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!