third year in a row, I’m focusing on one little word. My word for 2014 is choose.

choose: one little word for 2014

Several other words were serious contenders, but when choose popped into my head one night while we were traveling over the holidays, I immediately knew it was the word I wanted to focus on. I have a number of reasons for selecting choose, and I want to explore them more throughout the year ahead. It’s overwhelming to try to describe them all at once, so for now I’ll just say this. Life is good, but there are so many ways I could be living a better life, and it’s up to me to make the choices that shape my life.

Are you focusing on one little word for 2014? If so, I’d love to hear what it is!

books I want to read in 2014

books I want to read in 2014

For the first time ever, I’m starting the year with a stack of books I want to read. Not a list of books I want to borrow from the library — an actual physical stack of books. Of course, there are other books on my reading wish list, but these are the ones I’m definitely going to read this year.

Blog Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho // This was on my Christmas wish list, and if you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that this is the book I’m reading first this year. My mother-in-law offered to stay with her littlest grandson while I went to have my van serviced, so I got to spend some time by myself reading and eating the only McFlurry McDonalds sold yesterday. Well, I don’t know that for sure, but I’m probably the only person who wanted to roll down her window and order ice cream when the temperature was in the single digits.

reading and eating alone!

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell // Tim and I own and have read all of his other books, so naturally I plan to read this one too.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout // I picked this one up at a used book sale a couple years ago, since my friend Brenda listed this among her favorites. I’ve started it several times, but 2014 is the year I’m going to start AND finish it.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman and Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell // A colleague recommended these to me shortly before I got married and became a step-mother in 2010.

The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser // I read parts of this book for a seminary class I took years ago, and remember liking it.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown // From what I’ve heard and read by Brene Brown, and from what I know about my own perfectionism, I think I will benefit from reading this.

So that’s the stack. I gathered these books from various shelves in our house, and for now I’m keeping them visible (one of the keys to reaching my goals!) by placing them right on my desk shelf.

books I want to read in 2014

The current quote on my chalkboard — may all my work be praise — is from the lovely hymn “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need.” The beautiful calendar is actually a free printable from Shhh My Darling. I wasn’t familiar with the blog before, but based on January’s image, I can’t wait to see what the next 11 months will look like.

What’s on your reading list for 2014? I certainly hope to read more than seven books this year, so I’d be glad to hear what you plan to read — or what you’ve already read and loved.

my monthly menu planning calendar

monthly menu planning calendar - printable

When late afternoon rolls around, do you already know what you’re going to cook for dinner, or do you look at what’s in your fridge and try to figure out what you can make with what you have on hand?

I applaud those of you who can throw things together and come up with a great meal, but not surprisingly, I’m one of those people who likes to have it all planned out. Otherwise, I’m sure I’d be missing some key ingredient I wish I had picked up at the grocery store, or I’d want to use chicken breasts that should have been thawing in the fridge for a day. I’ve been planning my meals in advance ever since I got married, but I didn’t get organized with menu planning until about a year and a half ago.

There are lots of menu planning systems out there, ranging from very basic to wildly complicated. I like to keep things simple, so I just use a blank calendar. You could hang it on your fridge, but I like to keep mine in a notebook. I use a small binder that holds 5-1/2 x 8-1/2″ sheets, because it takes up less room on my desk. I print out the calendar pages, cut them in half (there are two on a sheet), punch holes in them, and stick them in my binder.

monthly menu planning calendar - printable

I added two little Post-it tabs to the edge of my calendars to mark the sections, because I’m using a second set of calendar pages as my editorial calendar for this blog. I’m taking a more organized approach to blogging this year, so I’m hoping to post more often in 2014.

monthly menu planning calendar with post-it tabs

Before I shop for groceries (ideally once a week), I sit down with my menu planning calendar, my binder of favorite recipes, and the sale flyer for our local grocery store. I pencil in what we’re having for dinner for the next 5-7 days, then develop my shopping list based on my menu plan. I’ve gotten into a terrible cooking rut, so the menus aren’t nearly as varied as I would like, but that’s a topic for another day!

The calendar is one I designed myself, and you can download the 2014 calendar as a free PDF. I like to have only five rows of squares on each calendar page, so there are three instances where the first or last day of the month is on the previous or next month’s calendar page. My calendar, my rules.

Of course, the printable calendar can be used for anything, not just planning meals, so hopefully some of you will find it helpful.

my goals for January 2014

goals for January 2014

Do you love January as much as I do? The first few days are always so refreshing and invigorating! As usual, December was filled with all kinds of fun Christmas events, shopping, and projects, but as much as I enjoyed the Christmas season, it feels so good to head into a new year and turn my attention to other things.

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I’m setting some goals for myself this year. Goals and resolutions might seem like the same thing to you, but to me they feel different, and I’m going with the wording that is most inspiring to me.

I’m still finalizing my “official” list of goals for 2014, but I’ve set a few smaller goals for the month of January. You’ve probably heard that goals should be SMART — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based — and I kept those criteria in mind as I set these goals. For some reason, I also wanted my goals for January to be things that my kids could understand and support. Nothing too private or abstract.

One thing that helps me reach my goals is keeping them visible. Obviously, if I forget what my goals are, I’m much less likely to achieve them! So to keep my goals in mind, I borrowed an idea I stumbled across recently — Shannon Brown’s summer fun list. I printed each of my four goals onto a 3×4 card and hung them on the wall near my desk. (Actually, I printed two on a 4×6″ card and cut it in half, since that’s the smallest size I can easily run through my printer.) At the top of each card, I left room for a square photo. When I meet my goal, I’ll print out a 2.5″ photo and attach it to the card. The cards can then be slipped into my Project Life album at the end of the month when I set new goals for February.

goals for January 2014 - closeup

In case you’re reading this on a smartphone and the images are too small to read, these are my goals for January 2014:

  • make something new for dinner
  • finish an unfinished project
  • read a good book
  • move towards my pre-Ethan weight

That’s it. Totally doable, right?

I’d love to hear what your goals are for 2014 — or just for January. Reading about other people’s goals is so inspiring! And who knows? Maybe one of your goals will become one of MY goals for February.

saving and organizing your Christmas card photos

Christmas card photos in Project Life album

What are you planning to do with all of the Christmas card photos you received throughout the month of December? Will you stuff them in a box of photos? Save them in some organized way? Or have you already thrown them away?!

I used to just save them haphazardly in photo boxes, but last year after the holidays were over, I punched two holes in each photo from that year and held them together with book rings. They were pretty easy to flip through, but the dimensions and orientation of the photos weren’t uniform. It worked, but I didn’t love it.

Then in November, I watched a 3-day online workshop by Becky Higgins on Scrapbooking with Project Life. (The class was free to stream live, but it would be expensive to access it now.) Becky suggested trimming your Christmas card photos and slipping them into Project Life photo pocket pages. Of course! So smart!

Christmas card photos in Project Life album

On New Year’s Day, I spent some time gathering and organizing the Christmas card photos we’ve kept since 2009, the year Tim and I met. I don’t know what went wrong in 2011, because I could only find three photo cards from that year, but otherwise, our collection was pretty much intact — in several different boxes of photos.

Christmas card photos in Project Life album

I trimmed most of the photos to either 3×4″ or 4×6″, but a few were smaller, so I just attached them to cardstock with washi tape. Then I slipped them in the pockets. At the beginning of each year’s photos, I added a simple card that I designed and printed with the year on it. I didn’t worry about starting a new year on a new page. That graphic card with high contrast will make it obvious where a new year begins.

Christmas card photos in Project Life album

I’m not ready to tuck the most recent photos into an album yet, but I’m prepped for the day when it’s time to put the 2013 cards away.

Christmas card photos in Project Life album

Becky Higgins wrote a great blog post on New Years Day about saving and organizing your cards in this way, so I’d recommend checking it out if you’re considering doing this.

I’m planning to dedicate one album to Christmas card photos so that we can pull it out each year in December and look at how much our friends — especially the kids! — have changed from year to year.

Also, I’m considering making the year cards available as a printable. If you’re interested, let me know in the comments.

the rest of Zippy’s December adventures

There’s no subtle way to sneak in a blog post about our Elf on the Shelf in January, is there? Now that the new year has arrived, nobody is blogging about Christmas any more, but I still wanted to share these photos of the rest of Zippy’s adventures in December.

Taking his cues from the Chicago Blackhawks, Zippy bottled some snow from the North Pole. The little bottles would be great for stocking stuffers, but the price was pretty steep.

Elf on the Shelf: bottled snow from the North Pole

Such a thoughtful elf! Zippy packaged up some Christmas gifts for his little elf friends — John, Simon, and Lucky. I hope they reached their destinations before Christmas!

Elf on the Shelf: shipping tiny Christmas gifts

Prior to Christmas Eve, we stacked up the gifts on the landing of our stairs so that 1-year-old Ethan wouldn’t be too tempted by them. I guess Zippy’s curiosity got the best of him!

Elf on the Shelf: headfirst into a gift bag

Zippy took advantage of the snowy weather and enjoyed some snow tubing.

Elf on the Shelf: snow tubing

How many hex nuts can you stack with a candy cane? I planned The Nutstacker game for the 5th grade party at school, but none of the teams stacked as many as Zippy did!

Elf on the Shelf: nutstacker game

Zippy must have gotten confused when the weather got warm for a few days. We finally found him in the toy closet, sitting on the Phillie Phanatic’s lap and telling him what he wanted for Christmas.

Elf on the Shelf: telling the Phillie Phanatic what he wants for Christmas

If an elf plays Christmas carols in the forest, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Elf on the Shelf: playing piano

On Christmas Eve morning, Zippy’s last day in Pennsylvania, we found him cramming for the big night by reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Elf on the Shelf: reading Twas the Night Before Christmas

See you next December, Zippy!


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