Monday, December 18, 2006

Cat Brush

Having cats in the house usually means having cat hair everywhere. When Charlie was our only cat we were spoiled - he has short hair and spends most of his time outside. With Nola and Brogan in the mix we end up with cat hair on all the furniture. A few years ago my husband was annoyed by our sad little vacuum that did little to clean cat hair out of the carpet. He used a cat brush that we normally brush the cats with to brush the carpet. It worked wonders! Since then we have always used a cat brush for extra cleaning on the main areas of carpets. We currently have no carpeting, but I continue to use the cat brush on stubborn furniture. It also works on curtains. I usually go over things once with the brush and once with the lint roller. I try to do this daily, which really keeps the cat hair buildup minimal!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Why freeze easy dishes?

I've taken to freezing side dishes in addition to casseroles and full meals. I do this for days when we'll be busy right after dinner. I freeze things like seasoned rice, mixed veggies and pasta with sauce in sandwich sized Ziplocks (several smaller bags thaw faster than one large bag.) When I know dinner will be quick I just pull out the appropriate bags. I can take them out in the morning so they thaw throughout the day or put them in warm water to thaw faster. Although all these sides could be cooked quickly, I also save myself time by having less cookware to wash. Just call it organic tv dinner... :)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Soak Those Dishes!

My dirty dishes seem to multiply exponentially this time of year. Between extra baking and extra company there seems to be a never-ending pile to tackle. I prefer to soak dishes before washing them because who wants to spend extra time scrubbing? A quick soak makes everything easier to wash. The problem is the size of my sink. With all the exponentially multiplied dishes I don't have room for all of them in the sink. My solution? Extra wash tubs - the kind people often put in sink basins. I set a few of them on the counter, fill them with soapy water, and put the dirty dishes in. (In case you're wondering, I do separate dishes by type. Not necessary, I know, but I find it easier to wash all the plates at once, all the bowls at once, etc.) If I need extra drying space I spread towels on the table and use cooling racks! I love being able to wash several loads of dishes at once.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Kitchen Extension Cord

Here's a "why didn't I think of that years ago?" idea I had a few months ago. On a wall in the kitchen (near an outlet) I mounted two hooks. I plugged in an extension cord and now keep it wrapped around the hooks. This has been so convenient! Our kitchen is central to the house and the kitchen table is used for much more than just eating. With an extension cord conveniently ready to be used we can now use small appliances, our laptops, and my sewing machine at the kitchen table without going through the hassle of finding available outlets. This idea could actually work anywhere in the house but for me it's the most beneficial in the kitchen!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Vegetarian High IQ?

Alright, I acknowledge that many people use logic to come up with decisions and solutions that are the opposite of my (logical, in my opinion) decisions and solutions. That being said, I enjoyed reading this article!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

All Those Cards

In addition to the overuse of wrapping paper this time of year, there is an overuse of paper cards. I have no problem with the exchange of greetings, but many cards are used once and then recycled (or, worse, thrown away.) For years I kept my cards, sorted by year, in a designated box. When my box started overflowing I finally started doing what my wonderful great-aunt had been doing for years:

Turn your old cards into new cards by cutting out pictures or phrases that you like and gluing them together. Use the back of old cards as the cardstock base for your new cards. This is a great family project and a fun way of making new cards. Now I keep cards with particular sentimental value and reuse the rest.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

All That Wrapping Paper

Following my post on wrapping presents in fabric, I thought I would share a few other earth-friendly things I do around the holidays. Here are some tips for reusing pieces of wrapping paper that are too small to re-wrap gifts with:
  • Origami - and by this I don't mean complicated paper creations. Make your own 3D stars, jumping frogs, or anything else that crosses your mind. If you don't know how to do patterns yourself, there are plenty of online resources.
  • Scrapbooking - if you're a scrapbooker and plan to organize your holiday photos why not use wrapping paper to set the visual scene?
  • Confetti - I personally don't like confetti at all, but if your family participates in that particular New Year's tradition, make some of your own out of wrapping paper.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I really do love my cats...

What could make me love my cat more than when he stays in the house because all his favorite outdoor spots are covered in snow, ignores the lovely enclosed litterbox that the other cats have no problem using, and turns my perfectly good bathmat into his new litterbox? How could I not love that?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Vitamins and Medicines

I'm curious how other people store their vitamins and medicines. In the past we've had the traditional medicine cabinet in the bathroom and vitamins on a shelf or in a cupboard in the kitchen. I recently reorganized and tried to come up with a better solution. I started with a large wooden basket on top of the fridge with all of our vitamins and medicines in it. For more convenience I switched to two baskets - one with our everyday vitamins and one with our medicines (Vitamin C, herbal teas, etc.) I think I like the new system so far. It took me awhile to get there, though. Does anyone else have a better (or different) solution? Or am I the only one who spends time contemplating the organization of pills? Hmmm...that's a distinct possibility.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

I Love My Roof

After living in several houses with less than adequate roofs, I'm really appreciating this one. What I mean is, our last two houses had roofs that lacked good drainage. One was very flat and one had poorly designed gutters. The result was that at least once each winter we had to go up on the roof and knock down some of the snow. Now we have a wonderfully slanted roof with excellent drainage. For the past week I've been watching giant icicles form around the house. Now that the snow is starting to melt our fabulous roof is encouraging those giant icicles to come crashing down, a few at a time, sending me to jump several feet in the air each time. I don't mind, though, because there'll be no climbing on the roof this year! :)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Ziplock Clothesline

I use Ziplocks often, and reuse them as many times as possible. I used to become so frustrated about how to dry them after washing them. I would precariously balance them over other drying dishes and they were never dry when it came time to put the dishes away. I came up with this idea: I have a small shelf hanging on the wall above my kitchen sink. (I keep sponges and dish soap on it.) I took a piece of yarn and attached it to either end of the shelf. I clipped as many clothespins as would fit on it. Now when I wash Ziplocks I immediately hang them up. (I wash and dry them inside out so the insides don't get moldy.) I can let them dry for as long as necessary. Very useful!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fabric Gift Wrapping

Every holiday season I become frustrated by the amount of wasted paper that goes into gift wrapping. (I get particularly frustrated by the number of people who don't even bother recycling all of that wrapping paper!) For birthdays I usually put gifts in reusable bags, but during the holidays there's that whole wrapped-presents-under-the-tree tradition. I have previously used fabric in creative ways, tying it with ribbon and twine. I recently came across this incredibly useful tutorial on how to wrap gifts in fabric without using anything but the fabric to hold itself together! I'm so excited to try all the different methods! (Unfortunately I don't have gifts to wrap that match all of the shapes...) Anyhow, I'll let you know how things go once I actually start my wrapping.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Winter Composting, Anyone?

I'm curious about what other people in cold climates do about composting in the winter. We don't have any kind of fancy composting system - just a compost pile surrounded by a mesh fence. During nicer weather composting is easy - we just make sure everything eventually breaks down. I always get frustrated during the winter because we can't use the compost pile when the ground is frozen. I know there are churning barrels and similar appliances designed for year-round composting, but I would love to hear other ideas. What works for you?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Quiche Kit

I love making quiche, but it can be very time-consuming. Usually when I take the time to make one I prepare ingredients for several more just to save prep time later. I generally don't share recipes because I don't follow them - I tend to eyeball rather than measure ingredients and I regularly change ingredients, seasonings and portions. That being said, here's (approximately) what you need to make one quiche kit.

  • sliced mushrooms (2 cups)
  • butter or olive oil (1/4 cup)
  • wheat germ (3/4 cup)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • chili powder
  • basil
Layer 1
  • sausage-style veggie crumbles (1/2 package)
  • diced onions (1/2 cup)
Layer 2
  • peas (3/4 cup)
  • corn (3/4 cup)
  • diced carrots (3/4 cup)
Layer 3
  • shredded cheese (1 cup)
Layer 4
  • 4 eggs
  • milk (3/4 cup)

Freezing Directions
  • put mushrooms in small ziplock
  • mix wheat germ and seasoning in small ziplock
  • if using butter cut 1/4 cup to freeze
  • put veggie crumbles and onions in small ziplock
  • put peas, corn and carrots in small ziplock
  • put cheese in small ziplock
  • put your 5 small ziplocks and butter in a 1 gallon ziplock and freeze
Cooking Directions
  • saute mushrooms with butter or oil in skillet
  • remove mushrooms (leaving the skillet oiled) and put in pie plate
  • mix wheat germ and seasoning into mushrooms and press into pie plate
  • saute veggies crumbles and onions
  • layer veggies crumbles and onions over mushroom crust
  • thaw peas, corn and carrots in skillet with lid
  • layer peas, corn and carrots over veggies crumbles and onions
  • layers cheese over peas, corn and carrots
  • whisk eggs and milk together and pour over quiche
  • bake at 450 degrees for about 35 minutes
  • let sit until firm, cut and eat!
If you plan ahead and thaw your kit you'll be able to prepare this quickly. If you're thawing as you go, it adds a little extra cooking time. Enjoy!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Gift Lists

I have two notebooks that keep me gift-organized. These are not specific to the holiday season, but include any gift-giving time throughout the year. In addition to the actual notebooks I keep the same information on spreadsheets because who doesn't love a handy spreadsheet? :)
  • Gift Notebook 1 - I keep gift ideas in this notebook. I have a different name on each page and any time I come up with a gift idea I write it down. When I actually give one of the gifts on a person's page I cross it off. This is great for friends and relatives who I don't see very often. I like gifts to be both meaningful and practical, so sometimes coming up with ideas can be tough!
  • Gift Notebook 2 - I keep gifts I've given in this notebook. Each time I give a gift I write down the date, what the gift was and who I gave it to. (See how the spreadsheet can come in handy?)
I'm sure many of you have similar systems, but I just thought I would share mine. I'll save my thoughts on gift-giving being overrun by money-making corporations for another time!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Cat Induced Scare

Our cats are not allowed in our bedroom. This has not always been the case, but the rule was created for several reasons. My husband is mildly allergic and cat hair on the bedding is problematic. The odder reason is that Brogan has the unfortunate tendency of sleeping on our faces. Wake up with cat hair in your mouth one too many times and you'll kick them out of your room, too. I'd like to avoid the nightmare scenario of being suffocated by my cat.

Anyhow, this evening I had the bedroom door open while I was putting away clean laundry. Brogan boldly ventured in, as usual, and I shooed him away. Charlie and Nola were nowhere to be seen. A little later I got in bed. I was in the room for quite awhile, typing on my computer. Suddenly a ball of fur came flying through the air and landed on the bed, nearly giving me a heart attack! Sneaky Nola had been hiding behind the window curtain the entire time! She casually sauntered to the door as if she had done nothing wrong. This from the cat who usually scurries from the room if I catch her even peeking in! That's right, my fuzzy little cat sent my heart racing. Cats crack me up.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dry Boots

Snow piles up regularly in the winter where I live. Boots can often be a problem - they get wet in the snow and don't dry in time for their next usage. No one enjoys putting on wet boots! The obvious solution is to put them near a heat source. Here's what I do:

I have (yet another) basket by the front door. This one is actually a small clothes basket with a towel at the bottom of it. Anyone who comes in the house with wet boots can put them in the basket and then put the whole basket in front of a heat vent. This dries the boots quickly and keeps the floors dry and clean!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Deconstructing Macaroni and Cheese

When I was growing up macaroni and cheese was the occasional quick lunch out of a box. It was fast and easy, and for some reason I liked it. (Studies show that the color orange makes people hungry. A cheesy marketing ploy by Kraft?) I still like macaroni and cheese, but not the kind I had growing up. I do occasionally buy the boxed kind, but only Annie's. It makes for a quick side dish. I prefer to make my macaroni and cheese from scratch. Here are a few adaptations that make it a little healthier than the white-flour-pasta and powdered cheese variety.
  • Use whole wheat pasta rather than white. Believe me, you won't notice the difference unless you really try.
  • If you bake your macaroni and cheese make a wheat germ topping.
  • Mix in veggies. Peas and broccoli both work well.
  • Use soy milk or other substitutes.
  • Mix in some tofu - it has the same texture as cheese and absorbs the flavor of the dish.
  • Add seasonings like basil, chili powder and curry powder. The more flavor you get out of seasonings the less cheese you'll need.
Now I'm making myself hungry. I might have to change tomorrow's meal plan to include some good old macaroni and cheese!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Folding Laundry

When I do my laundry I try hard to keep the t-shirts (both long and short-sleeved) from wrinkling. I find it incredibly annoying to take a folded shirt out of a drawer only to find wrinkles in it. :) Here's my method:
  • If I'm able to fold the laundry as soon as the dryer is done I pull out all the shirts and fold them first.
  • If I can't fold the laundry right away, when I come back to it later I take all the shirts and lay them on top of each other, one by one, spraying water on each of them. I hang them over the back of a chair. This is especially handy because when I'm ready to fold them I can put the entire pile on a table and fold them directly from the pile.
Now if only I had one of those handy dandy dryers you can hang clothes in...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Storage Throw Pillows

I love throw pillows. They're handy to have around. A few years ago I received two zippered throw pillow covers free with a purchase I made. I didn't know what to do with them - I didn't need new covers for my pillows! Then I had an idea. I took a bunch of scrap fabric (some small pieces, some large pieces, whatever worked) and filled the pillows. I had instant scrap fabric storage and new pillows! Now I periodically sew zippered throw pillows and fill them with various unused fabrics. This also works for storing underused sheets, blankets and even towels. Keep in mind that the type of fabric and how much you put in will change the comfort of the pillow. I love storing fleece - I often buy fabric long before I use it and the fleece makes for a cushy pillow!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bookshelf Storage

I previously wrote about book organization, but there are many other uses for bookshelves. If you're low on storage space in your house, think up instead of out. Tall bookshelves are incredibly handy. You can buy relatively inexpensive ones or make your own. They can always be painted or varnished to match the room they're in. Here are some uses I've found for tall bookshelves in the past:
  • Kitchen Pantry - I used a tall bookshelf as a pantry by storing cereal, pasta, cookbooks and small appliances on the shelves. (Adjustable shelves made it easy to fit the shelves to their contents.) Having sewn my own kitchen curtains, I sewed a matching curtain to cover the shelves. All I had to do was pull back the curtain to my "pantry" and items I commonly used were at my fingertips.
  • Bedroom Closet - I came upon this idea while contemplating the need for another bedroom dresser. We have great clothes storage in the summer, but winter clothing is bulkier and needs more space. Another dresser would have fit but the drawers wouldn't have pulled out comfortably. I took an unused bookshelf and created shelving for sweaters and sweatshirts. I even made the top shelf shorter so it can be used for books - whatever we're currently reading. I haven't put a curtain up in front of this one, but it could easily be done to create more of a "closet" look.
  • Game Shelf - Bookshelves are for more than just books. Designating one for board games and puzzles made it easy for me to organize them (a shelf for puzzles, a shelf for family games, a shelf for strategy games, etc.) I find this much easier than digging through a closet (unless the closet has great shelving!)
I am currently only using the Bedroom Closet idea, just because in my current house I haven't needed the others. A useful tip is to buy (or make) the same type of shelves for all around the house. This way you can put two adjustable shelves on one and four on another if it suits your fancy. (If you make your own bookshelf I suggest making the shelves adjustable - you'll love it in the long run.) I love shelves. They make me feel very organized. What can I say? I'm an organizing geek.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cats in the Rain

I know, I know, I just wrote a cat anecdote. The thing is, when the weather gets cold and rainy the cats get a little crazy. Today it was pouring rain and all three cats were whining at my feet to let them outside. I opened the door, mainly because Brogan sometimes ignores the rain and runs out, but they wouldn't go out. For hours they whined but refused to go out in the rain. Finally I opened a different door. As if the rain wasn't still pouring down, both Brogan and Nola ran outside (Charlie was smart enough to stay in.) I wasn't surprised about Brogan, but Nola rarely goes outside to begin with. She's a stay-on-the-porch-for-15-minutes-and-come-in cat. She ran out in the rain, ran under my car and stayed there for hours. Go figure. Weather changes make them a little wonky.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Brogan's Turkey Dinner

I'm pretty sure my neighbors fed one of my cats, Brogan, some of their leftover turkey. I saw him in their yard and he's such a friendly cat that they like to visit with him. He came back very happy and very sleepy. He didn't touch his food bowl, which he usually does after being outside. Well, I just hope he didn't eat too much. As long as the floor stays clean, I'm happy. I do find it odd that my cat is more social than I am sometimes...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Easy Dough Roll

I find rolling dough on a floured surface annoying. The flour gets on me and the floor. I constantly have to re-flour or the rolling pin sticks to the dough. Not pleasant. My super-easy solution is olive oil. Just pour a tablespoon or so on a cloth or paper towel. Wipe down the surface you'll be rolling on as well as the rolling pin. You shouldn't have any problems rolling out the dough and you might have enough olive oil left on the towel to grease whatever pan you might be using!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Data CDs

I don't have a floppy drive so I save data from my computer on CDs. I don't like to write on the CDs because I rewrite them sometimes. I came up with a numbering system - I assign each CD a number. The numbers are listed in a database on my computer. I type in the files that are on each CD. This way I can look up files by name and find which numbered CD they're saved on. It might seem tedious, but looking up a file in a database is so much faster than searching through a pile of disks and reading each one!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Do You Tofurky?

I am constantly amused by the number of relatives who worry that my vegetarian family will have "nothing to eat on Thanksgiving." I'm sorry, does everyone just eat a plate of turkey smothered in gravy? A typical Thanksgiving table is full of vegetarian friendly options. In fact, Thanksgiving dinner probably has more vegetables than most of my relatives are used to eating on a regular basis.

That doesn't stop me from cooking a Tofurky.

Tofurky seems to be a hot topic in the online vegetarian community this time of year. Is it really necessary to serve a soy replica of a dead bird? Definitely not. In fact, before I tried a tofurky I would cook a vegetarian Thanksgiving with no meat substitute at all. Ever since we tried the tofurky feast my husband and I have looked forward to it every year. I don't know if it really tastes like turkey - I haven't eaten the real stuff in years. What matters to me is that it tastes good.

I would recommend trying tofurky if you're a recent convert to vegetarianism and you don't want to feel left out on turkey day. As for me I'll be eating veggies at the relatives' and cooking a tofurky at home tomorrow. Just because it tastes so good.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Easy Shredded Cheese

I do not enjoy shredding cheese. I also can't bring myself to spend extra money on the pre-shredded stuff. I discovered this little tip by accident one day, when the block of cheese I wanted was still frozen. Take a frozen chunk of cheese and thaw it just enough to cut through it with a knife. If you cut through the partially-frozen cheese it will crumble, creating cheese crumbles in seconds! I can't remember the last time I pulled out my shredder...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Craft Storage

I do a lot of knitting and sewing. And the occasional needlepoint. Or wood craft. Or bead work. Okay, let's face it, I'm a craft junkie. I primarily knit and sew, though, and usually have a multitude of projects going at once. I've found that a great way to store ongoing projects is by using the plastic bags that curtains come in. Some have zipper closures and some have snaps, and most of them have hooks. I stick projects in them along with any notes I have and hang them on hangers. Usually I can fit four or five bags on a hanger, depending on the size of each one. The great thing for me is that the bags are clear so I can always see what's inside them! Now, ironically, I usually sew things like curtains and rarely end up buying the bags. Luckily I have friends and relatives who are happy to part with their packaging!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Moving Tip: Packing the Kitchen Part 3

Okay, your kitchen is packed, minus essentials, and your new kitchen is ready. Now what do you do with the food?
  • Scale down your grocery shopping. If you usually stockpile groceries, stop. Save your grocery money until after you move and enjoy having less groceries to move and unpack!
  • Use up perishables. Cook your frozen meals, eat your leftovers, and only buy enough fresh food to last until you move. Even if you're moving locally it can be a pain to transport refrigerated and frozen foods.
  • Keep coolers ready. You'll most likely have some perishables to move so make sure you keep your coolers at you current house until you move the groceries.
  • Turn on your new fridge. If possible, turn your new fridge on before you actually move. This way your perishables can go directly from coolers to fridge without changing temperature too much.
  • Pack nonperishables in boxes. If your extra cereals, baking products, etc aren't essential to meals during moving week pack them up in boxes and move them with your furniture. This is particularly helpful if you've hired movers.
  • Find a local food pantry. There are tons of organizations that can use nonperishables. If you're cleaning out your pantry, or moving long-distance, consider donating unopened containers. No need to waste the food!
  • If you are unable to move your perishable food and have decent fresh food left, check with your friends and neighbors. Most likely someone will be happy to finish up your milk or head of lettuce. Save them some money and the food won't be wasted.
An added tip is to plan meals involving all nonperishables for a day or two before moving. This will give you a chance to unplug and defrost your old fridge and clean it out.

Stay tuned for Part 4!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Quick Cookie Fix

This is a tip I borrowed from a friend who was trying to limit her cookie intake each time she baked a batch! I find it useful for cookie fixes. My husband loves chocolate chip cookies. I rarely bake them and he doesn't enjoy baking. He started buying packages of refrigerated pull-apart cookies whenever they were on sale. I found the ingredient list disturbing and the taste too sweet. Now I occasionally make the dough for a double batch of cookies. Instead of baking them all I bake a few and freeze the rest. Instead of freezing a container of dough I spoon the dough as I would for baking and freeze it that way. Once the balls are all frozen I put them in a Ziplock until the next cookie craving. This works well in warmer weather because you can bake a few cookies in the toaster oven instead of heating up the whole house!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Moving Tip: Packing the Kitchen Part 2

If you have the opportunity to get things ready in your new house before moving day spend some time planning out the kitchen. If you know where everything will go you'll have your kitchen functional on moving day!
  • Clean drawers, cupboards and appliances. This will save you tons of time on moving day!
  • Put drawer liners anywhere you plan to use them. (You could actually take down the measurements and do the cutting at your old house.)
  • Assess your space. What kitchen storage do you have available? Think about a pantry, cupboards, drawers and shelves. Compare the amount of storage with your old kitchen. If you're moving into a kitchen with less storage space you may need to think creatively!
  • Get out your post-its! You've already divided your kitchen into categories. Now decide where those categories will go. Start with general spaces, for example, food in the pantry, dishes in the large cupboard, paper products in the bottom drawer. Use post-its to mark what will go in each storage space.
  • Keep out those post-its! Make sure that you've taken each category into account. You may want to look through your current kitchen to make sure you're remembering everything. Take into account non-kitchen items that you may choose to store in the kitchen, or kitchen items you may choose to store elsewhere. Add more specific post-its to each storage area.
  • Decide if you need more space. If you don't have room for everything you're moving into the kitchen consider what you can use for additional storage. Consider hanging storage (pot rack, baskets,) shelving (wall-mounted or otherwise,) or furniture pieces (rolling carts, butcher blocks, plastic drawers.)
Think creatively! A small space can still yield great storage. If you need to create more space there's no need to blow your budget - yard sales, thrift shops, Ebay, dollar stores, any of these places can offer inexpensive options.

Stay tuned for Part 3!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Moving Tip: Packing the Kitchen Part 1

I was putting groceries away today and thought that I should do a post on kitchen organization. The more I thought about it the more I thought it would actually turn into several posts. Then I started thinking about the amount of stuff in my kitchen, something I've been amazed by each time I've moved. I decided that before talking about my kitchen organization I'll talk about dismantling kitchens during the moving process!

Here's "Packing the Kitchen Part 1," which applies to the packing process several weeks before moving.
  • As you plan your move divide your kitchen items into categories: dishes/silverware, pots/pans/cooking utensils, small appliances, cookbooks, tupperware, infrequently used items, perishable food, nonperishable food, furniture and miscellaneous. (Are you reading that list and realizing how much is actually in your kitchen?) You could probably make many subcategories if you really wanted to.
  • Think about what you use often. Remember that, not including the bathroom, the kitchen will probably be the last room you use in your old house and the first room you use in your new house. Packing efficiently isn't enough - you'll need your kitchen items to be accessible as soon as you move.
  • Pack underused items first. Fondue pot? Waffle iron? Holiday dishes? Anything you use infrequently can be packed early in the moving process and won't need to be easily accessible once you start unpacking.
  • Select a few items in each category that you know you'll use - you'll pack these last. For example, keep one plate for each family member, a few pieces of tupperware, a saucepan and a frying pan (or whatever works for your family.) This frees up the bulk of each category for packing.
Stay tuned for Part 2: preparing the new house, Part 3: dealing with the food and Part 4: moving day. Yikes! If moving the kitchen takes 4 posts imagine how many I'll need for kitchen organization!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mildew Help, Please!

I need some suggestions for removing mildew from wood floors. I have an unfortunate spot where water and rug had a party that I wasn't invited to. There's a small patch of mildew on the floor. I know it hasn't been there for long because I clean the rugs regularly, but I'm concerned that just plain scrubbing won't entirely remove it. I prefer to use natural cleaners, but any suggestions you have will do. Help!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pine Fresh Cat

You know how it goes with cats (or dogs, or any other animal that plays outside) - they like to roll in the dirt. And the mud. And the gravel. And the litterbox. Normally the last thing I want is to let a cat in the house who has just rolled all over the ground and will track dirt and odor through the house. Well, my rolliest (hmmm...probably not a word) cat recently started rolling under the pine tree, in the pine needles. I love it! The needles get most of the dirt out of his fur and he comes back home smelling pine fresh!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bulk Groceries

A great way to save money and shopping time is to buy groceries in bulk. I buy dry foods that we use frequently, such as cereal and pasta, in bulk. Many grocery stores offer discounts on bulk order options, particularly small and natural food stores. You can also order directly from some manufacturers. As long as you have room to store the extra food you should look into it. Buying nonperishables in bulk means that your weekly grocery shopping will be limited to fresh products, saving you time. I love a fast shopping trip!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"Fresh" Tortillas

I make and eat tortillas often and always have the problem of keeping them just fresh enough to fold into burritos without breaking them. Whether you buy or make your tortillas here's a tip for keeping them soft:

Take your stack of tortillas and store them in a Ziplock with a piece of wax paper between each tortilla. Freeze them like this. Anytime you want one just take it out of the freezer (it won't stick because of the wax paper) and microwave it for 10-20 seconds. It should be soft and flexible! Keep the wax paper in the Ziplock because you can reuse it with a new batch of tortillas.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Guest Slippers

This post is kind of an extension of my Winter Baskets post. I like to keep a large basket of slippers and warm socks by the front door. This is great in the winter, and also works well on rainy or muddy days the rest of the year. Guests who remove their shoes at the door can choose a pair of slippers or warm socks to wear - this way their feet won't get cold on the wood floors. My basket has slippers that I've sewn and socks that I've knit, but you could just as easily use store-bought ones. Look for sales! Buy several pairs at once. Also try to keep a variety of sizes, for both children and adults. These can really come in handy!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Offline Blogging

When I blog I try to save a copy of each post, just in case any unexpected erasing occurs. I've tried out offline blogging programs but they didn't really work for me. What I do now is I either type a post online and copy and paste it into a Word document, or type a post in Word offline and copy and past it into my blog. Whether you use an offline program or simple cutting and pasting I suggest that you keep copies of your posts. Finding out you've lost dozens of posts can be very discouraging!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Winter Baskets

In the winter extra items liks hats, scarves, mittens and gloves can pile up quickly or get left around the house. I use baskets (mine are wicker; wire mesh would work as well) for each type of item. I just set the baskets on the floor next to the boots. As family members come in the house they can put their extra items in the appropriate baskets. Any random gloves or hats that end up in the kitchen, in the car, or on the porch can easily be tossed in the appropriate basket. This is great for matching up missing gloves and mittens! Although you could use boxes instead of baskets, the wicker or wire mesh let air get in so any items that are still damp hopefully will dry instead of mold!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Paper or Plastic?

When I do my grocery shopping I try to use paper bags, although the occasional store only offers plastic. Here are a few tips about using and reusing both paper and plastic grocery bags.
  • Ask for paper! Often stores automatically bag your groceries in plastic, so go ahead and ask for paper if they don't ask you first.
  • Reuse your paper bags. Most grocery stores like when you bring your own bags in. I keep four or five paper bags in my truck so I remember to bring them with me when I go grocery shopping. Remember which stores you're going to! I doubt that any store would be pleased if you showed up with a competitor's bag.
  • Recycle your paper bags. The wonderful thing about paper is you can recycle it. I save grocery bags that are sturdy and recycle those that have ripped or have been used several times.
  • Small garbage can liners. Plastic bags are perfect for small garbage cans. I keep a little can in every room of my house.
  • Tissue box bag holder. Keep your plastic bags in old tissue boxes. This is a great storage method and they're easy to pull out individually. I keep a tissue box of bags near each small garbage can, and the litterbox.
  • Garage sales. A great way to get rid of a large amount of plastic bags is to use them for bagging products bought at garage sales. This could be for your own garage sale, or for an organization's event. Often churches, schools and other community organizations have larger sales and might need the extra bags.
Other bag ideas? I'm sure they're out there. Go ahead and comment!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

That Voting Conundrum

As I left my polling station after voting today I passed an elderly woman, all alone, standing the required 100 feet from the voting booths. She was wearing a sandwich board in support of an issue that mattered to her. I was thinking about the dedication this woman had, to be out there all alone for who knows how long trying to encourage people to support her cause.

At the same time I had the radio on in my car. The DJ was interviewing people who had called in to say why they were choosing not to vote.

The contrast bothered me. One woman taking time out of her schedule in support of something that matters to her, versus many people who can take the time to explain why they're too busy to vote while they could use that time to actually vote.

I think that everyone has the right to choose whether or not to vote. I also think that anyone with an opinion about anything has a good reason to vote. Unless you're someone without opinions on any subject you should actively vote. Just my opinion.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Moving Tip: Emergency Box

A must-have while moving, even just local moves, is an emergency box. You can customize it to your own needs, but here are some items that I've found useful:
  • Copies of important papers, such as insurance policies, birth certificates, social security cards, etc.
  • Paperwork specific to moving, such as the title or lease to your new house, your landlord's phone number (if applicable,) contracts with any moving companies, codes to any alarms in your new house, etc.
  • First aid kit, and not just a little one with bandaids. During the moving process there could easily be more serious injuries, so keep larger bandages, pain relievers, and anything else that could help in a pinch.
  • Cash - even if you just keep a $20 bill in an envelope, cash could come in handy. Granted you probably won't lose your wallet during the move, but keeping some cash in the emergency box is a good idea just in case.
  • Flashlight, just in case you can't get the power turned on!
There are many other things that might be appropriate to your own emergency box. The important thing is that you plan ahead and gather any materials that would help your family during a worst-case-scenario move. Stay tuned for "Surviving the First Few Days!"

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Have I Read This Book Before?

I'm the kind of person who likes to go back and read books again and again. Which books I read really just depends on my mood. The thing that frustrates me is when I get all excited about reading a book for the second or third time and I think I've forgotten most of the plot. I pick up the book and realize I went through the same excitement five months earlier, read it, and I now remember the entire plot. I try hard to keep a book log going, but I read a lot and don't always update. Besides my own method I know people who use several others that seem effective. If you haven't tried keeping a book log before you may want to try it out. If you're an avid reader it can definitely come in handy!
  • Database - This is the method I use. I have a database set up in which I imput the book's title, author, publication date, genre and a brief description. Every time I read it I imput the year and month during which I read it. The database is useful because I can look up books by title, author, or genre, which helps if I can't remember exactly what I'm looking for.
  • Index Cards - This is a long-hand version of the database. All the information goes on index cards (to be stored in a box or binder) instead of the computer. Index cards can be handy because you can take them with you. One idea for new books is to use a blank index card as a bookmark and fill it out as soon as you finish reading.
  • Quick and Easy - This is the fastest method by far. Just use the inside front or back cover of each of your books to write down the month and year each time you read it. I don't use this method because I don't want to write in my books, but I suppose it could also work with post-its or something.
Any other book tracking methods? Please share!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

My Hyper Cat

My smallest cat, Nola, who's also usually the calmer one, has been on edge this week. She's obsessed with a corner in the living room and has been spending several hours (that's right, hours!) a day staring at it. I even caught her standing on her back legs in order to look into the light socket! She regularly runs away from the corner and over to me, and then back again, like she's trying to tell me something. Hmmm...I hope there isn't something living in the wall! She's also a cat who growls a lot in her sleep. Overactive imagination? If only I spoke Cat.

Friday, November 03, 2006


A quick tip about painting:

The next time you paint a room in your house, don't just save the extra paint in the original cans in your basement or garage. Fill a small jar or similar container with a small amount of the paint. Don't forget to label it! If the wall gets scratched or damaged in some way you can quickly touch it up without having to open large paint cans.

I also find it useful to keep a log of when rooms are painted and the exact shade of paint used to paint them. This can really come in handy in the long run!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Cheaper Heating Bill

As the weather gets colder and heaters get turned on, bills suddenly go way up. No matter what form of heat you use, those cold winter months mean shelling out more money. Here are a few things I do to save on heat costs.
  • Turn the heat down at night. An obvious one, I know, but think about how low you're setting the thermostat. If you keep your house between 68 and 70 degrees during the day and turn it down to 65 at night you won't save a whole lot. Try 55. How much heat do you really need at night? That's what warm pajamas and blankets are for.
  • Block vents in underused rooms. If you have a room that's used primarily for storage or as a guest room you don't need to pump heat into it regularly (unless you keep temperature-sensitive materials in it.) Some vents turn off easily, others can be blocked with a piece of cardboard or plywood.
  • Start baking! If you use the oven (which I do frequently in the winter) take that into account when you set the thermostat. If I plan on baking in the morning I often don't turn the thermostat up right away. If I bake during the day I usually turn the thermostat down. Ovens produce a lot of heat. Use it!
  • Check for cold air. If you have windows or doors that could use new weather stripping your heating bill will show it. Even a little fabric can help in those situations.
  • Dress for the weather! Just because you have the option of turning the heat up doesn't mean you should wear t-shirts around the house. A sweater and warm slippers can lower the heat bill, too.
If you're in a colder area, enjoy these wintry evenings!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Firefox Add-ons

If you use a Firefox browser there are plenty of add-ons to customize your web experience. I love how easy they are to install - I often try them, keep them if I like them and delete them if I don't. Here are two of my favorites:

  • Morning Coffee - This is my longstanding favorite. It creates a button in your browser that allows you to open a number of websites at once. You can customize it by day. I have mine set for different blogs on different days, newspapers every day, and bill-paying information once a week. Very handy and I definitely access it throughout the day and not just once each morning!
  • Addictive Typing Lessons - This is my new favorite. Although I have respectable enough typing skills I still find it enjoyable to click on the icon and have a variety of typing activities to challenge myself with. I always thought I was a fast typist, but I've learned that, while I type words and sentences quickly, random series of letters really throw me for a loop!
Let me know if you have any favorites. I'm always looking to try new ones!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Quick Cat Training

Having indoor/outdoor cats can sometimes be a hassle, particularly when you need the cats back in the house at night or before you leave on vacation. I don't know about your cats, but mine will look at me from across the yard and show no interest in returning to the house. If I try to bring them in they think I'm playing a game and they run just far enough away to be out of reach, wait for me to catch up, and run some more. I've found that treat bags work wonders. Most cats love the occasional treat and bags like Friskies make a distinct sound when crumpled. If my cats hear the sound they come running and can easily be lured in the house for one measly treat. This is a great alternative to the old opening-a-can trick because you can use the same treat bag again and again!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Natural Toothpaste

Okay, I admit it, toothpaste in a tube really disgusts me. I've never enjoyed squeezing it onto my toothbrush or the feel of the paste in my mouth. That being said, I also prefer more natural methods of keeping my teeth healthy. I tried just using baking soda and water, but the baking soda left such a bitter taste in my mouth that I really didn't look forward to brushing. Then I was introduced to tooth powder. At first I was wary, but I've been using it for over a year and I'm hooked! There are different brands and varieties and I've only tried a few (I really like Eco-Dent), but I love the idea of powder instead of paste. This is also a great tooth cleanser to travel with - if it breaks in your luggage you can sweep it up and nothing gets ruined! Two added bonuses for me are that 1) you need very little to brush with and 2) if you normally share your toothpaste with someone else there's less contact on the actual brush than with a tube.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Grocery Shopping

I have found that the best way to remember everything that I need at the grocery store is to keep an ongoing list in my kitchen. This list isn't just a piece of paper that I write items on. I use a typed and laminated grocery list. I have it divided by category (produce, frozen, condiments, etc) with the items I most commonly buy listed, along with blank spaces for less commonly bought items. Next to each item is a check box. As I run out of any ingredient in my kitchen I immediately put a check next to that item on the grocery list. This is a very effective way of keeping my kitchen stocked. As I do my menu planning I use the list in the same way and check off any ingredients necessary.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I Moved the Cat Food!

Several weeks ago we rearranged our kitchen. I put the cat food in the spot that seemed best suited for it. After about three days I realized that if I moved the food to the other side of the room is would work better in the layout of the kitchen. I moved the food and showed each cat individually where to find it. Of course for several days they would sit in the old spot and meow as though I had stopped feeding them. I realize that cats sometimes have trouble adapting to new situations. I figured it wouldn't be long before they remembered where the new food was. Well, they do remember. They eat the food where it is now, go sit in the old place, and meow and look sad. Apparently they liked it better where it used to be!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Menu Planning

Very few people I know do regular menu planning, but for me this has been a routine for quite some time. Menu planning helps in so many ways - fast meal preparation, easier grocery shopping, more food variety, better time management. Over the years I've used several different methods for planning meals. Here are a few to get you started:
  • Food Type - Think about the types of food your family eats on a regular basis and organize them into one day each week. You can do this by the main food in each meal or the ethnic variety. For example, as a vegetarian I might choose beans on Monday, pasta on Tuesday, soy meat on Wednesday, etc. The ethnic variety might be Mexican on Monday, Italian on Tuesday, Greek on Wednesday, etc. Using the Food Type planning system you don't have to plan out entire meals ahead of time - just the general outline.
  • Weekly - Planning a weekly menu is good if you go grocery shopping weekly. Plan your menu out the night before you go grocery shopping. Be specific about each day's meal and the ingredients you will need. After you plan your menu write down all the ingredients (including amounts) on a list. Look through your pantry and cross off the ingredients you already have. What remains is your grocery list.
  • By Cook - If more than one person in your house cooks dinners you can divide each week up ahead of time. Each person can plan their own meals and be prepared for the nights they will be cooking.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Book Organization

Whether you have dozens of books or hundreds, the more organized you are with them the easier they are to find. I don't suggest using someone else's exact organizational system. The best thing you can do for yourself is to sit down and think about how book organization might work best in your household. Here are a few things to consider:
  • Do you have bookshelves spread throughout your home or all in one location?
  • Do you have books that you reference frequently?
  • Do you have children who can only reach books at a certain height?
  • Do you have older or treasured books you want to protect from sun or heat damage?
  • Do you have books that are too large for your regular bookshelves?
Keep the answers to those questions in your mind as you plan how to organize your books. Decide how you would like to organize your books - alphabetically, by topic, by size, by age-appropriateness, etc. Then decide which shelves you would like to hold each category. You may want to be creative with larger books (propping them next to shelves or stacking them on top.) Here's a peek into the organizational system I use for my family:
  • Books are divided into categories by topic. Various shelves around the house are assigned topics. Some are logical (such as cookbooks in the kitchen) and some are more random.
  • Categories are divided by size. This is a personal preference - I like how the books look on the shelves when they match in size.
  • Sub-categories are alphabetized by author and placed on the shelves.
  • I like to arrange series, boxed sets, and favorites on or above shelves in artful ways.
  • I have a small shelf just for older and favored books, which I keep away from any sunlit windows and heat vents.
  • "Coffee table books" or others that people might browse through are shelved where we sit with company when they visit.
  • Dictionaries and other reference books are grouped together on a shelf that is easy for everyone to access.
  • I don't pack books away. I figure if they're worth owning they're worth keeping out to read again and again.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Moving Tip: Curtains

What's the last thing you pack from your old house and the first thing you want to unpack at your new house? Unless you live out of sight of your neighbors, probably the curtains. I have three handy solutions that I have used many times:
  • Pressure Rods - These are curtain rods that are spring-loaded and attach to the inside of a window frame using pressure. There's no screwing rods into the wall - all you need is a screwdriver to quickly select the rod length. These save a lot of time and are quick to both put up and take down.
  • Sheets - The tried-and-true method of using sheets as curtains is incredibly useful during a move. Simply double a sheet over a curtain rod for privacy and you're good to go until you have time to put the curtains up.
  • Display Boards - My own invention out of necessity, this works well if you have wide window ledges. Take a cardboard science display board (such as this one made by Elmer's) and set it in your window, facing you. This creates fast and easy temporary privacy, although your new neighbors may wonder why your windows all say "Elmer's!"

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Bread Crumb Substitute

I'm not a fan of using bread crumbs while cooking or baking simply because of the lack of nutritional value. A great substitute for me has been wheat germ. It works just as well as bread crumbs and you add nutritional value to your dish. (In a pinch wheat bran works as well.) I have yet to find someone who notices a difference. I use it on top of casseroles, as breading on soy meat, and as a base for stuffing, to name a few. My favorite use by far has been mixing wheat germ with chopped mushrooms lightly cooked in olive oil to create a fabulous (and relatively healthy) quiche crust.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Frozen Homemade Breakfast

I try hard to prepare any food ahead of time than can be prepared in advance. It saves time in the long run and I feel less stressed. Here are some ideas in the way of breakfast foods:

  • Pancakes - The next time you make pancakes for your family double or triple the recipe. Cook the extra pancakes and freeze them. They're easy to pull out and heat up, either in the oven or the microwave, and they're still homemade.
  • Muffins - Muffins are easy to prepare but take time to bake. Make several batches and keep them in Ziplocks in the freezer. When you want one for breakfast take it out and microwave it for no more than 20 seconds on high. Muffins are also a great way to add wheat bran, wheat germ, or other healthy ingredients to breakfast.
  • Breakfast Burritos - These make for wonderfully filling breakfasts. Scramble tofu (I suppose you could use eggs), black beans, cheese, veggies (onions, peppers, whatever you want,) and salsa or hot sauce in a pan. Fold into tortillas and freeze. I usually wrap these in foil so I can put them directly in the oven from the freezer. Remove the foil to microwave, though!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Wood Floor Cleaner

There are a variety of ideas out there for natural wood floor cleaners, but the bottom line is they all include some combination of vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil. Vinegar is the main cleaning ingredient, olive oil is the main polishing ingredient, and lemon juice adds that lemony good scent. I mix this in small amounts in a squirt bottle and gently mop with it after sweeping. The best part to me is that if you have small children crawling on the floor you don't have to worry about any bleach or other chemicals being left over from cleaning. You're basically cleaning your floor with a salad dressing solution and it works incredibly well!

Saturday, October 21, 2006


When it comes to small closets, limited storage space, and oddly shaped rooms I've found that a great way to get optimum storage is by using crates. Over time I have invested in a number of wooden crates. (Many crafts stores sell these and the larger chains like Hobby Lobby and Michael's usually have sales on all wood products once or twice a year.) They're rectangular so you can stack them vertically or horizontally. You can slide them under coffee tables for basket-like storage or stack them in rows or columns to create instant shelves. The wooden ones are especially nice because if you want to attach them together in a semi-permanent fashion nails and/or wood glue should do the trick. You can also paint them, which is a nice way to blend them into your space. I'm also a fan of wooden corner crates, which don't offer a lot of shelving space but do round off the edges of your crate shelves, giving them a more fluid look. Oh, and did I mention the usefulness of these crates if you ever have to move with them? Just grab the handles and go!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Plastic Bag Dispensers

A quick tip about storing plastic bags: Save your old tissue boxes and fill them with plastic bags. Instant bag dispensers! I use both small and large sizes of tissue boxes and leave them near the small garbage cans and the litterbox. Very useful and no more messy plastic bag drawer, cupboard, bag, whatever.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cats and Pianos

This post actually applies to any wooden furniture your cats aren't allowed on but sneak on while you're sleeping. You can imagine when, several days after buying a new piano, I found a small scratch in it that wasn't there before. The cats had learned not to jump up on the piano, but apparently after we went to sleep each night it was party central. The nice piano tuner buffed out the scratch for me and I tried a variety of gimmicks to keep the cats off the keyboard. (Just for the record, the worst idea I tried was a slipcover. This was more inviting than the piano itself and each morning I found the cats happily napping on it.) Here's my solution:

Drawer Liners

You know, those rolls of liner that come in a variety of sizes and pretty patterns? Just cut the liner to fit the piano (I just use it on the sloping keyboard area) and put it on whenever you're not playing the instrument. Even if the cats jump up on it there won't be any scratches and the liner won't slip off.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Enchilada Casserole

My Enchilada Casserole can easily be called Leftover Casserole. I usually make it after we've had tacos and need to use up the chopped taco fixin's. The basic idea is layers in a casserole dish. Here are some examples of what I use for each layer:
  • tortillas, crushed tortilla chips (great way to use up chips that are getting stale)
  • black beans, chili beans, refried beans, soy meat
  • cheese, seasoned tofu
  • corn, peppers, black olives
  • tomatoes, salsa, hot sauce
I love throwing this together using leftovers and freezing it. Sometimes I don't have enough leftovers to fill up the dish, but I can easily freeze what I have (in layers) and add more when I actually bake it. It never turns out the same, always tastes good, and those chopped up tomatoes and grated cheeses are never wasted!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Stale Bread

Whether you bake or buy bread there's always the chance you'll end up with a few stale pieces at the end of the loaf. Here are some ways I've found to use my stale bread:
  • Garlic Bread - Break any amount of stale bread into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a frying pan on low/medium heat with some olive oil, garlic (or garlic powder), salt, basil, parsley, and any other seasonings you might use in your garlic bread. The oil will soften the bread and the bite-sized pieces make it easier to eat. Cook covered until the bread is as soft as you would like. This is also tasty with fresh mozzarella or parmesan on top.
  • French Toast - What better way to soften bread than by dipping it in batter? I like to save my stale slices of bread in a Ziplock in the freezer. When I have enough for French toast I just pull out the bag.
  • Croutons - Cut or break your stale bread into small pieces. Toss in a Ziplock with olive oil and whatever seasonings you would like to add. Bake until as crisp as you would like and, voila, homemade croutons!
When I save my stale bread in the freezer I usually have two bags - one with white and simple wheat bread that would be appropriate for French toast and one with more seasoned bread (I often make homemade bread seasoned with garlic and other potent herbs. Not great with maple syrup!)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Photo Organization

If you're like me you have piles of photos just waiting to be sorted. If you're like me you have trouble deciding how to sort them - albums, boxes, scrapbooks, frames? Here's how I like to go about sorting my photos:

  • Boxes - As soon as photos are developed I try to put them in labeled photo boxes. I have five main boxes: Family, Friends, Events, Vacations and Miscellaneous. A set of photos from a birthday party, for example, would go directly into the Events box. A set of various photos would quickly be sorted into the appropriate boxes. Some judgement calls will apply - do you put the family reunion photos in the Family box or the Event box? Don't take too much time to make these decisions - this is just a rudimentary sorting to make future organization easier.
  • Albums - Set aside an afternoon once or twice a year to take the photos from your boxes and put them into albums. Have your albums ready in advance and make sure you know what type of photos you'll be putting in each album. You may want to organize specific albums first, such as "Grand Canyon Vacation." You'll clearly know which photos go in these albums. Save the general albums for last. If you have family albums that you try to keep updated, just pull your favorites from the Family box.
  • Scrapbooks - If you're a true scrapbooker this post isn't for you. This is for anyone who likes the look of scrapbooks but doesn't spend the time picking out just the right photo for each page. If you want a scrapbook for each of your children, for example, write each of their names on a manilla envelope. As you sort through your photo boxes select the photos that might be scrapbook-worthy and put them in the appropriate envelopes. As you come across paper or other scrapbook decorations that fit each child's personality, stick them in the appropriate envelope. Sit down one day, empty the envelope, and, voila, you're ready to scrapbook!
  • Frames - This is an obvious one. As you go through your boxes have any available frames next to you. As you find photos that you want to display, find an appropriate frames and put them in.
This is just my method of sorting photos I've had developed. Digital photo organization is a story for another day...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

No-Chicken Noodle Soup

As a vegetarian I have often missed the taste of hot chicken noodle soup on a cold day. I've tried many substitutes and have a few that I really like.

  • For the Cooks: Add soy chicken (fake chicken made out of soy) to your homemade vegetable and noodle soup. There are a couple of options for the soy chicken. The best texture I have found so far has been in the Quorn brand. The best flavor has been Lightlife Smart Menu Smart Strips. In a pinch I've even used a Morningstar Farms breaded patty and removed the breading!
  • For the Soup-From-A-Cans: I'm a huge fan of Amy's No Chicken Noodle Soup. It tastes delicious and, unlike other vegetarian soups, actually has soy chicken in it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Moving Tip: Cats

Moving with cats, either locally or cross-country, can be a hassle. They're not used to cars, don't like being forced into carriers, and often have trouble adapting to new environments. Here a few tips I've picked up after several local moves and several cross-country moves.

  • Cat Carriers - If possible, pick a cat carrier that allows your cat to comfortably turn around. If you have multiple cats it can be comforting to them to travel in the same carrier. A good place to start looking for carriers is any place that sells items meant for show cats. There are many sizes and styles to choose from and comfort for the cat seems to be more of a factor than it is with traditional plastic carriers.
  • Food and Litterboxes on the Road - The first time I moved with a cat I was much too worried about these issues. The truth is, most cats are too scared by the move to eat or use the litterbox. When traveling cross-country I suggest placing a small, rectangular tupperware with litter in it in the carrier. The cats probably won't use it, but at least they have the option. Don't worry about leaving food in the carrier - just offer it to them when you stop for breaks.
  • Water on the Road - Do keep a container of water in the carrier. Cats are more likely to keep themselves hydrated than full. A method that works for me is to use adhesive velcro on the bottom of a plastic water bowl. I put a piece of velcro on the floor of the cat carrier as well. I can fill the bowl with water and velcro it in so very little water spills. When the bowl needs to be refilled you can just unvelcro the bowl and refill it.
  • Hotels - Many hotels allow cats to stay for a small fee. This isn't too much of a problem - just bring in your carrier with the bowl of water and litterbox inside. Provide a bowl of food and your cats should be okay. You may want to look the hotel room over before taking the cats out of the car. Many hotel beds are easy for cats to hide under and hard for people to move to get the cats out. Block any easy access points with luggage or pillows and you'll have an easier time finding the cats in the morning!
  • Familiarizing the Cats with the New House - The most important thing to show your cat in your new house is the litterbox. Many cats become disoriented, resulting in unpleasant messes for you! If possible, set up the litterbox before bringing the cats into the house. Let the cats sniff around on their own, but make sure they find the litterbox. If they don't notice it, take them on a little tour! (Helpful hint - use the same litter they've had in the past. New litter can also throw them off, resulting in more unpleasant messes!) After you know the litterbox has been introduced, show them the food and water bowls. This part of familiarization should be easy. If you already have your old furniture in the house your cats should find their favorite chairs or shelves and settle in comfortably. If you're still moving the furniture in the adjustment period might take a little longer.
  • Identification - Always put collars and ID tags on cats when moving with them, even if they are indoor cats and normally don't wear collars. A disoriented cat might run out of the house and you'll want your new neighbors to know where he or she lives!
Most of these cat tips work with other pets as well. The bottom line is, moving is stressful enough without any pets. Planning ahead makes a huge difference.

Moving Tip: Preparing for a Move

Anyone who knows me well (or knows me at all!) realizes that I'm a little obsessed in the organization department. One of the ways this has come in handy has been in moving. Here are a few tips that have helped me:

  • Post-Its - A few sticky notes go a long way. Use them to temporarily label all cabinets, drawers, shelves and other storage places in a new house. This makes unpacking go very quickly and can help the first few days in a new house when you don't quite remember where you put everything. I think this works especially well in the kitchen.
  • Measuring Tape - Nothing is more frustrating than finding out the shelf you knew would fit between those two windows is actually half an inch too wide. Measure all the walls in your new home the first chance you have. As you pack your furniture you can quickly measure questionable pieces and consult your notes on the wall measurements. This will save you so much time when moving in!
  • Save Your Mail - During the few weeks before you move save all of your mail, including catalogs. Keep them together in a folder or envelope. Take time one day to contact all of the places you've received mail from - this way you'll be less likely to forget to change your address with all the necessary contacts.
You'll find my moving tips sorted under both "Moving" and "Organization." Hope they help you out!

Friday, October 13, 2006


For those of you who don't already know me, my name is Anna and I'm living a simple life in a cozy house in the woods with my husband and cats. After keeping a personal blog for my real-life friends I've decided to branch out into a blog about things that I care about. I've spent far too much time lurking on sites that interest me without having my own place to write down my thoughts. Check back here for my thoughts and comments on natural living, vegetarianism, cats, cooking, baking, organizing the home, and anything else that crosses my mind.