Unsubscribe For Summer

The weather is getting warmer. I’m not sure about where you are but here we had an especially warm weekend. It almost felt like summer. And what happens in summer is that we migrate outside, away from the computer and toward the pool. So when you do take a few minutes to return to your email wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to go through 30 emails that you are just going to delete?

Take some time this week to unsubscribe from a few of those emails you find yourself deleting without opening.  Maybe it’s a store that used to be your favorite. Or an organization you gave a donation to once, three years ago. Or a newsletter you aren’t sure how you got subscribed on.  Before you hit DELETE next time you open your email, go through those emails and click the unsubscribe link at the bottom.  Clear your inbox just a little bit for summer.

Remember… if an email is from an unknown source (i.e. SPAM) please DO NOT click any links on those. Simply mark as spam and delete. But if you know where it’s from the unsubscribe link should be legitimate.

Now get outside!

You Should Be Reading… about crafts!

I love organizing. And I’m good at it. I love to *think* about crafting. And I love to *think* I could be good at it. But the truth is, I’m not. My mom tried to teach me to crochet as a girl but I just couldn’t get it. I never had much interest in sewing and my machine sits gathering dust. But I am really good at recognizing other people’s great crafts! So here are 8 blog posts to check out with other folk’s awesome talents at crafting.

1. Emily @ Jones Design Company – Gathered Flower Tutorial. I actually might be able to do this.  A simple running stitch… not too bad. And so many cute uses!

2. Melissa @ 320 Sycamore – Thrifty Handles For Furniture. Tying a knot? I can do that!

3. Amy @ Wanna Make Something Of It? – DIY Muffin Tin Marbled Crayons. Reuse of something broken… hooray!

4. Michelle @ three men and a lady – “Wash You Hands”. A great reminder for little ones and much cuter than what they have in the public restrooms!

5. Jen @ Simply Living – Painted Teapot. I have no use for a tea pot. But if I did you bet your bottom dollar I’d want it to be cute like this.

6. Kim @ It’s a Crafty Life – Picture Frame Key Holder. Cute + Functional = Love.

7. Tiffany @ The DIY Club – Spring Kahuna’s. Just for fun.

8. Beth @ Unskinny Boppy – Pottery Barn Inspired Ladder Lantern Hanger. Simply gorgeous. Beth is an awesome Alabama blogger who was fortunately spared any major home or personal damage in last week’s horrific tornadoes.

Summer In The Park!

The weather is finally starting to warm and give hints of summer (although the snow on the rooftops this morning in my neighborhood wouldn’t make you think that) and it’s time to start thinking picnics!

There are so many options for picnics…
* Dining on your own patio/deck/backyard
* Daytime lunch picnics at the park
* Evening concerts in the park
* Lazy afternoons at the beach or the lake

In my younger days living in Chicago I loved the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. My friends and I would pack up bottles of wine, fruit, and sandwiches with our blankets and bug spray and enjoy awesome concerts under the stars. Girls’ Night Out at Ravinia have been replaced by family friendly movies and concerts in our local park but the enjoyment of being outside has not changed.

The only thing that brings down the otherwise festive atmosphere is the hectic hour before we leave gathering all the necessary gear and food while corralling children into the car or wagons.

If you like to picnic and plan to do so this summer, take time this month to prepare for all those festivals and outings (like Independence Day Fireworks) coming soon.

First, pick your favorite container… maybe it’s a organizational tote from Thirty-One or one of the classic Land’s End totes.

{image source: Land’s End}

Next, gather all that you need to have a great picnic.  Here are my suggestions for staples:

    1. Blanket(s).  Some places my have picnic tables but even so, a blanket can come in handy when it gets a bit chilly. My favorite blankets are washable and thick (to keep out the moisture from damp grass).
    2. Plastic Sheet or Tarp.  If you live in an area known for lots of summer rain (not you, Coloradoans!) you’ll probably want something to go under your blankets.CrateandBarrelCandleInCanSm
{image source: Crate & Barrel}
  1. Citronella Candle. Bugs can ruin an outing quickly. Keep them at bay. This adorable candle-in-can from Crate & Barrel is a great way to go. They are inexpensive enough you can buy a few and keep them on hand. Don’t forget the matches!
  2. Bug Spray. An extra layer of protection.
  3. Sun Screen.
  4. Umbrella. You may just need to make a mad dash to the car in the rain. Make it a little less crazy with an umbrella.
  5. Trash Bags. All those food wrappers need to go somewhere!  Instead of making 10 trips to the trash can, fill your bag and then dump it all at once.
  6. Sweater or Sweatshirt. Even in summer, it can get quite cool once the sun goes down. If you came in shorts and a tank top you might need a little something to help you make it through to the end of the show.
  7. Collapsible Chairs. Some type of camping chair works great. I’ve found the older I get, the less I like sitting on hard ground for several hours.
  8. Flashlight. If you do evening picnics (like for concerts) this can help as you pick up all your gear at the end of the night and make your way back to the car.
  9. Cork Screw. If you are a wine drinker, this essential will be sorely missed.
  10. Paper/Plastic Goods.  Be extra prepared by having the napkins, forks, knifes, spoons, and plates already packed in your bag. Don’t forget a few cups or glasses for wine or other drinks.
  11. Sharp Knife. The plastic knives will work fine for eating but you may want to share your apple or cut open a package of treats. Don’t bring your $200 Wusthof knife. Grab an inexpensive one at the store just for keeping in your picnic kit. Bonus points if you put it in a little plastic box to keep little hands from getting cut while reaching into your tote.
  12. Wet Wipes. Baby wipes are great for this. Kids tend to find the messiest item in any picnic area (and adults could probably use a wipe too.)
  13. Hand Sanitizer. Your kid just gave a big hug to the Border Collie the next picnic blanket over and they are about to eat their sandwich…
  14. Ziploc Bags. I always find empty bags to come in handy. They are great for holding left over food and the miscellaneous “treasures” that kids seem to acquire.
  15. Something Fun. A frisbee, deck of cards or other small item can help pass the time as you wait during intermissions.
  16. Kids Essentials. If you have kids, especially babies or toddlers, you’ll probably need a few spare diapers and a change of pants & underpants.  You probably don’t need a complete diaper bag but the essentials are good for your picnic bag.

Having your gear bag packed, all you’ll need to get ready for a picnic is the food and the friends and family.

And remember… when you get home you need to restock the bag with anything you used up.

Work You’re Proud To Share

Across the nation, today is Take Your Child To Work Day. What a great opportunity for children to see where mom or dad spend the better portion of their waking hours! Whether you work at an office (or other place of business) or work at home, I think parents and children should participate. My children are still too young but I am looking forward to when they get a bit older and can attend.

But when your little one shows up at your desk, what are they going to find? Will they see how routines and organization help mom or dad be an effective and highly contributing employee or will they see a mess that could rival the pile under their own bed?

As parents we give our children a lot of instruction. And we want them to learn the skills that are going to help them succeed in life. But as many times as we tell them what to do, showing them is going to be “heard” a thousand times louder. When watching you, is your child learning the skills of routine and consistency?

If you are blushing, don’t panic. There’s plenty of time to turn things around before he or she comes back next year. My favorite tool for staying organized at work is the 3-ring binder.

What does mine look like:

* Weekly Calendar – my binder has a clear cover pocket. Each week I print my Outlook calendar and put a copy there on the cover.  This is helpful when I’m in a meeting and want to see if we can extend the time 30 minutes or if I need to head off to something else.

* Weekly Routine Checklist – simple lists of things to be done at the start and end of each day and week to keep things running smoothly. This includes reminders like, updating time card, checking voicemail, preparing weekly activity reports, emptying recycle bins. Just like you have routines at home (like taking out the trash each Tuesday and emptying the dishwasher every night before bed) having routines at work gives you structure to build an productive day upon.

* To-Do List – first page inside of the binder. I can update as things come up. This only works when work is separate from home. My binder stays at work and the tasks on this list are exclusive to things to be done at my workplace during the work day. If you have a more integrated work-life to-do list you will probably like a more mobile option.

* Contacts – phone numbers of the top 5-10 contacts in my binder. I don’t use a mobile phone for work. And while I can easily look them up when sitting at my desk, I occasionally need a number to call someone for consultation while in the middle of a meeting. This saves the trouble of going out of the meeting to look up the number.

* Planning Calendars – a tabbed section with printed copies of blank calendars for the next 6 months. This is helpful in meetings when planning projects out into the future.

* Tabbed Sections – each current project gets its own tab. While we try to be as paperless as possible, there are some things that do come as print outs. It’s also where I take notes specific to a project while in meetings and during phone conversations.

* Blank Paper – keep a small section of blank pages at the back to be moved to the specific section as needed for notes.

I was a Franklin-Covey planner type of worker a decade ago. But I found that format didn’t work as well for me as a simple binder. I can add and remove all kinds of notes and correspondence. And I don’t have to rewrite the to-do list each day, it just rolls along with me.

I know that most of us work “paperless” in our emails and through shared databases with our colleagues. But tell me, if you are paperless at work, then why is there a huge stack of papers on the corner of your desk? The reality is that paper is part of our work day. The key is finding a way to manage the paper so that it helps you accomplish your work rather than detracting from your productivity.

The Most Important Moving Box

Spring is here and For Sale signs are popping up as frequently as tulips. A quick search of local MLS listings reveals 10 homes for sale just in my little neighborhood. Many people look to make a move before the end of summer and start of the school year. If you are among them, you may be feeling some concern over the process of moving. There is so much to do, and I’m not going to tackle all of those topics today. But I am going to cover just one… the most important box you’ll move.

Whether moving across the street, across town or across the country, there is one box that everyone needs to pack. This is what I like to call the OPEN ME FIRST box. I’ve had one with every move I’ve made, from apartments in the city to grad school housing to cross-country relocations and home purchases.

This box should be carried with you in your vehicle – not travel with the movers. Here’s my list for the OPEN ME FIRST box:

Food & Kitchen Essentials
When the movers leave the last of the boxes you’re going to be hungry. You’ll probably also be feeling too grungy to go out to eat so bring something with you.
* Paper Plates
* Plastic Silverware
* Water Bottles
* Non-perishable snacks
* Phone number to a local pizza/chinese/sandwich delivery place – look it up in advance and program into your phone!
* Roll of paper towels – these will be multi-purpose, you might want two!
* Dish soap – a small bottle will do
* Kitchen towel
* Bottle of bubbly & some plastic cups – everyone needs to celebrate! (champagne has the advantage over wine here as it doesn’t require a corkscrew to open… one less thing to bring with you)

Bathroom Essentials
* Hand soap
* Toilet paper – at least one roll for each bathroom
* Hand towel (optional, paper towels could substitute)

Cleaning Basics
Yes, your new digs should be clean but chances are you’re going to want to wipe down one or two things before you use them the first time.
* Paper Towels (the 2nd roll mentioned above!)
* Glass & surface cleaner (an all-in-one works well)

Shower Essentials
At the end of that grubby day, a nice hot shower will feel great. Be prepared!
* Shower curtain liner – you don’t need to hang all your lovely decorative shower curtains, but a $3 plastic liner will serve you well those first few days.
* Shampoo, conditioner, soap
* Bath towels (probably one for every family member)
* Toothpaste & toothbrush (floss is optional. Always recommended but if you get a pass on flossing any day in your life, I firmly believe it should be moving day)
* Blow dryer
* Hair brush

Bedtime Essentials
* Sheets for each bed you’ll use
* Pillows for each family member
* Blanket for bed
* Alarm Clock (or mobile phone with an alarm feature)
* Kleenex (optional – moving makes me sneeze, but you could use TP instead)

Rise & Shine Essentials
That first morning will be exciting and daunting as you look at the boxes.
* Light breakfast – a bag of bagels & jar of peanut butter work well for us.
* Overnight bag for each family member (change of clothes and any necessary toiletries, makeup, medications, eye glasses, etc.)

Miscellaneous Essentials
* Cell phone chargers
* Cash for tipping the movers
* Scissors! – Seriously so many uses.

Okay, so that might be two boxes. Or a box and an overnight bag for each family member. But you get the idea. Pack some things you’ll really need that first night so you don’t have to rummage through all your boxes.

The key is that if you finish up the move late in the evening, you’ll be able to grab a bite to eat, wash of the dust, fall into bed and hit the ground running the next morning.

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If you are local to Colorado and looking for a great real estate agent to help you make your next big move, check out one of these fantastic realtors:

Changes Are Coming!

This blog home has been very good to me for the last 2 years but the time has come to move on.  Very soon I’ll be relocating this blog to my brand new website! I am so so excited to share it with all of you.  Keep checking back for details on the big move!  The new site has a new look and feel and I think you’ll find it very easy to navigate and find what you need.

As part of the move, I’ll be kicking things off with a week of giveaways for my loyal readers!  I’m keeping it quiet on what the items will be but I think you’ll like them!

Finally, if you have a product or service you think could help my readers in their quest to get organized and would like to be a giveaway sponsor, let me know! I’d love to extend the week and offer some visibility to your business. Contact me to participate!!

Easter Follow-Up

Hallelujah! He is risen! I hope each of you had a blessed Easter and had time to celebrate the amazing joy of the resurrection of our savior among all the candy and feasting.

I wanted to take a quick moment to write a follow-up to my Clutter-Free Easter post. I’m sure you all were wondering how the Easter baskets turned out in the Brown household.  I didn’t get any good pictures as I was rushing to get them filled as we headed out the door for church and the kids were so excited when we got home and found them that they were strewn about before I could grab a photo.

But the baskets looked like this:

3 year old girl
book (Alice in Wonderland)
bottle of bubbles
pack of fun hair bands for ponytails
brightly colored tank top
chocolate bunny
handful of chocolate eggs (the Nestle Crunch kind)
bubble bath

2 year old boy
book (Peter Rabbit)
bottle of bubbles
pack of Silly Bandz
chocolate bunny
handful of chocolate eggs (the Nestle Crunch kind)
bubble bath

8 month old boy
2 packages of baby food
jar of Puffs

In addition to what I got them (which is on the sparse side compared to some people) the Easter Bunny brought gifts sent by the 2 sets of Grandparents – PJs, books, dress-up masks, candy, bibs (for the baby) and some other things I’m sure I’m forgetting.

I am happy to report that aside from some candy wrappers on the floor there was very little mess. The kids loved the baskets and the other gifts and I felt good about keeping things minimal.

One of the few pictures I managed to snap – on my phone, sorry for the blur. Showing off his new PJs and silly bandz.

Spice It Up!

While thinking about the topic of spice storage it seemed a fine time to discuss how long to keep those little jars in your cupboards!

I don’t post much about cooking here on the blog but I do quite a lot of it. We are a family that eats together at home each night and that means a meal to please a family. And while Mr. Brown is actually quite a good cook, the kitchen is most often my domain. For me, it’s important to have a variety of herbs and spices available. Many times I use a recipe but often I wing it. Just as important, is having spices that taste good! I’ve never had a spice go “bad” on me, but I have kept some well-past when they actually added any flavor to the food.

The key when checking your spices for quality is to actually LOOK at them and TASTE them. I have been known to sprinkle a bit of something on a spoon and taste it directly.

McCormick has a simple chart that breaks it down.  In addition to giving the basic breakdown on how long spices will last they also provide tips on checking color and aroma and how best to store and handle them to retain their freshness.

If you don’t like keeping ground spices around the house in full jars because you don’t use them often enough, there are a few things you can do.
1. Buy whole spices and grind them yourself. A coffee grinder works well for this.
2. Try the new McCormick Recipe Inspirations packages of pre-measured spices. I have not tried these yet (I tend to cook enough to buy full bottles!) but it’s a great idea. I think I’d like to try the Asian Sesame Salmon. (Thanks to reader Valerie for this great tip!)
If you love spices and want some fabulous high-quality additions to your cupboard, check out the great selection from Penzeys. We are fortunate enough to have one of their actual store-fronts just a few miles away and going in there is heavenly. There are so many wonderful aromas to take in and you can really see and smell the difference in the different varieties.

Personally, I have a set of their glass jars on my wish list along with the Pasta & Salad Seasonings Gift Crate! (*hints for anyone who’d like to buy me gifts!*)

Finally, I know you just read this and you’re thinking “Hmmm…. just how old IS that jar of oregano in my pantry?”  I can’t answer that. But I can tell you that when you buy a NEW jar put the date on the bottom with a permanent marker (or a little sticky label if you have reusable glass jars). Then when you check your cabinets the next time you’ll know if that jar is 6 months or 6 years old.

Kids Toy Organization

*** If you found me from Organizing with Sandy, WELCOME! I love new visitors.  I hope you find something that helps in your quest to live more organized.  And if there’s a specific topic you don’t see covered that you’d like to learn about, let me know! ***

You may not know that I am the mom of 3 little ones.  And for about one more week they are 3 under the age of 4.  Yes, our life is a lot like barely controlled chaos.  All of you moms out there know how frustrating kids toys can be.  Our house is no exception to that.  With just one child the toys were manageable.  When number two came along the collection exploded.  And my kids don’t even have that many toys compared to some of their peers.  We don’t have a playroom in our house and since the bedrooms are upstairs I like having the kids play right in the family room where I can see them.  But this means that our family room is in a constant state of toy upheaval.

A few years ago I got the idea to replace the little bench I had under our large window with a large storage shelf.  I was lucky enough to have a dad that was willing to build me a custom shelf.  He did all he building, I did the painting and the kids do the playing.  This is what we came up with:

The shelving is open making it easy for the kids to get things out and put them away.  And it fits right up under the molding on the window ledge.  I get lots of questions from neighbors about where to buy it. I think if you reasonably good at building it’s a simple design.  But you could likely find similar, pre-made options to fit the same purpose.

To keep it fun for the kids I painted the inside of each cubby a different color – red, orange, yellow, green, blue & purple from the Disney collection at The Home Depot. In fact, we got all of our supplies there.  And since we don’t own a table saw and my dad was visiting from out of state The Home Depot actually cut all the wood for us.  If you take in your measurements they will make the cuts for you (on wood you purchase there) for free!

How do we use the shelves to store their toys:
On the right we have two shelves dedicated to books.  Well, really one plus an overflow shelf.  You can see that we cut out an opening for our heat register and I bought a deflector to make sure our heating and cooling efforts were not thwarted.

The middle section is the most frequently used.  The bottom row has baskets ($2.50 each from the Target Dollar Spot) that hold a tea set, cars and trains. The top shelf has three baskets (also from Target DS) that hold stuffed animals and other small toys that don’t fit as part of a collection.  Also on top is the big box of blocks.  I love that those Trio blocks have their own storage case and the lid is a play space – makes keeping them together much easier for my 2 year old.
On the left side we keep a few bigger/awkward sized toys – the “laptops” and drawing pads.  And another basket for dolls.  Those pails on the end are actually EMPTY!  They get used occasionally and I keep them here for those times when we need them.

Things you might notice about this setup.

1. I do not have labels on my baskets.  This is on purpose.  My kids are still young enough that their interests change quickly.  So a basket may hold trains today but in 6 months it may be bouncy balls.  And I don’t really have time to be making new labels all the time.  It also makes cleanup fast.  If everything is out on the floor (yes, that does happen!) then we can just grab any basket for trains and any other for cars, etc.  Finally, the kids can’t read yet.  Any labels would be just for me at this point.

2. I have lots of small baskets instead of fewer larger ones.  Yep… my kids (especially the 2 year old) like to grab a basket and dump.  Less stuff in each basket means less stuff dumped at a time.  Trust me, I tried it with larger containers and it just meant larger mess.

3. Some things are missing (crayons, play-doh, etc).  We actually have a different home for these (I’ll show you on a different day.)  The kids actually have several places they can play throughout the house.  This makes it easier for me to get things done and still have them near me, it keeps any one room from becoming too crazy with toys, and it gives them options for changing up the scenery a bit.

4. There aren’t TONS of toys.  We actually have a fair amount of toys in the basement.  I try to rotate them every few months and take away things that aren’t getting much love and bring back old favorites and new things.

5. My baskets don’t match.  So?  The kids like it that way and I kind of like the color myself!

How do you store your kids toys?  What are the challenges you face?

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This post is linked at:
House of Hepworths Hook-Up – join the blog party.

Quick Tip Thursday

Today’s Quick Tip isn’t organizing related, it’s food!

This is one of my favorite easy, inexpensive, delicious recipes.  It’s great for a weeknight or for sharing with company.

Roast Chicken Breasts with Garbanzo Beans, Tomatoes, and Paprika
source: Bon Appetite via Epicurious.com
my notes in italics

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika* – the smoked paprika makes all the difference. Regular paprika is NOT the same as smoked.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
  • 4 chicken breast halves with bones – I prefer to use boneless skinless chicken breasts or even chicken thighs.  I find the thighs are usually cheaper and have more flavor. 
  • 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
  • 1 12-ounce container cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 450°.
Mix first 5 ingredients in medium bowl.
Pour 1 teaspoon spiced oil mixture into small bowl; whisk in yogurt and set aside for sauce.
Place chicken on large rimmed baking sheet. (I line mine with foil sprayed with cooking spray to make cleanup easier)
Rub 2 tablespoons spiced oil mixture over chicken.
Add beans, tomatoes, and 1/2 cup cilantro to remaining spiced oil mixture; toss to coat.
Pour bean mixture around chicken.
Sprinkle everything generously with salt and pepper.

Roast until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cilantro.
Transfer chicken to plates. Spoon bean mixture over. (Or you can serve it on a big platter!)
Serve with yogurt sauce.

Huge thanks to my friend Stephanie for sharing this with me about a year ago.  I’ve made it many times since and always love it. I just love the sweetness of the cooked tomatoes.  This is very fast to prepare.  I usually do not make the yogurt sauce because it’s not something I like but others think it’s delicious.

Enjoy!