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September 28, 2012

The Return of Finish It Friday

Hello my Finish It Friday friends. It seems like it has been forever since we’ve done some good ol' weekend to-do list sharing. I’m talking myself into being ready to do it again. Ready or not…here I go! 



  • boot camp. I haven’t been in several weeks…but I did run a 5K last weekend, so I’m hoping it won’t be too bad. Wish me luck and un-sore muscles. :)
  • cross country meet
  • dinner with family



  • baby shower. My nephew and his wife are expecting their first baby! So fun. The shower itself is also fun…but there are a couple of things I must get done before the shower…so that’s why it is on my done list.
  • update my project lists and to-do lists. I think it would be therapeutic to reengage in a project or two…so this weekend I will figure out what I feel like doing next. (Or at least organize a list of possibilities.) 
  • laundry
  • plan next week’s meals
  • grocery shop


In good (weekend) news, we are back to cleaning on Monday nights (woohoo!) which means, no cleaning on the weekends. I love that.


Okay my friends…it does feel good to be back on track with Finish It Firday. (Glad I talked myself into it.) I look forward to hearing what’s on your fun and done lists this weekend, too. Have a great one!


September 27, 2012

Change Your Life – Free Online Workshop

It’s ready my friends! The "doors" are now open for my FREE online workshop Change Your Life in 10 Simple Steps. If you’ve ever thought life would be so much better if only                                    (fill in the blank), then this workshop is for you!


Change Your Life workshop

What we do at simplify 101, and what I’m most passionate about, is helping people create positive change in their lives. In this workshop, I distill my favorite techniques and tips for creating change into a simple process—one you can use to change any aspect of your life—one step and one change at a time! Best yet, did I mention the price? That's right—it's free! Woohoo!


Follow this link for all the details on what’s included with Change Your Life in 10 Simple Steps and to find out how you can gain instant access. The workshop is available 24/7/365—which means now! So follow the link above and find out what it's all about. 


I hope you enjoy the workshop, take action on the ideas, and create positive change in your life!


September 21, 2012

Hello Friday.

And hello friends. Sorry this blog of mine has been so quiet lately. The good news is that I’m not curled up in a ball feeling sorry for myself. I really am doing okay. I have good days and bad days, just as expected. And busy, busy days.


As I mentioned in a prior post, experiencing the loss of my dad was major wake-up call for me. Somewhere in the midst of it I read this idea (or something similar):


The real fear isn’t that I will die,
it is that I won’t fully live the life I have been given.


It’s time to live fully. It’s time to recreate, reinvent and change. It’s time for personal change and for changes at simplify 101—which means exciting things for all of us!


And it means busy, busy days (and a bit less blogging from time to time.) Here’s a little taste of what’s going on around here…


This week was spent putting the finishing touches on a new, FREE online workshop—about change. I’m super excited to let you in on all the details just as soon as it’s ready. Stay tuned…


This month has been about Cross Country meets. I am a new super-crazy-mega-fan of this sport. Last Saturday I lost my voice from cheering on our team so loudly. Yes – I REALLY love this sport. I am so inspired by every child on my daughter’s team.


Cross country runners

This week has been about doing new things…we recorded three, new videos. I’m really excited to share these with you very soon, too.


Looking ahead, tomorrow I’m running in Miles for Meso, a race that raises money for Mesothelioma, the disease that claimed my sweet father’s life. I’ll be running six weeks, to the day, after losing him. I’m excited to celebrate his life and run in support of a good cause—finding a cure for this relentless disease.


Next week, I have two online workshops starting on Thursday, including the final sessions for 2012 of Organize Your Paper Clutter and Organize Your Kitchen. If you’re looking for a complete system that will show you step by step how to organize every single type of paper in your home, I created Organize Your Paper Clutter with you in mind. It’s a comprehensive workshop that leads you through the process of creating customized systems for your papers—ones that will really work for you and how you naturally do things. Organize Your Kitchen is a video workshop where I show you (on camera) my process for organizing kitchens so they are efficient, functional and attractive. 


File basket


Also looking ahead to next week…I think I will be ready for another round of Finish It Friday. (Yay!) Thanks for hanging in there with me in the meantime.


And this my friends, just scratches the surface. The changes are a comin’! 


So that’s what I’ve been up to. How about you? What’s been keeping you busy or inspiring you in the past few weeks? Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful weekend!


September 12, 2012

The New Normal

Yesterday marked one month since my Dad passed away. It seems hard to believe that it has already been a month. At the same time it seems hard to believe that it has only been a month. The new normal is one where time doesn’t feel the same as it did before. Some days go quickly…and some days drag on and on and on.


I remember right after my Dad passed away how I wished that time could somehow stop. Temporarily. Just. Stop. Let me catch my breath. Give me the space to make sense of it all.


The fact that life does go on, as if nothing has happened, is both a blessing and a huge source of confusion. It is so hard to believe that the world just keeps on spinning like it always has. Like nothing is different. Doesn’t the world know that something is now terribly different? That something really important is missing? That there is a huge, huge hole that I don’t think will ever be filled?


And yet, the world keeps spinning.


Every single day people all over the world die. And their loved ones experience what I am experiencing now. And that, too, is hard to believe when you’re in the midst of it all. That this new normal is in fact just plain normal.


The new normal is one filled with ups and downs. There are good days and bad days, or more accurately, at this point, bad moments in mostly good days. And then there are the moments when I remember that it is real. He really is gone and is never coming back. That life without him is the new normal.

September 07, 2012

Simple + Healthier Pumpkin Muffins

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Do you ever have those moments when you happen upon something that is too good not to share? OK, that is me today with these muffins. Oh. My. Goodness.


  Healthier pumpkin muffins - simplify 101


I have made a few meals this week that didn't exactly go over well with my kiddos. Oh, well. Win some, lose some, right? I will note these disasters results in my meal planning binder and move on. But, I felt the need to redeem myself, and I really was due for a win. 


I had picked up a box of pumpkin quick bread mix at the grocery store earlier this week, and it also happens that I had a 1/2 can of pumpkin I needed to use. I've done a version of these with cake mixes with great success, so this morning I was inspired to try it out with a quick bread mix. The pumpkin takes the place of the eggs and oil that the box mix calls for. I love it when I can successfully convert a recipe into a healthier version that is seriously delicious. Like I said, these were too good not to share! (Share the recipe, I mean. There are no muffins left. :) Here's my recipe:


Simple, Healthier Pumpkin Muffins

1 box pumpkin quick bread mix

8 oz. canned pumpkin

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup water (or milk)

1/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)

1/4 cup walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400. Line 12 muffin cups with liners and give each one a squirt of non-stick spray. Stir all ingredients together until well mixed, then scoop into muffin cups. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool 5 minutes on wire wrack.


Just before popping them into the oven, I decided to toss on a few chocolate chips for the children and walnuts for my husband and me, but his is totally optional. (I probably only used 2 T. nuts and 2 T. chocolate chips on ours.) I'm sure you could add as much as a 1/2 cup of chocolate chips or nuts to the batter, but just dropping a few across the muffin tops seemed to give us a little taste of it without adding a whole lot of extra fat and calories. Plus, it just looks pretty!


These were so simple and healthy that I will be glad to add these to our breakfast line-up, even for school days! I think I will try using the canned pumpkin with a cinnamon or blueberry quick bread mix next time. Mmmm, can't wait!



Jens signature black

September 05, 2012

5 Ways to Simplify Dinner During Busy Times

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Around simplify 101 you might say we have dinner on the brain. No, we're not sporting spaghetti on our heads or anything crazy like that. Instead we've been talking about dinner and cooking and meal planning and how to make the whole thing a few notches easier. Why all the talk about dinner? Well, tomorrow our new online "Easy Meal Planning" workshop is  starting up, and with the new school year in full swing, it's a good time to take a step back and simplify dinner. In the spirit of making dinner easier, in this post Jennifer shares five ideas to simplify getting dinner on the table. Hope you enjoy!  ~ Aby


Is it fair to say that back-to-school time can be a bit, uh... hectic? The transition to our “new normal” – complete with school days, homework, and after-school activities – takes a bit of getting used to in my family. This time of year can make simple things like getting dinner on the table seem anything but simple!


Whether it’s back-to-school, a job change, holidays, or sports seasons, certain times of the year are simply more hectic than others. When you approach these seasons, think about what you can scale back on. Cooking dinner is an area that I try to put into auto-pilot at these times. While dining out and carry-out can work in a pinch, my family values home-cooked meals. Here are some things we do to simplify dinner time.


Simplify-dinner-salad simplify01

Salad can save the day. Not everyone feels that salad is satisfying enough, but I think with the right combination, it can be. First, you’ve got to go big. And second, you’ve got to include some protein in the form of cheese, beans, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, or even some grilled meat leftover from the night before. Third, pull out some crackers or crusty bread, and then even the carb-lovers are happy.


Slow down when you’re in a hurry. I like that bit of advice for life and meal-making! The slow cooker is my best friend this time of year, and I often prep it the night before or while I am making breakfast and packing lunches. This may be silly, but when I have prepared 3 meals for my family by 9 a.m., I feel like some sort of super hero. My latest favorite slow cooker recipe is Honey Sesame Chicken from 5 Dinners in One Hour. Oh, so good!

Honey-sesame-chicken copy

Slow Cooked Honey Sesame Chicken
5 chicken breasts
¾ C. honey
¼ C. light soy sauce
½ C. chopped onion
¼ C. ketchup
2 t minced garlic
¼ t red pepper flakes (optional)
2 t olive oil
4 t cornstarch
6 T water
Place chicken in slow cooker. Mix next 7 ingredients and add to cooker. Cook on low for 6-7 hours. Mix last 2 ingredients in a small container, adding to slow cooker the last 15 minutes of cook time. Stir to combine. Before serving, sprinkle chicken with 2 T sesame seeds. Serve over cooked rice with steamed broccoli.


Count on casseroles. I love casseroles during busy times, not just because of their ease but also because it’s often great comfort food. When I know we are heading into a busy season, I will double a few of our favorite casserole recipes — one for now and one to freeze for later. Keep in mind, though, that certain foods common to casseroles don’t freeze well. Avoid potatoes, sour cream, and cream cheese. Also, slightly under-cooking vegetables or pastas for casseroles will help them maintain a better texture during freezing, thawing and ultimately baking.


Bring on “brinner.” Breakfast for dinner gets raves at my house. In fact, my kids would love it if I served it once a week! Pancakes, waffles, fresh fruit, and yogurt are some of the staples for our brinner. Most recently, I served it up in the form of a DIY yogurt parfait bar with various types of yogurt, fruit and toppings. It doesn’t get any easier than that!


Yogurt-parfait-bar simplify101

Embrace a wrap. Why I don’t turn to sandwiches and wraps more often, I honestly don’t know! If I’m OK with serving breakfast food for dinner, why would I feel badly about lunch food at dinner? Really, serving up a sandwich — maybe even toasted or grilled — is a cinch. And as an added bonus, my kids are completely delighted with PB&Js and baby carrots for dinner. Score!


Soup is so simple. For that very reason, I think it can sometimes be overlooked. But, a hearty soup with bread makes for a very satisfying meal. I remember coming home from elementary school on fall days to the delicious aroma of homemade soup. My mother would make it while she had time in the afternoon and let it slowly simmer. Mmmm, this is making me anxious for cooler weather so I can make some of my favorite soups! My mom had a great idea to prepare it as she had time before we arrived home from school. Another option is to choose quick-cooking soups. Keeping broth, canned tomatoes, canned beans, frozen veggies or other favorite soup staples on hand allows you to whip up a soup super-fast! One of my favorite fast soups is a Tortellini Soup recipe I adapted from eMeals.


Tortellini Soup
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 10-oz. package frozen tortellini
16-oz. package California blend frozen vegetables
14.5-oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
Bring broth to boil. Add vegetables and tortellini. Return to boil and boil gently for 5-7 minutes or until tortellini is cooked through and vegetables are tender. Stir in tomatoes. Serve with grated parmesan cheese, if desired.


What’s your favorite tactic for dishing up dinner during busy seasons? Feel free to share your recipes with us in the comments!

  Jens signature black

September 03, 2012

Organized Drop Zone Gives Stuff a Place to Land

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In last week’s Quick Tip email, I covered the concept of creating a drop zone in your home, which is an intentional landing spot for the items in our arms and hands when we come through the door of our home. Jennifer took action on this idea, and shares her story with us in today’s blog post.


We walk in the door and kick off our shoes. Right there. The kids slide out of their backpacks and lay them down. Right there. We put down the mail, keys and sunglasses. Where? Yep, right there. OK, your “right there” is probably different than ours, but maybe you have the same problem?


Backpack-shoes - simplify101

We come into the home with the stuff of the day – whatever supplies we needed for whatever we’ve just been doing. Even if that stuff has a more permanent home somewhere in the house, it was never practical for me to expect myself or anyone else in my family to take it directly there. I’m not going to walk directly to my bedroom closet to put away my bag and shoes, and then head downstairs to place bills in the office, all the while toting around a bag of groceries to put away in the kitchen. We all know that’s not real life!


So, items are placed in a more (hopefully) temporary spot in the meantime. Right? And for however long that meantime lasts, that can feel like some serious clutter around the house. But like Aby says, the easiest way to solve this problem isn’t to try to change the habit of dropping what’s in your arms, but rather, to create a drop zone for these everyday items. 


When I took a look at what needed a place to land, I recognized it was primarily the kids’ backpacks and coats or jackets, kids’ shoes, the mail, and my purse. I took a look at how we entered the house and our traffic pattern. (That was pretty easy to figure out… Just follow the trail of stuff!) Whether we came through the garage or front door, the hall closet was ideal.


But inside the closet, there was no good place for the kids’ backpacks. Plus, they can’t easily reach the hangers to hang their coats. So, we installed these double hooks right at their level for their bags and jackets. Inside the closet, there’s also a shoe rack. I also found this was an ideal place for important reminder notes. I scored these cute, dry-erase wall stickers at the dollar store. Perfect!


Drop zone - simplify101

For me, I needed a place to tuck my purse, so I generally use the over-the-door hook for that. I love having a central place to keep it where it’s out of the way but also convenient for all my comings and goings!


Just a few steps away from this closet, we have a hall table that is the most popular spot for our stuff to settle.  That actually makes a lot of sense because it’s centrally located. But obviously, I don’t love the look of a stuff-covered table just inside the front door! I put clutter bins on the bottom of the table to corral the kids’ belongings.



We also ran chargers into the drawers so that they have actually become charging stations for phones, mp3 players and such. And a decorative tray looks lovely when empty, but also contains the mail, keys, and other clutter for a bit.



I love these ideas, but I’ll be honest with you‑ good ideas don’t mean anything unless you put them into action. And like anything new, it definitely requires forming a new habit! We’ve been consistent, though, and I’m happy to report that this is really working for us.


What is the stuff you need to contain in a drop zone?

Jens signature black

Thanks for sharing, Jennifer! "Take action" is something I say a lot in my online workshops and instant downloads.  I couldn't agree more that good ideas are not helpful unless we act on them. In fact, great information and wonderful ideas can really just add to the clutter in our minds unless we act on them. So here's to "taking action!" 


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