Monday, January 28, 2013

Use it or Lose It Week

Four plastic devices for microwaving eggs

Last year I created "Use it or Lose It" week in my house in order to de-clutter and really prioritize space in the house for items we actually use. I'm instituting this again for 2013. I'll go through my house a room or two at a time, looking for items I really don't use and can do without.

I've started in the kitchen, and the first things I will recycle are three of these microwave egg containers. You crack an egg into one, pour in a tiny bit of salt and pepper, perhaps some butter, stir with a fork, then microwave for 50 seconds. Sounds gross or like a cheap shortcut, but it works pretty well. Plus you end up with a much smaller container to clean out than if I used a frying pan. It turns out I use them less than once per week, and never needed to use four at a time. The plastic is fortunately recyclable, so I've just tossed three of these into the recycle bin. It only cleared up a tiny bit of space in one of my kitchen cupboards, but I'm just getting started!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Make meal plans for the week ahead; create your grocery list
  • Find two things to throw away (or donate, or recycle) right this instant. De-clutter!
  • Look over your calendar for this week. Any appointments you need to go to? Any birthdays you should send cards, gifts or make a telephone call to celebrate?
  • Enjoy one of your beautiful possessions today. Pour your morning cup of coffee or tea (or your evening cocktail) into a beautiful antique cup (I know you own one!) instead of just a mug. Serve your evening wine or cocktail in a gorgeous goblet, not just a plain wine glass.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Use it or Lose It

Torrance Magazine Basket, from Pier 1 Imports

Pick a room to de-clutter (your bedroom? Kitchen? living room?) Look over the objects there, including furniture, decorations, useful items, gadgets, and accessories. Touch each item and be truthful with yourself: do you use the item often? Is it useful, or beautiful?

If you find things you haven't used in the last month, definitely stop to decide whether it's worth keeping that item around. I have a chair I haven't sat on for a couple months in my living room, but I know it will come in handy next time I have a dinner party. I'll keep that, but I have a stack of magazines I haven't read since Christmas. Those need to be recycled.

The more items we own, the more stressful our lives in some ways. Items require care, cleaning, maintenance, and may have costs associated with owning them (in both time and money). Be sure the items you're spending your time on are useful, used often, or beautiful.

This week I challenge you to sort your kitchen (gadgets), DVDs/movies, bookshelves, garage, crafts room, attic/basement, linen closet and other places where unused goods seem to make permanent homes. Find new homes for your items by donating, recycling, or throwing away items not good enough to donate.

LOVELY BEVERAGES: Bingley's Teas

I hesitate to recommend these teas to you, since I haven't tasted any of them. I'm just getting a kick out of the fact they are Jane Austen inspired. There's a tea here called "Compassion for Mrs. Bennet's Nerves," (made with chamomile, as you might suspect) and one called "Marianne's Wild Abandon." "Longbourne Wedding Tea" has a champagne flavor, "Mr. Darcy" evokes leather, chestnut and plum. The packaging is elegant - the teas come in little book boxes. How fun!

http://www.bingleysteas.com/

LOVELY BLOGS: Premeditated Leftovers

I don't normally enjoy frugal advice websites. This one, however, I've found immensely useful. Practical and not at all preachy, it offers tips on living fully while spending less. There are a lot of useful cooking tips here, plus tips on frugal living (don't buy fitted sheets, for example) and gardening. As I'm trying to make food stretch to feed more people in my household lately, I'm sure I'll find this blog useful to check in on every week or so.

http://premeditatedleftovers.com/

LOVELY DESSERTS: Chocolate Jewels

These jewel-shaped chocolates are just gorgeous! I might not send them as a Valentine's Day gift, but I'd love to offer some at my next fairytale or pirate themed party. (I throw parties like that for grownups, not kids!)

Chocolate Jewels at Dean & Deluca

LOVELY SHOPS: Dolls and Daydreams

This Etsy shop sells PDF sewing patterns you can use to make a variety of absolutely adorable soft dolls and toys. I'm not sure my sewing skills are advanced enough to attempt this cute Snow White doll, and I'm scared this site would inspire me to go out and buy even more craft supplies that I will end up never using. Check out the cute Wizard of Oz doll patterns!

Dolls and Daydreams, on Etsy

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Buttermilk Cinnamon Chip Scones (Give Peas a Chance)

Cinnamon and Sugar Roasted Chickpeas (Adventures in My Kitchen)

Easy Cinnamon Puffs (The English Kitchen)

The Incredible, Edible, Perfectly Cooked Soft Boiled Egg (Eat Drink Better)

Magic Winter Squash and Bean Soup (Edible Living)

Maple Glazed Cinnamon Buns (Sasaki Time)

Raspberry Meringue Hearts with Chocolate Pudding (Flour Arrangements)

Ten Deliciously Edible Stadiums for the Super Bowl

WikiCells - Edible Food Membranes (Little Bits of Intrigue)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rainy Day in Wintertime

Le Creuset Soleil Whistling Teakettle, from Sur la Table

To make this rainy Sunday cozier, we've lit a fire in the fireplace, made a big pot of Earl Grey tea, and gathered in the living room to read our library books together in companionable silence. We're still continuing to shut the Internet off at 3pm every day, so I'm delighted to see we're both using this time to read, not rush to our computers and use the Internet as much as possible until the router shuts it off today.

Later this afternoon we'll reluctantly put our books aside to get our Sunday chores done: Laundry, vacuuming, homework for my teenager and eBay shipping for me.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Fridge and freezer maintenance - Clean one drawer, one shelf or two door shelves in your fridge and freezer.
  • Going into the workweek with clean sheets, towels and clothing?
  • Do you have leftovers in your fridge that need to be eaten up tonight or tossed out? Let's start next week with new fresh food, eating up leftover soups or meals in simple meals tonight at home.
  • Any end-of-the-month bills that need to be paid?
  • Take time to make an extra special breakfast or brunch today.
  • Can you carve some time tonight to write in your journal, sketch, read your book club book, take a hot bath or do something else that you enjoy, just for you?

LOVELY BEVERAGES: Twinings' K-Cups

I don't have a Keurig coffee maker in my home (I make my tea a rather barbaric, careless way involving slinging water into a mug and microwaving it). But I often see them in the offices I borrow for work, vacation homes I rent, and the car dealership I wait for services at. I've never been too interested since I'm a tea drinker and the machines seem to always be stocked with just coffee K-cups. So I'm delighted to see my favorite brand of tea, Twinings has created several varieties of K-cups with their teas. I might pick up a package and keep one of the tiny cups in my purses for a Keurig emergency!

http://www.twiningsusashop.com/keurig.html

LOVELY BLOGS: Living on Literary Lane

"Books, me, and a spot o' tea." Elizabeth Rose is a young writer who lives in the South. She's been home schooled for her whole life. I'm thoroughly enjoying her blog. She usually includes a Poem of the Week (currently an Emily Dickinson); she's posted about the importance of rising early; she's enjoying re-reading favorite books; and I think you'll enjoy her post on Filling the Unforgiving Minute.

http://lizzyslovelylibrary.blogspot.com/

LOVELY GIFTS: Sucre

I just found this New Orleans-based shop and I'm enjoying browsing their Valentine's chocolates, macarons, chocolate truffles and Mardi Gras King Cakes. I haven't tried any of their chocolates yet (obviously as I just found the link today!) but I'm definitely considering shipping a few lovely gifts from here to my single girl friends who might not get any chocolates on Valentine's Day!

http://www.shopsucre.com/

LOVELY MOVIES: The Decoy Bride

I'd never heard of this movie before, until I stumbled onto it while browsing the free streaming movies from Amazon. I really enjoyed watching it late last night, when I was sadly home dateless on a Saturday night. It's really fun and cute, especially if you have a slight crush on David Tennant like I do. If you have an Amazon Prime account it's free to watch.

The Decoy Bride, on Amazon Instant Video

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Apple Carrot Salad with Grapefruit and Whipped Coconut Cream (Haniela's)

Chalkboard Art (The Polished Pebble)

Creamy Buttermilk Herb Potato Salad (Worth the Whisk)

Creative Robot Cookies (Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle)

Edible Napkin Rings (Dukes and Duchesses)

French Madeleines (The Baker Chick)

Winter Wind (The Elegant Chateau)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Lovely Life with Less Internet

Last week, for the first time ever, I had to ground my foster teenager. Her grades are slipping rapidly, and on Sunday night at 9:30 pm her three simple weekend chores and her homework had not yet been completed. Yet she had plenty of time to goof around on the Internet all weekend.

Her punishment was losing access to her favorite website (Tumblr) for a week, and from now on the Internet will be shut off at our house from 3pm onwards. She has about 45 minutes of Internet access a day now, more than enough to fetch or turn in her assignments. She doesn't really seem to need the Internet to do her homework, but I can turn it back on at will if she does need it. I prefer not to do things this way - she should develop good work and study habits without an external force (me) taking the distractions away from her, but this is what we're going to have to try for now.

I spent about an hour the other day figuring out how to block the Internet in our router so it automatically turns off at the right time every day. That way I don't have to mess with turning it on and off every day around 3. I do trust her to not use the Internet if she knows she's been told not to, and I don't want or need to mess with hiding the router every day. I just thought this was the easiest solution.

I decided to participate in the grounding and have my own computers lose access to the Internet every day at 3pm too! So far this has made her feel guilty that her actions have caused me to lose the Internet too (laugh!)

I'm not sure how this is going to work because I work for myself, work for a family business, work for an author and sell on eBay. To accomplish all these things, I use the Internet all day and all night long (when I'm not out running errands or socializing). I am not sure I can get all my work done in the nine hours between 6am when she leaves and 3pm when the Net goes off.

So far, I found that I get so much more done now that I'm forced to prioritize my work time during the day, and then find other ways to do projects or entertain myself in the evening with no Internet. Here's some things I've done in the first four days of my experiment:

  • Read four books in two days! My return-to-the-library pile of books by the front door has grown!
  • Watched a couple more television shows than I normally do, out of boredom and being too tired to clean. I actually focused on the shows, not being able to grab the computer to research something or look something else up while I was watching.
  • Sorted a pile of old family video tapes and video camera tapes and did research on how to convert them so we can watch them again and archive them.
  • Cooked more, making soup and mashed potatoes from scratch and baking bread, making a potato salad and a couple other things I wouldn't have made time for during the workweek.
  • Did less housework during the day (which I normally do to stall my other work!) but more at night
  • Phoned relatives more than I would have. With six hours between the Internet going off and bedtime, I had plenty of time to chat with my grandfather, a great aunt and uncle, and a cousin.
  • Sorted through a stack of photos, archived some and mailed some off to family members
  • Caught up with my pile of mail, catalogs and magazines.

I really enjoyed this experiment and think I will continue it as long as I can. I did find I got a bit twitchy wondering what was going on in my email and on Facebook every evening when I couldn't get on to check. I did just get a huge pile of new work, so I might have to give myself a couple hours per evening of Internet access. I bet I'll focus better and spend less time multitasking and playing games on Facebook while I work!

For now, I'm really enjoying having six hours a night I wouldn't have had otherwise, to clean, do projects, cook and read!.

Have you ever experimented with forcibly turning your Internet off in order to help yourself and your family focus, spend more time doing other things, or prioritize? How did it work for you?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Out With The Old, In With The New

I actually regret making "Out with the old, In with the new" the title of this post. It smacks of America's habit of devaluing old people and prioritizing youthfulness; I'd rather we act more like Asian cultures and respect our elders immensely. "Out with the old" summarizes what I'll be working towards in the next couple months, as I clean and sort my packratty garage and closets. "In with the new" doesn't really apply to me as I'm trying to not shop, budget better, and buy less things. And all year long I try to eat healthy, exercise, etcetera so there isn't anything "new" about my redoubled efforts, post-holiday gluttony, to do these things. So.. onwards to 2013.

Let's strive to have a fabulous 2013! That said, I don't want to always put pressure on myself to "top" last year or put myself in a position where I feel depressed in case this year doesn't turn out as fabulous as the year before. Mostly I think I'm striving for change, improvement, and inviting new things and new people into my life.

May our year ahead be full of good health, quality time with family, fun times with friends, quiet down time at home, travel, trying new things, tasty healthy food, happy pets, new learning experiences, vacations, volunteering, taking advantage of opportunities, crafting, cooking, cozy homes, good books, beautiful music, enjoyable films, and many fun parties and gatherings.

I don't want to just live my life. I want to live a lovely life!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Pay bills, mortgage, rent, etc.
  • Look over your calendar for this month. Do you need to make any dentist, doctor, or veterinarian appointments for you, your family members and pets? Any upcoming birthdays or anniversaries you need to plan parties for, send cards or gifts, or order flowers for?
  • Do you need to make any hair care appointments for yourself or family members? If you color your hair, do you have roots showing? Does your hair need a trim, if you didn't have time for one before the holidays?
  • Do your carpets need cleaning after the holidays and busy entertaining season?
  • If you make New Year's Resolutions, make time to think about them, review goals, and begin doing them. Write them down (or post them in your personal blog) so you can review them throughout the year.
  • Buy fresh fruit next time you are at the grocery store (Apples? pears? bananas? melons? oranges?). Slice and serve the fruit to yourself, your family and any housemates before the week is over.
  • Need to update the copyright notices on your webpages or blogs to 2013?
  • Need to upload any pics from your New Year's to Facebook or your blog?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Calendar Updating and Putting Away Christmas Decorations

Alphonse Mucha 2013 Wall Calendar, on Amazon

Today I'm copying over birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates from my old 2012 calendars into my new 2013 ones. Besides noting that it's someone's birthday, I try to add what age they'll turn on that day, whenever possible.

I keep a paper wall calendar in my kitchen, one in my office, and then use the calendar on my smartphone.

Just writing down the birthdays isn't enough. I need to make a conscious effort to check my calendars each month and each week for upcoming birthdays and events. I often forget to just plain look at the week ahead on my calendar. I'm hoping remembering to do this will mean I'll have plenty of time to order flowers, send a gift, send a card, or schedule in some time to make a congratulatory telephone call.

Jubilee Ornament Storage Chests, from The Container Store

Today I'll take down my Christmas decorations. I'll leave up some festive red berry-themed decor and my white church-shaped LED candle I leave on the mantel. I want to remove everything Christmasy but leave some wintry decor. I'll probably leave my outdoor Christmas lights up for a few more nights though - I love to see them when I pull up in the driveway upon returning in the evenings.

Besides taking down my tree (and setting it out on the curb for the local Boy Scouts to remove it) and putting ornaments away, I need to take down garlands, put away my faux poinsettias, clean out candleholders and replace my red candles with white ones. I'll keep out the mini tiny Christmas trees I set on several tables and side tables for decor, but I'll rearrange them and put them in a few different rooms.

I expect this project to take a couple of hours, which leaves me plenty of time to go visiting friends and family today.

WHAT'S AHEAD FOR LOVELY LIVING:

  • "Try Something New Week" challenges me every year to be more exploratory, more open minded, step away from my usual activities, foods and routines, and be more adventurous.
  • Every year I try to accomplish something during "Create Something Day." I'm tired of being just a consumer. I want to also be a creator.
  • Along those lines, I make time for enjoyable winter crafting projects. I don't do too many - I know the risks that crafts will lead to just more hoarding and shopping, and creating crafts to gift to people just makes more clutter in their homes too.
  • This month I'm trying to accomplish "A Book a Day" in January. I have a huge pile of work-related books I really need to read, learn from, and then donate, recycle or resell on eBay. I need the knowledge the books contain, but it will also be nice to clear off my overstuffed bookshelves. I read fast, and learn a lot when I take notes, so I do think I can read a book almost every single day this month if I really prioritize. I think I'll have better success if I make reading the book a priority every morning, not leaving it for night when I'm tempted to watch TV or go to bed instead.
  • I'm also repeating a project from last year, "Use it or Lose It" this January. I'll be de-cluttering and getting rid of things I don't actually use: craft supplies, clothing I don't wear, dishes I don't use, cookbooks I haven't made a recipe out of, cooking gadgets I don't use, and food I'm not going to eat or cook with.
  • I don't normally make official New Year's resolutions. But as always, I'm trying to spend less money, eat healthier, watch less TV, drink less alcohol, eat less food that comes in packages or boxes, spend more time with family, be a better foster mother, and exercise more.

LOVELY BLOGS: Kitchen Historic

"A curated selection of receipts of yore, from the humble kitchen of a Canadian lady." This blogger is already busily posting away into the New Year, with her New Year's Day Menu from 1887. I'm really enjoying her posts, where she recreates recipes from archived menus and cooks old-fashioned foods. She modernizes some recipes, which I find helpful, and tags her posts by historic decade so you can easily find recipes from the periods in history you're most interested in. Check out Vanilla Ice Cream with Marshmallows (1931) and Aunt Jemima Party Pancakes (1956).

http://kitchenhistoric.blogspot.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Eat Healthy, Get Fit and Lose Weight in the New Year (Epicurious)

His & Hers Cocktails (Bake at 350)

I Read a Book a Day for a Year, and You Can Too (Slate)

Napa Cabbage and Udon Miso Soup (CHOW)

Recipes to Relieve a Hangover (CHOW)