Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Organize-it, Part Two, My Closet

my closet before - yikes

As I mentioned before, I am on a continuing quest to organize our home. This week I decided to tackle my bedroom closet. The selection of a project was easy when you consider that my closet is meant to be a walk-in, but I had been using it as a "throw-in" for all sorts of random items. Walking in was no longer possible.

As with my last project, this one didn't cost me anything. I used storage tools that I had already acquired. I am looking to add a couple items in the near future, though, including a step stool and a full-length mirror. (Am I the only one who has to stand on the toilet to see my whole outfit?)

I started by clearing the floor. I uncovered items including a plastic bag full of school supplies; a big box of toiletries that I won in an Elle magazine contest (happy to get them, nowhere to store them); my portfolio of writing; assorted work-related papers; and a set of free weights.

I moved the school supplies into backpacks downstairs. I sorted the toiletries into three categories, put them into cloth storage bins, labelled them and placed them on the closet shelf. I moved the portfolio and work-related papers into a filing bin to be sorted later, and I moved the hand weights down to the basement (may they rest in peace).

Keeping in mind that organizing is about uncovering those items that are important to you and that best reflect your character and interests, I purged a few pieces of clothing. You know those pieces that you feel you should wear, but never do? I figure your clothes should not make you feel obligated, so I created a donation pile made up of clothing that made me feel guilty every time I looked at it.

my closet after
the left side of my closet after

"Deciding to simplify our lives and bring order to our homes by sending on the objects we no longer love to new, happier incarnations with people who will genuinely appreciate them is the way to open ourselves up to receiving the abundance that will perfectly suit us," says Sarah Ban Breathnach in Simple Abundance. Works for me.

I managed to part with six pairs of shoes, two pairs of boots, two zippered bags I got at conferences, assorted "bonus" makeup bags, some shrunken pyjamas, a dress that's three sizes too big for me and 12 shirts and sweaters (one so old I bought it at Eaton's).

Take a look at some of the amazing closets on Pinterest if you need some inspiration for your own project.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Favourite Foods, Part One, Lentils & Rice (vegan, gluten-free)

Of all the domestic arts, I think cooking is the most important. After all, it's essentially a daily requirement. It also causes parents the most anxiety. When both parents in a household are working, and then taking one or more children to recreational and competitive sports, tutors and other appointments, it's not easy to provide healthy, well-rounded meals. Now that I am working from home, I feel even more pressure to provide home-cooked (and tasty) meals as often as possible. 

I wish I could say I love to cook. I just don't. I do love to eat though, and I enjoy the sense of companionship that a good shared meal brings. In order to make the task easier, I find it helps to follow a plan. Before I head out on a grocery shopping trip, I choose one of my (many!) cookbooks or visit a favourite cooking website. Once I have picked out a couple of recipes to make that week, I add the necessary ingredients to my shopping list, along with the many items that will contribute to our “usual” meals, like refried bean tacos, baked tofu or pasta and marinara sauce. When I really don't feel like cooking, I stick with old favourites that can be whipped up in a snap.

My Fave Recipe Ever!

This is possibly my favourite recipe EVER. It comes from my friend Tina and her mom Violet. I got this recipe from them many years ago, after one of their wonderful parties with lots of delicious food. Isn't that the best kind of party? Since then, I’ve made lentils and rice for countless events, including birthday parties, baptisms and potlucks at work.

If you know me, there is a good chance I have served you lentils and rice. One of the things I like about this recipe is there is a fair amount of cooking time, but little prep work. You can prepare other dishes while it cooks. It also makes a large quantity, so it's great for a party. It is deceptively simple with few ingredients. And it is vegan and gluten-free. Yes, it calls for a cup of olive oil. But it makes a huge amount so you really won't be eating all that much oil. You could probably cut it back to 3/4 cup if you really want to. But I wouldn't. It's just so good! And it's party food.  Give it a try. I bet you'll love it too!

Lentils & Rice

by Joann MacDonald
Keywords: boil entree gluten-free nut-free vegan vegetarian lentils rice Lebanese
Ingredients (Serves 8 to 10)
  • 2 cups dry lentils
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp salt or to taste
  • 2 or more large onions, julienned
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups white rice, uncooked

Discard any foreign grains or stones from the lentils. Rinse the lentils well and place them in a large pot with the water. Add salt. Bring to a boil and simmer gently until tender, about ½ hour.

While the lentils are cooking, sauté onions in the olive oil in a large fry pan until light brown. Take onions out with a fork and put aside in a small bowl, keeping oil.

Add the oil from the onions, along with the rice, to the lentils and cook on low (with the lid on) until rice is done (usually 20 minutes). Place lentils and rice on a plate and cover with fried onions.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Organize-it, Part One

I am fully appreciative of my good fortune as I enjoy a full summer off with my family, however, with the increased amount of time spent in our home comes an increased awareness of just how much junk we have acquired over the years. As summer draws to a close (ouch), I would feel guilty if I didn’t make some progress in my ongoing quest to “organize.” I consider myself a fairly organized person (which is to say that my junk is generally hidden out of sight in areas like closets, the garage and the basement storage room). In an effort to start off the new school year feeling “lighter,” I am going to tackle a few problem areas and report back to you. This holds me accountable if I do nothing. If I am being honest, I would rather watch a movie than organize a closet, but one thing I do love about organizing is that it is free! Sure, you could spend endless amounts of money on bins, storage units and baskets (trust me, I have spent a few bucks myself) but essentially organizing is about uncovering those items that are important to you and that best reflect your character and interests. Says professional organizer Julie Morgenstern, “Being organized has less to do with the way an environment looks than how effectively it functions. If a person can find what he or she needs when he or she needs it, feels unencumbered in achieving his or her goals, and is happy in his or her space, then that person is well organized.” She goes on to define organizing as “a process by which we create environments that enable us to live, work, and relax exactly as we want to. When we are organized, our homes, offices, and schedules reflect and encourage who we are, what we want, and where we are going.”

Part One—The Shed/Playhouse
When we first had our shed constructed, we asked the builders to ensure that it would be safe to use as a playhouse, because I loved the idea of giving our kids somewhere to create a little home for themselves. Problem is, the shed also acts as a storage space over the winter. So, a few weeks ago, my daughter and I cleared out the collection of half-used bags of soil, broken toys and folding chairs and hosed away all of the dirt and mouse poop that had accumulated over the winter. We added a table, a couple of chairs and some bright pots to hold her assorted writing tools. The playhouse is a work in progress—we have plans to add some shelving, some of the kids’ artwork and an indoor/outdoor rug. Given that they have used the playhouse exactly once since we cleaned it, though, maybe the décor can wait until next year. In any case, I was satisfied with a job well done and I stood back to admire the new space more than once. By tackling our disorganized spaces one at a time, I experience a sense of accomplishment that motivates me to continue on to the next space—at some point, anyway.

If you have any great organization ideas, please pass them along. I have also begun accumulating some fun ideas on my Pinterest board.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Big 4-0

That's me, wondering where the years went.
What is it about growing older that bothers some people—namely me? Is it the deteriorating physical appearance or the latest ominous drumbeat on the march toward you-know-what?  Whatever it is, I had to face it recently, as I “celebrated” my 40th birthday. I am fully aware that I am trying to be grateful for the gift of each and every new day, but sometimes that is a struggle. So, as a remedy to the pain of aging, my husband and I gathered loved ones for a party fueled by friendship, food and our favourite drink of the eighties—Black Label beer. We put on a playlist of songs from the past four decades and consumed some of our favourite snacks (hello Ringolos) and candy from the eighties to bring out our inner teenagers. Looking around at the faces of my friends and relatives, I found comfort in the fact that we are all growing old together. I don’t mean this in an “I want you to suffer along with me” kind of way, but rather in the sense that we see each other for the multi-faceted and unique individuals that we are. And, if we can continue to see the beauty in each other, surely we are better able to see it in ourselves.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Simple Pleasures

Simple Abundance is my bible for everyday living. Ever since the book’s author, Sarah Ban Breathnach, appeared on the Oprah show many years ago, I have been reading the book over and over again throughout the years. If you haven’t yet read it, Simple Abundance is described as “A Daybook of Comfort and Joy” and it has one lovely piece of writing for each day of the year. “Some days are shaped by simple pleasures, others are redeemed by them,” says a July entry. How true it is. When I was working at my last job, many days were redeemed by simple pleasures—a cup of tea and a homemade banana muffin, or a chat with a colleague about books, movies or anything other than work. Summer is the time to shape the day with simple pleasures, if you are lucky enough to have the time. One recent day springs to mind—we played on the beach, waded in the lake, ate a simple lunch and made a short trip to scenic Port Dover to explore shops, enjoy the warm weather and have a meal with family at a local restaurant.

Granny and grampy pause in Port Dover
“Today there was no need to glance wistfully at the past or project anxiously into the future because the present was fully lived and simply abundant,” says Ban Breathnach. When circumstances dictate that your day can’t be shaped by simple pleasures, she advises, surely you can redeem the day by spicing it with a few pleasurable activities. Some of my personal favourites are the aforementioned cup of tea, a chat with a good friend or watching a funny movie after the kids go to bed. Oh, and there’s always a good big hunk of chocolate to brighten your day.

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