Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Don’t let the holidays waste the planet

Did you know?
What can I do to reduce my holiday waste?

Send holiday cards by e-mail or use electronic greetings. If everyone sent one less card, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper. Reuse holiday cards by creating gift tags.

Use newspaper, children’s artwork, or fabric bags for gift wrap. If every American family wrapped three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Forgo the ribbon, or reuse it. If every family reused 2 feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet?

Shop wisely. Take reusable shopping bags when you go shopping. Purchase gifts with minimal packaging or ones that don’t use batteries.

Use less energy. Drive less and combine trips: if each family used 1 less gallon of gas during the holidays, we'd reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 million tons. Encourage carpooling to holiday events. Use LED lights to reduce 90% of energy consumption.

Cut back on gift giving (read my other blog post on simplifying the holidays). Ask your friends and family to participate in “the Hundred Dollar Holiday,” started by environmentalist Bill McKibben and friends (participants limit holiday spending to $100). A national survey found that 70% of Americans would welcome less emphasis on gift giving and spending.

Produce less waste while entertaining. Send leftover food home with guests or donate to a shelter. Set up recycling stations at holiday events. Use cloth napkins and durable goods instead of paper and plastic. Offer water in pitchers rather than bottled water. Serve locally grown, sustainable foods.

Do you have any suggestions to share on how to green the holidays? If so, please leave a comment.

10 ways to simplify the holidays

Did you know that the average American household spends $1,700 on holiday gifts and accessories each year and carries credit card debt of $15,788? Furthermore, the holidays can be a particularly stressful time of year, especially for women and people with lower incomes. Here is some good news, though: people can feel more love and happiness during the holiday season because they connect or reconnect with loved ones.

One secret to creating more happy moments and minimizing your holiday stress is to simplify your holiday traditions. You can start planning stress-free holidays now by making lists and organizing your family’s gift giving and traditions. Here are 10 ideas to consider:

Gift giving

1. Draw names for gifts or plan a yankee swap. We have a large extended family, and my cousins and I used to buy gifts for all of our children. Now we have the kids draw names, while the adults do a yankee swap.

2. Shop local. I like shopping in nearby Multnomah Village so I can get my gifts wrapped for free.

3. Make your own gifts. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to give wonderful, personal gifts. My friend Shelia makes unique, wonderful family gifts with her kids, such as a cookbook with their family’s recipes or a painted mirror with her kids' photos on it. Other ideas are tree ornaments or photo calendars. I've been known to paint glassware, do calligraphy calendars, or make candles or jewelry. Search the library or the internet for easy handmade gifts you can make. Making gifts can save you a lot of money, and the gifts are much more personal.

4. Give experiences instead of physical gifts. Last year we gave Chris and Kieran tickets to see “Rain” (the Beatles tribute band). Other ideas are theater tickets, restaurant gift certificates, sports events, trips to the beach or mountains, or movie tickets. When I was a kid, we would often get one "big" gift for Christmas--like a bike or a stereo. These gifts were nearly always secondhand, of course, but we loved them.

5. Give a donation instead of a gift. You could consider donating to a charity in lieu of gifts. Last year Mike and made a joint donation to Interplast instead of buying gifts for each other. Other worthy organizations are Mercy Corps, Oregon Food Bank, Medical Teams International, Water For People, and Pennies for Peace. A few years ago my sister and her family signed up to sponsor three children (matching their children’s ages) in developing countries through World Vision.

Holiday traditions

6. Give back to your community. Local organizations look for people to sponsor needy families. Try the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, or Lutheran Community Services NW. Or surf Hands On Portland’s comprehensive Web site to find a volunteer idea that fits your family. The Children’s Book Bank is a great local charity that is always seeking volunteers and donations.

7. Plan low-stress holiday events. Can you say “potluck”? It’s the most beautiful word in the holiday dictionary. If you host gatherings, ask guests to bring a food or beverage to reduce your time and cash outlay. Or plan a cookie exchange with friends.

8. Look for opportunities to spend quality family time. We always go to the Macy’s Holiday Parade downtown (and it’s especially fun now that our Robert Gray Middle School student marches in it!). It’s a great way to start the holidays. We also like to go out into the sticks to choose a tree and stop by a McMenamin’s afterward.

9. If you live near Portland, take in some of the city's great entertainment. Check out Northwest Children’s Theater Company’s production of “Annie,” Portland Center Stage’s “A Christmas Story” and “The Santaland Diaries,” or the Northwest Dance Company’s Nutcracker Tea (a family-friendly, less-expensive, and condensed “Nutcracker”). Have you experienced traditional British pantomime? You don’t have to leave Portland to partake in this hilarious tradition. “Holly Jolly Hullabaloo” is great fun. And it’s FREE, FREE, FREE! (Can you tell how much our family likes the theater?). Pioneer Courthouse Square hosts a holiday ale fest, holiday artisan market, the “Tuba Christmas,” and a Christmas Carol singalong, in addition to tree and menorah lighting.

10. Spread out the fun. Who says that the holidays have to end on Dec. 9 (Chanukkah) or 25 (Christmas)? Our family has celebrated Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) with a tea party. We leave our tree up until Epiphany and continue my husband’s family tradition of leaving our shoes under the tree so the “three kings” can put a small gift in them. Some companies plan holiday parties in January when it’s less chaotic. Think about ways you could spread out your celebrations.

Here are some more resources:


What are your ideas for simplifying the holidays? Please leave a comment and share your ideas!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nine steps to identify clutter

This great list of "nine quick tips to identify clutter" by Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) is not only applicable to clutter in our own homes, but it is also a good list to apply to potential purchases.

Our vacation habits in 2010 have set us back financially, in addition to preschool fees and costs for children's activities...and we are trying to be even more austere in how we spend our money.

I am going to print out this list and laminate it so I can carry it around with me!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unclutter your wallet

I just found this GREAT uncluttering blog called unclutterer.com. It provides daily tips on decluttering. (Why they didn't call it declutterer.com is beyond me.)

The tip for the day concerns those big bulky wallets people end up carrying around (like my husband). Is it really necessary to have so many cards in your wallet? The blog post suggests keeping another wallet in your glove compartment to hold your loyalty cards. You can just grab the relevant card when you need it that way.

I actually like the suggestion one of the commenters has: punch a hole in each card and thread them on a keychain, and keep that in your glove compartment instead. Others take photos of their cards and store them in an iPhone app. These are all creative ideas to declutter your wallet.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Apple harvest time!

We have two apple trees in our backyard, and they typically bear fruit every other year. I wish the trees were on alternate years, but unfortunately all the bounty arrives at once!

Often we have more apples than we can use, and two years ago I am ashamed to admit that many of the apples went rotten, because we didn't get ourselves organized to do anything with them. (This is why this post is on my "One Year (or Five Years) to an Organized Life" blog!)

My parents handed down a large homemade food dryer several years ago, and we have dried apples in the past. However, it's powered by a lightbulb (and consequently takes a couple of days to dry the fruit), has to stay in the backyard because of its bulk, and has screens with wooden frames (that are difficult to wash). As a result, it's cumbersome to dry food. I decided that if I were really to actively dry fruit this year, I needed to invest in a more user-friendly food dryer. This is what I ended up with:
Nesco food dehydrator
I bought it at Fred Meyer--it was on sale for $45, and I had an additional 10% off coupon...so it was about $40. I put it to work immediately last night. The apples were nearly done by the time I went to bed, with an additional hour this morning to finish them off. SOOOOO easy! I think I'm going to have fun with it!

To prepare the apples, I used my trust apple peeler/corer/slicer, which I bought several years ago. It only comes out of the cupboard when we have a lot of apples. I LOVE this thing. It makes the process so much easier and faster.

The one downside to the food dehydrator is that it doesn't take the quantity that the homemade one does (although I could purchase more trays to do more fruit at once). After filling the dryer, I kept coring/peeling/slicing and made a pot of homemade applesauce.

I followed Mark Bittman's recipe (from my iPhone app of How to Cook Everything!), which consisted of cut apples in a pot with 1/2 inch of water and a sprinkling of salt. Then he offers suggestions for additional ingredients. I added peeled fresh ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a couple of spoons of brown sugar. It turned out great, and I won't be surprised if it's gone by Friday. Next time I will make more.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Purging, donating, and giving away!!

In addition to the 350 pounds we took to the dump earlier this month, we have also disposed of:
  • A box full of alcohol and wine, including a fancy bottle that someone gave to us and Mike was hoping to save for the day he got published...turned to vinegar!
  • More kids' books--posted to paperbackswap.com, taken to the consignment store, donated to friends with a 1-year-old, and donated to the school rummage sale
  • Two strollers, a high chair, a play yard, and a crib (given to a friend)
  • Old dresser and wardrobe (that once held my own baby clothes!), given to the same friend when she saw them in our garage and asked us what we were going to do with them
  • A bike trailer...which we bought at a neighbor's yard sale YEARS ago and never used...our neighborhood has so many darn hills that it's hard to imagine being able to huff and puff up one of those hills hauling a bike trailer behind us...plus, Nick would rather ride his own bike now (given to the same friends with the 1-year-old, who live in a flatter, more bike-friendly neighborhood!)
We need to find a place to dispose of a pair of cross-country skis, which Mike acquired at a church rummage sale and has never used. They will probably be going to Goodwill.

Our garage is looking AWESOME. It's not completely photo ready yet...but soon I will post before and after photos.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

350 pounds to the dump today!

Today Mike spent plowing through all the junk we had accumulated in the garage, and I spent the whole day on the kitchen.

My great resolution to keep the kitchen counters clean has fallen to ruin.

The dishes had stacked up all over the counter, and it needed some serious, down-and-dirty TLC. I am happy to say that it's clean now...although every time I clean the kitchen I want to redo it. We've been living with the same linoleum, paint, etc., for 11 years now, and it's definitely looking worse for wear. The countertops are still in good shape, fortunately.

Photos tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spending less (and differently) makes people happier

I've been off track in my organizing and not keeping this blog up to speed. Vacations and life craziness have gotten in the way, and I need to get back on the wagon.

The house and mess in it are getting out of control. Kids' junk piled up everywhere, the little boys' room is a disaster zone, and remnants of my organizing efforts (bags ready for storage or donation) are piled in hallways.

Recently I got an iPhone that has enough memory to house all my music. I downloaded as much as I could onto iTunes and am planning to offload tons of CDs. I've posted many of them on swapacd.com, and others I will donate. But that needs to be finished.

We have taken three vacations this summer: (1) 20th anniversary trip for the two of us to San Francisco, (2) trip to Orlando, and (3) trip to Vancouver BC. What we had in savings has now been depleted, and we're dipping into our home equity line of credit.

A friend posted this article on Facebook: it's about how people are much happier when they change their lifestyles to spend less. In a recent study, researchers found that spending money on "experiences" makes people happier, longer, than buying stuff. "‘It’s better to go on a vacation than buy a new couch’ is basically the idea,” according to Professor Elizabeth Dunn (from the University of British Columbia), citing the research done by her colleagues, Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich. The theory is that vacations and other experiences offer longer-lasting memories than new stuff, which eventually becomes old stuff.

This is timely information for us, as we have always spent a great deal of our expendable income on vacations and entertainment. It also reflects our lifestyle, in which we drive old cars and do not spend very much money on our house.

Our plan for the fall is to HALT THE SPENDING! I've started taking this very seriously as we have cut back dramatically on eating out, and I am trying to stay away from shopping. I will try to confine most of my shopping for clothing and personal items to my favorite consignment shop, where I can get credit for what I consign. Last Sunday Portland had an event I was looking forward to attending, Bargain Hunting PDX, where local craftspeople and vendors have a summer bazaar of sorts. Even though I had planned to attend, I decided not to in the end. However, this weekend is our neighborhood festival, and I love their annual sidewalk sale. I think I will inventory everything in my "gift box" before I go to avoid buying lots more gifts for Christmas--that tends to be one of my downfalls!

I continue to observe that most of what we own does not get used. And I need to remember that to avoid buying more things we are not going to use.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

21 things you should never buy new

Poor, neglected blog!

I like this article on Yahoo, 21 Things You Should Never Buy New. A few comments:

DVDs and CDs: I almost always buy these new, but I also do get them out of the library quite a lot, so I'm probably coming up even there.

Books: Typically, the only books I buy new are gifts. Otherwise I get them out of the library, at book sales, or my favorite: Paperbackswap.com. The recent exceptions are the final two books of the Stieg Larsson series, which I just bought new.

Video Games: Couldn't agree more...when I think of all the $ Chris has wasted buying and selling video games! We have bought some Wii games new, though, when we were too impatient to wait for them to come out used (also, some games rarely get sold back)...namely Wii Rock Band, Beatles Rock Band, Sports Resort, and Fit.

Special Occasion and Holiday Clothing: I've found great holiday dresses and boys' sportcoats and suits at my favorite resale shop, Katelyn's Closet in Multnomah Village. Haven't seen too many prom dresses, though, but I don't have to worry about that!

Jewelry: As you might know, I never buy expensive jewelry, so this is not an issue for me.

Ikea Furniture: Good point about Craigslist. Assembling furniture is no fun, although it is nice to have that great feeling of accomplishment at the end!

Games and Toys: I'm gradually learning not to buy very many games and toys for my kids, because so often they do not end up playing with them much. Buying them secondhand is definitely the way to go...but even then, I only buy inexpensive items because I don't want to waste my $.

Maternity and Baby Clothes: Why buy new, unless you can't find a particular item used?

Musical Instruments: I agree with this point in general, but after a lifetime of playing used musical instruments, it is great to have a new mandolin and guitar! But for kids, I would never buy new. We bought Chris' drum kit at a music store that sells used musical instruments.

Craft Supplies: One of these days, I will get to the Portland store SCRAP. But not until I use the craft supplies already filling my closet!!

Houses and Cars: Goes without saying. We've never owned a new car or house.

This article is a good reminder that many items depreciate in value immediately, or rarely get used and continue to be in good shape. It's easier to get more for your $ if you shop secondhand.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Making progress

I haven't been blogging much here lately, but I have been making steady progress on my organizing.

The houseguests we were expecting from England (tomorrow) had to cancel their trip. (Lesson learned: if you have an early flight, do not rely on a hotel wake-up call! They missed their flight and KLM told them they'd have to pay for new tickets because they were "no shows," so they cancelled their trip.)

But I've made a huge amount of progress on the family room. I'm not completely finished yet--still have to clean off the top of the desk and tackle the games closet (again), but I should be able to post photos soon.

I assembled a cube system that we bought at Costco sometime last year, and we're using that for various Wii and video paraphernalia. It took me about an hour to completely detangle my son's PlayStation wiring. Ugh! Yes, I probably should have had him do it...but that is definitely not his strength.

It is SO MUCH nicer to do my Wii Fit Plus with a clean, uncluttered family room! Love that!

Biggest mistake you can make when beginning to declutter

I just spotted this article on Yahoo: it says that the biggest mistake you can make when beginning to clean and declutter is to hit The Container Store and stock up on plastic bins without developing any kind of plan.

The purpose of the article is to talk about how important it is to be organized in one's approach, but I thought it was an interesting point because one of the things I've discovered in my decluttering is that we now have an excess of plastic containers, which we had collected over the years to store our clutter!

As we've been purging and decluttering, the containers have been piling up! I take that as a great sign!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My husband, the carpenter

The Pacific Northwest rain seems to wreak havoc on our wooden fences and gates. We've had to replace several pieces in our fence, and our gate was completely destroyed a few weeks ago.

It began with a huge windstorm that battered it, and it was finished off by a friend of Christopher's, who apparently was practicing his tae kwon do on it...encouraged by Chris, I guess? He felt horrible about kicking it to its death...so he left $3 on Mike's pillow, thinking that this would help pay for its repair.

Mike spent about 4 hours yesterday working to repair it. I asked him why he didn't just use all new wood, but he said that he didn't want to be wasteful. I'm okay with that!

He also repaired the gate on the other side of the backyard, which wasn't in quite as bad of condition but needed some TLC.

Kieran was very helpful in helping Daddy to hang the gate. It's nice to have kids who like to help outdoors.

The oldest, of course, was inside the whole day, doing homework, reading, and watching video clips of Survivor. He's always been more of an indoor kid, which I can remember about myself...

After cleaning the kitchen and working in the yard, I made halibut tacos for dinner, with homemade refried beans and guacomole. They were delicious! Leftovers for dinner tonight.

This afternoon I'm going to work on the main level of the house, and this evening while watching my guilty pleasure, "The Celebrity Apprentice," I'll continue on the family room.

My little gardeners

This weekend was a rare treat: we had nothing at all scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. From now through mid-May, we have commitments every single weekend. Of course, I always have much greater aspirations than I actually get accomplished...but oh well. A mother's (and organizer's) work is never done!

I spent most of the day cleaning the kitchen and working in the garden. I finally deadheaded the roses (only a month late) and weeded around them--our apple trees seem to be shooting out volunteers. Then I started in on the raised beds.

Since we just put them in last year and purchased high-quality soil and mulch to fill them, the weeds were pretty easy to pull out (helped by our wet spring, too). The kids really got into the act as well!

The biggest challenge was getting him to keep the dirt within the boxes! But he enjoyed digging around with his shovel. Kieran helped me by using the claw to loosen the dirt, and I pulled out the weeds.

Look at all those dandelions!! It's because we refuse to use herbicide on our lawn...we kind of let it grow wild. But it definitely could use a good mow, and some more grass seed.

Kieran brought out his scarecrow from storage. At this point, we're only scaring the crows away from some chives and herbs that wintered over--and the strawberries seem to have popped up again. Last year we only had a couple of tiny strawberries...wonder if they'll do better this year?
I really want to plant some organic blueberries and raspberries--anyone know where I could get ahold of those?

It's a good thing we tackled the beds yesterday, because it's raining today. I did go buy some lettuce and snap pea starts today, so we can start our planting when the rain stops! Next tomatoes and other veggies--the starts aren't available yet, but we might try out some seeds.
Last year we tried growing corn, and it looked gorgeous for awhile, but then it all died. I think it needs a huge amount of water. And of course, we continue to be complete zucchini failures. Neither we nor my parents are able to grow zucchini effectively.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More guilt...

So remember the great photo organization project? Well, I have been merrily going through my photos, consigning bunches of them to "recycling." However, I am going to follow Regina Leeds' sage advice to put away my photo and cookbook projects for now and concentrate on the rest of my house (I guess I was too close to things to come to this conclusion myself...I can see myself offering the same kind of advice to someone else!). So I was putting away the photo boxes, containers of photos yet to sort, etc., and decided I'd better make sure that it is possible to recycle photos.

Guess what? It isn't. And I live in one of the most recycling-friendly cities in the U.S.!

According to Metro, the government agency in Portland responsible for recycling, photographs cannot be recycled because of the chemicals in the paper. So I've got one more thing to feel guilty about as I continue on my merry purging ways.

I've got one piece of good news, though. Portland has a place called SCRAP (the School and Community Reuse Action Project), to which I have yet to venture...since the last thing I need is more scraps!!! (My very crafty coworker/friend Amy told me about SCRAP! She likes exclamation points too!) It sounds like a very cool, fun place. One of these days I'm going to take a class there and perhaps use up some of my craft supplies! Anyway, I e-mailed SCRAP to see if they would be interested in old photos, on a whim.

The "creative reuse center manager" (wouldn't you love to have a title like that?) responded that they would take photos of animals, scenery, nature, art, etc. "Our customers aren't as interested in photos of people, houses, cars, and other more personal images." I think I'm going to take the lazy way out and not go through all the photos again, separating out the animals/scenery/nature ones, but I feel guilty about that too. From now on, though, I will start sorting. And will donate any upcoming purged photos to SCRAP. I've also developed a pile of photos to give away (to people who are in them), but I should probably do more of that now that I know I can't recycle them.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Not doing very well on my vow to stop multi-tasking!

Here are the projects that are still ongoing in my household at the moment:
  • Finishing off the dresser transition (clearing off the top of my "new" dresser and finishing the organization of my clothes)
  • Finishing the great cookbook project (indexing all the recipes in the cookbook I made of family recipes and the ones I've clipped out of magazines and newspapers)
  • Moving stuff around in the dining room cabinets and the one that's now in the living room--many of the shelves are still empty
  • Completing the great photo project (I have photo boxes and have begun organizing decades' worth of photos into sections by time...but right now the family room is cluttered with photos, boxes, and photo albums--I started this during the Olympics but have a ways to go to finish)
  • Finishing the cleanup of the study (which got messed up during the holidays)

Not to mention...getting back into the groove of finishing the recleaning and organizing of the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom...

In preparation to move on to the new worst room in the house--the family room! And the kids rooms, etc.

But we have houseguests coming from the UK in April, so we have a new deadline to get the house in some semblance of order. Mike told me the other day that he is beginning to panic. We haven't been home much recently, and that doesn't help either.

Feeling overwhelmed and tired just thinking about all this!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Olympics of Organizing

It's hard to keep the kitchen clean when the Olympics are on. We're doing a half-hearted attempt...but we tend to be downstairs watching in the evening instead of cleaning up the dinner dishes.

Both regular exercising (Wii Fit Plus) and regular cleaning are on hold for now. Only a week to go and we'll be back into our usual routines.

In the meantime, I'm spending the time in front of the TV organizing our many photographs. We don't have many printed out after 2003 (when we got a digital camera), but we have boxes and boxes of photo albums and loose photos from both our childhoods up through 2003. I took TONS of photos during the three years we lived in Japan.

So far I've filled a grocery bag with photos that will be recycled. I've decided to forgo the traditional photo albums and instead use photo storage boxes. I still have about eight brand-new photo albums, and I'm not sure what to do with those. I'm thinking that it's unlikely that we would sit and go through photo albums, and I'm finding it very difficult to keep photos organized in albums (not to mention all the space they take up!). I will often pull photos out of a particular album, and then they rarely find their way back into the correct album. With a photo-organizing box, I'm hoping it will be easier to keep track of them.

Right now I'm pulling the photos out and organizing them in Ziploc bags with dates. It's fun to see some of the old shots, but I'm amazed at how many duplicates or similar shots I have, or photos of people whose names I can no longer remember or have since lost contact with.

Mike's using the Olympics time to keep up with the laundry. We so rarely watch TV, but we're using the time with multitasking!

Recycling Jewelry and Books

After my trip to Powell's last weekend, I filled a bag with the best of Powell's rejects, my jewelry castoffs, and other odds and ends, and took them off to my local consignment store. I received $56 for the haul. They took all of the cookbooks and much of the jewelry. I found a couple of brand-new Abercrombie shirts for Chris, and a summery top for myself, and I still have money left over.

I put the remainder of the cookbooks on paperbackswap.com, and I've already posted off about six or seven of them.

Last night I made fresh crab cakes out of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, and it was so wonderful to be able to reach our cookbooks easily and find the one I wanted!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Recycling

I took two enormous bags of cookbooks to Powell's on Saturday to see how much they would buy. They ended up taking about 20 of them, for a grand total of $40 in trade. Pathetic!

I selected the best of the bunch to take to my favorite resale store to see how many they would be interested in, and I posted the rest to www.paperbackswap.com. It is always nice to get Powell's credit; however, in some ways, Paperbackswap is the best way to go. I've been able to get some really great and sometimes rare books that way, by putting books I want on a wish list. You pay postage for your posted books requested by others, and they pay postage to send the books you request. I tend to post mostly lighter-weight books as much as I can. Children's books are especially great to post.

Already, I've posted four of my cookbooks, and two more have been requested. Someone had requested the original Moosewood Cookbook, but we decided to keep that when we discovered that I had given it to Mike and had Mollie Katzen inscribe it to him! So it's a sentimental keeper.

My friend Shelia in Boise picks up free books at library or garage sales and posts them. It's a great way to get inexpensive books, many of them in great condition. The only down side is that you have to keep the books in storage somewhere. In our case, they are in boxes in the basement.

Olympic Scrapbooking

Since my husband was an adolescent, he's been painstakingly compiling a scrapbook containing news clippings about EVERY SINGLE OLYMPICS. Winter and summer. We have a couple of boxes of them somewhere in the attic. I'm not sure where his pre-Japan Olympic scrapbooks are...perhaps my mother-in-law has them (or junked them).

Mike prides himself on the fact that he can still shock me occasionally. He has announced that this Olympics, for the first time ever, he is not going to do an Olympics scrapbook. (Another time he shocked me was when he announced, on his 40th birthday, after 13 years of marriage, that he wanted to hyphenate our names.)

He realized that so much is on the internet nowadays, and asked himself how often he actually looks back at them. Both excellent points.

During previous Olympics, we tend to accumulate piles of newspaper and magazines, sitting around for him to clip and paste. He tends to get behind, sometimes not even getting the scrapbooking done until the next Olympics comes round.

I applaud his decision and have to ask myself whether the One Year to an Organized Life approach might have influenced him to give up this tradition. Or maybe he just wanted to shock me again.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Intimates and Apparel

For February and March, I am working on finishing the kitchen (still need to do the kitchen nook and clean the drawers) and also cleaning and reorganizing the bathroom and bedroom. Then I will be back on track with One Year to an Organized Life.

Today I went through all of my jewelry and intimates. I threw out several pairs of underwear and bras, and relegated the following jewelry for resale or donation:
  • 1 necklace & earring set
  • 7 necklaces
  • 5 earrings
  • 9 pins
  • 7 bracelets
This took a great deal longer than one would think! I also downsized from two jewelry boxes (which I have had for YEARS!) to one.

I polished my new dresser and filled its drawers, and did more cleanup on the bedroom. I'll try to post a photo of the new dresser this weekend--I love having more space for my clothes. And it's a beautiful old art deco dresser with inlaid wood. (Thanks, Nadine and David!) I was able to move my pajamas into the dresser and will be able to move my sweatshirts down to the bottom of the closet, so Mike's shoes will not fall on me each time I try to get a shirt down. (Currently they are way up above me, so I have to jump to get at them.)

Then I went for a massage this afternoon (!). In the evening, Mike took Kieran to fencing and went swimming with Chris, while I continued cleaning while 3-year-old Nicholas serenaded me with Broadway hits.

I also cleaned the living room and am continuing to move things around into the new dining room cabinet.

This weekend is mostly designated for fun, but I do want to take a few trips to the resale store and Powell's!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Another day off to clean (am I crazy or what?)

Yesterday the house looked like a tornado had hit it. I was planning to take another day off today to keep up my organizing and cleaning, but so far it's mostly been cleaning!

We got some new (hand-me-down) furniture this week, so we need to move some things around. Mike and I have been tremendously lucky to have received so much of our furniture secondhand! When we were getting married, my cousin's widow gave us all sorts of furniture when she decided to downscale. We've had my grandparents' bed and grandmother's dresser. We have bought furniture for the kiddos and office and family room furniture. But we have some dining room cabinets from my parents and a beautiful cabinet my sister's brother-in-law made. Now my sister and her husband have given us a dresser (that belonged to David's mother) and a beautiful buffet handcrafted by David's grandfather. More places to put things! Yay!

This is what I accomplished today:

  • Cleaned the kitchen (we're back to Day One on keeping the kitchen clean, because of a late-night concert last night)
  • Sorted through Kieran's art cabinet and discarded all dry felt pens and junk--it's now being moved up to the kids' room (and out of the living room)
  • Cleaned the dining room table (which had been piled high with art supplies and other crap)
  • Organized paperbackswap books and other items to post
  • Did various cleaning around the house
  • Got my hair cut (!)
  • Made dinner and cleaned up afterward
  • Found Kieran's valentines by searching the house high and low and no one else could find them
  • Gave the younger boys baths and put all three to bed

Drat! That's not very much, when I write it all down. But at least I have the weekend ahead of me! More to come...

Monday, February 8, 2010

More on what to do with unused medications and other unrecylable items

After disposing of our unused vitamins by melting, blending, and depositing them in a Ziplog bag with coffee grounds, today I happened across two additional articles on Slate.com about disposing of unwanted medication and items:

"Should you be flushing your old prescription drugs down the toilet?"


"What to do when you forget whether something can be recyled"

For those of us committed to do what we can to preserve the environment, these articles give some helpful tips about how to do the right thing.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Clearly, a cookbookaholic

Now last year when I organized the kitchen, somehow I neglected to purge all the cookbooks in the hall closet. I know that I reorganized the bottom half of the closet, which has pans, a rice cooker, and other cooking stuff, but I must have neglected to get to the cookbooks.

Either that or I just reorganized them and didn't get rid of any.

When I purged and reorganized the books in the study, I got rid of hordes of cookbooks--but that was not my main stash. The study only contained a handful of cookbooks until this afternoon.

The first thing I did was dump them all onto the hallway floor and organize them into categories:

The hall closet is also where we keep our hard liquor, and it was actually in front of a full shelf of cookbooks, so consequently we rarely used any on that shelf unless we needed a specific one.

I made piles for healthy cooking, newish, kids, vegetarian, Asian, and specialty cookbooks.

Pile left is the Asian, and pile right is the vegetarian (we are not vegetarian but like vegetarian cookbooks, clearly...).
I went through each and every one trying to decide which to keep. The newer, healthier cookbooks had an edge over the older ones. Also, many of the specialty cookbooks got designated for consignment or donation. It's so easy to find recipes on the internet nowadays--why do we need so many cookbooks? We had so many that we couldn't even see all of our cookbooks, so we tend to use the same ones over and over again.

If an older cookbook had one or two recipes that we used frequently, I put those aside so I could copy the recipes and get rid of it.

Number of cookbooks this morning: 127
To donate: 23
To take to Powell's and/or consignment: 42
To post on Paperbackswap.com: 14
Number of cookbooks we now own: 45 plus 3 Christmas ones

I successfully shed 62% of our cookbooks today!! I had Mike's enthusiastic support, although I was not allowed to touch his beloved Delia Smith collection...which cracks me up! Even the ancient one--he claims it ties him to his childhood, although I pointed out that I got rid of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and the Joy of Cooking! (I prefer the more modern versions, such as Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.)

When Mike's mum was visiting last Thanksgiving, we were joking that he should start his own "Mike and Delia" blog in the "Julie and Julia" vein!
I feel such a great sense of accomplishment! And now off to Powell's to get some great credit for all of our rejects!

After my afternoon of organization, this is what the hall cabinet looked like, with 45 cookbooks (still a lot, I know...):

Now let's hope we actually use these cookbooks on more of a regular basis, now that they are more accessible! (And look at all that empty space in the cupboard, too!)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

New technique to keep the kitchen clean

Tonight we finished cleaning the kitchen nook (which tends to attract piles of junk) and the kitchen counters (while we were watching two extra kids, I might add--but fortunately all five children were entertaining themselves quite well).

Knowing the motivation I feel by using Wii Fit Plus on a regular basis and realizing how nice it is to compete against my previous scores, I have designed a new challenge for us.

I've written on the memo board posted on the fridge:

Days kitchen has stayed clean: _____________

Mike is a competitive soul, who also likes a good challenge, so I think this will help both of us stay motivated.

The goal is to keep the kitchen nook table and kitchen counters cleared by the end of the day (and ideally, the sink cleaned out as well).

We'll see how effective it is!

Freezer cleaning for dummies...

Rule #1: After cleaning your freezer, do not forget to turn the freezer back on again.

Last night I went out for a drink with my long-lost cousin, and while I was gone Mike and the boys treated themselves to some ice cream.

The only problem: the ice cream was mush.

Our refrigerator went on the blink earlier this year, and it had something to do with an ice block forming in the back of the freezer, blocking the vent, causing the whole fridge to stop working.

So he cleaned out all the contents of the freezer, and he also noted that the refridgerator temp was rather high.

He could not figure out the source of the problem, and he was about to call me on my cell phone to ask me if I knew what could have happened, when he noticed that the freezer wasn't turned on.

Yes. Stupid me. Thankfully, the frozen foods kept the temperature low enough that no food was ruined. (I had taken out a package of chicken breasts earlier that night, and they were frozen.)

Fortunately, tragedy was averted. What an idiot I am.

How to Dispose of Old Vitamins and Medication

Yesterday I cleaned the top of the refrigerator and its surrounds (including washing the very dusty wall up high above the fridge), as well as pushing it out from the wall and vacuuming the dust bunnies and cleaning the floor underneath it.

I had gone through this exercise last January, and the fridge was completely clear and clean at the time. However, Mike tends to use the fridge top as a place to put things he wants out of sight of the children for one reason or another, or other things he just wants to put away. I found all sorts of junk up there!

Yet again, I went through all the various vitamins and medications that are stored up there (I tend to keep my medications and such in the bathroom, but Mike prefers the top of the fridge for accessibility). I found all sorts of vitamins and various things (echinacea and iron, for example) that had not been used and actually had expired. Knowing that I couldn't flush them down the toilet, I searched on the internet for a disposal solution and found one.

It advised me to put the unwanted vitamins in a glass of lukewarm water and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes until they dissolve. Given that I had several containers full, instead I put them in a bowl with warm water. However. They did not dissolve. So I finally put them all in the blender and ended up with a horrible-smelling, brown mush. I put the liquid in a Ziploc bag and added coffee grounds (cat litter is another option), sealed it, and put it in the garbage. The coffee grounds or cat litter are meant to deter animals from eating it.

I also disposed of some chocolate calcium chews I'd had up there for years, gathering dust.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Took this afternoon off to deep-clean my kitchen

I'm already behind on my One Year to an Organized Life, Part 2. I had intended to reorganize and clean the kitchen in January. Guess what? It's the first week of February!

Life has been so crazy lately, both at work and at home (and hello? three kids!), so this has not gotten done.

I decided I needed a mental health break from work and intended to take the whole day off, but forces conspired against me and I ended up working at home in the morning. Today I worked for about 4 or 5 hours on the kitchen. Tomorrow I'm hoping to work another 1/2 day and get more done.

Earlier this week I did get some purging and cleaning done in the kitchen. I cleaned two of our cabinets, which hold oils, sauces, spices and herbs, pasta, rice, and baking supplies. I junked a bunch of stuff, such as croutons (how did we end up with croutons?), some sauces with high-fructose corn syrup that have been in our cabinets for years, and some obscure herbs that we never use. I also took out some jams, chutneys, and sauces that rarely get used and moved them down to the basement to make room for more canned goods in the kitchen.

Today, I have:
  • Cleaned out and loaded the dishwasher (first things first!)
  • Cleaned out and reorganized the snack and cereal shelves (why do we still have any wheat-based snacks that the kids don't eat, if Mike and I avoid wheat?)
  • Moved the coffee up to the top shelf because it's not used very often, and the snacks to a lower shelf
  • Reorganized the mugs and the tea shelf--we continue to have an abundance of tea!!
  • Deep-cleaned the stove--inside, top, sides, burners, back, and underneath (including vacuuming and cleaning up the grunge on the floor under it)
  • Cleaned the microwave and toaster oven (including under the microwave cabinet)
  • Cleaned out the microwave cabinet and discovered the source of a seriously fishy smell we've had lingering around the house for several days! (a rotten potato!)
  • Cleaned and reorganized the freezer

That's enough for now! Tomorrow I'll get more done--and hopefully move on to another room!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Multitasker in Recovery

I received some feedback at my performance review that led me to a realization about myself. The combination of my "helper" personality and my tendency to multitask results in my habit of juggling several different tasks or projects at once. This applies to any given moment (having several windows and projects open on my computer at work) or point in time (starting projects at home and taking forever to finish them). Deadlines have always motivated me. However, much of what I do at work is developing and implementing strategic projects and initiatives, which often don't have deadlines.

A coworker told me that she has to finish a project once she starts it before she can move on to something else. Her husband is more like me, but she keeps this in check by reminding him he has to finish the project at hand first. Unfortunately, Mike and I are both starters more than finishers, so I don't have anyone to keep me in line! I do love the feeling of finishing a project, but I think I'm often too ambitious and scattered--I don't do a good enough job focusing one thing at a time, so it takes me longer to get things done.

(For example, I started a cookbook project to finish pasting a bunch of recipes into a 3-ring binder and index them. I finished the pasting before Christmas, but I still haven't finished the indexing. Also, we have been living in our house for 10 years, but we still haven't painted the dreaded pink walls in the hallway, or finished our bathroom project. Sigh. My best excuse is the fact that I have 3 kids and a full-time job. But I have to laugh when people tell me they admire my ability to read so much. They haven't seen my house. Reading is another one of my projects, and it is never ending!)

So one of my personal goals for 2010 is to narrow my focus (at home and at work). I need to prioritize a few top projects and FINISH those before taking on anything else. I also need to stop volunteering for so much. I've ordered Regina Leeds' book One Year to an Organized Life at Work in the hopes that I can apply the same principles at my workplace.

I truly believe that one of my greatest skills is my ability to multi-task. I am great at it. But I think it is hampering my ability to get projects finished, so I need to use it selectively. I just read an interesting e-newsletter that talks specifically about the problems presented by multitasking. (Try the New York Times game linked below at your own risk--I did horribly! But I also would never text in the car!!) The article really spoke to me, especially at this time of my life--I'm guilty of many of the things she mentions! I'm reprinting it here with the permission of the author, Daphne Gray-Grant*:

PW #207 - Are you frittering away your life by multitasking?

I work mostly from home and I'm the mother of triplets. In some ways, I think I'm a marvelous multitasker. Heck, I practically defined the term. When my kids were small, I could feed two babies, change the diaper on the third, talk on the phone and plan dinner, all at the same time. So please take me seriously when I say I know multitasking. But when it comes to writing, I think it's a bad idea.

In theory, multitasking sounds brave and competent. Truth be told, however, it's more accurate to describe multitasking as "being distracted." Scoff if you like, but I think writing is a bit like driving; it requires your full attention. To get a more visceral understanding of what this means, you might want to play a brief online game dreamed up by the New York Times.

Working from the principle that many people mistakenly think they're pretty good at multitasking while driving, the game sets out to measure your reaction time when distracted. How does it work? Well, it puts you behind the wheel of an imaginary car and asks you to change lanes -- repeatedly and quickly. Then, it sends you text messages, which you're expected to answer. (And if your answers have too many errors, you get a text message saying "Sorry, I can't understand you!")

After you've responded to three text messages, the game then sends you a score. Average reaction times show that most players are .24 seconds slower at changing lanes while texting and miss 8% more gates. (Confession: I did much worse than that!) Try it yourself!

So how does this principle apply to writing? I think there are five main ways in which writers try to multitask (and I suggest you avoid ALL of them while you're writing.)

1) Checking email. This is probably the most disruptive -- and compelling -- distraction of our day. According to a calculation by Merlin Mann on his website 43 folders, if you check your e-mail every 5 minutes, then you're checking it 12 times an hour. Multiply 12 times an hour by 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year (assuming you take two weeks of vacation and not counting your at-home email habits) and that means you are checking your email some 24,000 times each year. That's awesome -- in a bad way! As Mann asks: "What are you not working on during that time?"

2) Surfing the web. How often are you checking Facebook, Twitter, blogs or just generally surfing the web? Sure it's attractive (I adore Twitter for example), but I don't let it control my life. All computer related habits should be delegated to set times of the day. Start by trying to limit yourself to once an hour for each. From there, reduce even further to only once or twice a day. Or, possibly, use this "distraction" as a reward for when you finish your writing.

3) Talking on the phone. Here's a hard one. Not only can it be fun, it can also be essential for your job. If there's a call, you can't afford to miss, it takes nerves of steel to ignore a ringing phone. To solve this problem, try to schedule your writing as an appointment -- and then treat it like a meeting with your CEO. If necessary, leave your office and perch in a coffee shop or at a boardroom or library table.

4) Doing research while you write. Please, don't ever mix your writing with your research. These are two separate tasks and the research should always come first. That doesn't mean there won't be information gaps when you write but don't use them as an excuse to stop writing. Instead, insert a blank "marker" in your text -- like this ________ or this XXX -- and then research how to fill it/fix it later, when you're editing.

5) Eating. I see a lot of people eating lunch at their computers. This is a bad idea -- not just for you, but also for your computer. Crumbs and liquid can kill your keyboard. My daughter lost her laptop when she spilled a glass of orange juice over it. But it's also bad for you. When you've been working hard writing, you deserve a break. So, pat yourself on the back and go eat your lunch (or your snack) elsewhere. Multitasking. It's not just being an extra-hard worker. It's being a distracted one.

*A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to the Publication Coach.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Want an idea for all those Christmas cards you received?

I typically keep the card fronts so I can reuse them for gift tags in upcoming years. However. As a result, I have piles of old Christmas cards. As I approached the stack from this year, I knew that I could not keep them as well. So I did a search on the internet and found a great solution to my Christmas card dilemma:

They are accepting used, all-occasion (including Christmas) cards until February 28, 2010. Donations can be mailed to St. Jude's Ranch for Children, Recycled Card Program, 100 St. Jude's Street, Boulder City, NV, 89005.

St. Jude's Ranch for Children takes in abused, abandoned, and neglected children. The kids help volunteers make new cards by attaching a new back to the card, which they then sell to fund their work.

I was so inspired by this idea that I went and dug out all our old Christmas cards (that were in my Christmas boxes) to find more to send off! This is another example of something I've always kept (my mom taught me the trick) but I'm letting go of.

I e-mailed St. Jude's Ranch to verify they also want Christmas cards (the site says all-occasion cards), and they responded to say that they want card fronts with no writing on the back...so I guess I will weed through them and keep a few for gift tags and recycle the rest.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Healthier eating choices for the whole family

South Beach Progress

I've been on Phase One of the South Beach Diet for 8 days now, and it's going well. We bought a new digital scale to replace the analog one we've had since we got married (and doesn't seem very reliable), so I'm not exactly sure how many pounds I've lost...but they are melting away. I also feel much healthier.

I'm sure cutting out alcohol, sugar, and wheat is partially contributing to this feeling, although I am definitely counting the days until I can add grains and fruit back into my diet. Phase One (purposely strict to limit one's cravings) officially ends on Saturday, but I will end it one day early, since Friday night my sister and I will be helping my mom celebrate her birthday at Edgefield, and I want to be able to enjoy a glass of wine.

I did go out to lunch with friends twice this week, and I did fine. The first time was sushi, and I had miso soup, edamame, tofu, and sashimi. The second time I had a yummy roasted vegetable salad with grilled chicken on it--the dressing was honey mustard, which I realized later technically breaks the Phase One rule (no honey or sugar), but oh well. I have not missed bread, but I have missed rice and oatmeal.

I stocked up on tons of veggies, organic olive oil, jarred red peppers, and whole grains (organic brown rice, wild rice, and quinoa), in addition to Wii Fit Plus, at Costco this week. Last night I made Indian chicken (with coconut milk and cauliflower), spiced lentils, and garlic-sesame green beans. We had the leftovers tonight, and they were delicious.

Kids Get Healthy!

This week has focused heavily on food, because 3-year-old Nick has been horribly constipated, to the point of groaning and pain. He has a horrible diet--drinks tons of milk (regular and chocolate) and eats a lot of starch (toast, macaroni and cheese, rice, etc.) as well as string cheese and eggs. Very few veggies, and the only fruit he seems interested in at the moment are bananas (also not good for constipation). He's in that skeptical 3-year-old eating phase. Things he used to enjoy he turns his nose up at now. Fortunately, the constipation seems to have passed because we've cut way back on his milk intake, and we're feeding him popcorn (high in fiber) and other healthy foods.

We've decided that our entire family needs to eat healthier. As it is, we realize we our way healthier than most American families, but we still have lots of room for improvement. We typically eschew high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils, and most processed foods, but like any parents, we have our weak moments when we have given into our kids, or into convenience.

Mike and I have found ourselves being short-order cooks for the kids at times, even though we swore we would never do that! It's not all the time, but any time we make something we think the kids won't like as much we'll make macaroni and cheese, corn dogs, or spinach ravioli for them.

We've both been reading a lot about healthier eating (I'm reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan right now), and Mike read about a great idea to encourage healthy eating in kids: the "no thank you plate." Now the kids can put food on the plate that they do not want to eat. We've had some grumbling about the healthier choices we're putting in front of them (especially our efforts to limit snacks right before or after dinner), but overall I believe it's going well. They will get used to it!

Part of my kitchen revisit will include getting rid of anything that doesn't fit into these healthy eating guidelines, including a big barrel of Red Vines, which I allowed Kieran to buy with his allowance during a weak moment at Costco! They are stale anyway. Who can eat a big barrel of Red Vines before they go stale, anyway? Personally, I hate the things. Hope Kieran won't notice their absence.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Okay, Make that Two Years?

I failed to "organize my life" in 1 year, even though I did make tons of progress toward that goal. I plan to get back on track with following the book. I'm going to start all over again this year, revisiting the rooms I decluttered, organized, and cleaned last year--because they can use it again!

In the meantime, I will reclean the study after all the Christmas wrapping and cards are put away for good (it's Christmas at our house until after Epiphany) and take photos to show off our progress. Stay tuned!

I will also work on the family room in between revisiting the other rooms. It's the last big major room to tackle, and it's not helped by the fact that the shelf on which several photo albums were perched fell down today when 6-year-old Kieran reached up to get a spool of thread. Poor thing met me at the door in tears--he felt terrible! But one of my upcoming tasks is to go through old photos, weed some out, and organize the rest.

I have also expanded my life organizing to include organizing my health. After over-indulging during the holidays like so many other people, I decided to try the South Beach Diet. In recent months I've been noticing a spare tire around my middle, and I'm determined to get rid of it (or at least reduce its size!).

Although I've had some success at tracking calories in the past, I felt that this recent weight gain calls for more drastic measures! I'm also reading a bunch of books on healthy eating for inspiration. (That's the way I get inspired...I read.)

So far, Phase One of the South Beach (the hardest phase) has gone fine and has not been as hard as I expected. I started on Saturday. The hardest part has been giving up my beloved granola or oatmeal for breakfast. (During Phase One, you can't eat grains, fruit, sugar, or alcohol, among other things.) The first night I made a delicious dinner of chicken, garlic, fresh basil, red pepper, zucchini, mushrooms, and pesto. I used two pounds of chicken, so I had lots left over to take for lunch this week. I also went grocery shopping to stock up on vegetable juice, vegetables, unsalted mixed nuts, and soups. (I love the fact that I am actually encouraged to eat nuts every day--yum! that helps stave off hunger...)

Last night I cooked some chicken/turkey meatballs in a lime-ginger-tamari sauce (okay, so I cheated on the fruit a bit by using lime), served over a bed of spinach. Tonight my dear sweet husband made steelhead with tomatoes, garlic, onions, and capers (using a South Beach recipe he found online--isn't he a sweetheart??).

I've been eating plain yogurt, turkey bacon, and veggie juice for breakfast, and the yogurt is actually growing on me (forgive the pun). This morning I mixed some cinnamon, nuts, and stevia in the yogurt to sweeten it a bit.

The real test will be on Wednesday, when I'm meeting friends for sushi at the rotating sushi bar. I figure I can eat sashimi, edamame, and miso soup, right?

Beyond organizing my health and my house, my job is changing this year again, so I will add my job to things to organize. And so it continues...in a never-ending cycle.

So far, so good! 2010 will be a good year--I can feel it.