My friend Amy recently sent me this link – the summary of Charles Darwin’s typical daily schedule. According to Darwin’s son, Francis, he rarely changed this routine, even when guests were visiting.

I’m not suggesting I could in any way maintain such a rigid, unchanging schedule, but a few things struck me as I thought about this over these last extremely busy weeks in the Zug Haus.

A time for everything. Darwin set aside time to “read his letters,” to work in his study, and to walk. There was also a huge chunk of time in the middle of the day for resting and spending time with his family. After lunch he “answered his letters.”

I am incredibly undisciplined in setting aside time for specific tasks, and feel overwhelmed most of the day because my mind is divided between many priorities. Darwin sat down to “read his letters,” then came back to “answer his letters” another time. I read my email all day long, and half the time I never respond because I’m reading the email while involved with another task and I just forget. I like the idea of setting aside time just for reading and responding to correspondence, and closing gmail for the rest of the day.

My face twitched a little just thinking about it. I think the mental withdrawal will be excruciating, but that only confirms it needs to be done.

Know your best time to focus. According to Darwin’s son, 8-9:30 was his best time for focused work. I’m still trying to figure this one out for myself, as it seems my best time for focused work is whenever the spirit moves me. If I’m not feeling inspired to do something, it’s maddening to force myself to do it. And yes, I often feel inspired to clean, or do laundry, so it’s not like my inspiration is biased to all the fun things.

Exercise. I know it’s been a theme at This Pile lately, the lack of exercise I’m engaging in. But seriously, it keeps coming up. In his schedule, Darwin walked, then worked, then walked, ate lunch, answered letters, and rested; then worked, then walked again. His son indicated the distance of his walk “depended on his health,” which implies he walked even if he didn’t feel that great

Sometimes I wonder if I take my exercising (or lack thereof) too seriously. Granted, I have a gym membership so I shouldn’t waste that money, but what if I was a little less intense about the purpose of my exercise? Walking is good. I moves and stretches my muscles, it clears the mind, and if done outside it provides fresh air. Maybe I need to set aside goals of losing weight or running a 5K and just focus on working hard, then taking a walk.

Over the Christmas break I implemented one of these things. I sent my over 500 emails to an archived folder, which left just the ten emails needing immediate action in my inbox. My goal is to respond to emails once a day before archiving them, keeping my inbox to just one page. So far this is working, and I only have 20 emails needing attention – most of which just came in this morning. Hopefully those of you who normally get frustrated with me for not answering emails have noticed I’m actually responding to you!

For a great “map” of an effective work flow, Trisha posted one from the Getting Things Done model.

What is your trusted system of getting things done?

Balancing Act

I got up at 5am this morning to get a few bookkeeping things done before leaving for the day. Bryan and I chatted while I worked, I sipped my coffee, and I was fully in a good mood by the time Ruthie woke up at 7am. And now as I get ready to leave, not only are my bookkeeping tasks done, but the kitchen is clean, the dishwasher is running, and meat is thawing for dinner tonight.

This is the most productive I’ve been in weeks, accomplishing more tasks in two hours than I have any other day. I usually try to get these things done while Thomas naps in the afternoon, but by then I’ve completely lost focus. I’m tired, my brain is fried, and I have too many thoughts milling about in my head to focus on spreadsheets.

I can see why some people go into the office early to get things done before anyone else arrives – the mind is fresh, there’s less chatter to distract, and there’s just something about the dark quiet of the early morning that allows for hunkering down.

I’ve been thinking through my productivity level lately, dissatisfied with what I’m able to accomplish. Ruthie’s school schedule has provided the good bones I need for a schedule, but I still feel lost and distracted during certain times of the day.

I think it’s time to iterate.

The gals who run the daycare at my gym work a split shift, first in the morning, and then in the evening. This got me thinking of trying the same thing – that maybe on the days I have computer tasks to accomplish, I wake up at an insane hour that only God and Bryan love. Errands and laundry and household projects can be done later in the morning, and planning and organizing can be done later in the evening when I get my second wind.

This leaves the afternoon lull for writing, or reading, or napping, or some other activity that refreshes me for the rest of the day. Because really, I need to be on my game when Ruthie comes home. She’s a chatterbox and full of energy and needs to interact with me. If I push myself through the entire day without taking a break to recharge my Introvert Battery, the last thing I want to do at 3:30 is see my own children.

How sad is that?

Also, I think this embraces and accommodates What Is instead of trying to change myself to fit into a particular box, only to continually feel like a failure – referring again to this article about working with known behavior rather than trying to change it.

Am I the only person who obsesses about Getting Things Done? Am I the only one who struggles with productivity? I feel like I teeter constantly on the fence between total obsession and compete laziness, usually falling to one side or the other, but rarely walking the middle line successfully.

I hope this new plan allows for greater productivity while giving me opportunities to rest and recharge without guilt.

Today I will focus… or maybe not.

Today I will focus

During (self-inflicted) chaotic times I often wake up in the morning and will myself into getting my shit together. I declare, Today is the Day I Will Focus! I make lists, I have good intentions, I am motivated…

And then I get out of bed.

I’m like a cat distracted by a fly. I walk into the kitchen to empty the dishwasher, but instead end up doing three other things THAT ARE NOT EMPTYING THE DISHWASHER, just as an example. It’s worse when it comes to keeping the books because we do our bookkeeping with Quicken, which is on the computer, which is dangerously close to the Internet, which is the evil birth place of time-suckers, Twitter and Google Reader.

July flew past me, and I’m not sure I even noticed much of it. I missed opportunities to relax and be with friends, my kids missed out on fun activities, I wasn’t able to help people who needed me – all because I’ve been “busy.” I’ve missed living my life In Balance.

Last week I recalled the last time I wrote about this busyness, which led me to this great post by a friend on Frantic Busy vs. Smart Busy. In rereading her post, I realized this is how I’ve been living:

This kind of busy is the gal that is out of breath because she is running in circles, like a dog chasing its own tail. This busy gal is not ever getting time to rest or to enjoy those she loves or she does do those things and lets everything else fall apart around her. She isn’t really busy at all, she creates chaos by not managing/stewarding well, then has to urgently respond to the chaos- which can mask as busyness. Does she enjoy her life creating chaos? Maybe, frantic is fun? She is a busy gal, but she doesn’t seem to ever get it all done.

The other morning Bryan took a picture of my (not so) effective sign when he went into the bathroom to shower for work:

good intentions

My focus found itself under a pile of used pull-ups and dirty underwear, forgotten. After Bryan and I laughed at the absurd irony of this crime scene, I felt the discouragement settle in: The failure. The ne’er-do-wells. The despair.

But all hope is not lost. The Lord is showing me my heart through this, and I’m being led through his grace into a new mindset. I see changes being made in my core that will result in new behaviors. I think lack of focus will always be my Achilles heel, but I don’t have to be mastered by it.

I can be the master over it.

the cost of clutter

One thing I’ve noticed since staying more on top of things is that I don’t have room for my stuff anymore. My plastic food containers won’t fit in their assigned drawer anymore. Bryan’s t-shirts and underwear won’t fit in his dresser drawers. The closet is overrun with clothes.

Before, when I never cleaned out the refrigerator, I kept running out of containers for my leftovers so I bought more. I wasn’t getting the laundry done in a timely manner, so Bryan bought more t-shirts, underwear, and socks to avoid running out. And when he needed dress shirts or pants for special meetings, he hunted around near the washing machine where they were left hanging.

I can’t tell you how many things I’ve re-purchased over the years, even though I knew we already had one – I just didn’t know where it was. But as I slowly go through random boxes and bags of crap in various parts of the house, I continually find myself exclaiming, “THERE it is – I’ve been LOOKING for that!”

My selfishness, laziness, and lack of maintaining my household was costing us money.

closet organizerIn cleaning out our closets and dressers, I took six bags of clothes to the Goodwill – mostly clothes Bryan hasn’t been wearing since he lost weight, but there was one entire bag of socks. Socks! He had a whole bag of socks he could actually live without, now that I’m keeping up with the laundry!

I did purchase this closet organizer to help make use of our small closet – the downside of living in a quaint, turn-of-the-century house. But this was money well spent, along with mountable lights on the door frame, powered by lithium batteries. Clothes are much more visible, and less likely to get shoved into the dark recesses and forgotten.

And my plastic containers for leftovers? Pulled them all out, matched up lids to containers, threw out any that were missing pieces, donated ones I didn’t need, and reorganized the drawer to make it easier to find things.

As I’ve been putting my house in order, I’ve tried to re-purpose as much as possible, not buying new things unless I’m sure I don’t already have something I can use. I’ve taken baskets from the kids’ rooms to use for office supplies, a tub for outdoor toys that I now use for gardening supplies, and crates for my craft supplies that I now use for toys. I have so many resources within my own home – much more than I even knew, now that I’m uncovering lost treasures.

I wonder just how embarrassed I’d be if I added up all the money I’ve spent on buying things I didn’t really need. What a waste! What a glutton I was for stuff when I didn’t even know what I had! It’s much better to be a good steward of all I’ve been given, maintaining an organized home.

If I’m not going to post often, I’ll at least make them really long.

Last week a friend called me at 8:45 in the morning while I was putting on my running shoes. She was in a pinch for someone to watch her toddler that morning, because something came up. I mentally ticked through my plans for that day, and decided it was doable, so I finished tying up my shoes, put the kids in the car, and went to pick up the extra kid.

My goal for that morning was to be at the gym by 9am. But in thinking through my plans and goals, I realized the actual goal was to not dink around all morning until time was wasted and we were chasing our schedule. Having somewhere to be was simply the gimmick I used for sticking to my goal.

Therefor, driving across town to pick up a cute boy and getting back to the gym by 9:45 was still sticking to my plan, because by the time she called I was nearly ready to walk out the door anyway. I was on the treadmill by 10, and had a great workout.

I’ve noticed that on the days I carefully lay out a plan of what we will do and/or accomplish, I’m much more productive. I was busy that day, but because I knew exactly what I needed to get done, it was easy to figure out whether an extra person would disrupt my goals. Also? This may sound like a contradiction, but sometimes having extra kids around makes my life easier, because everyone is happy to play and leave me to get something done.

I’ve also noticed that when I plan days filled with lots of activity – regardless of whether they are fun adventures or boring errands – we are all much happier, and I’m more productive. When I leave large blocks of time for us to wander around the house, we all become aimless. But when I come up with a good mix of being out and staying home, we all appreciate being home much more.

I’m laughing at myself, because the week before this happened, I had another disruption to my day that didn’t go over so well for me. In that post I lamented over the possible misconception that I was flexible:

I’ve always considered myself a very flexible person, but maybe this isn’t so true? Maybe I’m only flexible when I have 24 hours notice? Or when I didn’t have plans to start with? Or when I’m in charge of what gets sprung on me unexpectedly?

I think I now understand that I am flexible when I have a plan.

Proverbs 16:9 says, ” In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” When I have a plan for my day, it’s pretty easy to figure out how to readjust when something unexpected gets tossed at me. What probably happened the day I wrote that post, is that I started off too slow, or perhaps a little behind schedule. Or maybe I didn’t have a plan at all. I can’t remember exactly, but I’m very familiar with the feeling that I don’t have any idea what I’m supposed to be doing, so I don’t really know what I should do next.

My friend Trisha wrote a great post on being Frantic Busy vs Smart Busy, and I felt she well articulated my ongoing struggle – particularly in this line:

This busy gal [frantic] is not ever getting time to rest or to enjoy those she loves or she does do those things and lets everything else fall apart around her.

If you’ve been around my blog very long, you know the roller coaster ride I’ve been on regarding the enjoyment of my children vs Getting Things Done. Forever I have felt it wasn’t possible to do both. Either my children had a blast hanging out with their mom and my house was a disaster, or I kept a decent house and sacrificed time with my kids, making me irritable to their interruptions and prone to use the tv as a babysitter.

Trisha writes:

I could work myself in to a sweat and “miss” those moments that God has called me to, like playing with my children, affection, words, tenderness, laughter, all in exchange for a folded load of laundry? No, thank you!

This week I’ve been tending to the particulars of Ruthie’s Kindergarten for next year. Like facing your own morality late in life, this has caused me to face the reality that my kids are slowly leaving me, that I will not always have them with me. This reality has swept me into a new perspective on Time. I suddenly realize just how much I am taking time for granted, and how my disorganization with time causes stress on my relationships.

When I’m feeling “frantic busy” I give off the vibe that my children are a burden to me, because their interruptions are disrupting an already chaotic situation. This is not the identity I want my daughter to carry around with her, that her presence in this family is a bother. I would rather she enter Kindergarten knowing that her mother cried all the way home because her presence will be missed.

I’m feeling highly motivated to stay ahead of my schedule, to carefully plan out my days and weeks so there is plenty of room for focused work and focused fun, and enough wiggle room for surprises or adjustments. I’ve been going to bed at ten, falling asleep after reading a half hour, and getting up at six. Did you know that’s nearly eight hours of sleep? Do you know how good it feels to get eight hours of sleep?! Are you aware of how much one person can accomplish in one day on eight hours of sleep?!

I never knew, because I was always dinkin around until the wee hours of the morning.

Oh, and Bryan? You can shut up about being right.

Signs of staying the same.

alexander's bad day.JPGThis has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I’d move to Australia, but I don’t think Dave would want my cranky family.

Some things popped up this morning that disrupted the plan I had already laid out. And not only that, but the thing that popped up meant I need to be on the phone and the computer all morning, which means the kids have been either watching t.v. or bugging the hell out of me, or getting in trouble just to get any sort of attention from me.

It is what it is, and it sucks. But I have to admit I’m not dealing well with the stress and the disruption, as I’ve fallen into some old patterns of yelling at and barking orders at the kids.

on the potty with the clockLately I’ve been acutely aware that time as a resource is very limited. Not just in terms of the number of hours in a day, or days in a week, or weeks in a year – but in terms of my ability to steward it well. I’m not sure if this is a word used much outside the church context, but when I say stewardship I mean, what am I doing with the ____ God has given me?

In the case of time, I feel as if I’m always chasing it. Always trying to keep up, but one step behind. I’m always late leaving the house, always late arriving at our destination, and always scrambling at the last minute for a deadline.

One day my kids will be all grown up – did I steward my time with them wisely? Did I enjoy them? One day I may need or want to go back to work – did I steward my time well while running things at home? Someday my gym membership will run out and we’ll decide to not renew – did I steward my time well and use it as much as I was able to? I could go on and on.

When I consider a day like today that was supposed to be wide open for adventure and fun, and instead is filled with chaos of attitude, time, and clutter all around us, I can’t help but wonder how much of this chaos is due to the legitimate wrench in my plans, and how much is due to my lack of stewardship over the time I’ve been given.

If I was a better steward, would I have recovered more quickly and easily from this interruption? Would I have already completed what I am now catching up on?

I don’t like feeling like I’m barely keeping it together. I’ve been working really hard to stay on top of things, and I wonder if others feel as overwhelmed as I do by the basic tasks of paying bills, keeping a decent house, making sure we’re all fed and clothed. I don’t even have high standards! It’s not like I need my house to be spotless, or that I obsess over Martha Stewart-like meals – I have very low expectations of myself.

And still, I find it difficult to meet even the most basic needs.

Keeping Watch?I don’t notice this as much when the train is running smoothly and on time. When we wake up on time and get out the door on time and get done what we need to get done, it still feels overwhelming, but at least I get it done. It’s when something extra and unexpected gets thrown into my day that I seem to lose all focus and chaos sets in. Suddenly, because of this one unplanned thing, I don’t clean up after breakfast, and I don’t start that load of laundry, and I don’t follow through with basic tasks, leaving stuff lying around until my house is full of clutter and my brain is about to explode.

I’ve always considered myself a very flexible person, but maybe this isn’t so true? Maybe I’m only flexible when I have 24 hours notice? Or when I didn’t have plans to start with? Or when I’m in charge of what gets sprung on me unexpectedly?

I don’t know the answer to this, and I was sort of hoping it would come to me as I wrote as things so often do. But it hasn’t – though I feel better for having vented it.

The kids are asleep. I will now shut down the computer and put my house back together and reset my attitude for the next part of my day. God be with you, and thanks for listening.

Not so much a Food Blog, as it is an Organizational Blog.

Wow. It’s hard to believe how little I’ve been blogging lately, and even harder to believe I’m completely fine with it. I have a few drafts in the making, but mostly I’m just keeping up with Things and feeling very at peace about it.

I finished off my latest organizational project when my sorting bins arrived. I liked these because they are wooden and painted white, which fits in very well with the trim throughout our house. This was important to me because I don’t have a separate office, so I wanted my organizational system to blend in. I discovered them through The Clutter Diet Blog.

mail sorting bins

They look pretty full and cluttered at the moment, but that will change. I basically just took the piles of stuff I sorted, and dumped them in there to get them off my dining table. Bryan asked me why I got these when the gal on The Diet Clutter blog cautioned against them. I thought this was a great question, and one I thought out thoroughly. It’s why I decided to deconstruct my desk and map out what lands there before purchasing them. I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what they’d be used for, and that I had a plan for clearing them out on a regular basis.

All this stuff was piled up in one spot on my desk, and I could never find anything. I spent half a day looking for my kids’ immunization records last month when registering Thomas for preschool. I feel this is a system that will motivate me to overcome my procrastination, and keep up with Getting Things Done.

We also bought this wall-mounted charging station for our phones, camera, and iPods. We had a desk top charging station, but we really lack a lot of surface space, so this was perfect. It was expensive, though, and believe me that I googled and searched every major container slash organizing store in search of a comparable unit at a lower cost, and I couldn’t find one. Damn that over priced Pottery Barn for being so practical. And pretty.

charging station 2

hidden clutter

So that’s what I did last week.

My mom is still here, and my back is feeling better. She leaves tomorrow, and next week I will launch back into my routine of working out and Getting Things Done.

Diary of an Organizational Project

Don’t you just love post titles like that? It sounds so… interesting and…captivating and… yawn.

My babysitter is on hiatus for softball season, and I was thinking about postponing my weekly writing sessions anyway (that’s another post), so I’ve decided to spend that same chunk of time working on finishing some projects around here.

At the top of my list is the state of my desk. Well, it’s not a desk really, as much as it is a set of shelves from Ikea shoved up against the refrigerator in the entryway to my kitchen.

These are the shelves and desk top as I got started. Note the random crap. Everywhere. Those who visit my home know that as you round this corner into the kitchen you will inevitably knock something on the floor as you brush past my desk. If not knocked directly, something will at least blow off the desk in the breeze of your passing. Bryan is frequently heard sighing with furrowed brow as he passes by. Not that he’s one to judge when it comes to messy desks.

shelves before

This is the inside of the lower cabinet. Thank goodness it’s behind closed doors, because LOOK AT IT! Note the previous attempt at organization, using those cute little white drawers. I have no flippin idea what’s in those drawers.

cabinet before

This is the poor, unsuspecting table where I will sort piles of crap.

the sorting table

These are the shelves and cabinets once I cleared them all out. I should have removed all the stuff attached to the side of the refrigerator for a more dramatic affect – this still looks a little cluttered. Oh well.

shelves cleared out cabinet cleared out

Believe it or not, this is all sorted. I created the following piles: to be filed, to do, office supplies, receipts, cookbooks, gardening notes, to go downstairs, to go upstairs, pictures and cards, stickers, handyman items like screwdrivers and furniture pads, and CD’s.

crap sorted on sorting table

This is the part I often get stuck on, because when I see a pile of pictures – for example – I want to sort through them. Or at least look over them and reminisce. But I read this article on the Clutter Diet blog about macro vs micro organization. My first goal is to visually clear the space (my desk) of clutter (macro), it is not to sort and organize specific things in that space, such as photos (micro).

The final step in this phase of the process was to map out what gets dumped on my desk. I read this article, also on the Clutter Diet Blog, about working with known behavior instead of fighting it, policing it, and getting angry. In other words, if certain things continually get dumped on my desk, I should organize to accommodate that behavior, rather than trying to change it.

So here is where I got nerdy and pulled out my graph notebook, listing out all the categories of crap and making a plan for where it will go.

the plan

And this is where the project ends, for the time being. I threw out a bunch of stuff as I sorted, put misplaced items where they belong, and everything else that belongs back on the shelves or in the cabinet I put away. I am waiting on a few wall-mounted letter bins I ordered to sort To Be Filed, To Be Read, Bills, and To Do.

We also decided to buy a small cabinet – at the suggestion of one of my personal organizers friends – to put near the basement stairs where we can stash items that need to go down to the basement. Half the clutter on my desk and the piano comes from items that need to be taken down there, but I just don’t do it one item at a time. The cabinet will contain drawers to hide the clutter, and once the drawers are filled, I will take the items downstairs.

Here are the shelves and cabinet reorganized. The main change is that I cleared everything off my desk except my laptop, the phone, a cup of pens, and a bottle of lotion. Everything else has been put above or below. This will allow a workspace, which I never had before due to crap.


Thanks for watching my kids, Cherie, so I could get this all done!

Weekend Project.

weekend project

We don’t have an entryway.

I have dozens of pictures clipped from magazines of large, high-ceiling-ed entryways with sweeping staircases and homey benches. I have pictures of back door mud rooms with cute storage lockers or cubbies sectioned off for each child. I have pictures of old wardrobes converted to coat closets, of closet system installations, of change jars and old-fashioned telephones atop hall tables.

I had it all figured out, and then I bought a house with no front entryway, no back door mud room, and no coat closet.

We started with a coat tree. I hate coat trees. Thankfully ours never tipped over, but when I cleared all the coats off I found a purse I’d been looking for since last summer and a mysterious red jacket from Land’s End in size 18 months. If you’re the first to hang your coat up when arriving, it takes you ten minutes to uncover it again when you leave.

Not to mention the kids can’t reach it to hang up their coats.

I put together this little ensemble from Ikea for less than fifty bucks. Two basic coat hook racks, and a bench-shoe-rack thing from the bathroom section. We are not a no-shoes house, but with all our bedrooms upstairs it’s not practical to keep the kids’ shoes in their rooms. Having them right by the door saves time and hassle when we are rushing out the door.

At the suggestion of a friend, who is one of my two personal decorators, we flipped the couch to the other side and put the chairs against the wall (you can see the arm of the black club chair). This opened up more space in that corner for a cute little kid sized coat rack that Thomas and Ruthie ADORE. Just like he announced the new kitchen to every visitor, Thomas WILL point out his new coat rack every time you come over.

I may frame some of Ruthie’s art and hang it above their coats.

The milestone for me in all of this – besides the fact we actually hauled out a drill and did it – is that it looks nothing like what I always wanted, yet I’m so happy with it. I needed to adjust my expectations to fit my circumstances. I needed to let go of the picture in my head.

Which I did.

And now I’m well on the road to maintaining order in my home.

This may or may not be one of my New Year’s thing-a-ma-jobs.

living/dining roomThis is how my house looks tonight as I head off to bed. In fact, this is how my house has looked almost every night this month. Isn’t it refreshingly clean?! Compared to the 101 things I de-cluttered from my piano recently, I’d say this picture is worth some money.

I was inspired by my sister-in-law in CA when we visited over Christmas. Every night we’d have dinner, clean up a little, play games, then after the kids were in bed she’d flit about the house picking up clutter and wiping down counters. It took her fifteen minutes TOPS to do this, because her house was extremely clutter free.

I was like, I don’t know what this is, this working you are doing. Why are you doing this?!

She admitted to being a little obsessive about order, but still. If her house was a man he’d be HOT.

I’ve always told myself clutter didn’t affect my productivity. I’ve always told myself clutter was homey. I’ve always told myself I kept just a little bit of clutter around so others wouldn’t feel intimidated by an immaculate house.

And seriously, don’t we all have better things to do than constantly pick up after ourselves? I mean, who’s going to feed these people if all I’m doing is cleaning?! But best of all, I continually chose spending time with me, myself, and I over providing a safe and sane environment for my family. Why clean when you can write?

kitchenI rebelled against maintenance cleaning because I was afraid I would spend 95% of my time Getting Things Done, and have no time left for myself. And I am. That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m spending 95% of my time Getting Things Done. But you know what? Do you know how I spend that other 5%? I know you do – you naturally organized types can see this coming: I RELAX GUILT FREE.

Yeah. For people like me this is mind blowing. For you organized types: yawn. You’re like, I could clean my kitchen with my eyes closed and one hand wrapped around a cocktail.

I Heart Craig.

I love Craig’s List – do you? If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, TRUST ME when I say all you thrifty types will LOVE IT. It’s basically a giant, internet, garage sale.

It’s better than Ebay because it’s local. You drive to someone’s house, you chat about all the good times their kids had with the train table, you talk about surprising your two year old with the train table, and you thank them for the great cookies and coffee offered when you arrived.

Okay, maybe it’s not always like that, exactly, but there’s definitely more personality to it than traditional online purchasing.

As much as I like it, though, I often feel overwhelmed by it. It’s constantly being updated, so I feel like I have to check in often in order to find what I’m looking for. I forget to do this, see, because I’m addicted to my reader. In fact, I might go for days without checking the site, and then become frustrated that I can’t keep up.

This week it occurred to me to see if Craig’s List has an RSS feed, and do you know what? IT DOES! So now I run a search of what I am looking for – say, “rug” in “babies and kids” – and subscribe to the feed for that search via my Google Reader. SHAZAM! Every time a post is added that fits that search criteria it appears in my reader, which I check several times a day.

And you know what else? It’s actually easier to read the content in my reader because the body of the posts are included – no more clicking on each post title to find out what it says.

That, my friends, is called usability.

Just what the doctor ordered: food, drink, and sun.

After coffee and breakfast with Dave the house guest, we sent him off to meet his traveling companion filled with all sorts of ideas for how to spend their day. Last night we all had dinner with Heartichoke and husband at The 5 Spot – a great little “spot” on the top of Queen Anne Hill. They rotate their menu periodically, and were currently serving New Orleans cuisine. It’s a little on the pricey side for a weekly date night stop ($15+ a dish), but my Cornbread Andouille Bourre Chicken was to die for (even if I couldn’t pronounce it), as was my Amaretto on the rocks.


Today is a rare warm and sunny day in December, and I couldn’t bear to be inside anymore, so I jacketed the kids and forced them outside with me. Together we started prepping my vegetable garden to be healthier and happier, and more willing to help my tomatoes grow! grow! grow! My friend Jenny (no, not this Jenny, but this one) sent me an article she read on how to make a new garden bed (I don’t have the source, but maybe she’ll add it in the comments?), and the instructions are following.

This was a fun and easy activity to do with the kids without feeling like I needed to be such a control freak. After all, we just shoveled dirt around and raked leaves!

1. Start with a layer of cardboard or black-and-white newspaper. Lay directly on top of grass or weeds and thoroughly wet it. A good thick layer (1- to 15 sheets of newspaper) will smother weeds and sod, and all that decaying green matter will form the foundation of your spring bed.

newspaper layer

2. Add a layer a couple of inches deep of moist garden soil to weigh down the paper layer and speed up the decomposition of the sod below.

top soil

3. Next, spread any fallen leaves, grass clippings, or well-chopped kitchen waste you have handy onto the bed. Be creative-a local brewery may have spent hops to spare, or a juice shop may have carrot pulp. Many coffee shops will gladly give you all the grounds you could want.

4. Add a thin layer of soil or finished compost-just enough to sow the cover-crop seed into. When I empty flowerpots in the fall, I also add the leftover potting soil.

5. Plant a cold-tolerant cover crop directly on top. In frost-prone areas, plant in late summer or early fall. Some crops can tolerate temperatures well below freezing if you give them 6-8 weeks to become established.

leaves, finished compost, seed

Note: Cover crops offer many benefits. They hold soil in place over winter and prevent erosion. Their roots reach deep to break up compacted soils. Leguminous varieties add nitrogen to the soil as they grow. And when the crop is turned under in the spring (before going to seed), it provides a quick, plentiful dose of organic matter. Let the soil rest 2 weeks before planting.

And that’s all there is to it.

I’m glad I only attempted one section of the garden because the kids were losing interest by the last step, and abandoned me completely at clean-up time. Next week is supposed to be rain free, so I’ll get another chance to finish.

By the way, I created a new strip of garden along the south side of the house using these instructions, and the cover crop is already three inches tall!

101 Things Found on my Piano

The Great Purge of 2007 did not stick. Most everything that I decluttered is back to it’s original glory, that is, CLUTTERED. A girlfriend came over for lunch yesterday, and I had to clear a path for her through the living room, then clear off the counter to make lunch, then clear of the dining table so we could eat.

We had a good laugh about it, mostly because in the humor of those moments I just decided to admit to myself that I am a Clutter Bug. I don’t pick up after myself, I don’t finish what I start, and I hate maintaining. This is not to say I’m giving in to myself; I’m just going to look at it from a different perspective.

So after she left I put a movie on for the kids and decluttered my piano, which is a major hot spot of clutter in my house – it being the only surface in the living/dining area that doesn’t need to be eaten from or have a drink set on. It’s a non-functional space, so it’s easy to drop stuff there and get it out of the way.

You are going to die laughing when you read this, but as I began to clear stuff off the piano it was cracking me up how ridiculous I am. JUST THROW IT AWAY, ALREADY!!! I know the list is tedious, but for the sake of humoring me, you should skim it over. Plus, I’ve rewarded you at the end with a picture of what it looks like now.

Here is everything I removed from the piano:

  • One Costco coupon book, expiration date: October 28, 2007.
  • One half made crown Ruthie started in Sunday school class.
  • Two unmailed thank you notes from my birthday in September 2007.
  • One construction paper turkey headband Ruthie made at preschool.
  • One glasses case.
  • One unmailed thank you note from Ruthie’s birthday in March 2007.
  • One borrowed night gown waiting to return home.
  • Three drink coasters (the fourth was cut to pieces by our resident slasher)
  • One blank birthday card waiting for a birthday.
  • Various thank you notes and birthday cards received that until now I haven’t been able to throw away (buh-bye).
  • One invitation to a party in April 2007.
  • Two sets of iPod earbuds.
  • One small wedding photo album.
  • One unfinished felt project from a camping trip three years ago.
  • One deck of playing cards.
  • One broken, homemade mosaic’d picture frame (buh-bye).
  • Two framed pictures waiting to be hung.
  • Four hilarious and off-color Christmas card samples from
  • One user’s guide for a bluetooth hands free speaker.
  • One tube of chapstick, cap missing.
  • One pen cap, red.
  • One 1/2 T measuring spoon.
  • One small flashlight.
  • One box of inhalation medication from November 2007.
  • One huge box of wipes, owner unknown.
  • One purse waiting to be returned to a friend.
  • One bunch of Sedum Autumn Joy flowers I thought would dry well, but really just left a mess of dried flower pieces.
  • Pictures given to me by a friend… two summers ago.
  • One wrapper to a spool of yarn I want to track down online.
  • One “control-a-man” remote I received for my birthday.
  • A wedding program from October 2007.
  • One scrap notebook the kids write in.
  • One book I’m waiting to review on my blog.
  • One 8.5 x 11 piece of paper with one tiny phone number written on it.
  • One rag that needs to be put in a box in the basement.
  • One book that needs to be put away on the basement shelves.
  • Scholastic book order forms from Ruthie’s preschool.
  • Class pictures from Ruthie’s preschool.
  • One pound puppy named Banjo.

Ha! That’s so embarrassing, but there you go. Merry Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, Bryan was able to remove the plate rack from the wall and I hung a Christmas wreath in it’s place. It’s starting to look (and smell) like Christmas in here!

Christmas Wreath

I should also probably mention that I came home from the store today to find the Sufjan Stevens Christmas box set open and disassembled on the top of the piano, as if someone had just played all four CDs and left everything sitting out. So it’s not like I’m the only nut that needs to be cracked around here.

Baby Steps

Slowly but surely I’m adding new things to my routine so they are more likely to “stick.” This summer I hired a cleaning lady to come once a month to do deep cleaning in my house. The first time she came it took her eight hours to power through the grime, and I was a bit horrified. After that initial visit it only took her four hours each month.

Part of her routine was to change the sheets on our beds. And in full disclosure here, I will admit that my sheets were only changed once a month during that time. But to be totally honest, that was more often than they were getting changed before she started coming, so every four weeks was an improvement.

Her services were a gift to myself and our marriage, and intended for the summer only. I hesitated to let her go this fall, as our house was always so clean and refreshing. But for reasons of paring down our budget for leaner times, and for reasons of sticking to the original plan of summer only, I was on my own again.

As of this writing I have changed our sheets every Monday for three weeks, and I am frighteningly surprised to find that it is really not that big a deal. It’s not difficult, time consuming, nor a pain in the neck. I just take off the old sheets and put on the clean sheets – takes about ten minutes per bed, and then I wash all the dirty sheets and towels in the house.

It just goes to show me how bogged down I tend to get when looking at the bigger picture of Getting Things Done, but when I break it down into small duties it feels ridiculously simple.

Next on my list is the bathroom – I’ve only cleaned it twice since the housekeeper quit coming, and I do not want this experience with my shower again.

What things do you get stuck on? How do you get unstuck?