Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Planning for a Stress-Free Morning

This is our family's final week of summer. We are savoring as much of this last week as we can, because life changes dramatically for us on Tuesday, September 6, 2011. Our oldest daughter starts Kindergarten and my youngest starts her first year of preschool, so in other words, our mornings are about to get hectic.

I run a loose-y goose-y ship in the summers when it comes to bed times and wake up calls. I let the sun dictate the kids' bedtime and their tired heads have been hitting their pillows around 9:30 pm, not the school year bedtime of 8pm. Our morning routine will be the most challenging transition for our family. After long days spent playing in the backyard sprinkler, or at the pool or park and late nights, they have been sleeping in until 9:30 am or even later.

Unfortunately for my little monkeys their alarm will be set for 7:00 am starting next Tuesday. I am a total morning person. I get up by 6 am all summer long to run, so their new wake-up time won't affect me much. I know this will be a struggle for them, especially in the beginning. A jet airplane could be taking off right outside my oldest daughter's bedroom and she would still be snoring away.

I am anticipating a long transition period. I need to be prepared for some potentially hectic mornings ahead.

Recently, I participated in the BlogHer and P&G Life Well Lived Blogger Panel where they explored the topic of Prepping, Prioritizing, and Delegating for a Stress-Free Morning.

The panel was asked: What is the biggest time waster/issue you have when getting you and your family ready in the morning? What tips do you have to save time in the morning to get everyone out and ready on time?

I offered some advice that has worked for our family in the past and something that I will do again starting next week, I "make breakfast a breeze by keeping grab and go breakfast food on hand, like cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt tubes and bananas for those really hectic mornings where there is no time to sit and eat".

Now I'd love to hear your advice in my comments section. What is the biggest time waster/issue you have when getting you and your family ready in the morning? What tips do you have to save time in the morning to get everyone out and ready on time?

Also, be sure to read BlogHer's Life Well Lived Campaign, where they are exploring the topics: Looking Your Best, Getting Organized, and Getting Happy. While you are there, be sure to enter to win the $250 Visa gift card in the Life Well Lived Moments Sweepstakes.

Good Luck!

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Garden Notebook

The summer garden season is winding down for me. I have a lot of green tomatoes still hanging, but the majority of what I grew has been harvested. I am hoping there will be enough hot weather left for the tomatoes to turn red.

As I begin to clear out the garden, I am making notes for next year. I have been keeping a garden notebook ever since I started my garden back in the summer of 2002 and it comes in handy year after year. At the beginning of each year, we write down our outside projects. This year, we replaced the dirt in my square foot garden, built a vertical trellis, planted perennials around our patio, and a slew of smaller projects. The good news is that we crossed almost everything off of the list.

At the end of the summer, I take notes to help me remember some things for the next year. The varieties of vegetables that we really liked, flowers that did particularly well in containers, annuals that proliferated, perennials that I'd like to plant, along with some mistakes that I want to avoid going forward. One note that I made was to read about starting annual flowers from seed for next spring. I planted impatiens through out the flower beds this year to add some continuous color. I would like to plant some more next year, but I want to try to save some money by planting them by seed. My new-to-me mini greenhouse inspired me.

Do you keep a garden notebook? What are some lessons that you learned this year? Let us know in the comments.

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This post is linked to Tuesday's Garden Party at An Oregon Cottage.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Grilled Pineapple and Teriyaki Turkey Burgers

I told you I had other ideas for the grilled pineapple. This burger was inspired by one that my husband ordered at Red Robin one night. I hope you enjoy as much as we did.

Grilled Pineapple Teriyaki Turkey Burgers
  • 1.25 lb (20 oz) ground turkey - You could use ground beef, we just prefer ground turkey.
  • ½ Cup chopped red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 Tbsp Teriyaki sauce
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 cheddar cheese slices
  • 4 (1/2 inch) slices grilled pineapple
  • 4 really good and sturdy buns

Using a spoon or really clean hands, combine the turkey, onion, garlic, Teriyaki, ginger, honey, and salt. Form into 4 equal burgers.

Spray both sides of each patty with non-stick cooking spray or drizzle with olive oil.

Pre-heat grill to medium high. Place patties on hot grill and close lid. Grill for 5 minutes.

Flip the burgers, close the lid and grill the other side for another 5 minutes or until burgers are cooked all the way through.

This burger deserves and demands a really good, sturdy bun. Don't let it down.Stack one slice of cheese and one grilled pineapple slice on top of a burger and add your favorite condiments.

Print recipe for Grilled Pineapple Teriyaki Burgers.

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This post is linked to $5 Dinner Challenge and Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Water Conservation FAIL

I have been trying really hard to conserve water this summer, but I had a major fail recently.

One afternoon a few weeks ago, I let the girls play outside with the hose. They like to place a baby pool at the bottom of their slide and fill it with water, in effect creating a water slide. They have a blast. When they were done I just assumed that they turned the water off. BIG mistake.

Around 6 AM the next morning, I was standing in the kitchen and I heard a weird noise, like something was running. OH RATS! The outside faucet is below the kitchen window, and since it was 6 AM and the house was very quiet, I could hear the water running. I ran outside to the swing set and sure enough, the hose was left on. I had taken the nozzle off the hose for the girls to make a water slide and now water was gushing out and flooding the yard. It was probably running for at least 15 hours.

I was angry at myself for not checking to make sure the girls turned off the water. I had a feeling I was going to see a big spike in my water bill. It came in yesterday's mail and it was $20 above average.

I decided that I needed to put things in perspective. From now on, I will check the hose after the kids are done playing outside, but $20 isn't going to break us and my kids definitely enjoyed that hot summer day.

This is a picture from last summer. It makes me sad to see at how much my kids have grown over the past year.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vertical Gardening Update: SUCCESS

We got home from our vacation just in time as these two lovelies ripened over the weekend. We enjoyed one with dinner last night and we will have the other tonight. The first one was tender and sweet and I suspect the second will be just as good.

It seems like yesterday that I built my vertical trellis, but in reality it was back in May. I planted two cantaloupe plants back then and so far I have gotten 5 melons. There are a few more on the vines, but they are still small and I'm hoping we have enough hot days left for them to continue to grow. I think I paid about $3 dollars for each plant, so that comes to $1.20 a melon at the moment, vs. paying about $2.50 for a store bought melon.

One lesson learned is that if the melons ripened too much on the trellis, they will eventually fall off the vine. Thankfully, I found them in time before some critter got to it.

I spent $20 on the trellis, so it might be another year or so before it pays for itself, but I am so glad I built it. It kept the plants contained and prevented them from growing all over my yard. I definitely consider this experiment a success.

Did you grow vertically this summer? How is your garden doing? Let us know in the comments.

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This post is linked to Tuesday's Garden Party at An Oregon Cottage

Friday, August 19, 2011

Print Free Disney Greeting Cards

Disney characters rule at our house; my girls love the princess and Mickey characters. They are also starting to get invited to more birthday parties and those costs are adding up.
One day, my oldest and I were playing around on the Disney website and I found a treasure trove of FREE ideas. Printable coloring pages, videos, music, games, but I was most impressed by their selection of printable greeting cards.
You can print a card for almost any of the Disney characters, like Nemo, Mickey, every Princess, Pooh, The Incredibles, The Lion King, Toy Story and many more.
The greetings to choose from are Happy Birthday, I Miss You, Congratulations, I Love You, Get Well Soon, You Are The Best, Thank You and Have a Great Day.
It is very easy. The pages print out like this.

Simply fold along the lines and trim.
Your only cost is the ink and paper and that is no where near the estimated $3.00 that a Disney card from a store can cost. It also saves you time from making a special trip to the store. Go to to print your own card.

Do you print or make your own greeting cards? What sites do you use?
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This post is linked to Frugal Friday at Life as MOM.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How Long Should You Keep Financial Documents

Are your financial documents piled up in the corner of your office or under your desk? A few years ago, I was just filing papers in my cabinet, but not purging along the way. It got to the point where I couldn't close the drawers of my filing cabinet, so I took some time to weed them out.

As I was removing the files, I wondered, What Financial Records Should I Keep and How Long Should I Keep Them For? So much is done electronically now, but there are documents where a paper copy is needed. So, I googled my question and here is what I found.

Bank Statements - One nice thing (among many) about the electronic age is that banks keep statements online up to a couple of years. Our personal bank has statements online all the way back to 2006. However, you should print any canceled checks or year-end statements that you would need for tax purposes, ie - charitable contributions, home improvements, business expenses, mortgage payments, etc. If you are not going to print the statements, you really need to check them each month for errors and fees.

Bills - Utility bills can be tossed the following month when you receive your next statement and it shows that the bill was paid, unless you need the bill for tax deduction purposes, then refer to Taxes below. Any bills for big purchases like jewelry, appliances, computers, etc, should be kept permanently for insurance and warranty purposes. Permanent home improvement bills should also be kept while you still own your home.

Credit Card Statements - These can also be found online, so I'm not sure a paper copy is necessary, unless you need it for documentation for tax deductions, then see Taxes below. If you are not printing it, you should still review it closely for any discrepancies and unnecessary or incorrect fees. You should keep any credit card receipts to match up with your statement. Read more about receipts below.

Household Records - Keep all records from the purchase of your home and any receipts for permanent home improvements and selling expenses for as long as you own your home. This is very important and something that I learned while researching for this post. When you go to sell your home, the cost of permanent home improvements and any selling expenses incurred will be added to the original purchase price of your home. This final number will help to lower your capital gains tax.

Legal documents, such as wills, passports, birth certificates, marriage license, proof of paid mortgage, deed to your home, title to your vehicles should be kept permanently in a safe location such as a safe or safety deposit box.

Pay Stubs - Keep for the year until you get your annual W-2. If the information matches, you can shred your pay stubs. If the information doesn't match, head to your human resource department for correction.

Receipts - Keep until the warranty expires or you can no longer return the item. Any receipt that supports a tax deduction, should be kept with your tax returns. For other receipts from a credit card for example, groceries or gas, keep until you get your next statement to look for any errors.

Retirement/ Savings/Brokerage Statements -
  • Keep records permanently for nondeductible contributions to an IRA to prove that you already paid taxes on this money when it is time to withdrawal.
  • Keep the quarterly statements for your 401k or other IRA accounts until you receive the annual statement. Check for any discrepancies. If there aren't any, shred the quarterly statements, but keep the yearly until you retire or close the account.
  • Keep any brokerage statements until you sell the security. You'll need proof of gains or losses at tax time.
Taxes - You can be audited by the IRS for up to three years after you file your return. BUT if the IRS has reason to suspect that you under reported your gross income by 25% or more, the IRS has up to six years to audit your return. AND if you fail to file or they suspect a fraudulent return, there is not time limit on the possibility of an audit. ALSO, if you are self-employed, you should keep your returns and supporting documents for six years.
It is important to note that you should keep your returns and any supporting documents for these time periods. Supporting documents include any receipts, statements or canceled checks that support income or a tax deduction that you took.
Here is a link to where it explains their Period of Limitations for tax returns.
Personally, I know we have filed honest returns, but because we are self-employed, I am holding on to our returns indefinitely. I have our returns and all supporting documents neatly filed in the cabinet. How long have you held on to your tax returns?
Some Ideas For Keeping Your Financial Records Organized:
  1. For our personal taxes, we keep a present year file for tax deduction documents, such as receipts for charitable contributions, mortgage tax payments, receipts for school and real estate taxes, Goodwill donations, etc. As we receive them, they are put into the file and at the end of the year, I have everything in one place.
  2. Every year for our small business, I create a 4 inch binder, with tabs for each of our expense categories, to store the statements, receipts and invoices. I use a small accordion file with 12 monthly files for credit card receipts.
  3. In your filing cabinet, group your major files together by category with sub-files. Some examples:
  • Assets - with sub-files like your checking, savings, retirement, etc.
  • Insurance - sub-files would be Auto, Health, Home-Owners, Life, etc.
  • Liabilities - sub-files would be Auto Loan, Credit Card, Mortgage, Student Loan, etc.
  • Home improvements -with sub-files for each major improvement.
  • Medical records should be filed by family member.
  • Professional records with sub-files such as resume, employer records, degree records, etc.
  • Taxes with sub-files for each year.

DO NOT FORGET to shred anything that you are throwing away that has your personal information. This will help you avoid possible identity theft. Shredders can be found just about everywhere and are a worthy, inexpensive investment.

If you have any questions regarding a particular document and feel uneasy about whether or not you need to keep it, then please seek advice from a professional.

Do you have a method for filing your financial records that works well for you? I would love to hear about it. Please let us know in the comments

sources: Suze Orman, Bankrate,

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Fruit and Yogurt Pretzel Pops

Here's a fun summer treat idea that my kids love, Fruit and Yogurt Pretzel Pops.

Take your favorite yogurt and mix in some fruit, like blueberries, strawberries or peaches. Instead of using the sticks that come with the Popsicle molds, stick pretzel rods into the yogurt and place in freezer until they are frozen.

Voila...frozen yogurt pops.

The possibilities are endless. Enjoy!

Are you making homemade treats this summer? Please share!!

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Friday, August 12, 2011

19 Articles to Help You Prepare for Back to School

I was going to write an elaborate post about planning for back to school, but I have read so many this past week that I decided to just round them all up for your convenience.


Back to school has a different meaning for me this year than in the past. My oldest is entering Kindergarten and my youngest will be entering her first year of preschool. Lots of exciting changes in the FBS household.

Back to School Shopping

Next week is a big week for retailers. Years ago, I was a department store buyer and one of my buying categories was backpacks. The third week of August was always the biggest week for back-to-school sales and one year, I remember selling 10,000 backpacks in that one week. So expect this weekend's store flyers to be huge.

Back to School Meal Time Ideas

Heading to College

Are you busy getting ready for back-to-school? What changes are going on at your home this fall? Let us know in the comments.

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Image: nuttakit /

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Homegrown Celery

Celery is a staple in my kitchen. It adds flavor to homemade chicken stock, crunch to salads, and a smooth surface to slather on my favorite sun-dried tomato hummus. But I had never considered planting the crunchy vegetable until I came upon a 6-pack of celery plants this past spring as I was shopping for the rest of my vegetables.

I planted them in my square foot garden in the spring and I am now starting to harvest it. The first few stalks that I pulled two weeks ago were a little bitter, so I think I pulled them too early.

But I pulled a stalk yesterday to check it and it had that strong celery taste. My homegrown celery is not as thick as you find in the grocery store. It also has a slightly different texture, maybe a little denser than the grocery store celery.

With 6 plants, we'll never eat that much before it goes bad. I'm going to harvest the celery, clean it, dry it, and freeze it whole (including the leaves) for my homemade chicken stock. I make quite a bit in the fall and winter, so that will be one less ingredient that I will have to buy.

Do you grow celery? What is your experience with growing it?

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This post is linked to: Tuesday Garden Party at An Oregon Cottage

Monday, August 8, 2011

Chicken Tabbouleh Salad

This is a refreshing salad that uses a lot of summer vegetables. This recipe has been in my recipe binder for years and I only recently tried it when I had a lot of cucumbers and grape tomatoes that needed to be eaten. I used pre-cooked shredded chicken that I had in the freezer making it very easy to pull together, but the bulgur wheat does take an hour to cook.

Chicken Tabbouleh Salad
adapted from Ina Garten
  • 1 ½ homemade chicken stock, or store bought
  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup shredded cooked chicken
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped red or sweet white onion
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • ½ - 1 cup chopped mint
  • 1 cucumber, chopped
  • 2 cups halved grape tomatoes

Bring the chicken stock to a boil. Pour the boiling stock over the bulgur wheat in a heat proof bowl. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and cover. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour.

In a large bowl, add the chicken, onion, parsley, mint, cucumber, tomatoes, pepper, salt, pepper and the bulgur. Mix together. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate and serve cold.

The next time I make this salad, I am going to add a chopped red bell pepper for some added crunch. If salad is drier than you would like, mix in additional 1 Tbsp lemon juice and 1 Tbsp olive oil.


Print recipe for Chicken Tabbouleh Salad

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This post is linked to: $5 Dinner Challenge and Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam and Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop

Thursday, August 4, 2011

7 Tips to Conserve Water and Save Money

After such a wet spring in the northeast, it is hard to imagine how dry things have become. Thankfully in PA, the wet spring shored up the water tables and we will get through the rest of the summer without worrying about a water shortage.

But unfortunately many parts of the country aren't so lucky. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center and CNN, nearly 12% of the United States experienced exceptional drought conditions in July and another 40% of the U.S. experienced abnormal drought conditions.

7 Tips to Conserve Water and Save Money

1. Conserve rain water. I lucked out when I bought my rain barrel from my county’s conservation district years ago for $25. There is now a 2 year wait list and the cost has increased to $55.

A few years ago, you didn’t see rain barrels much, but many stores now carry them. Store-bought rain barrels can set you back between $100-$200. It will take time until a store bought version pays for itself from the water saved. But, if you are a do-it-yourselfer, this could be a great project to try. A quick google search will help you find some ideas.

In the past, I rarely had to rely on the water hose, but the rain was scarce in July and my barrel dried up. Thankfully after a small rain, it filled up again rather quickly. There are times in the spring that I wish I had room for a second barrel.

2. Use water collected from dehumidifier to water your garden and flower pots. In the summer, our basement gets very damp and musty, so we run a dehumidifier constantly. It fills up quickly on sweltering days and I use that water for my flower pots.

3. When waiting for the hot water to heat up from the faucet, trap water in a jug or bucket and use it to water your garden and flower containers.

4. Use the water from steaming vegetables and/or corn on the cob to water your garden. I don't always remember to do this until the moment I am pouring the vegetables through a colander. I need to get better at this tip too.

5. Choose drought tolerant plants for your landscape. This is something we considered when we designed our front lawn landscape. A quick google search will help you find a list of these plants for your garden zone or ask the staff at your local garden nursery.

6. Water your garden in the early morning or evening to avoid evaporation from the mid-day sun. Also, water at the root of the plant, not from above the plant. Plants absorb water at the roots, so watering the leaves is wasting water.

7. Limit shower time. This one is hard for me since long, hot showers can be so relaxing, especially after my morning run. This Shower Water and Energy Use Calculator will give you an idea of how much water you are using based on your own personal inputs.

I'm ashamed to admit, but I am more cautious of our water use in the summer. I really should be conserving year round, especially since we pay for our water. Do you live in a part of the country that is suffering from a drought right now? What tips do you have to conserve water? Please share with us in the comments.

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This post is linked to Your Green Resource at The Greenbacks Gal.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Calling All Gardeners: What's Wrong with My Raspberries

I bought some raspberry plants at a yard sale in May 2010. They survived last summer even though they were practically overrun by some other viney plants, but they didn't produce any fruit. I wasn't alarmed, because they were transplants, but I did have big plans for them this summer.

I was hopeful early on because there were many blooms, but they have all dried up and disappeared. The canes look fairly healthy and they have been growing rapidly all summer, but the few blooms left are drying up too. It has been very dry here since June and I have been watering the plants when I water my very productive square foot garden. Perhaps I'm not watering the raspberries enough?

So, I need some help from the amazing gardeners that visit and read this blog. You are always so helpful when I ask for help solving my gardening woes.

Why are my raspberry blooms drying up or disappearing when the canes look so healthy? Is it from under-watering? Is it too early to expect fruit after transplanting the canes last summer? Did I cause this when I cut the canes down to the ground last fall?

Any advice on raspberry gardening and the answers to my questions will be helpful to me and the other readers here at Family Balance Sheet. Thanks so much!

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This post is linked to Garden Party Tuesday at An Oregon Cottage.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Chicken, Green Beans, and Squash Stir Fry

Summer vegetables are in full force. Stir fries are a great way to eat up your garden goodness.

Chicken, Green Beans, and Squash Stir Fry
  • 2 chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips or chunks
  • 2 Tbsp Olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 1 small squash or zucchini, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp chopped, fresh oregano
  • 1 cup homemade chicken stock, or store bought
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
Cook rice according to package directions.

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chicken and garlic and cook for about 4-5 minutes.

Add green beans, squash and oregano and cook for another 3-4 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.

Mix together the stock and cornstarch. Add the mixture to the chicken and vegetables. Stir and bring sauce to a boil. Reduce heat and stir until sauce thickens. About 2-3 minutes.

Serve over cooked rice.

Print recipe for Chicken, Green Beans & Squash Stir Fry.

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This post is linked to $5 Dinner Challenge and Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam and Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.