Friday, June 24, 2011

Where Have You Been?

Good question! And thank you to those who so kindly inquired about my whereabouts! Jeez, as I logged into Blogger today, I had to think twice to remember my password!

Here's the thing...let's just say, I have been 'otherwise' occupied. Truth-be-told, the blog - as much as I enjoy writing it, has not been at the top of my to-do list.

As many of you know, Aunt B passed away just before Easter. In March her health began to decline quickly and even though I knew what was too-soon-to-come was inevitable, I am having a difficult time dealing with her absence.

Aunt B and Uncle Alan were the connection to my husband's side of the family. Kent's parents passed away long before I met him, so for me Alan and Barb were my in-laws as well as surrogate grandparents for Kate.

Uncle Alan passed away a bit over two years ago and now, Aunt B is gone as well. As the days after her passing quickly turned to weeks, then months, I still can't seem to kick myself into gear.

I dearly loved them both but Aunt B and I had a special connection. Sunday evenings are the hardest. Either I would call her or she me (always before 60 Minutes, because we both like to watch it). We had this routine for years. However, it wasn't 'routine' at all - it was special.

Soon after her passing, seems a delivery-truck-a-day would chug up our hill. I'd hear it and knew it would most likely pull up to our house. Usually when FedX or UPS arrives it's bringing us something ordered for a shoot for me, a gift for a birthday or special occasion, or maybe fishing equipment for Kent. Somehow, when that stuff is left by the door, it's OK. But these boxes were special and seeing them so casually stacked on the back step like they were just another delivery - no big dealmade it hard for me.

How was the driver to know what was jiggling around in those boxes were the remnants of two well-lived lives?  And, as was expected, Aunt B (and Uncle Alan) were generous in their final wishes - they were that way in life as in death. There have been lots of deliveries!

As I began to slowly and carefully unpack the boxes and pallet (yes - some things even arrived on a pallet!), I would either smile, chuckle or drip tears when the tissue would finally reveal it's contents. Aunt B was a teacher and some of the things she left me were hilarious, yet so touching all at the same time. Such was the box with the Easter bunny made from a styrofoam egg. It not only produced enough rabbits to fill a small basket -  but also included was the pattern to make them. I could just see her as she patiently and kindly would teach a child to make those bunnies.  

In her final days, Aunt B and I had lovely discussions about some of her favorite things. Together we decided then and there, that on Kate's wedding day she would receive the china, silver and crystal and it would be a gift from she and Uncle Alan. What a lucky girl Kate is. It's entirely there - full sets! Aunt B took such good care of everything!

We also discussed the beautifully needlepointed side chairs, benches and footstools her mother did, but decided that they were due for a facelift! She knew I appreciated the needlepoint yet also knew that their 'style' might be a bit too 'fussy' for me.

However, for well over a month now, said contents, and others have been accumulating either on my dining room table or in other rooms around the house, patiently awaiting their new homes.

Last weekend - finally - I started to carefully wash the china and glassware and put it away in the storage containers I purchased a few weeks ago. I also did a little digging in my collection of fabrics and began to 'try on' new looks for the chairs, etc.

Funny because as I did this, I realized I was in my element. I found myself enjoying the cleaning, the organizing and the designing.

Hummmm...imagine that!

The thing's all so final and has seemed to take it's toll on my usually upbeat demeanor. I am certainly not the first to have these feelings, but until now, I haven't had to deal with this stage of real-life. Yes, my grandparents are gone, and I certainly have lovely things from all of them, but for some reason, this is different. Maybe my own mortality is beginning to dawn on me?

In the meantime, a few days before Aunt B passed, another death took place in our family. The doctor my mother worked for since before I was born also passed away. He was 91. He was a soft-spoken, kind and caring man and a big part of my childhood. He and his wife (she passed about 6 years ago), had no children. He adored my mother and left her just about everything!

So in the midst of dealing with things from Aunt B, I have spent the better part of two weeks in Idaho with my own mother, helping her sort through the contents of yet another life.

Weekend before last, I spent two days working the estate sale with her. At the end of the sale, the remains of the household were boxed and stacked in the garage awaiting the Goodwill truck. As we quietly finished packing and stacking, the wonderful woman who organized and administrated the sale said, "Here sits the remains of 91 years of a life". Even as long as she has run her estate sale business, in the end, the pile of leftovers that didn't sell always makes her sad. It made me sad too, along with my own newly accumulated piles.  

So, there you go: this is where I am and where I've been. It's not an excuse, it's real. Sadly, most of us have had - or will have - to deal with this part of life at some point.

I feel better now. It's good to get this off my mind. I've felt bad about not writing, I wish I could have managed all of this better. But I haven't.

You know, just for fun - tonight, I'm going to pull out some of the china, the sparkling silver (Aunt B's nemesis!) and the crystal, and set the dinner table. Why not? A casual, everyday dinner served on nothing but the finest would make Aunt B laugh out loud. She'd say 'Kate won't mind" and "Good for you"!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Honestly is the Best Policy

If you regularly read this blog, you know that from time-to-time, I feel compelled to 'come clean', (no pun intended).

Today is one of those days where my conscience is weighing heavily with the truth. The guilt is getting to me! And - since it's almost Mother's Day - I think it's best to be honest. So here goes.

I happily admit that the original all-time, best-ever, cleaner-upper-organizer-decorator-juggler-of-all things, hard-working-professional, who never stops 'doing', cape-wearing-superwoman, is NOT me. It's my mama!

Yup! All the credit goes to her. She's the one who taught me the basics. Which, if you know me, you'll catch me saying, "the basics are always the classics"! They are - and she is.

How she ever "did it all", I'll never know. But she did, (pssst, she still does!)

Here's the truth:

My Mom was a busy professional who had a full time job before I was born (ahem!) in the late 50's. While many of my friends had 'stay-at-home' moms, mine was out the door before I got up to go to school!

In the mid-60's my father started his own business. Many evenings (after her 'regular' job), Mom would get dinner on the table, (she's a fabulous cook), had the dishes done (I had to dry - hated it!), then be at the kitchen table balancing the books for my Dad's new venture. To top it off, on many weekends she'd round us up and we'd head to my grandparent's home - the family farm - to do what was needed.

But that's not all, because somehow, with everything else mom did she miraculously turned our house into a beautiful home. It was a special place to grow up. A picture-perfect, middle class, All-American home that was lovingly cared for by both of my hard-working parents.

My multi-tasking master Mom literally taught me everything I know about keeping a home - and that home ownership also came with responsibility. I knew I was fortunate to grow up where I did, that we were lucky to have a roof over our heads and that all of it happened because of a lot of hard work.

Also, she taught me that having and maintaining a home is a lot more than the sum of it's contents. It's the family that lives within and the memories made.  It's the laughter - and tears too -that make it 'perfect' - no matter if you own your home or not!

Who knew back then that all those years spent cleaning, cooking, doing the laundry and the ironing, the canning, sewing, and gardening - all with some major eye-rolling from me, (Kate came by that naturally!), would eventually prime me for a career that I love.

So, as Mother's Day approaches, I'm thinking a lot about my Mom, how much I owe her and how much I love her. 

Thank's Mom for everything. Because of you I can share what you gave me. I love what I do. I love you.

What a gift. 


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Less Taxing Approach to Inheriting (Things).

Last Saturday I read a wonderful article by Frances Schultz in the Design and Decorating section of the Wall Street Journal. The piece was titled Decorating with Mama's Things and describes how, after the passing of their mother, she and her sister went about dividing her many cherished furnishings.

The piece was particularly timely as I too will soon be adding some lovely things to my home that were passed down from Aunt B.

There were a number of important points made in the article. First a quote from Frances' mother (whom I gather was 'a real character'): "Please don't you all fight over my things. Just take what you want and throw the rest away."

Aunt B had a similar attitude and often said, "Inherited things can be a burden." She made me promise to be honest with her and only take the things that I truly wanted and leave the rest behind - along with the guilt of not taking things I didn't care as much about! She cautioned me to remember that the things of hers that I cherish might not hold the same value for my daughter, and so not to burden her with them unless she really wanted them!

Aunt B was speaking from firsthand experience: she was an only child (as is mine) and the burden fell squarely on her shoulders.

Another point Ms. Schultz made in the article was how she felt their mother had given her children permission to toss what they did not want. In other words, if it wasn't important or didn't fit, then by all means get rid of it! Each realized that their mother's things were not their mother, and that getting rid of them was not the same as getting rid of their mother's memory. Giving her things to charity or to friends was a great joy. That's BIG!

Once a few months had passed and the sisters both felt they could 'deal with' her possessions, Ms. Schultz and her sister set out to amicably divide up the contents of their mother's home. Each took what made sense for the way they lived, realizing that they could not keep everything.

I love her description of the old items she did keep and how she's made peace with her mother's belongings. She fully understands the value of inherited items. Most often they are neither new nor perfect, but each item has soul, a history, and a story to tell. I love that.

I also loved how she felt that in order to make some of the pieces work, she'd need to "Encourage them in the form of painting, repurposing, or outright re-imagining them." How many of us have inherited things and then feel guilty about changing them to work for how we live? I'm with Frances on this one and I know that Aunt B would surely agree!

Towards the end of the article, Ms. Schultz suggests some great tips for how we might incorporate newly inherited items into our homes. A few of her suggestions include:
  • Don't act in haste but give yourself time to carefully decide
  • Carve out special display places that won't add clutter
  • Avoid 'pigeonholing' period pieces (in other words - give them a chance)
  • Re-task items (read about her mother's lime green kitchen table!) 
  • Don't be afraid to break decorating rules, (this is fun), she painted an 18th-century table gloss white! 
I love her last suggestion most of all: Most importantly, find ways to use what you love.

I'll add to it by saying that for the most part, the things we inherit from those we love were given out of love and not intended to be burdensome or that we should be made to feel guilty by having them or changing them.

Thank you Frances.

In the coming weeks and months, I'll share with you what I plan to do with some of the things that were given to me by Aunt B. I know she'd get a kick out of my plans - I hope you'll stay tuned.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Epitome of a Lady

Earlier this week, the very special woman of whom I often referred to as "Auntie B", my 'surrogate Mother-in-Law', quietly and with great dignity, slipped away.

I refrain from saying she left us, for any who knew her will surely agree, the spirit of this smart, strong, dignified woman who was quiet and full of grace, will forever resonate within all whose lives she touched.

This fine, humble woman gave more than she ever took. She adamantly refused to have a funeral, memorial service, or even a notice in the newspaper. It was of utmost importance to her that she quietly move on, with her ashes being simply strewn into a rose garden.

That was our Barbara.

So in keeping with her wishes, I will not memorialize her here but will move forward knowing she will always be with me. I pray the days I have ahead will be spent trying to become even half the woman she was.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Heading South

A few quick notes. I am heading out of town for a few days. Family issues have my mind and body elsewhere. I hope to be back next week.

In the meantime, hope all of you had a nice Easter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Best Laid Plans

Recently a reader asked me "How do you manage to get everything you do - done"? She wondered if in the near future I would consider the question as a blog topic. Great idea!

I immediately wrote back to her (she is a busy mother of two) and revealed to her that many days, my best laid plans (that is to say, my list) doesn't always get everything crossed off of it. I also reminded her that my daughter is grown and away to school and now I have more time.

First and foremost, moms - give yourselves a break! Easy for me to say - right? Honestly, as I look back, there are a number of things I wish I had done differently when Kate was home. If you read my first blog entry you'll remember that I am not 'super-human', super-mom or super-woman! The main reason I started to write this blog was to share the many lessons I learned while raising a family (and I only had one child!). While many thought I seamlessly managed to 'get it all done' - I didn't!

That said - for me, it's my daily list that helps me keep all the balls in the air.

Here are a few tips on how I compile my daily, weekly and monthly lists.

• Before the end of the year, purchase a date book or planner. I don't always buy the same one, however I gravitate towards the options available from Moleskine. This year I purchased a medium-sized weekly planner.

• Keep your planner in a spot you see everyday and that's convenient. For me, it's the cookbook holder in my kitchen. I keep the planner open so I can see my entire week at a glance. I hook a pen right on the planner, making it easy to jot things down things that need to be done.

• Keep a notepad with the planner. This becomes my daily to-do list. For example; Sundays I tend to do my grocery shopping. Everything I'll need for the upcoming weeks menus is on that list, as well as other things I need to do that day like other errands, chores, bills that need to be paid, etc.

• I also customize my date book by adding these tabs that say; Daily, Weekly and Monthly. I move them around from day to day, week to week and month to month. The tabs make it easy for me to quickly find the dates and pages I need.

• I also add one of these pockets to the inside front cover to hold things like tickets, coupons, reservations, etc., and one to the inside back cover for items I know I'll need in the weeks ahead. 

• If I'm heading to a meeting or out for the day, I grab my datebook and my daily list and take them with me. As I work my way through the day, I check the list and cross things off as they get done.

• I try to prioritize my list as well. Often, by days end there are things that did not get done. I'll add them to the next days list and have a go at it again.

• Recently I added a narrow folder that I keep with my planner. I made 7 file folders, 1 for each day of the week. Inside each file folder I place bills that need to be paid, forms that need to be signed, cards that need to be mailed, etc. I look inside this folder first thing and handle everything I can before my day gets started.

My list is a visual cue to what needs to be done. I am a visual learner so this system works best for me. The addition of the folder keeps everything that needs to be done in one place.

There are lots of ways to keep our days organized. The most important thing is to develop a system and a routine that works best for you.

It's also good to remember that all systems can be made better. As you develop your organizational skills, you'll find yourself adjusting and readjusting to make things work better for you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Part of my Heart

I left a part of my heart in San Francisco, Santa Rosa and St. Helena. My Bay Area trip last weekend was a whirlwind of family, fun, good food, fine wine, (no song), old friends and some new too - and new business!

Early last Saturday morning, Kent and I fled the rainy Pacific Northwest and headed towards Oakland and the California sun. We pointed our rental car north to Santa Rosa to spend a far-too-short Saturday with Auntie B, leaving her Sunday afternoon for an overnight visit with his aunt Bev in St. Helena. As the weekend whizzed by, we were reminded once again how thankful we are to have these two very special and amazing women in our lives.

Monday morning, we headed into the city and spent the afternoon wandering through interesting shops and neighborhoods. We met Kent's cousin Paul for dinner at a lovely little restaurant called Catch. Kent flew home early Tuesday morning and I stayed a few more days visiting with a dear friend and her two beautiful baby daughters and then on to making new friends and investigating new business opportunities.

This coming week, lots on the docket. First and foremost daughter Kate will FINALLY make it home! I couldn't stand it another minute, sucked it up and got her a plane ticket for Easter. Friday evening a dear friend will arrive from Portland. She and I have known each other since we were in the sixth grade! Her hubby is in China on business, leaving her alone on her birthday. We can't have that! I made my list and grocery shopped for the week because come tomorrow morning, I must get organized!

I'm working on three projects for Meredith: two for Better Homes and Gardens that will appear this fall; and one for the food group that will publish before the holidays. Lots creative work- I love it!

I need to accomplish all of the above, spend some time working with Elizabeth on our calendar project for next year, and focus on Raw Materials. That part of my heart (a stack of products that I've nurtured and tinkered with the past few years) was left in San Francisco in very good, kind and capable hands.

In the past few weeks in meetings and over cocktails, here and down south, I've learned a lot about myself and where and with whom I might want to take Raw Materials. I've always known that great work is never accomplished alone. Raw Materials will require a great team to get rolling. Things are starting to fall into place and for a variety of reasons - both business and family - the Bay Area will most likely be in my travel plans again soon.

I hope you'll check back with me this week to see my progress. In the meantime, what Easter, Passover or simply family time have you gotten organized?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Has Anybody Seen My Duct Tape?

Once again, in my "never a dull moment" life, my daughter continues to keep things interesting and this time terrifying! She had quite the ride Tuesday morning, but it had nothing to do with a horse!

As many of you know, Kate spent the weekend in Southern California competing in a horse show. She and her team flew back to Montana late Sunday night and didn't arrive back in Missoula until after 2am. Monday morning she was planning to drive home for the week for spring break.

Given her late arrival, I suggested she stay in Missoula another night, get some much needed rest, and delay her day-long drive home. Our crazy el nino weather blessed us with yet another storm, dumping new snow in the mountains. I wanted her to do the long trip fresh and clear headed.

Tuesday morning she pointed the Subaru (our old car) west and hit the road. The weather was OK. Cloudy but not snowing and the two passes she needed to cross were clear. We don't talk while she's driving so I anticipated hearing from her when she stopped in Spokane for gas. Kate has done this trip a number of times but NEVER alone. As you can imagine, I wasn't happy about her driving by herself, but I knew at some point I was going to have to learn to live with it.

When my phone finally rang, I was expecting her call but not my terrified, tear-filled daughter calling from the side of the road on a big pass in northern Idaho. When she finally gathered herself, she told me she was not injured. You can just imagine what was going through my mind! As we continue to talk, I'm running out to the studio (Kent's office) to tell him and figure out what we needed to do and quick!

It turned out that tire flew off a truck heading in the opposite direction on the freeway, and came right at her! She had nowhere to go, a car to her right, ditch to her left. The bouncing tire hit the front right of the car and bounced off. (Had it hit the windsheild, I don't think our girl would be alive to tell the story.)

She was able to get over and pull off the road. Another driver saw it happen and pulled over behind her. He quickly got her cell number and chased the truck the tire flew off of. What a nice guy! In the meantime, I had her call 911. The state trooper arrived quickly. At this point I was ready to jump in the car and race east to get my girl.

My husband was on the phone with our insurance company while Kate filed an accident report with the trooper. Finally, the towing company arrived and took Kate and the car to Coeur d'Alene. By the time they arrived, we'd rented her a car and decided it was best for her to turn around and head back to Missoula and stay there for the remainder of the week.

Not exactly her idea (or mine) of a fun spring break - but thankfully she was safe!

No! I don't need the duct tape to stick the car back together (turns out all the damage is cosmetic!), I need to quickly FedEx it to my daughter with instructions to kindly do her Ma a favor and stick herself in one spot for the rest of the school year!

Finally, this will be my last post for a week. I'm off to the Bay Area in the morning to visit family in Santa Rosa, then head to San Francisco Monday for business. I can't wait to tell you all about my trip and the many exciting things happening around here. All I can say is Raw Materials has taken off!

But, most importantly - once again - we have been blessed, our daughter is safe, our futures are still bright, and all is well.

Have a great weekend!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

True Colors

This weekend a few colors are on my mind -  and my daughter's too. Blue and red and yellow. First place, second and third.

This morning, Kate is chasing her dreams in Pomona, California, riding for the University of Montana Equestrian Team in the IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) Zones Championships, with her eyes fixed on the National Championships later this spring in Lexington, Kentucky.

I ache when she's showing and I'm not with her. Kate and I spent her childhood 'at the barn'. At first it was lessons on Saturdays, soon I was picking her up from school and taking her twice a week, then three days - you get the picture. By the time she was in Junior High - six days a week.

Not that I'm complaining - I loved it. But a daughter with an expensive hobby meant mama needed to earn a living! Thanks to daddy, when I was on he road working as a stylist, he'd kick in, sit in the truck with his laptop and work while she rode. Ya do what'cha gotta do. Honestly, when she could finally drive herself to lessons we were thrilled!

Now, anyone out there who's trotted down this dirt road already knows what came next. Yep, horse ownership! And let me tell you - owning a horse in the city is nothing like owning one in the country. Maybe we should have stuck to soccer!

It was my doing that Kate was introduced to the barn. I have ALWAYS loved horses and selfishly, I wanted to ride again. I thought this would be a good sport that we could do together. Had we lived back in Idaho or Montana or just about anywhere outside of an expensive city, this would have been a no-brainer. But here? You'd best be bringing home a big paycheck, and I wasn't! So, I'd watch, she'd ride and that made me happy.

Once we owned Ella, our tall, lanky, CRAZY Thoroughbred, we were in this 'horse thing' deep! That is to say, if money was tight before, it was darned near non-existent by month's end! Buying a horse is the cheap part. Maintaining one a whole other story. And of course, on top of care (vet and farrier's fees) and feeding (not just any 'ol hay, but a special blend, plus vitamins and other supplements) came training. Serious training. Plus show fees, riding clothes, boots (a few pairs), helmets (not just one, thanks to Kate's growth spurts), saddles, bridles, blankets and . . . the tack store owners would rub their hands together in anticipation when I drove up!

Ok, I wasn't ignorant. I knew all of this was in the cards. I loved it all, just as much as Kate did. I poke fun at our 'Ella years', but I'd easily do it all over again. I'm happily reminded of those years each time I walk by Kate's ribbon-lined room.

Sadly, tragedy struck when Kate was a junior in high school and we had to put Ella down. Although this is a story better told on another day, in the end we were all heartbroken. At this point with college bearing down like a roaring freight train we weren't going to buy another horse. We ended up making a simple choice between another horse or tuition.

It was hard for Kate to hang around the barn after Ella. Her trainers were kind to her and kept her riding as much as they could. But Kate didn't have 'her own ride' and it was tough for her. By the time she graduated from high school, she seemed to have lost interest.

When Kate decided to attend the University of Montana, I thought maybe she'd be interested in their riding team. They had a young team, but in the few years it had been in existence, they had done well. Before she graduated, I encouraged her to look into it. She didn't. In June we were to drive to Missoula for orientation, take a look around and get familiar with where she'd spend the next four years. Finally a day or two before we left, she emailed the teams trainer. We made an appointment at the barn and added it to our agenda for the week.

After we met with the team's president, looked around the barn, and inquired about about fees and schedules, I had my checkbook out! Here we go again.

It's Kate's second year now and she's been nominated for team president next year! Had she not had her kidney episode a month ago, she was on track to win Regional Champion. However because of her illness, we thought her year was done. Remember the fiasco in Dillon, MT? Needless to say, she risked that kidney and rode anyway and came away Regional Reserve Champion and made it to Zones. In a few minutes she'll ride in her first class.

Needless to say, I am a proud mama.

Yesterday while we talked on the phone about the upcoming weekend, I gave her my usual two-cents worth of pep talk (I'm sure much eye rolling was going on!) I always finish with, "Remember, it's not the winning that's important, it's the journey." Sure, if she ends up in the top third we'll whoop and holler ourselves all the way to Kentucky and the Nationals later this spring. But whether she ends up with blue, red or yellow - or no ribbon at all - it won't matter. She continues to pursue her passion, her true colors burning brightly.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Grateful for a 'Pain in the Neck'.

What's on the list today? Two things. Pinching myself for all I have and organizing a celebration dinner for two.

A year ago, March 30, 2010, on a gray, drizzling Northwest morning, I nervously drove my husband Kent to the hospital. No, thankfully we were not racing to ER, but for surgery that had been scheduled.

Here's the story. He had been complaining of a stiff, sore neck. Not terribly unusual - it had been an on-going issue. Finally, he makes an appointment with a chiropractor. The day of the appointment, the doc sends him for x-rays. He returns to the chiropractors office, x-rays in hand, gets a good crack, and feeling oh-so-much better, he goes back to work. Done. Pain gone.

A few hours later, Kent receives a call from the chiropractor stating "the radiologist has found a large mass in your chest - you need to contact your primary care doctor immediately"! Somewhat panicked, he called our doctors office and explained the issue. Our doc's gone for the day but a new physician could see him later that evening. What doctors keep such late hours?

Terrified - we go in together. She was young and delightful and we felt in good hands. She quickly viewed the films and said, "These are not chest x-rays. Your chin could be in the way, or it could be the way the x-rays were taken. Let's get some better pictures"! However that very evening the office x-ray machine was undergoing it's own bit of scheduled surgery and wouldn't be available until the next morning.

We're back first thing the following morning for additional x-rays. Our regular doctor is in and he along with the doc from the previous evening review the new films. The next afternoon we are on our way to see a radiologist for a cat scan. Yes, there is a mass. However instead of being visible from the outside, this out-of-control alien has invaded Kent's throat and potentially his chest.

The radiologist performed a immediate needle biopsy. He feels the mass is Kent's thyroid gland gone crazy! He's 90 percent sure it's a benign goiter. But to cover his bases, he suggests alternate diagnoses like lymphoma, thymoma or carcinoma. The biopsy is sent to the lab with results not available until the next week. We're like deer in the headlights! We head home to wait it out, terrified of what's to come.

What's next? A call from the radiologist - the biopsy was negative! No cancer!! You could have heard our hoops, shouts and collected sighs of relief from across the country!

The next step? We're off to see the ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgeon who will remove the tumor. We visit him and after the examination, he refers Kent to a thoracic surgeon. He feels the tumor is unusually large and he wants another opinion. Uh-oh!

The next morning we're off to see the thoracic surgeon. He reviews the x-rays and reports, examines Kent and afterwards we sit down for a serious chat. He feels there is more than one tumor, it very likely is wrapped around Kent's heart and despite the earlier biopsy and lab results, he's not ruling out cancer. The previous evening's joy, quickly turned to terror once again.

We knew surgery was inevitable but instead of a relatively common procedure to remove the thyroid, we're now facing potential, full-on, crack open the chest surgery. Basically, beating heart surgery without the heart being the issue! Neither surgeon could give us an answer to the size or extent of the tumors until they were able to get in and see what was going on. We schedule the surgery.

As I sat in the family waiting room a year ago today with two amazing, kind friends, we nervously watched as a big monitor would inform us when Kent was headed to recovery. If the tumors came out easily, the ENT surgeon could handle it and the procedure would be over in a couple of hours. If the tumors were close to his heart, the thoracic surgeon would have to get involved. Two and a half hours in, I receive a call from OR. The ENT surgeon is done, the thoracic surgeon has taken over. My heart sinks.

Long-story shortened, after an unanticipated extended stay in the hospital (too long of a story), plus an intense first week home, followed by five weeks of serious recovery and a year's worth of tinkering with thyroid medications, my husband for the most part - has recovered. A few weeks after surgery, he was  walking the  the dog, a few weeks more, took his first hike, by mid-summer he was out there waving a stick over a high-mountain lake.

The tumors, (yes there were more than one), a big 'ol sucker in his throat that nearly closed his windpipe - plus three 'satellites' that surrounded his heart, were all thankfully benign. No wonder I was smokin' him on our evening walks! The surgeons said he was more than just a little lucky he'd not suffered a stroke! And the pain in his neck was most likely due to the size of the tumors which could have potentially been growing for years!

I know it was fate that took him to the chiropractor.

So today, yes, my list is short, but more important than ever. The first item; I quietly thanked the 'powers-that-be' and the two surgeons who saved my husband's life. The second; tonight as we sit together for dinner on the anniversary of that terrifying day, we are able to celebrate all we have and all that is yet to come.

I am humbled and will be forever grateful for that 'Pain in the Neck'.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March Madness

This past month has been quite the whirlwind!

First and foremost, my daughter has finally recovered from her 2-week long kidney infection ordeal. (Read this and this to catch up on the chaos). In short - she risked her kidneys to fulfill her goal of competing in the IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) Zones Championships. This Friday, she along with her team, fly to Pamona, CA to compete. Ah, youth - what's a kidney when there's horses to be ridden?!

The next step for Elizabeth and Ian's new kitchen is meeting with their contractor. I'm anxious to see what he has to say about the various layout options. One involves knocking out all or a portion of a wall. It's most likely load-bearing, so yep - more money! Fortunately we have narrowed down the possibilities and have good options should they decide not to remove the wall.

Elizabeth's next assignment is to supply me with a list of ALL of the items she plans to store in her kitchen. Everything from her huge stock pot to her spices will need a 'home'. It's my job to make sure we're designing and building in sufficient and efficient storage and organizing systems. 

Remember my "large, looming desk of guilt"? Gotta be honest - I've not done a thing towards getting that project off the ground. I won't bore you with my excuses other than to say my past few weeks have been a bit stressful! But I have a plan, I just need time to focus. I'll write more once this project moves to the front burner. 

And to top off the busy month, my home-goods products web site Raw Materials Design launched as a part of BeItEverSoHumble!  It's been an exciting journey and a dream come true. A friend asked if I felt as if "I'd just given birth"? I responded with a resounding YES! 

A HUGE thank you to all you who so kindly visited the site as well as those who purchased our products. Our giving program The Ties That Bind is growing daily. I can't wait until the end of April when we are able to send our donation to Share our Strength. I have a few calendars left. They are now half price and all of the profits will go Share our Strength as well.

Through all of the hubub this past month, I was able to tackle an organizing project that I've been meaning to accomplish. My master bath cabinet is once again functioning well. As I cleaned and sorted, I re-worked my system to include 3 small Lazy Susan organizers. Now my husband and I each have one of our own that holds the items we use daily. The third contains various medicines and first-aid supplies. It works like a dream!

Finally - as many of you know - 'me time' is often spent in the kitchen. I tie on my apron, pour a glass of wine and get busy. Here are a few recipes - new and familiar that we enjoyed this past month. 

Cooking Light's Mushroom and Sausage Ragu with Polenta was fast, easy and fabulous. I'll definitely make this one again.

Another Cooking Light recipe - Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash and Shallots is a family favorite. I make it when I'm really busy. It is so good and quick - you've got to give it a try.

Friday is my 'night off'. We have nibbles like olives, good cheese and crusty bread along with and a glass of wine - or two! I had some peppers, gorgonzola and basil left from the weeks groceries so made this Ina Garten recipe. I've made it twice now - it is sinfully delicious!

The Chicken Scarpariello from a back issue of Food and Wine magazine is good enough to serve to company! It's an easy, all-in-one pan meal that tastes as if you spent an afternoon in the kitchen.

I hope you enjoyed your March as much as I have. Spring is here - I'm heading to the garden!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Coming Full-Circle.

I had an interesting question from a reader this past week that I thought I'd share with you. It's been on my mind since receiving it and read; "I need to help my 82 year old mother organize her medications for herself and my father who has Alzheimers".

She went on to say, "We have designated a pull-out shelf in a closet, but we're not sure what kind of containers to use to separate the various prescriptions, pain medicines and vitamins...and then to separate them from his and hers! Help!"

Honestly, I've never been asked a question concerning how to best organize prescriptions or any other medications, not to mention issues centered around organizing and aging at all!

Right off the top of my head I quickly wrote her back and suggested she purchase enough daily pill dispenser boxes, (in 2 colors, one for him, one for her) to accommodate the different types of pills.

For instance; Dad's might be blue, each boldly and clearly labeled Dad's Prescriptions, Dad's Pain Meds, Dad's Vitamins. The same for mom using her 'color' and clearly labeling them as well. I hope it helped and promised to give her particular situation more serious thought.

Well, I've been thinking a lot about not only her question, but what other potential organizing challenges many of us will encounter as our parents age -  and so do we! Now, I am not only intrigued with this particular issue, but have added it to the top of my list to begin to formulate ideas to address these challenges.

In the meantime, do you remember the book by Hillary Clinton; It Takes A Village ? She wrote it when she was First Lady. It's title is based on an old African proverb that, as she says "offers a timeless reminder that children will thrive if their families thrive and if the whole of society cares enough to provide for them".

As I ponder and begin to research questions and concerns surrounding the challenges of aging and organizing, I feel it's time to take the book's message full circle. That is to say that we'll need that same, tight-knit village to lend a hand, to support and to care for our aging family members as well.

Clearly, the reader who sent me her question needed a village. I'm glad she reached out because not only was I happy to lend a hand, I became acutely aware of the organizing challenges we'll all face as we age.

On that note, I'd love to hear your suggestions and/or challenges surrounding these issues and your family village.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In Praise of Simple Things.

I've always been attracted to things that are common, raw and unrefined. They're true and honest with a "take me as I am" attitude - simple hard-working basics that never let you down. Nothing fancy, nothing fussy. Kind of like me.

My favorite organizing and decorating tools all have that same down-home vibe. But by far, my favorite 'tool' is canvas. In truth, canvas is my canvas. I stretch it's possibilities over sofas and chairs as slipcovers, have fashioned duvet covers and shams for beds and sewn the hardy basic into comfy nests for my critters.

I'm especially fond of the raw stuff that painter's drop cloths are made of. The varying shades of it's common, neutral coloring combined with the naturally occurring slubs, nubs and flecks of brown remind me of farm fresh eggs. However one of it's most charming qualities is the French seams that are used to combine smaller drop-cloths into the larger ones. A fine, yet sturdy detail for such a humble fabric.

A couple of years ago, my favorite canvas nudged me to incorporate it's humble beauty into aprons and table linens. It whispered,"Try me, let's see what happens, I've never let you down yet".

You can find my new line of home goods, including canvas aprons and table linens as well as totes and organizers online at

Monday, March 21, 2011

Strength in Numbers

I love early mornings. Most days I am up between 4:00 and 5:00am. Over the years, the quiet time that turns night into day has been 'me time'.  I'll often read for a bit and I then spend a few minutes going over the day's To-Do list on the kitchen counter.

Yesterday, coffee in hand, I headed to my favorite wing chair, settled in and began to look through the stack of magazines that have been piling up. I started with the April issue of Better Homes and Gardens by reading the editors letter (Between Friends). I'm impressed! The team at BH&G are whipping themselves into a spring cleaning and organizing frenzy - love to hear that!

But, that's not all, they've started a program called Clean out for Kids™. Basically, you tackle your spring cleaning, get the house organized then hold a yard sale and send the proceeds to Share our Strength®, an organization that is working to make "No Kid Hungry by 2015" a reality.

I don't know about you, but some much-overdue spring cleaning is at the top of my to-do list this month. And, while I'm pretty good at keeping things cleaned out - I know I'll have some items that could easily go into a yard sale or on Craigslist. Hmm, perhaps a collaborative effort in the neighborhood combined with an after sale BBQ might just get us all in the cleaning mood?

In the meantime, (since hosting a yard sale in the drippy Pacific Northwest before August (not really but it often feels that way!) won't bring in the crowds any time soon, I'm going to contribute in another way, and you can too.

Go to and click on the Raw Materials section of the site. Once there, you'll find a cause I started called The Ties that Bind. Now through the month of April, Raw Materials will donate a portion of every sale to Share our Strength®,

The way I see it, Clean Out for Kids and Share our Strength is a win-win for everyone. We get busy cleaning and organizing (probably need to do it anyway), and kids benefit at the same time.

What could be easier?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What's Normal?

This has been a busy week, a good week and for me a "normal" week.

Most importantly, my daughter is completely pain free from the kidney infection that hospitalized her and subsequently set her back from her studies for two weeks. She was able to get back to school, back to the barn and back to normal.

On another positive note, my husband and I have fully recovered from lingering effects of the flu we so generously shared with each other. It's good to be reminded once in awhile that feeling normal is often taken for granted!

For me, having a normal work week means packing in as much as I can. I love what I do, so why not do more? Nobody forces me to try to "do it all", I enjoy the challenge. However by weeks end, often my best laid plans were not all accomplished - that's normal.

I sent Elizabeth her kitchen plans. We chatted about ideas for a few minutes and when we were about to hang up she said "Here I am a professional organizer and I don't have a clue where to start with this kitchen remodel!" I laughed and reassured her - that's normal!

I don't normally take time out for lunch. Usually, I get wrapped up in my day, grab something quick and press on. But Thursday I met an old friend. We sat for much longer than most normally would, however it was fun to catch up. Plus, every time we get together (maybe twice a year), I come away feeling I can tackle anything! That's not normal!

What's been unusual this week, is that I have received lots of messages and questions (which I love to answer), thanks to the mention of the Be it Ever so Humble website and blog in the Fresh section of the April issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. It's not everyday the world's leading women's magazine gives you a plug! While it's normal to want to thank them, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to relay to them how very thankful I am for their kind support.

Speaking of the blog, one of the questions I received this week was from a woman who wrote "You're going to think this is HORRIBLE, but "I've NEVER learned to have a regular housekeeping schedule!" She stated "Most women I know do certain things on certain days" and closed by wondering, "Can you teach a woman to be a better housekeeper"?

I immediately responded and hopefully put her at ease. I admitted to her that I don't have a regular schedule either! I tried to assure her that while I do attempt to keep up during the week, it's normal for me to let a few things slide. I attached a couple of links from previous posts I'd written on the subject. I hope it helped.

I gathered from her email address, that she is a nurse. That says to me that she probably doesn't have normal work schedule! Most nurses I know don't have normal nine-to-five jobs unless they are in an office situation or have seniority at a hospital. Frankly, if you've chosen to comfort and care for others as your life's work, it's understandable that keeping a perfectly tidy house is not at the top of your to-do list!

My point in sharing her question? It's normal to think that what everybody else does is normal.

It's not.

What's normal is that everyone's situation is different. We don't need guilt, we don't need to feel judged or feel we must do things like others do them. However, those feelings are normal. 

When I decided to start this site, my hope was to share a variety of unique ideas, tips and solutions that could potentially help to make your home and family run smoother. Most importantly however, I hope that you've discovered all of our situations are different and that there is no right or wrong way to go about being "organized". Yes, it comes naturally to me, I find it challenging and fun, but not everybody does -  and that's normal!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Elizabeth Gets a New Kitchen

Sounds like the title of a kids book doesn't it? Well, it's no fairytale. Elizabeth and Ian can quit dreaming and finally start to plan their new kitchen.

Some of you have read this blog long enough know that Elizabeth is my cousin who along with her family live a few miles outside of Boston proper. Elizabeth owns That's Neat! Organizing. She and I write about organizing and last year we collaborated on our 2011 calendar project.

Not long after their daughter Paige was born, they soon realized they were eventually going to need more space than their small duplex had. A wonderful but needs-a-lot-of-work, new-old-home with a very inefficient kitchen was purchased. After several years of planning, scrimping and saving, they're ready to undertake a serious kitchen update.

The above "before" pictures show the current kitchen, with old vinyl flooring, out-dated appliances, NO counter space, inefficient lighting, seating and heating, and LOTS of wasted room. Honestly, Elizabeth has been more than just a little patient, don't you think?

About a year ago, she asked if I'd help her plan and design the project. When we finally got started, Elizabeth confessed she had no idea where to start. I won't say I was surprised, quite the contrary. This is often the case when remodeling, but especially true with a kitchen or bath. I gave her a to-do list that would help her and I to eventually design the kitchen of her dreams.

Today I thought I'd begin to share the process of organizing a kitchen remodeling project in hopes that it might help you too.

My number one suggestion? Start with a "Good/Better/Best" list.

First, list all of the things that would be good (and essential), in your new kitchen. This list should include appliances, plumbing fixtures, cabinetry, storage, counter tops, lighting, flooring, tile (backsplash) and hardware. Think "the basics".

Next, add to the list the things that would make the kitchen an even better space. Perhaps it might include higher end appliances and cabinetry? Double ovens? A warming drawer? Maybe two sinks and an island? A walk-in pantry? You get the picture.

Finally, create a third category that includes your pie-in-the-sky, over-the-top, if-you-had-the-resources-to-have-whatever-you-want list. This might include structural changes like moving walls, windows and doors, top-of-the-line appliances and cabinetry. Would an addition make sense?

The purpose of going through this process will help make you aware of what you simply must have, what would be nice to have, and if you can swing it, would be your ideal kitchen.

Most importantly though, this will begin to help you create your budget, because to do any project, especially a kitchen, you must have a budget in mind. And, it's going to be one of the first few questions any contractor is going to ask you!

I hope you'll check back later this week where I'll give you more tips on how to prioritize and organize a kitchen remodel. In the coming months, I'll share updates on Elizabeth's entire project from beginning to end.

In the meantime, if you're thinking about a remodeling project, I'd love to hear all about your plans.

Monday, March 14, 2011

It's the Little Things

Five days a week I start out by heading to the gym about 6am. However a bump in the road - or I should say a bump on the knee due to a Pickle Ball fall last Friday - made for a change in plans. (Don't ask - it wasn't pretty!) No big deal, my husband ended up on jury duty today and he needed an early ride to the bus stop anyway.

After dropping him off at the bus stop, I decided today would be a good day to tackle a few small things that if not attended to in a timely manner always turn into bigger things. Things like cleaning out the fridge, organizing some mid-monthly paperwork and cleaning out some old issues of cooking magazines, to name a few.

While in the kitchen this morning, cleaning the refrigerator, I looked up to see three little clementines perched on my kitchen windowsill. They were almost past their prime so I peeled and stored them for tomorrow morning's smoothie. But not before I took their picture. The morning light was so pretty and they made me smile. What a nice way to start my day - my week.

As I worked my way through the fridge, I came upon a few leftovers that had been wrapped in plastic. Dare I check to see what's inside? As usual, it was an exercise in frustration to find the end of the wrap with my fingernail to start peeling it open.

But in an ah-ha moment I thought, why not put one of these little labels that I use for a variety of labeling needs on the end of the wrap! That way, when I'm ready to use up the leftover, I can easily get it opened. It works! From now on, I'm doing this for sure and I'll write the contents of the package and the date on the label too.

Here are a couple of other uses I have found for those little labels:

When wrapping and storing cheese (it's best to wrap it in waxed paper and then plastic wrap), I label each block, write the name of the cheese and the date. This way, I can easily identify what I have and use it up. A big plus too - no more moldy science projects at the back of the fridge!

I use a label to date the bottoms of my spice jars too. I do my best to purchase my spices in bulk so when I need to refill a spice jar, I stick one of the labels on the bottom of the jar with the date it was refilled. That way I know how old my spices are.

It's really true, it's often the little things that bring the most joy and do the most good.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Can you Help?

I planned to write today about a kitchen remodel project I'm working on. This particular kitchen is located in Boston and belongs to my cousin Elizabeth. It's been a great week of drawing, designing, and organizing.

However, like many of you, I awoke this morning to news about the devastating earthquake in Japan. In just a few seconds, many lost their loved ones and their homes.

It's times like these that remind us to be thankful for all we have. Also, in times like these, many of us want to help. If you are searching for ways to donate to those who lost so much, Save the Children is a well-respected organization that has already begun to organize relief efforts for the earthquake victims. Elizabeth knows this organization well, she spent the early part of her career working and traveling for the charity.

Right now, before I continue to work on Elizabeth's plans, I'm making a donation. If you are able, a donation to Save the Children will quickly begin to provide relief to children and families who are so desperately in need.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What a Ride

Under the life is never boring heading, last week's stresses proved eventful through the weekend. Thinking daughter Kate was well on her way to Dillon, MT to  compete in the English Regional Riding Championships, I was comforted knowing she was on the mend.

That sense of bliss lasted about an hour before I got a call from a teammate telling me they were in a hospital Emergency Room in Dillon. Turns out the medication for the kidney infection was not cooperating with her stomach. Combined with a splitting headache due to the lingering effects of the previous week's spinal tap, I was beginning to second-guess the doctor's OK for her to go.

Thank God for good friends and teammates whom forfeited their morning classes to care for Kate. Mind you, this is the year-end championship for the region and all three were well into the points race, vying for a spot for the Zones competition in southern California in April.

Needless to say, Kate and I spent a few minutes discussing her common sense! Even thinking of getting on a horse (especially one she didn't know) was NOT going to be in the cards this weekend! She agreed and promised she would lay low. She spent the day laying flat in her Motel 8 hotel room knowing well her season was over.

Come Sunday morning, I received a text from her saying "I feel soooooooo good!" My best efforts could not keep her down and she headed to the arena 'just to watch'. Uh-huh. Let's just say I had a feeling said daughter's common sense had not yet recovered!

A few hours later I get another call, "Um, mom, you're gonna kill me". "WHAT?" I say. "Ummmm, I just took second place in my class and I won Regional Reserve Champion! I'm heading to California!" (site of the Zone championships.)

Chalk it up to gumption and guts (and a riding helmet that probably fits too tight, therefore restricting blood flow to the common sense lobe of the brain)!

My final comment on this matter: PLEASE take your health seriously. Then - "go get'em girl. I am so proud of you!"

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chalk it up to Real Life

It's been quite a week. Monday started out with a call from Trader Joe's telling me I won their weekly drawing and was quickly followed by an an email from a favorite editor at Better Homes and Gardens with a project in mind. Things were definitely looking up after spending the previous week battling the flu.

Come Tuesday morning however, I received a call from my daughter who is away at college, complaining of a very sore back. I figured it to be a flare up from a riding injury she sustained years ago. She agreed and headed off to class.

Wednesday morning brought another call, this time flat on her back with a high temperature. After failing to score an appointment at the campus health clinic, thanks to her "House Mom" at the sorority, she's on her way to the immediate care clinic who quickly send her to ER! I get a call from a daughter in severe pain with a very high temperature, and a doc who wants to know if she'd been vaccinated for Meningitis.

Holy you-know-what! Mama Bear is 8 hours away and my daughter is about to have a spinal tap to test for a very serious illness! My husband and I made the mistake of looking up Spinal Meningitis on the internet. BIG MISTAKE! I immediately started looking for flights to Missoula - nothing 'till morning.

Test results start coming in, I have a conversation with the ER doc. Not yet ruling out Spinal Meningitis, (she had been vaccinated), we move on to her kidneys.

Long story short - that was the culprit. A severe kidney infection which kept Kate hospitalized for 2 nights. With a hearty helping of intravenous antibiotics - she was released Friday afternoon!

Needless to say - my plans for the week were a teensy bit interrupted! However, not a total loss. Thursday evening I was able to keep a speaking engagement and was fortunate enough to talk to an amazing group of professional women about organizing. Take that, real life!!

And so it goes. I've been writing this blog for nine weeks now - real life has trumped my schedule for two successive weeks. Still - most days - I feel I end up in the plus column. The way I see the it - real life reminds us to live it - get through it and be thankful for what we have. I have a daughter on the mend. What else could I ask for?

So, Monday begins a new week and a new outlook. I'm raring to give 'er a go, I hope you'll stay tuned.

In the meantime, this morning my daughter and her infected kidneys left before dawn for Dillon, Montana to compete in the English Regionals Horse Show. We couldn't believe the doc OK'd her to go! He said she might be a bit uncomfortable at the sitting trot. With a smile I say this - a Montana doctor probably would know just how that might feel!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, February 25, 2011

'Sick' Happens!

And it happened to me this past week. The nasty four letter word quietly hinted at scratchy throat last Friday afternoon, come Saturday morning, it shouted FLU!

Slowly over the past week, I have moved my sorry self from bed, to sofa to finally - today - an upright position at the kitchen table. My tissue box and throat lozenges have migrated with me, however I'm confident my past weeks companions will soon no longer be needed.

Needless to say, this blog along with other plans, projects and appointments were cancelled.

In true form however, I could not let a little flu keep me from doing something, so I plowed through my stack of old magazines. Honestly, the word stack hints that I had control of them. The truth is I had piles of them - some from 2008! While curled under the covers, between naps, I enjoyed looking through them, tearing out articles, sorting and finally placing them in the recycling bin for the week's pick-up.

Now with that task complete and the tissue box popping up it's last few squares, it's time to pick myself up and get a move on.

I hope you'll check in next week, I have all kinds of projects up my pajama sleeve.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Guilty as Charged! Part 3

I know, I know, yet another post about that darn desk? Well, in this third and final post (at least for now), I'll say this, about that - yes it is time to move on! But, with a plan in place, designed to make this important family project realistic, enjoyable, memorable, and everlasting.

As previously determined, my desk and it's contents will surely take more than a day or two, most likely more than a month or two - it could take a year - or two. And, that's OK! I have given myself permission to let this one percolate for awhile. Hint: step two accomplished - giving myself permission to take it slow.

I need to see progress -  yes -  but I also know it's just as important to sit back and evaluate every so often. So, as I work through the stacks of pictures, folders and envelopes, each tattered album and the ENORMOUS stack I too have contributed, (easy to blame others for my issues), I will move forward.

Here's how; Hint; this is step three - devising a plan with realistic goals.
By month's end, I WILL get through the bottom drawer of memories, identify (or not) the people in the photos, make stacks, separated by decade if possible (that seems to make sense), and designate a stack of unknowns.

Come March, my plan is to get through the middle and top drawer of the lower half of the desk. Given my daily schedule, this seems realistic. By April my plan is to excavate the desk's interior caverns. In May, smitten with all I've accomplished, the top drawer should be a breeze. Mind you, this narrowest of drawers is almost unopenable! By May's end my plan is to have sorted and stacked each and every inch of the desk. An honorable goal being Memorial Day is the end of the month. Seems appropriate for a desk of memories - don'tcha think?

I hope you'll check in periodically to see my progress. My intentions are real, my plan has been established.

In the meantime here are a few hints to ponder if you too have a large and looming project of your own;
• Identify the problem
• Give yourself permission to take it slow
• Make a plan with realistic goals and timelines
• Re-evaluate your plan as your project progresses and adjust goals if necessary

Remember, the first step is always the hardest. What's most important is to identify your roadblock. Then, with your plan in place and a bit of time, the solution will reveal itself, it will show you the way.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Guilty as Charged! Part 2

As promised in my last post, I have given some serious thought to my "large, looming desk of guilt". I will admit, I have not yet opened it's heavy drop front, but I think I'll take a peek later this afternoon.

Since deciding to write about my desk and it's contents - all sorts of questions have been surfacing like:

• Is this really just another organizing project? Yes and no. Yes, it will need to be well  thought out and well designed. No, this is personal, it's family and it's on-going.
• Am I avoiding it because I'm afraid of what's inside? No. I know it's contents are family treasures (just maybe not all our treasures). 
• Could it be that I have put this project off for so long because I truly don't know where to start? A resounding YES! The answer really is this simple: "Miss Organized" does not know where to begin!  

The organization (and responsibility) of the contents of said desk have stumped me for years. Here are a few of the reasons why, (I think):

• Honestly - I'm not sure I/we want to be the the keepers of the family treasures. This is HUGE! Have you ever taken on a task only to soon discover, you really didn't want the responsibility?

• OK - not to be rude but -  who are these people! Sadly, many of the scrapbooks, boxes and manila envelopes we have accumulated over the years did not come with any notations, clues or dates as to who, what, or why these photos were taken. I can't just toss 'em! Or can I?

• A good number of the photos are in duplicate or triplicate - what do I do with all of the extras? Toss 'em, send 'em on? Who am I to decide who gets what?

• When I finally do manage to get this project organized - who will take it on after we're gone? Will they be truly interested? DO I want someone else to feel the same burden I do?

• This project is going to be really time-consuming. Do I have the time, energy and interest to do it well?

All these seem like valid questions and concerns (laden with a healthy dose of guilt), don't you think?

Woohoo! First step taken - Identifying the problem!

By now I bet you've figured out that this organizing project is not one to be taken lightly, nor will it be accomplished overnight. So, while I ponder my next move - the next step -  I'll take a look in the desk, slam it shut and tackle the bathroom cupboard instead. I do need to accomplish something today!

Do you have an organizing project that has been stifled because of guilt? I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Guilty as Charged! Part 1

I have a large, antique pine secretary that I had originally purchased to house the television in the master bedroom. As I started to work with the desk, move it around and see where it would best fit, I realized it could be put to much better use containing an ever growing collection of family archives.

For years, I'd shuffled various boxes, bins, scrapbooks and journals, (mostly inherited from other family members), from the guest room to the living room, to the garage, never seeming to find a worthy home for all of the memorabilia that had come our way. After our remodel, I was determined to accomplish this important task and saw the desk as a potential solution to this organizing dilemma.

Well, 6 years later, I can tell you the collection (and more) did made it into the desk - however, it has never been properly organized!

Honestly, I have made attempts at getting this project done. I've purchased photo storage boxes (that makes sense right?), added a shelf, (gotta have levels of storage - I think), a vintage drawer unit to hold scrapbook tools and papers, (cute - except I'm not a scrap-booker!) Honestly, you can't say I haven't tried! I've worked towards getting all of the needed components - right?

Wrong. All of the boxes, bins and storage solutions available will never organize what's really going on here - a big 'ol helping of GUILT!

Com'on, I'm supposed to be"the organized one"right? This should be easy. Well, let's just say I too have my issues! Or better said - other folks  - ahem... family members - issues. Yep - my husband and I have been issued the title of "the family archivists"!

Why us? Maybe it's because we are both the oldest children in each of our families therefore it is an inherited responsibility? Hummm - I don't think that's it. Instead, I think we didn't have the backbone to say NO. We felt guilty. Sound familiar?

So, this week, once and for all - I plan to take on my large, looming, desk of guilt.
Stay tuned as I attempt to embrace this responsibility (or not)!

In the meantime, I'd love to know what "organizing issues" you have. Do you have ongoing projects you've been avoiding?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rattle those Pots and Pans

I cook dinner 6 nights a week. I love my quiet time in the kitchen so come 5pm or so, I tie on my apron, pour a glass of wine, find my recipe and and give 'er a go.

While I do have my favorite go-to recipes, 5 nights out of 6 I try something new. Beware! If you come to dinner here, you'll often have something I've never made. Needless to say, every once in awhile, calling out for pizza may have been a better idea!

I'm one of those, "If you can read, you can cook" kind of cooks. Although, along the way, I've learned to get creative with a recipe once I've attempted it a time or two.

I thought I'd share a few favorites I made last month. None are difficult (I never go for those)! All are delicious and each makes plenty of leftovers.

January 2011, Real Simple; Chicken with White Beans and Tomatoes. Hands down, this is a keeper! I've made it three times now. I added about a 1/4 cup of pitted Kalmata olives to the bean and tomato mixture and served it with a Caesar salad and crusty bread. The prep time is just 5 minutes. Fabulous!

December, 2010 Better Homes and Gardens; Classic Pot Roast.  I've been with my husband for 25 years and you'd think I'd have mastered Pot Roast by now! NOT! Enter Chef Scott Peacock. Finally, a perfect, fail-safe, go-to pot roast recipe. It's about time!

Everyday Food's Rich Chicken and Squash Lasagna. This is definitely a dish I'd make for company. It's rich and delicious but also easy to prepare.

January/February 2011Cooking Light; Green Chile Chili. So good on a cold night, easy and quick to prepare, and low fat. How can you go wrong?


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Put it in Neutral

I hear this often..."When I'm done organizing a project, why doesn't it ever look like this"? Inevitably, I'm shown a variety of magazine or catalog tear-sheets featuring beautifully designed pantries, closets, cabinets or drawers.

Before being escorted to the project, I already have a good idea of what's inside; a mish-mash of space-wasting boxes, bins or plastic containers that don't fit together well, and a lot of color, pattern and texture. The result? Visual chaos.

I often talk about "good flow" when referring to a well-designed and decorated home. Flow is created by honing in on a few well-thought out and designed details, then repeating them throughout the house. 

And, it's exactly that same principal when organizing. A few, well-designed storage solutions can beautifully and seamlessly flow throughout every storage area in your home.

Here's the key; a neutral color palette like white, ivory, cream, soft greys, tans and natural woods, NEVER goes out of style. It's easy to get caught up in all of the fabulous storage solutions now available. However, if you stick to one "look" and use it throughout, it will easily morph from room to room, creating "flow" as well as a sense of peacefulness.

Here are a few of my favorites;
Neutral colored canvas bins available in a variety of sizes, easily flow from room to room.
Clear glass and plastic containers especially in the kitchen, bath and laundry room. I like these, these, and these.
Galvanized buckets and bins contain everything from firewood to hats, gloves and shoes.
• Simple trays for folded shirts on a closet shelves.
Natural baskets for books, magazines, towels, etc.
• White Kassett storage boxes from Ikea and natural canvas bags store out-of-season clothing and bedding.
• My collection of white dishes and enamelware (see January 25th post).

That said - a pop of color here and there keeps things interesting.

If you keep it simple, keep it neutral, and stick with your system, your home will be beautifully organized. Literally, from the inside out.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Stylish Organizing Solutions

Cleverly thought out, items of everyday life can morph into interesting, useful and beautiful organizers.

I have a few rules about my "organizing tools". First, they must be simple, yet beautiful and of course - functional. Second, they must seamlessly work from room to room, closet, cupboard or drawer throughout the house. Finally, they must serve more than one purpose.

Before getting started on any organizing project, I look around to see if there is anything interesting that I already own that I can use. Some of my collections often become handy organizers.

For example; Last spring my husband had a medical emergency, ended up in surgery and after a week in the hospital came home with a double fist-full of prescriptions! Not used to having pills as part of his daily routine, I quickly needed some way to keep them organized and easily accessible.

On my kitchen table I keep an old, white enamel roaster, (part of my collection of vintage enamelware). It had previously held fruit or veggies for the week or maybe Paperwhites during the holidays. But, it was perfect for corralling his prescription bottles. I repurposed it and now store vitamins and his prescriptions in it, reminding us to take them everyday.

Here are a few other ideas to get you thinking;

Vintage crocks; Kitchen workhorses in years past, these containers work beautifully to organize whisks, wooden spoons, spatulas and ladels. Instantly these everyday kitchen essentials now become works of art when sorted, organized and simply contained.
If you tire of them in the kitchen, crocks work just as well for decanting powdered soaps in a laundry room, make a perfect, small waste can in a powder room and of course are essential to making sourdough starter or pickles - their original and intended use. 

Clear glass cylinders; Although not vintage, I seem to have a lot of these containers in various sizes. Recently I used a few to organize my sewing notions. Thread of all colors, sorted and stored make for a beautiful, colorful display. My buttons, bobbins and various pins are also now contained in smaller cylinders, making them easy to access and use.
In the future, my glass cylinders may hold cotton balls or Q-tips in my bathroom; matches by the fireplace; or a bunch of flowers on a kitchen window sill.

Vintage rubber stamp holder; Originally, I used mine in my spice organizing video but it also works beautifully in my office holding paper clips, push-pins, binder clips, etc., All are contained in small jars that spin around for easy use and now reside on my desk, making for an interesting, useful display.
The holder could easily be put to good use in my kitchen or sewing area. 

There are so many storage solutions now - it's big business. While I do have my favorite go-to organizers, it's easy to get carried away. Start first with what you have, you never know what clever, stylish solution you may come up with.