Thursday, January 31, 2013

January Reading

Since it was getting to be tedious work doing a book review for every single book I read (like I've done for the past two years), I've decided to just post once a month on all the books I finished for that month.

And what do you know? This two-chapters-a-day goal thing apparently makes me read a lot more than a 50- or 38-Book Challenge.

I mean, seriously--if I keep up reading 5 books a month, I'll have read 60 books this year, surpassing both my previous years' goals.

Go figure.

But for now, I'm just going to give you a small taste of where my reading mind has been carried during the month of January:

1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This is actually the second time I've read this book (the first was during Christmas of 2011). And I actually technically read this one four times since I was reading it aloud to my classes, but I decided to just count it once. If you want to check out my full review from 2011, go ahead and check it out here.

My Rating: 5 Stars

2. Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Dreams of Joy is the sequel to Shanghai Girls, which I finished in November. One of my main complaints about the first book was that it was completely depressing, and it felt like none of the characters ever caught a break. Dreams of Joy was much more satisfying because even though all the characters had to go through some awful events, they all came out stronger (and much happier!) in the end. I love me a good, happy ending that isn't too perfect. And Lisa See's prose is incredible. This is definitely a book to check out.

My  Rating: 4.5 Stars (some parts were uncomfortably gruesome, but other than that, it was beautiful)

3. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

This one was a surprise read--I had heard nothing about it other than that it had been awarded a Newbury Honor Award, and I ended up being really impressed. This is a young adult novel that depicts the coming-of-age of an almost-teenager (Calpurnia) growing up at the dawn of a new century (the 1900s). Calpurnia aspires to do more with her life than what society tells her she should, and she starts getting really into the idea of being a naturalist and into Darwin's writings (which had just been published). I've never been a good observer, so her close observations of the everyday miracles of nature really made me open my eyes to all that's going on right under my nose. I really loved this book.

My Rating: 4.5  Stars

4. Reached by Ally Condie

Reached is the last book in the popular Matched series, which follows Cassia Reyes, a teenager growing up in a society where most of your choices are made for you, and people are starting to fight back. (For my reviews on the first two books, check them out here and here). Without giving too much away, this book didn't blow me away as much as I would have hoped--there were a lot of loose ends about what would happen to the society that were never tied up, and I was disappointed by some of the character development. But overall, it was a fun, entertaining read--as long as you didn't look too closely into it.

My Rating: 3 Stars

5. In the Middle by Nancie Atwell

This is actually a professional development read (in other words, something I'm reading to help me to improve my teaching). Atwell was pretty much the expert on middle school teaching for a long time, and her student-centered ideas were groundbreaking in their time. Although education has moved on from some of her theories and her methods, I did enjoy her perspectives on teaching adolescents and on some of her ideas. Whenever I needed something to re-motivate me to keep trying harder (because let's face it--teaching is hard, hard work), I would just pick this up and feel reinvigorated almost immediately.

My Rating: 4 Stars

What have you read this month? Any books you think I should check out?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

50 Weeks to Organized: Week 5

So this last week's challenge was all about organizing my recipes, and although I knew I needed to go through all mine, I didn't realize how out of control it had gotten. I mean, by the end of it, I had gotten rid of over TWENTY-FIVE cookbooks and cooking magazines.

That's just crazy.

And as I started going through all my recipes--I mean REALLY going through them--I started to realize how very difficult it was going to be for me to part with a lot of the cookbooks, even though I was rarely (if ever) even glancing through many of them, much less making recipes out of them. What can I say though? I'm just kind of recipe-obsessed.

But at the end of it all, here are some basic questions I asked myself to make final decisions about when to toss:
*Have I regularly (at least once every couple months) looked through this cookbook to find possible recipes to try?
*Have I ever made even one recipe out of this cookbook? (If no, I donated it, unless it was one of the cookbooks I got this last Christmas)
*Am I only keeping this cookbook for a few recipes? (If so, I copied down those recipes into my recipe binder)
*Is the cookbook full of recipes that have unrealistic ingredients (meaning ingredients I would rarely--if ever--regularly have on hand)?

And even though I didn't *quite* do everything on last week's to-do list (like the thing about making a really organized grocery shopping list), I DID significantly cut down on the space needed to store all my recipes.

So, I call it a success.

My blog, my rules.


This Week's Quick Stats:
Items Tossed/Donated: 32
Items Left to Toss/Donate Before the End of the Year: 399
Money Spent on Organization This Week: $0

Well folks, we're almost done with the kitchen--I've only got two more weeks until mine will be fully organized. So, since payday is this week and I already know I'm going to need to buy some stuff for this next challenge, I've decided this next week to do:

Pantry/Food Storage

If any of you recall this post about my spare bedroom, you already know how dangerous our food storage has become. It's pretty much taking over everything. And my pantry is almost just as bad--even though I go through it every four or five months or so, I'm still shocked at how much stuff I unearth each time.


So, without further ado, here is this next week's list:

To-Do List

  • Your end goal for your pantry should be to make sure you can see everything in it. If you can't see it, you won't use it, and you will waste money buying the same product again and again.
  • Toss all expired and unwanted items. This includes bags of chips that only have crumbs left.
  • If you have multiple containers of the same product open (chips, cereal, spices, etc.), check the containers to make sure they're still good and then combine them if possible.
  • Gather loose packets of food (snack bars, single-serving bags) and put them in storage containers.
  • Sort through the remaining items and group them by zone (baking, snacks, weeknight meal ingredients, etc.)
  • Organize your pantry from most-used to least-used items. Place the least-used items in the back and the most-used within easy reach.
  • When you unload your groceries, place the new items in the back of the shelves behind items you already have, so you use up items before they expire.
  • Pantries are usually smaller spaces, so look for ways to maximize your space, either by adding vertical racks to implement the space between shelves or finding other places to put in more shelves.
Once a Month
  • Check for open duplicate food items and combine them when possible
  • Sort through your pantry and put items that are close to expiring in the front so you'll be sure to use them up. Make a meal plan to use up those items as soon as possible.
Every 3-6 Months
  • Evaluate all the food in your pantry. Toss expired items and move items lingering in the back to the front so they will get used up.
Once a Year
  • Clear out items that were not used in the last year.
How is your pantry looking? Do you use any kind of organizational system, or do you just stuff everything where it fits, like me?

*All to-do lists and cleaning suggestions are taken from Jennifer Ford Berry's book Get Organized. (This is NOT a sponsored project--I just adore the book! I highly recommend buying a copy for yourself. It literally is what inspired this whole project and is worth the money. Click here to check it out.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

*Maybe it's the gloomy weather, but I seriously have been wearing all-black or all-grey outfits almost every other day for the past few weeks. Sometimes I don't think it's so bad (like the number above), but on the day when I wore grey skinnies, a grey shirt, and grey boots, I'm sure I looked like some sludge-eating grey monster.

*The sun really needs to come out already before I turn into a vampire next or something.

*Almost as soon as I started using mascara (when I was 13 or so), I've pretty much stuck with the same kind--L'Oreal Voluminous. But, every now and then, I like to give my eyelashes a little surprise and try something new. Lately, I decided to try this new XXL Lashes (or something like that) from Maybelline, and although the results are nice enough, I've decided that I'm SUPER picky when it comes to how a mascara smells. There are certain kinds I never will buy again simply because I hate the smell. Is that totally psycho? What's your favorite kind of mascara?
*Tonight is my second round of parent/teacher conferences for the year. EEEK! I'm trying really hard not to dread them, but it's difficult when I've already had two crazy-parent encounters...
*However, the good news about it being conference time is that the Scholastic Book Fair is all set up at my school, and guess what?! Somehow we got a donation/grant/something that allowed each Language Arts teacher to pick up $130 worth of books for our classroom. I'm especially excited about this because my classroom only had about 15 books that I'd picked up secondhand from an old library sale, and my students were starting to get really sick of them (and, of course, the same ones always complaining about it were the ones who don't bring in their own book to class every day like they're supposed to). But I was able to pick up almost 20 new books today at the fair, and even just the sight of all those new pages and new book glue just made me giddy.
*That's what Language Arts teachers dream about, didn't you know? Free books for our classroom and the smell of new book glue. You'd better believe it.
*Okay, it's official--the snow is ruining my life. I just barely got word that they're moving parent/teacher conferences to tomorrow due to the weather, which is about the worst thing ever considering that I have an educator workshop down in Farmington tomorrow (which means I'll have to drive from Logan to Farmington, then from Farmington to Tremonton, then from Tremonton to Logan--almost 3 hours of driving!), as well as cancel two other important appointments I already had for that evening. Poop.
*Wanna know something kinda crazy? So at my job, we get paid the last workday of every month. Therefore, since the last day we taught last month was Dec. 21st, we got paid that day...and then are not getting paid again until Jan. 31st. I mean, I'm pretty frugal with my money, but let's just say that I hope they don't repeat this little shenanigan again anytime soon...
*Thank goodness for plasma.
*Speaking of donating plasma, I was turned away from donating for the very first time last Saturday because I was due for my annual physical, and they didn't have any appointments open for the rest of that day. They told me to call in first thing Monday morning (because I wanted a Thursday appointment and they only schedule them 3 days in advance), so I did--only to find that they were completely booked until Friday. I called like 45 minutes after they opened, people!
*I think I should just stop trying to make plans for my own week this week, since it seems that this week is going to do whatever the heck it wants. Watch--we'll have a snow day on Thursday or something to throw me off even more.
*I hope I didn't just jinx myself...
*Although, let's be honest--an unexpected day off of work that you still get paid for? That's a perfect recipe for a pretty perfect day right there.
*Has a school district near you had any snow days yet? We're still holding out strong...even though I've almost slid off the road/crashed into something the last three times I've driven to work. No big deal.
*Okay, I'll stop about the snow. In cheerier news, Matt and I watched the six-hour Pride & Prejudice TWICE this weekend (both times at Matt's suggestion). AND we made a cake, just for fun. Can you say perfect weekend, or what?!
*How are things in your part of the globe?

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Lazy (Wo)man's DIY Table

You might remember this little table that I first "revealed" in the first Before/After post of my 50 Weeks to Organized challenge. As promised, I've decided to tell you all our glorious secrets in building it.

And by secrets, I plan to reveal to you how very little acquainted we are with DIY projects and how we usually tend to avoid work-intensive projects at all costs. Of course, I just made Matt make this table for me and saved myself all the trouble entirely.

But just in case (for some reason) you find yourself in need of a good, sturdy table and all the cheap-o ones at Walmart just won't cut it, here's what you do (or here's what you make your spouse do):

First, find the following:

-An unfinished saw horse (we picked up this small-ish one at Lowe's for $24.99)
-An unfinished wooden plank to fit over the top of your saw horse (make sure the ends don't hang too far over the edges of the saw horse so it still looks balanced)
-4 wood screws
-Wood stain (if you wish)

Once all materials are assembled, here's all you have to do:

1. Sand down the plank and saw horse until all surfaces are smooth. Then, using a wet rag, wipe off all sawdust very carefully.
2.Carefully place the wooden plank on top of the saw horse, making sure to measure around all the edges to make sue it's evenly spaced
2. Using an electric drill, drill the four screws into the place where the saw horse and plank meet near the middle of the table (measure first so they're evenly spaced)
3. With an old rag, layer on a thick coat of stain all over the table (the photo above is of the table right after this step)
4. With a wide brush, paint on your first coat of sealant
5. When the sealant is fully dry, gently buff all surfaces (we used a very fine grade of steel wool), wiping off all surfaces again with a damp rag
6. Put on a second coat of sealant.
7. Buff all surfaces again, and wipe down with a damp rag
8. Finish off with the last coat of sealant

And, voila! You've created for yourself a sturdy wooden table that you'll enjoy for many years to come. Happy DIYing!
(Yes, I just turned DIY into a verb. I'm an English teacher--I can do whatever I want.)
What DIY projects have you taken on lately? Or are you like us and try to avoid them at almost all costs?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Snowy Pics for a Snowy Day

Here's the last of our (good) photos from Cutler Marsh.

Because sometimes we just need reminding that this kind of snowy, frigid weather CAN be perfectly lovely.

When followed by a steaming cup of hot cocoa and a read-a-thon under mounds of blankets, that is.

Here's to hoping you have a perfectly lovely weekend! (snow and all)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Five-Moment Memoir

While perusing through my copy of the Oprah magazine this month, I ran across this little nugget of an article called "The Five-Moment Memoir" (by Sarah  Beauchamp) that I just haven't been able to stop thinking about.

Basically, the gist of the article is that the author, in a time of desperate need in her life, started writing down a list of just 5 things that happened to her each day--the five high and low moments, if you will. She talks about how this practice has helped her to de-stress every day and also rekindle hope as she's been able to see her growing story (and growing self) over time.

I used to be a huge journaler. I say "used to be" because ever since I got married (and started blogging more hardcore), I basically only write in my journal when something happens that is too big/scary/personal/depressing to put on the blog. In short, I now only journal about once a month.

But this concept of a five-moment memoir has me truly intrigued--surely I can find five minutes each night before bed to write down five things that happened to me that day. And since my blog only represents about 20% of my life, don't I want to remember at least some of the other 80% too?

Basically what I'm saying is that I want to start trying this out.

For some reason, I'm a little bit apprehensive. Maybe because I don't want to fail yet again at keeping up on my journal. Or maybe it's because I think sometimes that I DON'T want to remember a lot of the lows I've been having lately (and the highs usually make it onto my blog anyway).

Do you ever feel like that? Apprehensive about starting a new goal, I mean?

Anyway, if I were to do a five-moment memoir for today up to this point (just before 2 PM), it would say:

1. Shakily drove through the snow this morning on the way to work; it was so cold that the snow was immediately freezing into large sheets of ice on my windshield, impairing visibility.

2. After a total meltdown last night due to teaching stress, I was determined to find more support at my school, so I sought out another semi-new teacher at lunch and felt relieved that for once, I didn't feel as alone in my ambivalent feelings toward teaching.

3. Enjoyed my husband's first (scrumptious) attempt at making a green smoothie this morning.

4. Got 5 kids sent to the principal's office after a particularly awful intervention time.

5. Made myself feel vulnerable by admitting my fears to my fellow Language Arts teachers, and then felt totally relieved that they tried to relate instead of judging.

Whoo! Feel better already :)

What would you include in your five-moment memoir for today?

(Photo taken on our last photo walk to Cutler Marsh. I'll post more soon.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

50 Weeks to Organized: Week 4

Even though we regularly (okay, every 3 or so months) clean out our fridge, I was still a little wary of last week's to-do list. I mean, I knew there were containers hanging out in the back that had been there since skinny jeans started becoming big, and I was a little nervous to find out just what they were.

I was right to be wary.

I found an old container of canned pumpkin that was so monstrously moldy that Matt said it looked like a small city had popped up and grown all over it. A hilly, green city.

It was awful.

Had the stench not been so nauseating, I might have even taken a picture for your viewing pleasure.

But I couldn't handle it anymore--I ran that sucker out to the dumpster as fast as my booted foot could carry me.

But back to what you came here to see: the before & afters.

I will warn you, this week's before & afters aren't quite as dramatic as weeks past. Actually, in some of them, they might not look much better to you. However, the big difference now is that there actually is an organization scheme in place

Our fridge's new organization scheme is as follows:

Top Shelf: Drinks, healthy snacks, and any leftovers (so we can clearly see what we need to eat first and so the healthy stuff is in plain sight)
Middle Shelf: Food that needs to be prepared (ex: tortillas, plain spinach, etc.)
Bottom Shelf: Meat, cheese, and eggs
Bottom Drawer (not pictured): Fresh vegetables

Our new freezer scheme:
Wherever everything will fit so it's in plain sight, ha ha.

But seriously, the only things I decided for sure were to put the frozen fruit and dairy/butter on the door, put the vegetables (roughly) on the left, the cheese just below them, and the meat on the right.

(Notice how healthy our fridge and freezer are? No ice cream and lots of veggies? Yeah, we're part-time vegetarians now. I feel so proud.)

The biggest change is on the outside of the fridge, as you can see. Of course, what this picture doesn't show you is that I actually cheated a little and DID put a couple things back on top (but not nearly as many as before). The only reason I didn't include them in the picture is because I'm planning on taking them off as soon as we invest in a pantry shelf in a couple weeks.

Quick Stats:
Items Tossed/Donated: 2 (this is only including items I wouldn't have thrown away w/o this challenge)
Items Left to Toss: 431
Money Spent This Week on Organizing: $0

In keeping with the goal of getting our main floor organized first (which includes our kitchen), I've decided that my next focus will be:

My Recipes

I'm really glad Organize Now (by Jennifer Ford Berry) has a section devoted exclusively to organizing your recipes because mine are getting out of control. I only recently really got into cooking (within the last two years), and I've been madly collecting every recipe I can get my hands on ever since.

This challenge couldn't have come any sooner because those puppies are overflowing all over the place:

To-Do List

  • Gather all the loose recipes you have lying around your house
  • Recipes are not worth keeping unless you'll actually prepare the dish. Sort and toss all recipes that:
    • are ripped or hard to read (if it's a favorite, transfer it to a new recipe card)
    • you will never make
  • There are a number of ways to store your recipes. Choose a system or product that will work best for you. Some possibilities are:
    • Recipe box
    • Three-ring binder with plastic slipcovers
    • Photo album with sticky pages
    • A blank recipe book you can write in
    • In your computer
  • Once you select your storage method, input your recipes in categories. For example:
    • Appetizers
    • Soups
    • Vegetables
    • Salads
    • Main Dishes
    • Bread
    • Desserts
  • Once your recipes are organized, make a list of the most commonly used items. The next time you go to the grocery store, take the list along and note the aisle number for each item. When you get home, type up a list according to the aisle number and print copies. Keep a copy of the list in your coupon caddy or with your ongoing grocery list to speed up shopping. (My mom totally used to do this, and it was awesome.)
Maintenance List
Once a Month
  • Pick out a recipe you have been saving and make the dish. There's no point in saving the recipe if you don't use it!
  • Update your staples list
Every 3-6 Months
  • Get together with a friend and cook several dishes. Then split them and take them home to freeze.
  • Sort and organize all the loose recipes you have lying around.
Once a Year
  • Sort through any loose recipes you've collected and throw away those you know you will never use. Organize the rest.
  • Sort through your organized recipes and toss dishes you haven't made in the past two years. Also toss recipes you made but didn't enjoy.
What about you? Do you have a system for keeping your recipes organized?

*All to-do lists and cleaning suggestions are taken from Jennifer Ford Berry's book Get Organized. (This is NOT a sponsored project--I just adore the book! I highly recommend buying a copy for yourself. It literally is what inspired this whole project and is worth the money.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

*Now presenting: Me, as the Indestructible, the Red, the Fluffy---Marshmallow! My brother actually got me this coat last year, but it was in sore need of a dry cleaning and last winter wasn't too cold, so it turns out that I never really pulled out this beauty until now, when the temperatures rarely get above zero degrees. Pretty much this coat is so hardcore that I feel like I could get hit by a schoolbus and just roll away, unharmed, like a big beach ball. I absolutely adore it.

*But honestly--it's the warmest coat I've ever had. I pretty much wear it every day (even though it apparently makes me look like I've gained about 114 pounds when paired with scrubs and snow boots, as I found out over the weekend).

*On Saturday, I made bean burgers for dinner. That's right, folks--I made a meatless "burger" entirely out of beans (and onions, carrot shavings, and spices). Surprisingly, despite their diarrhea-like appearance, they didn't taste all that bad.

*When paired with a hamburger bun, cheese, LOTS of ketchup, and spinach, that is :)

*You know what else? My digestive system didn't freak out like it normally does with beans. Looks like having them nearly every day has finally jolted my bowels into compliance.

*I've decided that 3-day weekends are great and terrible--great because I get to sleep in and get one more day of blissful freedom, and terrible because it's even harder to go to work the next day than it normally is. But at least I just have a four-day work week, right?

*Matt and I have been having green smoothies almost every day. Actually, they're not technically "green" because they tend to turn purple or yellow (depending on whether I load up on the berries or pineapple/peaches), but I must say, putting spinach in my daily breakfast shake has got to be the easiest way ever of eating my vegetables. Seriously, if you  haven't thrown a bunch of fresh spinach in with your smoothies ever, try it--you can't even taste it.

*And that's the whole goal of vegetables, right? That you can't taste them?

*This picture kind of makes it look like we went skiing over the break or something. Do you know what? I've lived in Utah for almost my whole life, and I've never been skiing. Not even once.

*Is that sad?

*What's even more sad is that I had never really been sledding either until about 5 years ago, when I was 21. True story.

*It was terrifying.

*That's the only time I've ever been sledding. (I did have loads of fun, though! Even if I did almost wet my pants.)

*Have you ever been skiing? Snowboarding? Come on--you have to prove I'm not the only Utahn like this...

*I have parent/teacher conferences next week, and I'm a bit apprehensive. I mean, last time I had a parent try to get me fired. What now? An angry stampede of perfectionistic mothers trampling me to death? A belligerent father swearing at me while I lie huddled under the table, sucking my thumb?

*Or maybe, just maybe, everybody will be really nice and pleasant and say how wonderful I am and how they all want to shower me with chocolate and Diet Dr. Pepper and Old Navy gift certificates and That One Mother from last time won't come in. I can dream, right?

*Speaking of Dr. Pepper, without even planning to, I've kind of started weaning myself off it. I used to buy 4 or 5 cases of it every time it went on sale at the store, but I haven't bought any since the year began (well, at the grocery store, that is. Here at the school, I've broken down twice and gotten it on two particularly difficult days).

*Of course now, just thinking about it, I really, REALLY want one.


*Anyway, between parent teacher conferences and the gloomy weather, I'm not looking forward to much besides the onslaught of spring already. What about you? What's coming up on your horizon?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Walking on Ice

To take advantage of the holiday (since we both have it off), we decided to take ourselves on a little excursion to Cutler Marsh, which I pass every day on my way to and from work.

At first, I was disappointed--the entire lake was frozen over, and the landscape looked just like anywhere else, complete with dead-looking cattails and tracked-through white snow.

But then Matt started walking across the lake.

After a sufficient freak-out from me (as I thought about every movie I've ever seen where someone fell through the ice), I took my first step on it.

And the rest, as they say, is herstory--we went sliding and frolicking across the ice like two little kids on a snow day.

When the novelty of my very first ice-walk ever wore off, we walked around getting some cool pictures (which I'll post later), and Matt made me a little ice love note.


Actually, the true story is that the heart was already there, and he just cleared all the snow out of it. But I guess that still gets him cute points.


What did you do for the holiday? Did you have to work? Anyone else brave the negative temperatures outside like us crazies?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Meatless Cooking . . . Hearty Potato Soup

Well, here we are--in the thick of being part-time vegetarians. Basically so far it's consisted mostly of either dishes involving beans or pasta and way more salads in a week than we eat in a few months.

I decided I need to find more meatless recipes. (Or maybe just more motivation to try out new dishes.)

But all that aside, here's a good recipe that uses a lot of stuff we usually have on hand and that most definitely does NOT have beans or pasta.

You should check it out.

Hearty Potato Soup (from Taste of Home Most Requested Recipes)

6 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 carrots, chopped
6 celery ribs, chopped
8 cups water
1 onion, chopped
6 tablespoons butter, cubed
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1-1/2 cups milk

In a large kettle, cook potatoes, carrots and celery in water until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid and setting vegetables aside.

In the same kettle, saute onion in butter until soft. Stir in flour, salt and pepper; gradually add milk, stirring constantly until thickened. Gently stir in the cooked vegetables. Add 1 cup or more of reserved cooking liquid until the soup is desired consistency.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

50 Weeks to Organized: Week 3

If you remember from last week's post, this week's challenge was all about clearing the clutter from the countertops in the kitchen. Since the kitchen is THE place to be in our apartment, it is also the place that tends to accumulate junk the quickest.

A few things were immediately apparent:
*I needed a place where I could put all the papers that come through our hands each day
*Our counter space is extremely limited, so if I could eliminate anything from them permanently, that would be ideal
*Since our counter space is so small, we tend to use our washer and dryer as extra counters. The biggest problem with that system is that things on the dryer tend to stay there for months (since we put the clothes through the front of the dryer, not through the top).
*We usually stash a lot of things on the floor of our kitchen (against the wall) that don't belong, such as miscellaneous boxes, tools and other repair/cleaning materials from the front closet, and paper bags. The more that is currently on the floor, the easier it is to pile more on.

So, to tackle these issues, I did the following:

*I thrifted a cheap woven tray to collect all our mail/papers
*I decided that although I love the cute black containers that are meant to house staples such as flour and sugar, we really don't have space on the countertops for them. So I emptied them out and will bring them back in the picture when we have extra pantry shelves.
*In the to-do list mentioned in last week's post, I was supposed to take out everything that didn't belong in the room. This took care of most of the clutter on the washer and dryer. The only things left after that were a bowl of sweets (which I placed in the cupboard) and my laundry materials, which I put in a box on the floor to the side of the machines.
*Many of the floor items have been relocated to other rooms until I fully know what to do with them (ha ha)

And now, a couple of before and after pics to prove that I haven't been slacking off:

Can I just say how much I already feel like a different person every time I walk in my door? Now, everything that's visible to the general public on the main floor of our apartment is organized (even if the stuff behind cupboards and closets still has a long way to go!), and it feels so FANTASTIC.

Quick Stats for the Week:

Items Tossed/Donated: 6 (I need to up this--but just so you know, I don't count things like junk mail or papers that I would have thrown away anyway without this challenge)
Items Left to Toss Before Dec. 31st: 433
Money Spent on Organizing: $2 (for the paper bin shown above)

Okay, now for my next challenge:

The Refrigerator

If you're like me and tend to think it best to have a policy to make your husband look at and sniff all suspicious containers every 3 months or so, then your fridge is probably in almost as much need as ours is of a good solid makeover:

Refrigerator To-Do List:

  • Sort and toss:
    • All empty bottles and containers
    • All outdated/expired items
      • Mustard (2 years)
      • Ketchup (6 months)
      • Vinegar (3.5 years)
      • Soy Sauce (6 months)
      • Olives (6 months)
      • Steak Sauce (3 years)
      • Maple Syrup (1 year)
  • Remove items from one shelf at a time and clean thoroughly
  • Replace items with a system
    • Top shelf: beverages; middle shelf: unprepared foods, etc.
  • Replace food with the oldest food in front and newest in back so you can use your food before it goes bad
  • Remove all items from freezer and wipe it down
  • Toss all items that have been in the freezer for more than 10 months as well as all items that you are 90% sure you'll never eat
  • Remove outdated and unnecessary paper and photos from the outside of your refrigerator
  • Remove all items from the top of your refrigerator and clean it off
Cleaning & Maintenance:
Once a Month
  • Remove outdated memos and photographs from the outside of your refrigerator
  • Check all shelves for food that's been forgotten. Toss anything that's gone bad.
Every 3-6 Months
  • Empty and scrub down the inside of the refrigerator
  • Check the fridge for "doubles" and combine (i.e. two bottles of ketchup into one, etc.)
Once a Year
  • Thaw out your freezer and clean it
  • Throw away all expired condiments
*All to-do lists and cleaning suggestions are taken from Jennifer Ford Berry's book Get Organized. (This is NOT a sponsored project--I just adore the book! I highly recommend buying a copy for yourself. It literally is what inspired this whole project and is worth the money.)

What's the hardest thing for you about keeping your fridge organized? Do you have a current fridge "system" that works for you? I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

*Sometimes Matt and I will match clothes without even trying to, like in this photo from a week and a half ago. I mean honestly, sometimes it looks like we plan it! But then I talked to this friend of mine, and she admitted to me that her and her husband often DO purposely match their outfits when they go to things together like church or weddings, so I don't think an accidental match now and then is too bad.

*Do you coordinate outfits with your significant other? Am I the weird one for NOT trying to?

*In the ballroom/swing class I teach twice a week, my students have somehow convinced me to teach "gangnam style" to them. Ever since doing it for the first time, I've had kids BEGGING me to do it every time now. The problem? There is nothing TO that dance. I mean, once you've got the basic left, right, left left, you're pretty much set. It's got to be the most boring dance of all time. Someone explain its popularity to me.

*But maybe, come to think of it, there's more to the dance than what I know. I've never watched any videos on it (or even the original video, for that matter), so who am I to say it's ridiculous?

*Except it is.

*Last night I went up to bed at about 7:45. Mind you, I didn't fall asleep until about 8:40, but it was positively delightful. This morning, I woke up more refreshed than I ever have on a teaching day.

*Speaking of teaching, it seems like lately, either I or my students have been in a major funk. It's like no matter what I do, they seem to be bored out of their minds, complete with sleeping, loud sighing, and obvious daydreaming going on. Something's gotta change because nothing will drive you crazier than people giving off loud sighs when you've put hours into what you're trying to teach.

*Note to any parents out there: please teach your kids not to sigh in the middle of school. Or anywhere in public for that matter.

*There's this one kid in my classes that's been bugging me like CRAZY lately (all teachers have to have at least one). He's turned into a teenager overnight apparently because all of a sudden, he started talking back to me, defiantly refusing to do what he's supposed to, glaring at me on his walk of shame as I kicked him out of class one day, and incessantly disrupting the students around him. Whenever I tell my husband about encounters like this, he says I should just yell at them so loudly and so terrifyingly that they'll never act up again. But that's not really my style. Maybe I'm too soft, but I keep hoping that if I treat those little buggers with enough patience and respect and caring (and not with sarcasm or frustration), they'll eventually shape up.

*I know, I'm a dreamer. The other teachers tell me that all the time.

*So it's the most bizarre thing--at first, when I went on this "more vegetarian" thing, I was dropping weight every day. But now I'm GAINING again. What gives?

*Something tells me those Tootsie Rolls I eat after every meal are to blame...

*I just made the mistake of telling my ballroom dance group that the merengue is supposed to be a "flirty" dance. WRONG thing to say to a group of 7th graders who already have issues with touching people of the opposite sex as it is. I said "flirty" and all arms went WHOOM--folded across their chests or into pockets.

*No joke.

*Did I mention already that Matt ended up getting that part-time job we were hoping for? Besides the extra money (which will be awesome), it is also great (for me) because it means that I'm not the only one getting up before six anymore. It's just so much easier to get up and get ready for the day when you're not the only one in the house getting up while it's still dark, ya know? Plus it helps that he actually starts the car 10 minutes before we leave so it's defrosted and warm by the time we get out.

*I apparently lack the foresight to do that.

*I can't wait to catch last night's episode of Biggest Loser tonight online. Now none of you spoiled-stinkers-with-access-to-live-t.v. ruin it for me by telling me what happens...

*I'm SO ready for lunch.

*If you had to create your own Tuesday Tell-All, what's one thing you'd put on it for this week?

Monday, January 14, 2013


John Ruskin, a famous watercolorist and art critic from the 19th century, once said, "Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."

I decided that after last Friday's post on being out of touch, I needed to expend far less energy hating winter. It helps that the book I'm reading (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate) is all about a young girl who wants to be a naturalist. As I read her observations of the most minute forms of visible life, I am reminded that I spend a lot of time doing but not a lot of time seeing

Does that make sense?

So despite the frigid temperatures, Matt and I trekked out to our beloved Second Dam (in Logan Canyon) and enjoyed us some nature for as long as we could stand the cold.

As we sat out there with our binoculars, marveling at how the ducks survived these well-below-zero temperatures (especially considering their little stick legs), we noticed something hop up out of the water and onto the ice:

Our very own muskrat.

Even though it seems like such a simple thing, it was thrilling to see him dive down into the depths below the ice, glide like an eel through the water,and pop himself up again as gracefully as a dancer.

It was like he came out just for us, to reward us for going out and seeking the wonder in the world (instead of staying holed up inside, watching our new DVDs of Seinfeld).

We named him Petey.

Even though our adventure involved us practically skiing down snowy stairs and getting numb fingers and toes and noses and ears, it was undeniably a completely refreshing way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

And after, when we were sure we'd never be able to feel our outward extremities ever again, we took a detour into Herm's Inn, this fantastic local diner that we've always been meaning to eat at together but had just never taken the time (because it's just so much easier to go to your tried-and-true places, ya know?). 

In a word:


And from it all, I'm reminded, once again, that if I feel like I'm stuck in a rut or out of touch or whatever it may be, I HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE THAT.

And that's a truly beautiful thing.

What did you do to refresh yourself over the weekend?
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