Friday, March 26, 2010

How to Recycle Non-Stick Cookware

I think know that I have issues with throwing things in the trash. This pan is no longer useful (unless you like rust in your food) and has caused great trauma and wastefulness. It needs to go! I really hate adding to the trash pile, though, and my husband is the same way. That's why in addition to our yucky pan pictured above, we also have these guys:
These are two additional non-stick pans that have started to flake. We no no longer use them for cooking, but we couldn't bring ourselves to throw them away, either. So, they sit in our house collecting dust and taking up space.

It's time for these items to find a new home! I have been trying to find a way to recycle them. I read an article on Teflon recycling and was feeling discouraged. Apparently one way to recycle Teflon pans is to get them recovered in Teflon. Or you could get the Teflon coating 'blasted' off and be left with a basic steel pan. They also mentioned that Caphalon has a cookware recycling program here. The catch is that you must purchase an 8 or 10 piece cookware set from them in order to receive a cookware recycling box.

At that point, the trail seemed bleak and I had to get creative. I called Caphalon Customer Service and they said they would recycle my cookware if I mailed it myself (and paid to ship it). I thought this was what I was going to do, but then I thought to check my local recycling center to see if they would accept them, and the web site says that they do!

They are now in the car waiting to be delivered (do I recycle the glass lid with them???) and there are three fewer useless items taking up space in my house. I hope these pans get recycled into something useful.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's Barely a Recipe: Mixed Roasted Potatoes

My kids love this simple side dish, and it's so easy to make it's Barely A Recipe!

Sweet Potatoes (optional)
Olive Oil

  • Wash and dice potatoes and sweet potatoes to a 3/4 inch dice.
  • Dump in a 13 x 9 pan. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
  • Roast in oven at whatever temperature you need for whatever else you are cooking. (Or 375 degrees if you need a specific temp.)
  • Cook for 15 minutes or so, then remove from oven and mix/turn/scrape potatoes from bottom of pan if they are sticking. Mix well and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, mixing again. Use a fork to test for doneness. We like ours well cooked so that the potatoes are nice and soft. The sweet potatoes will cook a bit faster.
You can't freeze these, but they are fine for leftovers (that is, if you have any leftovers. We rarely do!). I recommend reheating them in the toaster oven because the microwave ruins the texture.

This recipe is linked to Ultimate Recipe Swap at LifeasMom, where you can find other root vegetable recipe ideas.

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's Barely a Recipe: A Series

With all the meal planning I've been doing recently, I've been thinking about the fact that a number of meals and dishes I cook are things that I don't really think of as recipes because they are so simple. I've always had the general instructions for the preparation in my head, no need to write anything down!

Until now, that is. I've decided that I am going to share some of these dishes that are 'Barely Recipes' as an occasional series. (This means that I will post them infrequently when I happen to think of one.)

The first unofficial 'Barely A Recipe' was the bean and cheese quesadillas. Simple and easy, but it took me a while to work our how efficient it is to do the prep work in advance and freeze them so that we have an affordable, high-protein meal, snack, or appetizer ready to eat in minutes.

I can think of two others that I will post later this week. Feel free to share your simple preparation ideas!

Procrastination Can Be Good

Procrastination isn't all bad, I think. Our culture focuses so much on keeping busy and looking productive rather than thinking, preparing, and anticipating. If your mind isn't ready to focus on the task at hand, working on the task may be just as 'unproductive' as procrastinating. Or worse: if you are mindlessly completing tasks without thinking about the bigger picture, you may end up doing something that will be unnecessary or obsolete in the longer term.

I dislike discovering I've 'wasted time' doing something that was going to be undone anyway, like when I wash a load of whites and then realize that there was a hamper full of additional whites upstairs that should have been laundered in the same load. (A waste of water and energy!)

The Free Dictionary reports a definition of procrastination as,
To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness.

I guess it's true that sometimes I am putting off doing something because I am enjoying some down time, but I don't think of procrastination as being non-productive every time. I can think of a lot of tasks that I have completed while I was procrastinating about doing something else.

Most every large school assignment I completed in college was preceded by every other thing I could think to do. Sure, that meant I watched some movies or went out with friends, but it also meant that I did all my laundry or cleaned the walls in our dingy apartment bathroom. There was something about sitting down to write or study in an orderly space that helped me to focus. The time spent cleaning often didn't require a lot of brain power and I was able to think about what I was going to say or focus on when the time came to sit down.

These days I am just as likely to forget about something that I need to do as procrastinate about it. My mind is constantly shifting from here and now tasks of child and home care to planning our schedule in advance, working on my volunteer work, attempting to progress in my declutter challenge, etc. etc. I don't have a perfect system for keeping track of everything, but generally things don't slip through the cracks of my mind for too long at a time.

When I do procrastinate about something, it is usually for one of three reasons:
  • I dread performing the task; I'm not in the mood.
  • I feel uncomfortable about doing the task (it is something unfamiliar or awkward)
  • I'm undecided about the task; is this really what I want to do? I'm hesistant about making a commitment.
When I'm procrastinating because I am dreading or feeling uncomfortable about the task, often it helps to commit to forging ahead. I find it motivating to promise myself a reward--and usually the reward is to work on a task that I want to work on. I say to myself, "You can't work on your fun stuff until you do this yucky tedious stuff first."

When I recognize that I my procrastination is due to feeling undecided or noncommittal, I continue to hold off. Maybe my feelings of procrastination are trying to tell me that something is a bad idea. Something time sensitive will pressure me to make a decision one way or another, for anything else procrastination will be the decision itself. Holding off when I'm procrastinating about something has avoided numerous purchases that we didn't really want or need, and I've avoided starting projects that I hadn't thought through far enough.

It can be really useful to procrastinate in order to work up to something mentally challenging or to recognize in your procrastination a sense of hesitation. Or it may just be a beautiful day, a perfect opportunity to delay your To Do List and live for the moment.

I won't even tell you how long I procrastinated on writing this blog post.

Menu Plan Monday: March 22nd

Thank goodness for my stockpile! We had a spontaneous party in our front yard to welcome some new neighbors and just enjoy being outside on a beautiful First Day of Spring. I didn't have much food in the house, but I had some Salmon cakes and some quesadillas stashed away in the freezer, which added to some fare brought over by some neighbors. Now I have a bit of space in the freezer so that I can restock--for the next party, of course.

Is it too early to start grilling? I bought some chicken with the intent to marinate it for the grill.

Monday: Soup and Sandwiches (I'm making the Kale soup I was supposed to make last week... right now.)
Tuesday: Hamburgers, baked beans, and broccoli
Wednesday: Roasted Chicken, roasted vegetables.
Thursday: Cooking Playdate! We're going to marinate meat for future grilling meals and whip up some lasagna because my family keeps inhaling it all. Well have Molasses Glazed Chicken Thighs for dinner.
Friday: Creamy Enchilada Casserole
Saturday: Leftovers
Sunday: Chicken Casserole (prepped in advance as we will be out all day)
Monday: Spaghetti w/Turkey meatballs, green beans (still haven't eaten this pantry/freezer based, slide-around meal)

Soup of the Week: The sauce for the Lasagna. (I'm flush with soup!)

Visit for more Monday menu planning ideas!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gougeres: Wonderful Cheese Puffs!

It's not the best picture, but it was the only one I was able to snap before these things were inhaled at the play group I held this morning. I've had this recipe for a while, but only recently did I rediscover it and decide to give it a try. WOW! Make them at your own risk!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Houseplants: Clearing the Air in Your Home

One part of my Spring Cleaning rituals is the care and feeding of my houseplants. I love having live plants in my house; they add warmth and hominess to each room, as well as cleaning and freshening the air. I once read a recommendation to have 1 houseplant per 100 square feet of living space to help improve the air quality in your home. (I can't find my houseplant book right now. It's either been ruthlessly purged or it's in one of the boxes of stuff I still need to sort!) My goal is to get up to 9 houseplants; right now I have 6. I add them gradually.

Here most of them are having a nice, steamy shower in the bathroom. This is how I avoid having to dust them. I do recommend removing all action figures, rubber lizards, and any other random items from amongst the leaves before starting the cleaning process. (Our plants are utlized as Jungles and Forests for various imaginary play scenarios.)

Everyone gets a bath except for the African Violet, she doesn't get wet OR dusted. I really wish she would bloom! Maybe if I put her in a new, sunnier location where she will be less in danger of having her leaves ripped off...

A few will be repotted into larger containers later today, some get a bit of fresh soil added to the container, and everyone gets a scoopful of plant food.

My houseplants aren't perfect, because (in addition to being played with) sometimes I get behind on watering them. The best way I've found to remember is to keep my peace lily directly across from where I sit each day at the dining room table. When the peace lily droops, everyone gets a drink.They would also look better if the air in our house weren't so dry--almost all the leaves on the peace lily are brown and dry at the tips. I haven't figured that part out yet.

We have some temporary additional houseplants joining us right now, too. My kids and I have tried a new method for planting seeds. I've saved the eggshells from recent dozens of eggs. We used a toothpick to carefully poke holes in the bottoms of the shells, filled them with potting soil, and planted the seeds inside. Our plan is to grow the seeds indoors, then carefully crush the egg shells around the root ball before planting them in the soil outside. The minerals in the eggshells are supposed to be good for the soil. We'll see if it works!

I don't buy plastic wrap, so I had to improvise the plastic covering. This cover is a dry cleaning bag with holes cut in the top. I like it because it wraps all the way around the cardboard box. If any overzealous watering takes place, it will be contained within the bag. (There is an old dish towel underneath just in case.)

I'm glad that I have some green things growing right now... the paperwhites that I planted for our Sunday Brunch are a little confused by the time of year, and have decided against blooming after all. It was worth a try!
Go here to see more Green Project ideas!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Consignment Sale Preparation Tips

I'm really looking forward to my Yard Sale/Consignment Sale plan for next month. (Okay, really I am a little nervous about pulling this all off... I'm a little overwhelmed when I think about it all!) By planning well in advance, I am giving myself plenty of time to prepare for both sales, rather than scrambling to prepare and price items at the last minute, which has been my method in the past.

 Here are a few tips that I am trying to follow when preparing items for yard and/or consignment sales: 
  • Think outside the box when assembling items for sale. Something that isn't useful to you may be exactly what someone else is looking for. I find this especially true at yard sales. In the past I've been amazed to see what people are willing to pay for--items that to me held little to no value!
  • Think small. One of the small items I priced the other day was an almost-full box of breast milk storage bags I happened to have left over. A box like this typically retails for $5 or more, so I am giving someone a great savings if I price it at $2. I will only earn $1 if I sell it at the consignment sale, which doesn't seem like a lot until I price 49 additional items at a similar price and earn $50. The little things add up!
  • If an item isn't in good enough condition, don't sell it! The consignment sale I participate with requests good quality items and volunteers inspect them when you deliver them to the sale. If the item isn't something that you would feel good about buying, don't waste your time pricing it for consignment--chances are no one will buy it. Sell it at a yard sale or donate it instead.
  • Price items to sell! It's very tempting to look at your item and remember how much you paid for it when it was new. Try to avoid letting the past value of the item influence the current price you are placing on the item. I try to think like a buyer when I am pricing: I ask myself, "What would I pay for this and feel like I was getting a great deal?" I'm as glad as anyone to make money selling, but my primary goal is to connect my stuff with a new home where my items are wanted, needed, and valued. I like to imagine the people who take my stuff home; I hope they feel good about their purchase! The added benefit is that more of your items will sell.
I have the option to pick my items up after the consignment sale, and my hope is to collect very few items--usually the few items I felt emotionally attached to when pricing and therefore over-priced.

Anything not picked up from the consignment sale will be donated. Leftover yard sale items not headed for the consignment sale will also be donated. It's not like the donated items will go into the trash, but I'd rather connect the items with someone who needs them right away; maybe save the donation organizations a little time and effort (and fossil fuels!)

Menu Plan Monday: March 15th

I am so glad to have my Freezer Cooking stash on hand for unexpected events. I didn't do my cooking play date last Thursday, it's rescheduled for this week, but that wasn't a problem because I had a lovely vegetarian lasagna just waiting to be eaten.

Everything went well with our Sunday Brunch, and we will enjoy leftovers fpr breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the week! This is great because it's going to be a busy one.

  • Monday: Leftovers
  • Tuesday: Cooking Day: Making Tilapia and Pepper Packets and Pizza Pockets (postponed from last week), serving Pizza Pockets for dinner (parents out)
  • Wednesday: St Patrick's Day! Corned beef with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes
  • Thursday: Tilapia and Pepper Packets with whole wheat couscous
  • Friday: Leftovers
  • Saturday: If the leftovers are gone, maybe I'll cook Something. I think I have some frozen chicken.
  • Sunday: (book club) Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs, green beans (we still haven't eaten this freezer/pantry meal, but it's great to have it on standby week after week...)
  • Monday: Soup and Sandwiches (grilled cheese for the kids, turkey wraps for the adults, and we currently have 3 different soup choices in the freezer.)

Soup of the Week: I have to make White Bean Kale Soup at least one more time this season--it's so good! (Also I have most of the ingredients on hand.)

I've been focusing on other things the past week or so, but this week I finally have some spare moments during which to spend some time in my processing room working on my March decluttering/selling projects.

Need more meal planning ideas? Visit to be inspired!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Medical Care for Mom?

Earlier today I took my son to see his pediatrician. This is a pediatrician we have been using since before he was born; I researched some recommended doctors and went in to interview one of the main doctors at the practice, all before he arrived. This group of doctors has been supporting the health of both my children, at all hours of they day, ever since.

You would think that I would take the same precaution for myself, and line up my own doctor in case I needed one, right? No. Here I am: nearly 6 years have gone by since I last had a Primary Care Physician. I'm fortunate enough to have health insurance, so you would think I could take the time to use it properly AND benefit from having a relationship with a doctor so that I could get an appointment easily if/when I really need one--with someone who has my medical history on file.

I've had a few instances when I would have liked to see a PCP, when I had chest pains, for instance. Unfortunately, since becoming a mother I have had trouble determining when exactly I am supposed to search for or visit a PCP, and how exactly I should go about finding a suitable one in the first place.

The Problem with 'When':
Primary Care Physicians' offices are open during 'normal business hours', as are dentists, eye doctors, etc. These are the hours in the day when

        a) I have my young children with me and
        b) I don't have a lot of spare time to schedule and attend unnecessary doctor appointments, such as an introductory doctor appointment would be.

My kids are distracting. It's all I can do to focus on the pediatrician during my childrens' doctor visits, so it has always seemed pointless to me to conduct an interview with a new doctor with kid in tow. (Although I would have found out fast whether the office was child and breastfeeding friendly!)

I could find child care for them, yes, but it's hard to use child care opportunities for a lower priority project such as interviewing a doctor. It's also challenging find last minute daytime child care for a sick visit. I could ask my husband to take time from work, and he has done that when I've been able to give him advance notice. (I've never been 'sick enough' for him to stay home for an entire day. My body seems to schedule illness 'conveniently' on weekends.)

What it boils down to is that it's difficult for me to determine when I would even go to a doctor appointment, whether the purpose is to interview/find a new doctor, or to obtain treatment for a problem. What I've done in the past is use a few short cuts for the occasional health care services I've needed over the years (other than the excellent midwifery care provided by my Birth Center, of course)
  • Urgent Care: They are open 24/7, and it's great! I've gone at 6 AM before my husband left for work, or late at night after the kids are in bed. I can go by myself, bring a book to read while I wait--did I mention it is located about 5 minutes from my house? The Downside: The care is generally decent, but not wonderful. Once, the doctor prescribed a medicine, and when I asked if it was safe for a breastfeeding mother; she said she wasn't sure but I probably shouldn't breastfeed, and she left the room! Clearly she wasn't too concerned about, uh, me potentially poisioning my child? (Note: On my insurance policy, we pay out of pocket for non-preventive care, so I don't overuse the service. I've used Urgent Care approximately three times for myself in 5 years, and one of those times I had chest pains, so please don't think that I 'waste' my health care benefit.) Oh, and the result of that example above was that I called my midwife to check on the medication. It wasn't safe, so I didn't take it. I recovered anyway.
  • CVS Minute Clinic: There is a CVS Minute Clinic located about 5 miles away that has hours on Saturdays as well as weekdays. I've used the clinic to get flu shots, TB tests (required to volunteer at preschool), and to get a test for Strep Throat. The care is professional and efficient. The Downside: They close for a lunch break arbitrarily at some point in the middle of the day. I don't begrudge the employees a break, but it is a little challenging to my schedule when I am trying to be seen before I have to get back to my kids (when they are with someone else). Sometimes they have a lot of people queued up to be seen. I've had to leave and come back at a less busy time to avoid my child(ren) being too disruptive while we wait.
These services have been invaluable to me during this period in my life when I haven't had a lot of flexibility or energy to locate a new primary care physician and I recommend them as a short-term solution for doctor-less people who need a quick solution.

I myself am entering a new season of parenting where I have a few hours a week to myself, and I've decided that I'd better prioritize this project and secure a relationship with a doctor before I'm really desperate for one. But how?

The Problem with 'How'

The Problem with 'how' is that I feel completely overwhelmed and lost when it comes to finding a doctor. It's not as simple as it seems. Yes, I could start looking doctors up in the provider directory offered by my insurance policy, but the only information that resource provides is the distance of the doctor's office from my house. Good to know, but I would like to know a little more about a doctor before I sign up with them.

In the past, we have received friends' recommendations to select doctors. Last summer we were looking for a dermatologist for my husband, and we received many glowing referrals from friends in the area. Unfortunately the recommended doctors were SO popular that a new patient had to wait over two months to obtain an appointment. (See? This is why I need to make this a priority now!) We did find a good dermatologist in the end, and Tom is all fixed up now. I'm glad we didn't wait two months, but it did feel a bit risky at first going to a doctor we knew nothing about.

Part of the problem I admit is with me: I don't like doctors, I don't trust doctors. I am the type of patient that doesn't take everything the doctor says as an absolute. I ask questions and request explanations and alternatives. More than once I have politely declined a doctor's recommendation and provided an informed explanation for my decision. I've been known to request care or treatment that isn't typically provided. When I haven't stuck to my values in these past instances, I've generally regretted it. I've sometimes received care I didn't really need, and at other times I didn't receive care that I did need.

All of this means that a doctor has to expend time and energy to deal with me; I don't follow the status quo. This would probably be all right with many doctors so long as I provided an income stream, but from the economic side of things, I am not a good prospect as a patient--I don't generate a lot of income for doctors. (Too healthy and too likely to turn down more invasive treatments. Heck, I don't even like to take medications. My favorite question is: "What happens if we just leave it alone? Will it heal itself?")

I am hopeful that if I spend a little time focusing and researching, I will secure a satisfactory primary care physician relationship within the next few months. If you have the good fortune to be covered by insurance yet you lack a relationship with a doctor, I hope that you are inspired to do the same. I'll check in with updates on my progress or lack thereof.

If anyone knows of a good General/Family Practice doctor in/near Arlington, VA who is accepting new patients, please let me know! I would also appreciate any advice/suggestions...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sunday Brunch: Final Prep

The Brunch that we planned to have in February was snowed out, but we rescheduled it for this Sunday, March 14th! Since I already planned the menu, I just need to figure out what ingredients I need from the store and schedule when I am going to prepare everything this week.

Already prepared: I have a loaf of strawberry bread in the freezer. I wasn't planning on serving strawberry bread, but I might as well since I have some made up! I'll add a load of banana bread to the freezer today.

Prepare and Freeze: Time to try to make those Bouchons au Thon again--in the new mini muffin pan. I'll also slice and freeze the mini bagels I intend to use.

The Day Before: I'll make the Potato Kale Quiche, the Oatmeal Cookies, cut the fresh fruit, and prepare the Make Ahead Strawberry French Toast.

The Morning of the Brunch: I'll make the Summer Squash Frittata, squeeze the citrus fruit for fresh juice, toast the bagels, and cook/reheat everything that needs to be cooked/reheated.

The paperwhites I planned to use for decoration are dead and gone, but I did have 8 more bulbs left that I am trying to force right now. (I usually force more over the holidays, but I couldn't--and still can't--find my large containers!) Hopefully all this nice, sunny weather we are having will hurry them along... if they're still alive, that is.

I'm really glad I had everything planned out in advance--even though I didn't use the plan when I thought I would, it is still here, written down, so I don't have to start over from scratch. (A Secret: You can use the same menu plan more than once... with different guests! Only your family will know the difference, and they won't complain if you're making something that everyone likes.)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: March 8th

One of my friends saw the Lamb Shank recipe I was considering for last Friday, and asked me to move it to today so that we could prepare it together! We did all the preparation up until it roasts in the oven, and it is currently waiting in the fridge. I can't wait!
  • Monday: Braised Lamb Shanks with Red Wine Sauce (with orzo pasta and broccoli)
  • Tuesday: Ratatouille Frittata (using remainder of ratatouille made last week!)
  • Wednesday: Stuffed Chicken with Rice (Tbiet)--I didn't remember until midday on Friday that I needed to put this in the over first thing in the morning, so it slid over into this week! (We ate some chicken drumsticks I was intending to serve for lunches.)
  • Thursday: Tilapia and Pepper Packets (Cooking Playdate: also making Pizza Pockets for future meals)
  • Friday: Leftovers
  • Saturday: Pizza Pockets
  • Sunday: Sunday Brunch Leftovers
  • Monday: Spaghette with Turkey Meatballs (this meal is easy to slide around as all the ingredients are frozen or have a long shelf life in the pantry, so I've been using it as a stand-in, but it's actually been a while since I last served it!)
Soup of the Week: I'm taking the week off so that I can finish preparing for our Sunday Brunch.

Explore many other meal plan ideas at

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Time For Tea

I have a confession to make. The reason I didn't complete my Freezer Cooking Day plan earlier in the week was because I promised my daughter we would have a tea party!

My grandmother used this set of china specifically for hosting tea parties with me when I was little. The mugs of the set are tiny--like a cappuccino mug, which makes them perfect for little hands. She gave me the set when I outgrew the tea party stage, and I have saved them over the years in anticipation of a day like the one the other day.

I decided that I wanted to drink an actual cup of tea during our tea party, so I made some Cranberry Apple Tea with a few tea bags in a tea pot. We needed something to put in the cream pitchers, so we used apple juice, which could be poured into the tea to cool it--and also to sweeten it for the non-tea drinkers at the party (like my daughter). I scrounged up a few snacks for us to munch on--I mean, to eat daintily while talking in 'proper' voices.

Our other guests included some of Julie's favorite animal friends:

Including Mommy Dinosaur who likes to eat Goldfish (she has one in her mouth):

And I was required to wear at hat.
It was a lovely party!

Consignment and Yard Sale Plans

I am starting to focus on some other Decluttering strategies because if you caught a glimpse of my basement, you'll notice that selling a handful on items on Ebay each month is not going to make much of a dent in our mountain of stuff! At least it's a bit more under control now, and I have a space to work.

I have had a lot of success in the past selling baby items at a local consignment sale held in our area twice annually. I also had success selling our unneeded stuff at a yard sale we held a few years ago. Our stuff has built up again since that time, which is why I've found it necessary to set myself a personal Declutter Challenge for this year; to minimize and organize our possessions while taking the responsibility to find good homes for the items we no longer need.

The problem is, preparing items for consigment or yard sales can be a lot of work for not a lot of profit. I have to prepare index cards for each item I'm planning to sell at the consignment sale, and the sale organizers keep a portion of the sale (in the case of the sale I participate with, the amount is 50%). A yard sale will require pricing, advertising, coordinating with neighbors, etc.

I think that we have enough stuff to consider taking on the work. To make the most of our time commitment, I've decided to do something I haven't done before: I'm going to hold a Yard Sale the week before the Consignment Sale.

I have a number of items that I can't sell at the consignment sale, because the sale is particularly for children and baby items. Whatever remains of the children and baby items after the Yard Sale (where I keep 100% of the earnings) can be taken to the Consigment Sale (where I keep 50% of the earnings), and if I don't pick my unsold items up at the end of the sale, the items will be donated for me!

Both of these events will be held in April. Planning for them now will give me time to thoroughly search my house for saleable items. I'm looking forward to a significantly decluttered house by the end of April!

To Ebay or Not to Ebay... An Update

As I mentioned last month, I'm still trying to decide whether it is worth it to sell on Ebay as a very small-time seller. I've made a handful of sales now that have contributed nicely to my personal Declutter Challenge, and have a bit more perspective on the whole process.

I'm continuing to select items to sell on Ebay following a strict criteria. The item must:
  • Have Value If I look up a book on and someone is selling a copy for 75 cents, I don't list my book. If there are a number of auctions on Ebay for an item I am considering selling, and no one is bidding on the items, I don't list my item. It is not worth it to me to ship an item that is worth only 75 cents or 99 cents across the country, and I want to avoid doing that as much as possible. (On the other hand, it's important to be prepared to sell your item for $.99 if only one person bids on your item. If your item does sell for $.99, ship it gracefully and tell yourself that you have provided a much-needed item to a cash-strapped family who desperately needed a great deal. That's what I did when it happened to me last month!)
  • Be hard to find in stores (or no longer sold): Be sure the item hasn't been recalled, of course.
  • Be easy to ship:  I am trying to avoid selling bulky or breakable items
  • Be in demand for a hard-to-reach group of people who shop on Ebay: To find out if my item is a potential 'hot item', I just do a search for it as if I am trying to purchase it myself, and see what turns up. I keep in mind that certain items probably sell better at different times of the year. You can also do a search here to find out whether items similar to yours have recently sold.

Following this criteria is working well for me so far. What it means is that I have only a handful of items each month to sell! I see this as a good thing--I can focus my energy on preparing a small group of items for sale, and have a better chance of actually selling each item, maximizing my profit for the time I am putting into the project. I'm managing my time on Ebay by following this process:
  • First Week: Collect and assess items to sell. Does it meet my criteria above?
  • Second Week: Prepare items for listing: cleaning, selecting shipping box, photographing, and deciding how to list the item (Auction vs. Buy it Now? More than one photograph? Additional services?)
  • Third Week: List Items for sale. I'm listing all of my items for the month at once. This means that there is only one week out of the month that I have active listings on Ebay, and they all close around the same time. I can focus on tracking the listings, respond to questions asked by buyers, etc. Buyers can win more than one of my auctions and request to combine shipping.
  • Fourth Week: Collect payments and ship items. I have figured out how to process all my shipping transactions from home. If you use flat rate shipping boxes and envelopes, you can ship all over the U.S. for the same rate, whether the item is traveling 300 miles or 3,000 miles. By ordering USPS shipping boxes online for free, purchasing and printing shipping labels online, and arranging pickup with your local postal carrier, you can completely avoid having to take your kids to the post office!
This is probably old information to all the Ebay experts out there, but it has been really helpful to determine how this process can work most effectively for me and my family. By managing the time I spend selling on Ebay, I can free time to focus on some of the other decluttering projects going on around the house.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beef With Broccoli--Home Made

A few years back, I had a craving for Beef With Broccoli, and I had a package of stew meat. I searched around online, but none of the recipes I found seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Finally after reading about a dozen of them, I decided to make it up as I went along, taking ideas from various recipes that seemed to fit. The result was a fast and delicious meal that I have made repeatedly.

  • 3 T Cornstarch, divided
  • 1/2 cup water plus 2 T water, divided
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 lb steak cut into strips (or stew meat chunks!)
  • 2 T Olive Oil, divided
  • 4 cups broccoli florets (I like fresh, but frozen will work)
  • 1 onion cut into thin wedges
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • Cooked Brown Rice

1. Combine 2 T Cornstarch, 2 T water, and garlic powder in a large bowl, mixing to combine. Add beef and toss to coat.
2. Add 1 T olive oil to pan, heat to medium high. Add meat to pan (discarding excess fluid from cornstarch mixture) and stir fry (stirring often) until all sides are browned, 4-6 minutes. Remove beef to a plate.
3. Add last 1 T olive oil to pan and add broccoli and onions. Saute, stirring frequently, then turn heat low, cover, and allow vegetables to steam and soften.
4. Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, remaining 1 T corn starch, and remaining 1/2 cup of water. Mix to combine and pour over vegetables in pan. Add meat back to pan and simmer, covered, for 5-7 minutes.

Serve over rice.

Strawberry Bread

Here is my mother's famous recipe for Strawberry Bread.

Dry Ingredients:
  • 3 cups flour (whole wheat works if you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
 Wet Ingredients:
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 stick butter (1/2 cup) fully softened
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • 1 ¼ cups chopped pecans
  • 2 10 oz packages frozen whole strawberries

1. Thaw frozen strawberries, keeping all strawberry juice. Reserve 3 Tablespoons strawberry juice for glaze (see below).

2. Grease and flour loaf pans (I recommend lining the pans with waxed paper.) Recipe makes 2 large loaf pans (8 x 4), 3 medium, or 6 mini loaves. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Combine dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add beaten eggs, very soft butter, and applesauce. Mix thoroughly, dough will be thick. Smash the defrosted strawberries a bit, and add them, and the pecans (be sure to include the remaining strawberry juice after reserving amount in step 1) and mix carefully and thoroughly to combine. Try to coat all the strawberries with the batter.

4. Pour batter evenly into prepared loaf pans. Bake 40-70 minutes, depending on loaf size and whenever toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Glaze Ingredients:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (or more to thicken)
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice (or more to taste)
  • 3 Tablespoons strawberry juice (previously reserved in step 1).

 5. Mix sugar, lemon, and strawberry juice. Drizzle/pour over tops and sides of bread loaves while still hot from the oven. (I put a sheet of wax paper under my cooling rack to catch the drips. Allow glaze to harden and cool completely before serving or freezing.


Vegetarian Freezer Cooking with a 3 Year Old

As I explained previously, I didn't have a big block of time to do my Freezer Cooking, so I decided to try and fit it around life. As a result, I did some of my cooking over the weekend while prepping for a dinner party, and the rest I didn't have time to do until today (Wednesday) because I was too busy taking pictures of my amazing new basement processing room! I didn't intend to do all vegetarian cooking, but that is what we ended up doing as I don't have much meat in the house.

Fortunately, my 3 year old daughter Julia was feeling helpful (rather than oppositional) and she helped me cook for 2 hours! I was really impressed with her ability to focus and follow instructions. She likes to peel garlic cloves, which is wonderful, because I find it quite tedious...

When you're working with a little one helping, I try to follow a few guidelines:
  • Keep the projects small and doable, and recognize that it will take much longer than usual to prepare a recipe. I intentionally made smaller amounts of food than I would make on my own.
  • Don't rush. If you are crunched for time, it is not a good time for your child to be helping you!
  • When giving instructions, be very specific, and use visual cues (demonstrate pouring into the bowl, etc.)
  • Expect a mess.
  • Give little jobs, such as taking items to the trash can, but also give 'big' jobs within reason. This will boost their confidence when they see that you are confident they can do something. I was a little nervous about a few things Julia did today, such as pouring bowls of chopped veggies into the soup pot (she has a history of either missing or dropping the bowl in the pot!) but I gave her a chance and she did a good job. She wouldn't improve without practice!
  • Don't get mad when someone makes a mistake or mess, even when you make one! (I'm the one who spilled quinoa all over the counter...)

Here's what we achieved:
  • Lasagna (Vegetarian Version): It was so easy to split this recipe between an 11x7 pan (for my dinner party) and an 8x8 (for the freezer). To make it vegetarian, simply omit the ground meat! This batch was also gluten-free because I used Brown Rice noodles.
  • Strawberry Bread: This recipes makes two large loaves, so one I served as dessert for the dinner, and the other I quickly stowed in the freezer before it was inhaled. (I'll post this recipe soon...)
  • Creamy Enchilada Casserole: My daughter put the tortillas in the pan, sprinkled the cheese and green onion, and helped me make the refried bean mixture and cheese sauce. My freezer is too full for this to fit, so we'll serve it for dinner tomorrow.
  • Quesadillas: My daughter sprinkled cheese, folded, and stacked them between wax paper slips for the freezer. (She also counted them: we made 7, which is enough for 2 lunches) These weren't in the plan, but we were out of them, Julie likes to make them, and they're easy.
  • Quinoa Vegetable Soup: This soup is vegan and delicious! My daughter enjoyed pouring vegetables in the pot, stirring, adding spices, etc. I kept the heat on very low and stayed right next to her the entire time to make sure she didn't burn herself. It took much longer to cook everything, but she was safer and happy helping me. This recipe makes maybe 10 cups of soup? I'll freeze it in 2-cup batches and it will be enough for 4-5 lunches, I think.
  • Multi-Grain Pancake Mix: Julie took a break while I quickly mixed up a new batch of the dry pancake mix that we like. The recipe is from The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook and includes whole wheat, buckwheat, barley, brown rice, and corn flours. We made 8 cups: enough for 4 breakfasts plus a few leftover for snacks. Fortunately this will keep in the pantry, because the freezer is small and officially full!

Here is a picture of the fruits of our labors, including the wonderful Baked Ziti with Mini Meatballs that I made last week with a friend during a play date. (I have a Cooking Play Date tomorrow with a different friend and we are going to make another vegetarian meal from The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook: Ratatouille!)

I love to gloat over my freezer stash! You can see others' reports here over at Money Saving Mom.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Basement Organizing Challenge Results

I was really inspired by 'I'm an Organizing Junkie's' call to enter her 28 Day Organizing Challenge! I hate my basement and I've been procrastinating for over 5 years on organizing everything so that I can use the room as a functional space. I spend as little time as possible down there running laundry through the machines, and that's it! (Except for occasionally adding to the scary piles that were already there.) Here are my before pictures:

I jumped at the chance to enter my basement laundry room in this contest. I was hopeful that if I had a deadline and the incentive of blogging about my progress, that would light my fire. I even had extra opportunity to work on the project when the great snowstorms of 2010 passed through our area, trapping the entire family at home. Easy, right?

Unfortunately, I struggled to stay motivated about this project. I didn't do ANYTHING to move the project along until late in the month. I got off to a good start posting some sorting strategies that I planned to put into action, but then I would go to the basement and find that there was so much stuff everywhere and nowhere to move anything around. I would stand in the middle of the room and stare blankly at the space, unsure where to begin, what to move where, how to organize things... I was discouraged and lost!

I finally figured out that I needed to take a step back even further than just sorting all of our random junk, and come up with a vision for the basement laundry room space. Instead of focusing on what to store where and how to categorize things, I needed to focus on the room's functionality. One of the room's functions is as a place to sort out all of our random junk! I couldn't do that (or anything else!) because I didn't have space to work. First I needed to make the space functional, THEN I could do some sorting.

These are the activities that I need my basement laundry room to accommodate, in order of frequency/priority:
  • Laundry storage (dirty items waiting to be cleaned), sorting, and folding
  • Space to store, sort, and organize items to be sold, donated, or recycled as part of my personal Declutter Challenge. (including shipping supplies)
  • Space to prepare items for several yard/consigment sales coming up in the next few months (including hanging racks for consignment clothing)
  • Gift Wrap/Shipping storage and wrapping space
  • Storage/access to scrapbooking supplies/projects
  • Access to old computer to FINALLY finish moving old files/data to new computers before donating.
 To be fair, the room must also serve several functions for my husband:
  • Accessible tool and household equipment storage (any cabinets I don't mention contain his things, and everything hanging on the wall is his--he's likes to hang stuff.)
  • Accessible seating storage (we have large families that sometimes require folding chair seating)
  • Accessible Beer storage :)
Our goal was to remove everything from the room that didn't serve one of the functions listed above. We moved some furniture around and ended up with the space you see here:

I feel the need to explain that the cabinets you see here are our old kitchen cabinets and counters that were moved down to the basement during a kitchen remodel years ago. We just lined the cabinets up and stacked the counters on top--they are in no way 'installed' but they provide a great deal of flexible storage and work space. My husband hung some of the upper cabinets in this room as well as in the storage room beyond.

We kept the old computer at the end of the counter so that I can finish preparing it to be donated. We now have wireless access so if I am listing an item online, I can do so right here at the counter--now that there is a safe place to set the laptop computer down! The counter is where I can store current projects: items I am planning to sell or donate, or items that need to be sorted and organized before being stored away in storage.

As you see above, one of my favorite storage solutions is the card table that slides under the counter top when not in use; it can be pulled out to serve as a laundry folding space, gift wrap/shipping space, or extra tabletop space if I am working on a large project. Underneath the card table we have two old laundry hampers that contain unwashed but sorted clothing that is waiting to be laundered--darks in the brown hamper, lights in the beige hamper, of course. I started folding laundry here even before we finished organizing the space!

This corner above previously contained my two hanging racks shoved behind a large box so that I couldn't access and move the racks. We've placed several old dressers here instead; the smaller one contains my husband's stuff. We set a cabinet on top of the larger grey one; together they contain gift wrap/shipping supplies and ribbons, bubble wrap, small shipping boxes, greeting card files, etc.There is a gift wrap storage container next to it for rolled gift wrap. The cabinet above our brown dresser holds our laundry supplies.

The photo above shows that my hanging racks are now stored where the grey dresser used to be, and the space around the furnace/water heater is now clear of clutter, except for the folding tables and chairs. We can use this space as a holding area for future donation piles. There is plenty of space so that I can now pull the racks out when prepping clothing for consignment, as shown below:

Here are my responses to Orgjunkie's Challenge Questions:

1. What was the hardest part of the challenge for you and were you able to overcome it?

I was having so much trouble getting started on this challenge that I truly thought I was going to submit a 'humor' post about strategies for Procrastination! Once I took a step back and focused on my vision for the room and what I needed to do to make it functional, it sparked all sorts of ideas, and the plans flew into place incredibly fast--most of the work was done over a few days.

 2. Tell us what kind of changes/habits you have put into place in order for your area/room to maintain its new order?

  •  Dirty clothes will no longer be dumped in the middle of the room to wait to be cleaned. (My husband is estatic.)
  • When we are not actively working on a project, we will put the project away (folding table stored, wrapping/shipping supplies put away, hanging racks stored against the wall under a dust sheet, saleable items stored in a container, etc.)
  • I will add the room to the 'cleaning routine' of the household, because now there are surfaces to dust/clean and visible floors to sweep/vacuum rather than piles of dusty junk everywhere! 
 3. What did you do with the “stuff” you were able to purge out of your newly organized space?

Items removed from the room included a large pile of worn clothing, bedding, and baby equipment, all headed for Goodwill (You can read about what they'll do with it here.), a baby crib that our children barely slept in and a large plastic basketball hoop (both headed for Craigslist via The Garage), and a slew of gift bags hoarded over 5 years--we will never need this many gift bags!--also donating to Goodwill. I also recycled a bunch of worn cardboard boxes. We haven't sorted the Goodwill pile yet, but here is a preview of next weekend's project :) I hope to add to the pile even more before then!

I sorted a number of books, toys, and miscellanous items into storage containers and boxes and stacked them in the storage room. I will pull each one out as time permits to continue those decluttering projects as outlined in my personal Declutter Challenge. Here is a picture of the storage room to prove that I didn't just shove the mess into a different room! ;)

 4. What creative storage solutions were you able to introduce in order to create additional space as well as establish some limits and boundaries?

As I mentioned in my original post, my goal was to organize this room using only items that we already owned. We were successful!

I love that we were able to move various furniture pieces around the room to maximize storage space where we need it--including pulling a cabinet out from under the countertop to place on top of the dresser. We then slid a large box into the empty space and now I have a place to collect worn/outgrown clothing until I have a chance to decide whether to consign or donate each item.

I also like the shallow drawers of the gray dresser, which are perfect for storing ribbons and other wrapping/shipping items. Before I had little stashes of gift/shipping supplies in several different places, but now everything is consolidated in one place so I can easily see that I have plenty of supplies--no need to run out and purchase more!

Another neat thing that we did was repurpose the baking sheet cabinet (under the old computer) as a great place to store flattened shipping boxes.

5. Why do you think you should win this challenge?
Well, I won't win if it's a beauty contest--my poor basement is not the most aethestically pleasing! I didn't have time or budget to paint and stencil the furniture or add any deliciously cute storage containers to the space. ;)

 I hope that the judges will consider my space for how far it has come; from being a complete wreck of a room to being (for me) an inviting and efficient place to process my family's Stuff as it moves in and out of our lives. This 'Processing Area' is a space that I think every home could benefit from having; a space that I envision using this way for many years to come.

I really appreciate the opportunity to participate in this organizing challenge, and I look forward to checking out the results of everyone else's efforts!