organization / keeping house

Hosting a fabulous party doesn’t have to be a stressful event. The key is planning and organization. Here’s an easy game plan for your next party.

First, determine how many people you will invite and how long the party will last.

Next, determine how much food you’ll need. As a rule of thumb, you will need three to four bites per person, per hour. For a small gathering, five to eight different appetizers will suffice. Allow for one to two drinks per hour, per guest.

Then plan your menu. Think about making a few “wow” appetizers and then rounding out the menu with some less labor-intensive dishes, such as a good store-bought cheese ball and crackers or a fruit or cheese platter. And remember, you don’t have to make everything from scratch. Take advantage of timesavers from your supermarket, such as sliced baguettes and pre-cut veggies.

You don’t have to have traditional serving platters to present your food attractively. Use your imagination-unusual small plates, decorative trays, cutting boards and baskets can all be used for serving.

Finally, don’t wear yourself out the day of the party; make what you can ahead of time so that you’ll be free to have as much fun as your guests.

Here are two simple appetizer recipes that your guests will rave about.

Spinach and Feta Pinwheels

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 (10 oz) bags frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, drained and finely chopped
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the spinach, roasted red peppers, and both cheeses. Season with salt and pepper.

On a lightly floured surface, roll puff pastry out to an 11-inch square.

Spread spinach mixture evenly over the puff pastry, leaving one inch of pastry uncovered at the far end. Press down evenly with fingers.

Starting on the near side, tightly roll up into a log. With a serrated knife, using a sawing motion, cut roll crosswise into 1/2 inch slices. Place slices on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non-stick spray.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg and one tablespoon water. Brush egg mixture lightly over slices.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until puffed and browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 16 spirals

Make Ahead Tip: Combine spinach, peppers, and cheese. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Cocktail Meatballs & Spicy Cranberry Sauce

2 (32 oz) packages frozen cooked meatballs, thawed
1 cup smoky barbeque sauce
1 can cranberry sauce with whole berries
1/4 cup hot chili sauce*
1/4 cup orange juice

Cook the barbeque sauce, cranberries, chili sauce, and orange juice in a dutch oven or large stock pot over medium heat for five minutes, stirring to combine. Add meatballs, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.

Makes 60 to 70 meatballs

Tip: The meatballs may also be prepared in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

*Look for Sriracha in the Asian Foods section

Toni Tanner Scott is a Personal Chef & Cooking Coach. Check out her site, Dinner Made Simple, for recipes, menu planning, cooking tips and much more.


organizing.jpgWe all know having an organized home allows us to spend more time doing the things we want to do. For me it is more time to quilt, for others it may be gardening, exercising, cooking, working on a hobby, or spending more time with family. So how do we go about getting our family organized?

Remember the movie “Field of Dreams?” Build it and they will come. It is the same scenario with organizing. Begin by organizing drawers, cupboards, rooms, closets; have designated places for everything–where they will live and sure enough those things will find their way back to their homes. Family members actually like it better when they know where things belong. Label drawers or shelves to make it easier to put things back and to find them later.

Share the responsibilities in the home with everyone. Write out a simple contract with each family member and have them sign it. This gets their commitment and chances are greater that they will follow through with tasks assigned. Put the contracts along with the assigned task in a binder that is labeled and placed on a shelf were everyone can reach it. I don’t like to call them chores because just the name sounds like drudgery.

Keep tasks appropriate to age and capability. Start young teaching organization. Two year olds and even younger can start putting a book on a shelf or a toy in the toy box. By starting young it makes it much easier as it becomes a way of life for them to be organized.

I remember picking raspberries when I was a child. My mother was picking on the other side of the row. It was hot and tiring picking one or two berries at a time and placing them in my bucket tied around my waist. Once in awhile my mom would reach through the row and put a hand full of berries in my bucket. Wow, it was such a great feeling seeing my bucket getting fuller faster that it made me get back to work and work all the faster.

Show children exactly how to do the assigned task. Work along with them until they know what is expected. Once in awhile chip in and help them after they are able to do it on their own. This is a great boost to them and they will reciprocate by helping you stay organized or doing one of your tasks.

Charts are wonderful tools to inspire children and show them not only what needs to be done but they show their progress. Rotate assignments on a weekly basis. There are many charts that can be purchased to chart their progress. Or use a dry erase board; make one out of paper using stickers when a job is completed, or use a magnetic board. Point out what a good job they are doing and how good it feels to be organized.

Make organizing fun. It doesn’t have to be a chore. Make organizing interesting, get everyone’s input and ideas on the best way to do things, and use their ideas so they feel a sense of pride and ownership about the way things are done.

Notice where a family member is already organized and build on that strength by praising them. We are all good at doing some thing. By focusing on the positive and encouraging them to become organized, strengths will come out in other areas too without nagging or getting angry.

Motivating family members may be challenging at first, but it is rewarding when you see them putting things away where they belong and it takes much of the frustration out of what could be daily hassles. Not to mention all the time it saves.

Marilyn is a creative organizer who has been organizing for over 20 years. She is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers.She holds a bachelors degree in Social Work. She has reared five daughters and currently lives in Utah. Check out her website where you can find free organizing tips, interesting blogs and helpful articles on organizing.

I’m not a naturally organized person, but since I’ve begun working with kids I’ve changed my nature. Much of what I’ve learned about educating children has taught me that organization is key. That’s why everything I do with kids is highly organized. I organize my plans, procedures and the space I’m working in. I do this to keep children focused and on task.

Years of working as an educator have shown me that organization is an important key for learning. When I first started teaching, my classroom was very much disorganized. My students walked in the door of my classroom without a good place to put their jackets, lunches, books and other personal belongings. I didn’t have a good place for children to place their papers. I had no bathroom or homework procedures in place. Classroom materials were mixed together and without a permanent home. As you can imagine, my students were disorganized too. Everything around me was a mess.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed plans, procedures and a place for everything. That’s when I started making lists, labels, signs, posters and a receptacle for just about everything. Each day I got a little more organized. Each day my students became a little more focused and ready to learn. As the environment changed my students changed too. I was quickly learning that organization is a master key for providing children with a good education.

Of all the changes I made for my students, the one that brought about the biggest change in my students was the reorganization of my classroom space. After considering all the things that needed attention within my classroom, I realized that my students required a clean and well organized space to learn. I grabbed a pile of index cards, some permanent markers and poster board to begin making signs, labels and posters for everything that needed its own special place.

Next, I went shopping for some organizational tools. I purchased storage organizers, bins, hooks and cubbies for every classroom need. I quickly discovered the wide variety of school furniture, cubbies and classroom furniture made readily available for teachers like me. Everything was going to have a new and permanent place in our classroom.

I knew that it wasn’t going to be enough to just provide a place for everything. It was clear that I needed to assign a purpose to every nook and cranny of my classroom. Therefore, lunches had a place of their own in a cubby clearly marked “Lunches!” I now had individual hooks for each child’s jacket and book bag. The container holding blocks had a picture of blocks on it. Now the children knew where I expected the blocks to go! Art supplies were neatly organized on shelves with a little bit of help. I acquired scissor holders, paper trays, paint brush holders and much more. Art time was no longer a disaster! Reorganizing our learning space was easy, fun and highly effective.

The best part of my reorganization investment was new found peace. Children now walked in the door knowing what was expected of them. Even the most energetic students eagerly put their things away each morning and sat down to learn. Classroom behavior was totally transformed. My behavior was transformed too. Everyone was more focused, peaceful and ready to learn.

If you’re a home schooling mom, a classroom teacher, a Sunday school leader or a leader of any kind, you can reap the benefits of an organizational overhaul. Don’t shy a way from investing in an organized place to educate. An excellent education begins with organization!

Alisa E. Clark, an educator for over 10 years with a Master’s Degree in Reading Education, reviews and consults with companies and schools districts about the latest tools and programs to enhance student learning. Her web site is at

candita.jpgLet me start by introducing myself. My name is Candita Clayton and I am a professional organizer and the owner of Your Life Organized.

I am thrilled to be working with the Pinks & Blues Girls on the smart mama blog. Please feel free to ask any and all questions regarding any organizing topic that crosses your mind.

Today I thought we could start with organizing your closet for fall. I am just about to take on this chore myself so it’s the perfect time for me to offer the following advice.

First, we purge:

This is a great time to honestly evaluate the clothing for the season you are leaving behind. Think of your closet as a boutique, take inventory of what you have and get rid of the things that are not moving. By this I mean if you didn’t wear it all summer you’re probably not going to wear it next summer. So before you pack it up move out the duds and either donate them to a worthy charity or save them in a bin for next summer’s consignment.

Second, storage: ( out of sight, out of mind)

Now you can take the keepers and store them. This includes shoes and handbags as well as other summer accessories. This will free up valuable closet real estate for your fall wardrobe. The only items that should be in your closet are clothing and accessories for the current season. The exception to this rule would be if you travel frequently to warmer climates.

Third, evaluate the clothing for the new season:

Last year’s trendy fall items might be this year’s I’m-so-over-it. Take a good hard look at your fall wardrobe and edit. Why hold onto clothes that don’t fit perfectly or don’t make you feel fabulous? We have all suffered from buyer’s remorse at one time or another. If you paid way too much for a pair of shoes that kill your feet that is still no reason to keep them. Set those Jimmy Choo’s free, and you won’t find yourself constantly irritated by the sight of them.

Fourth, organize the rest:

Now take what you really love and organize to make getting dressed as easy as possible. A well organized closet uses all available space to its fullest potential. So whether you have a reach-in or a walk-in closet. use every inch of space from floor to ceiling. Keep your most frequently worn items and favorite pieces ready to make getting dressed a cinch.

Fifth, Buy a few new things: (Yeah!)

At this point you may notice that you need a few things to keep your wardrobe from looking like yesterday’s news. Pull out your favorite fashion mag and fill in the blanks. A trip to TJ Maxx can solve just about any temporary fashion crisis.

If you have any questions or need any specific advice, please ask away!

*You can find more great advice in Candita’s full color e-book, Closets, Cabinets & Corners: 100 + Ways to Conquer Your Worst Clutter.


Check Candita out on the web at and her blog at

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