Maybe I’ll Get Organized Some Day

My autobiography is going to be titled How I Move Stuff. I could use a more impactful word for “stuff,” but I won’t. If you have stairs, you know what I’m talking about. Things pile up at the bottom until the stairs no longer remain safe because the last step is completely covered with stacks of stuff that needs to be moved upstairs.

You might even have one of those fancy stair baskets that you bought at a home party out of guilt. We had one, but it was never big enough and ended up crushed and trampled by a stampede of kids running down the stairs.

Up, down, in and out. I feel like I spend many hours a day carrying things from one place to another in my house just to find a temporary home for them. I finally understand how the ancient civilizations were built. No use for the wheel or heavy machinery, just pure human strength and stamina. I would have quite a structure if all of my stuff was architecturally piled on top of each other.

It always amazes me how you can shift large quantities of things to bins, closets, Freecycle and the car’s trunk (which is my holding place for donations) and a few weeks later you’re right back where you started. The worst is when your bags of donations or trash get discovered by their previous owners and half of the things end up back in your house labeled as “favorite things I can’t live without.”

Naturally, stuff comes in your house and stuff goes out. I guess that’s just the cycle of life. Chris Hartstein of Home Solutions suggests a few simple steps to keeping on top of your household’s bodily functions.

Chris recommends the mantra, “a place for everything and everything in its place is the ultimate organizing goal.” She says, you can achieve this more easily by taking these action steps:

1. Design a “layette for life.” In other words, decide how many of any one item (crock pots, glasses, sweaters, video games, earrings, etc.) you need/desire given your living space. Write it down to make it more real.

2. Establish an attractive “clutter can” or “bye-bye bin” lined with a large plastic bag near the door. Make it a habit to put items that are no longer used or loved into this container for later donation. Take young children to a thrift store so they can see how this all works.

3. Before sorting a pile of papers turn it upside down. The older items will be easier to throw away and you’ll get through more. Remember, all paper fits into one of 4 categories: read it, act on it, file it or toss it.

What tips do you have for staying organized at home?

The Power of Scent

Winter is a time for savory smells of comfort. Just thinking about the sweet aroma of caramelized onions or pumpkin muffins makes me salivate.  Those smells are what make a house a home, but they can also affect our mood and performance.

I’m intrigued by the effects that smell has on our brains. Did you know that if you inhale the scent of orange or peppermint while exercising you can increase your performance? On the other hand, the exotic, floral smell of jasmine has a stronger relaxing effect on the body than lavender.

Some companies even take our sense of smell to the bank by pumping out aromas of chocolate, vanilla or floral notes that increase our urge to buy — brilliant. That explains the sickly, sweet smell permeating out of Abercrombie or that Cinnabon aroma that brings out our most primitive weaknesses.

Rose is a powerful, multitasking scent. In one study, volunteers were divided into two rooms with identical sneakers in them. One room was infused with the scent of rose, while the other was odorless. 84% preferred the sneakers in the floral-scented room and were willing to pay $10 more for them. Realtors, get your rose room spray out.

Even better, when you combine the visual of real roses with the smell, you can evoke a mood more powerful than a pill. Harvard researchers suggest that a vase of roses can induce a strong sense of joy due to that winning combination. Why not try it? Keep a vase of roses on your desk at work and see if you’re just a little nicer.

Aside from joy, the scent of rose is also known to help improve memory. I’m thinking I need to get myself a vat of roses. I have to admit, every time I walk into a flower shop, I find myself mesmerized by the stunning collection of roses and their intoxicating smell. I always leave with a little pep in my step.

Citrus oils really pack a puckering punch. They are known for increasing oxygen to the brain, boosting energy and immune function. Crisp, clean lemon also acts as a mood enhancer and grapefruit essential oil can improve hand-eye coordination.

I know you’re ready to buy gallons of these oils.  Fortunately, you don’t have to. Essential oils are highly concentrated, steam distilled oils from flowers and plants. It takes about 10,000 pounds of flowers to make one pound of rose oil. Due to their intensity, they must be used with care. Of course, if you’re pregnant or nursing, you should talk to your doctor, who will know nothing about this, so just stick to a few drops of lavender essential oil blended with olive oil.

Just make sure that you use pure essential oils. Those fragrance oils in candles and room fresheners are nasty little pillars of wax. I admit, some of them do smell good. It’s hard to get a natural candle that smells like fresh baked cookies. There’s a price, though.  Did you know that fragrance oils consist of hundreds of synthetic chemicals. 95% of the chemicals found in these oils are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, and include chemicals such as benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and others capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions.

You can find these essential oils at most local health food stores. Make sure that you never use essential oils undiluted on your skin. A few drops added to a carrier oil such as olive oil will go a long way. My favorite is a few drops of peppermint oil on a plug-in aromatherapy gadget called a Scentball by Aura Cacia. Within minutes my head feels clearer and the room smells crisp and spicy.







Grocery Shopping is Fun at Trader Joe’s

Who doesn’t love a store that thinks “sale” is a four-letter word and has happy employees who ring bells and wear funny hats with Hawaiian shirts?

I am well known at the Towson Trader Joe’s for my recipe binder and frequency of visits. After slipping into my secret parking spot, I can be found sipping, and sometimes spilling, my mini cup of free coffee while holding my free food sample (aka, lunch), several days a week due to incredibly poor time management.

I love my TJs visits. Socially, I always run into a neighbor and sometimes an old friend. The overly-caffeinated employees are always smiling and very eager to help with what ever you need, even if it’s just a little conversation. Like a good bartender, they have the perfect ability to stay productive, yet make you feel like every word you’re saying is fascinating.

Philosophically, I love a grocery store that says no to trans fats, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, MSG and GMOs and provides the shopper with handy, quick-read product labels such as vegan, gluten free and vegetarian, all packaged together with constant low prices.

Shopper cards make me crazy. My key chain is so cluttered with those barcoded trinkets that I recently found myself trying to scan my Preferred Shopper Card at the gym. As a recovering Whole Paycheck, I mean, Whole Foods shopper, I’ve found that you can get nearly twice as much food at TJs versus Whole Foods.

The TJs Fearless Flyer keeps you updated with helpful product information while providing some witty comic relief along the way. They admit that eating cheese makes them want to “start singing Dickensian show tunes.” Would that be a song that starts with “There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate?” There’s even a cartoon section. It ranks up there with the New York Times in our house.

I do have some product favorites right now too.

The Dark Chocolate Bar with Caramel and Black Sea Salt—Beware, once you try this sweet and salty block of umami, you’ll never be able to resist grabbing one at checkout again. It’s even better in the freezer.

Chocolate Cake Mix—I admit I’m wary of cake mixes, but with two fall birthdays in our house, I was forced to venture there. Pillsbury, with its artificial everything was not an option. This cake mix, with a homemade cream cheese frosting, is decadent. Truly, it has the depth and moistness of a homemade cake.

On the slightly healthier side:

The Sesame Seed Bagel Spinoza—1 gram of fat, 9 grams of protein and it boasts to “bagel the mind.” How can you resist?

Trek Mix Granola Cereal—This is my late-night snack and works great when you’re having cereal for dinner too. Put some blueberries on top and you have a meal.

My only criticism, this hip, progressive company has the equivalent of snail mail for communication. Come on Trader Joe’s, get a Facebook and Twitter page so I can banter with you. You could have shared this with your loyal customers.

Now I get to eat that chocolate bar I just photographed.

Pinterest Has My Interest

Since Facebook, Twitter and my assortment of websites and blogs don’t take up enough of my time, I decided it was time to dive into the wonderful world of pinning on Pinterest. This new website defines itself as “an online pinboard to collect and share what inspires you” and it will happily fill any narcissistic gaps you’re feeling with Facebook and Twitter.

I think the next best thing would be another site called Pinbook. This would be a combination of Pinterest and Facebook that would allow people to pin pictures or words on virtual voodoo dolls of friends or foes. Just remember, you heard it here first.

Actually, a recent study indicates that Pinterest “drives more traffic than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined.” I’m not surprised. It will surely be blocked by most company internet systems due to its ability to suck in the user with captivating, inspirational pictures. You will have no problem squandering away a few hours a day on the internet finding the perfect subjects for your virtual bulletin boards.

Some businesses have done an excellent job creating an image for themselves through Pinterest. “Pin etiquette” states that it’s not encouraged for businesses to self-promote, but rather curate and share things that represent the company’s brand personality visually. I like this. No direct selling, just pretty, thought-provoking pictures with links. Several companies, such as Whole Foods, West Elm and Real Simple have done an excellent job branding themselves this way.

Personally, I have found a lot of clever and inspirational things to pin on my boards. One of my favorites, is salad in a mason jar. This clever idea was originally posted in the blog, Fat Girl Trapped in a Skinny Body. I love the idea of a pretty salad to go. I made mine with my staple vinaigrette that I learned to make while studying in France a thousand years ago. Make sure to give your dressing a pulse in the blender so it won’t separate and pour it in the jar layering with your favorite salad goodies. Just shake when you’re ready to eat.

Happy pinning and eating and crafting and dreaming.