Saturday, January 29, 2011

Words of wisdom from my mother-in-law

After reading my recent post, she sent me this helpful list of shelf life for herbs and spices:

Spices, ground: 2-3 years
Spices,whole: 3-4 years
Seasoning blends: 1-2 years
Herbs: l-3 years
Extracts:  4 years (except vanilla, which lasts indefinitely)

Good to know! She also informed me that dried-up prunes can be soaked in boiling water overnight... "they swell up and you can make a compote from them. Good at breakfast with yogurt. However it is probably late as I note that you have thrown them out..."

Yes indeed, I do not plan on fishing through the garbage for them! Oh well--next time I will try the soaking-overnight method for dried-up fruits.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The skeletons in my cupboard (expiration dates and rancid nuts)

Last night I purged and reorganized our microwave cabinet, the spice/canned goods/oil and vinegar cupboard, and the dishes cupboard.

I found a Costco-sized bag of raw almonds hidden away behind other stuff, rancid. When will we learn? Almonds seem to go rancid easily. What a waste of money!

I also got rid of some kind of Trader Joe's sauce (pecadillo?) that had an expiration date of 2005!!! How did I miss that last year? (Guess I didn't look at the date and still thought I would use it.)

I also found some kind of Indian marinade without a date on it, but I know we've had it in the cupboard for years. Out it went. I don't think it would have harmed us if we had used it (my oldest son is very concerned about expiration dates, though!), but it was time to go. We tend to keep our herbs and spices past their best times...and I know they lose their potency, but I don't think they do us any harm. I'm too thrifty to throw everything away.

I have a bag of culinary lavendar I bought a few years ago at the Farmer's Market. I used it once to make raspberry-lavendar muffins, but they were disappointing. Wondering what I will do with this lavendar or if I should dispose of it.

Maybe I will really get my kitchen organized in January after all!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's lurking in the cupboards...

I still haven't completely given up on my focus on the kitchen in January. It's still January, right?

Last night I tackled one of the kitchen cupboards. I didn't take before-and-after photos because I thought I had done that last year...but it appears that I didn't. :) Oh well. It was the cupboard containing baking staples, rice and pasta, Japanese foodstuffs, lentils, dried fruits and nuts, etc.

Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Pancake Mix, 22-Ounce Packages (Pack of 4)I found FOUR unopened packages of this: Bob's Red Mill gluten-free pancake mix. I combined them all into a ziploc bag and will store it in the freezer. Just goes to show what gets hidden in jumbled cupboards. I got rid of a variety of other items too--prunes that were too dried out to be edible, wild rice that had never been eaten, root beer extract that we've had for years and have never used, etc.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

One simple work organizing task, used with great success so far

Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less TimeI'm reading an unfortunately named book this week, Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy.

Three of the simple principles of Tracy's I've put in place this week, two days in a row so far:
  • I'm starting out each day by making a list. It's simple--in MS Word, with four columns: priority, task, due date, and status. The next day I dupe and revise the same list (and delete what I've accomplished the previous day).
  • I am prioritizing the items A, B, C, D, or E. Tracy recommends that you not do ANY "B" items until you accomplish all of your "A" items. This is based on the principle that you must do the important things first (hence the title and unfortunate image about eating the frog). Obviously, as the days pass, some of the B items will move up to become A items. (By the way, "D" stands for delegate, and "E" stands for eliminate.)
  • When I have another task to accomplish, I add it to the list. He recommends not doing anything that is not on your list. Clearly, I've got to use some judgment. I wouldn't get much done if I had to write down every little e-mail before I responded to it.
So far, these techniques are helping me stay on task. I've always been a list lover...but I do have a tendency to get distracted from my goals, so this is helping me stay focused.

I have to confess that writing this blog post was NOT on my list. It was a 5-minute distraction. So back on focus!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I'm certainly not giving up my comforter!

Take a gander at this completely ridiculous article in the Wall Street Journal, no less.

The author, Sara Ruffin Costello, proposes that we all throw out our comforters and replace them with blankets.

HELLO? It's the bleak midwinter in most of the country! Where does Costello live? Even Florida is experiencing record-low temps right now.

As Costello writes, "Many aesthetes have been reconsidering the down comforter, some banishing it altogether." A set of sheets and a "coverlet" (such a snob...) just do not do it during the cold weather.

And I've never had a smelly comforter. Makes me wonder what on earth she has done to hers.

Her last words are that "Housekeeper or not, I shan't be revisiting my ex, Duvet, unless I find myself in a house without heat." Ironically, the link to the article right below this one is titled "See Energy Steps to Take for a Less Pricey Winter." How about using a fluffy, warm comforter instead of a thin blanket?

P.S. Just took a peek on Google for the author. Apparently she and her hubby put their VERY STYLISH west village townhouse on the market earlier this year for $13 million. Now, does this look like a warm, cozy, inviting bed? I think not.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Never empty a dirty dishwasher (or load a clean one) again!

Do you ever empty the dishwasher when it is dirty or load clean dishes into a dirty dishwasher? I'm notorious for it! We have a very small dishwasher, and we rinse our dishes pretty thoroughly before we load them in.

I absolutely LOVE this tip found at and have already passed it along to Mike. I'm hoping he can remember to apply it!! It is so simple, you'll wonder why you didn't think of it yourself:
When you empty the dishwasher, refill the detergent cup. If you open the dishwasher and see soap, you'll know the dishes are dirty. If there is no soap, they are clean.

20 iPhone apps to help you get organized!

I joined the iPhone revolution last summer after some initial skepticism. What made me take the plunge was that my company changed its cell phone policy and began requiring employees to take on their own cell phone accounts. (Previously I had a BlackBerry.) In addition, I wanted to have a way to combine my iPod with my cell phone, plus have enough memory to keep all my music on one device. (I couldn't do this before with my iPod Nano.) When the iPhone 4s came out, the prices for 3GS phones began to come down. Now I have a 16-GB iPhone 3GS.

How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great FoodBecause I'm so cheap, I haven't purchased many iPhone apps--I tend to go for the free ones. About the only ones I've bought have been BlogPress and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I'm using a free iPhone app to record what I eat--it's called "Lose It!"

So I'm always on the lookout for great free apps that will help me become more organized. Working Mother magazine has just released its "20 Best iPhone Apps," many of which I've uploaded. CardStar lets you store loyalty and library cards in one place, and Tango Card keeps track of your various gift card balances (and reminds you to use them)!

The one I think I'm most excited about the app that allows you to take photos of your sales receipts, Shoeboxed. I can't stand the amount of paperwork we seem to collect in our house, so this could go a long way toward eliminating that.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Making effective new year's resolutions

Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin provides some excellent pointers on how to make effective new year's resolutions on her blog.

I like the way she thinks. She suggests that we think about what would make us happier. Fortunately, the resolutions I've already made (record what I eat and spend, paint my bathroom and other rooms in my house, write more personal notes and birthday cards, try to be more patient and loving with my family) all would make me much happier. And ultimately, getting my life organized both at home and at work--and living more intentionally at all times--would definitely make me happier!

One Year to an Organized Work Life, Week One: Chart the Course

One Year to an Organized Work Life: From Your Desk to Your Deadlines, the Week-by-Week Guide to Eliminating Office Stress for GoodI bought One Year to an Organized Work Life last year but just cracked it open today. I'm gung ho again to get my life organized, and as I have some different and new responsibilities at work, it's a good time to begin this book in conjunction with the original One Year to an Organized Life book.

In Regina Leeds' introduction to January, she gives us two habits for the month:

Work Habit of the Month: Leave Your Desk. This is an EXCELLENT place for me to start. I'm very guilty of working through my lunch, and my back often suffers as a result. I need to leave the office every day, either to go to the gym or to take a walk. Or even just to walk up and down seven flights of stairs (I work on the seventh floor). I think I will start today by walking downtown on my lunch hour.

Home Habit of the Month: Make Your Bed. Check. Already doing this every day. Yay!

In Week One, Leeds talks about how easy it is to find yourself flying on auto pilot, without charting a course for your day. Again, this is me. I'm hoping that the changes in my job responsibilities will supercharge my energy, organization, and motivation to get myself off of autopilot and be more intentional in how I work each day.

She poses some questions for us to ponder, such as the following:

Where am I now? I am extremely lucky to have the job I do. I get to use my English degree, and I get paid to write, edit, and communicate. I didn't intentionally set out this goal (to work as a writer/editor in an engineering/project delivery firm), but I'm happy to be here. I've been at my company for 20 years now and it's a great place for me. I love my coworkers, and I'm never bored.

How did I get here? I taught English in Japan for three years after graduating with a B.A. in English Lit. After I returned from Japan, I started temping while I was looking for a job in international relations. I was hired as a temporary receptionist/admin. assistant, and I then discovered that my company had an editing department. That's how I got my start. I fell into it, just as I fell into leadership and management three and six years later. Overall, I feel fulfilled and challenged in my work.

What do I love? I love what I do, most of the time. I love taking on projects and doing my best. I love finding ways to help people do their jobs better or more efficiently. I love mentoring people and helping them reach their goals. I love helping others communicate effectively.

I often tell my coworkers and direct reports that they need to examine their current work situation on a regular basis and ask whether they are happy in their job more than 50 percent of the time. Being happy in one's job 100 percent of the time is unrealistic. Most people will have days or projects that are not that exciting or fulfilling. The most important thing is to be happy as much of the time as possible. I've always told people that if that's not happening, they need to get out.

Leeds then advises us to make a list of our passions and think about how to incorporate these into our work lives.

My passions (related to work):
  • Expressing my creativity
  • Helping people reach their full potential
  • Communicating, or helping others communicate effectively
  • Streamlining processes or ways to get work done (again, helping people)
  • Doing my best work
One concrete way I can think of to incorporate these into my work life is to get off of autopilot and be more intentional each day (and not get distracted too much by non-work things). Another is to review each of these at the beginning and end of each week to see if I've been successful.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Reflections on the year (from Regina Leeds)

Questions from my organizing heroine Regina Leeds' first post of the year on her One Year to an Organized Life blog:

Did you do anything different this year that yielded great results? Make a note so you remember next year!

I decluttered throughout the year. I will continue this in 2011, in an attempt to keep on top of the clutter, but I will also try to go back to the book and be more methodical about it.
In the same vein, were there things you realized after the fact could have been done with greater skill, joy and dispatch? Record those notes as well. No point making the same mistakes next year and asking yourself: "Why didn't I remember that ...?"

As mentioned above, I'd like to get back to being more disciplined and methodical in my decluttering and organizing, as I was when I started this blog.

Are you 'done' with some aspects of the holiday? For example would you like to see another family member host the big holiday meal? I'd wait a few weeks and then have a conversation with key family members about how the holiday can be different next year. Make a note on your new calendar to make those calls. Without a reminder, it will go by the wayside like most good intentions.

Nothing really comes to mind. I don't feel particularly overburdened during the holidays. We did have to holiday gatherings, but both of them were our choice and I enjoyed myself immensely, even though the preparation was a lot of work.

The other thing I'd like to do in 2011 is make more of my own gifts. This doesn't work very well for small children, who often want the latest and greatest toys, but it's a wonderful option for adults. I made a few gifts this year, but I'm always wanting to do more because I really enjoy making gifts...and so many people appreciate them.

Finally, was there something in your home that wasn't organized and caused you problems? Were the holiday boxes falling apart? Or were they stored in such a way that you had difficulty reaching them? it's the little, petty annoyances that can rob you of the potential joy in any experience. Tend to those details now. Do it as a present to yourself. Next year you will be so grateful!

My organization annoyances are not really concentrated on one room or in one area. I will feel more rested and satisfied when more of my house is organized in general. Another factor is finding a better way to get my 4-year-old to pick up his toys after he plays with them. We are not very disciplined about that...and it seems that whenever we clean up the living room, it soon becomes cluttered again!

Making and breaking resolutions

Day 2 of 2011, and I thought I'd already broken one of my resolutions, but upon further reflection, I guess I didn't. I've found a way to help meet another resolution, and I've added one more!

How I nearly broke one: my visiting mother-in-law offered to take us all out to dinner to our favorite Chinese restaurant, Shanghai Noble House. We've been going there since Chris was a baby, and it's truly like "Cheers," where everybody knows our name. We hadn't been there for a long time (because we are trying to eat healthier), but it was like old home week. They brought us extra crab meat rangoons, free soup, and free almond cookies. Talk about a warm welcome. The food is not the is the case with the yummiest Chinese food. I can't resist the General Tso's Chicken or the Honey Prawns, although we also ordered some seafood and vegetable dishes and Moo Shoo Chicken, which comes with lettuce wraps (a bit healthier!). I was feeling guilty about eating Chinese food on Day 2 of trying to eat healthier, when I realized that my resolution was not to eat healthier, but to write down what I ate. As a result, I did not order beer with my meal...and I was more careful about portions. It still wasn't a particularly healthy meal, but I'll get back on track tomorrow. (And I'm NOT going to taste the almond cookies!)

How I found a way to help with one: I registered on the online financial site,, which synchronizes with your credit cards, investments, and checking account. I also have an iPhone app for it. So once I get the hang of the site, it will help me TREMENDOUSLY in tracking our spending...since we use credit cards or checks for most of what we spend. We also need to be more religious in giving the kids their allowance in cash rather than IOUs...hear that, honey?

How I decided to add a new one: I did not have my best parenting moment today. I lost my cool at the mall, when I should have counted to 10 (or 100) and considered how I would react to a parenting challenge. In the heat of the moment, I sometimes forget the impact my words or tone have on my kids. Chris made a mistake today, but so did I. I apologized and told him that I would try really hard not to overreact in the future. So one more resolution. I think I'd better post these in a few prominent places to remind myself! This one is probably even more important than painting the bathroom. :)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New year, new goals

My husband noted yesterday that his blog roll on his blog changes order, depending on which blog has been updated most frequently. My other blogs, Every Day Is a Miracle and Marie's Book Garden, are often at the top of the list, but One Year to an Organized Life is always at the bottom. Touche. It seems I haven't been very organized lately.

In fact, we madly cleaned the house for my mother-in-law's extended visit over the holidays, and we've cleaned it again a couple of times for some holiday gatherings. (Even though cleaning can be a pain in the neck, entertaining is one fine incentive to get your house cleaned!) The study is in passable shape, but it still hasn't been completely marked "organized" so I haven't posted photos yet.

Here are my plans for 2011--I know I made some similar goals at the beginning of 2010, but you can't fault me for trying!

1. Finish renovating our bathroom. It still looks like we're in the middle of painting--because we hired painters and they did a shoddy job, so we have begun prep work to do it over but haven't finished--for 4 years. Yes, isn't that scandalous? I'm airing all my dirty laundry now. The tiles have never been properly sealed, we need a new bathroom vanity, and the trim hasn't been painted (even for the first time). This is the top priority for my life in 2011.

And shortly after that, paint the remaining pink walls in this house. I despise pastel pink, and these walls are not even pastel any more. They are more of a dirty pink because of the kids. Our house would look so much nicer if we were to paint a number of the rooms, including the ones we've already painted but years ago. In order: bathroom, downstairs hallway, upstairs hallway, upstairs bathroom. Then tackle the kitchen. I'll be lucky if I get half of those accomplished, at the speed I go!

2. Write down everything I eat and spend. I've finished January 1 by tracking my food on "Lose It" (an iPhone app) but am off to a bad start at the spending. I ran to Fred Meyer to buy some fish and other groceries before dinner, and after going through the self-serve checkout, I neglected to grab my receipt. I will have to pull it off our credit card bill and backtrack. The ultimate goal, of course, is to be more deliberate about how we are spending our money and save more. And of course, eat less and more healthily.

3. Write more personal notes and birthday cards. As a child, I collected stationery and wrote a lot of letters. In the days of e-mail, people rarely send snail mail any more, but I know how much it is appreciated. So this is one of my goals, although not as high of a priority as #2 and #3.

How will I do? Wait and see. And maybe, while I'm at it, I'll actually start One Year to An Organized Life all over again! At least, three years in, it won't be as bad as the first time around. Haha!