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College dorm shopping

Categories: Organization, Productivity

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My daughter recently graduated from high school, and, like many new grads, she’s off to college in the fall. (Eek! I will have a kid in college in just a few short weeks. OK, it’s 11 short weeks, but still…college!)

Since this is our oldest, we’ve been busy trying to learn about everything and prepare for what lies ahead. While the preparation is ultimately her responsibility, we still have lots of things to learn as parents. So far, the biggest lesson for us has been that our own college experiences aren’t really applicable to anything.

I spent a little time shaking my theoretical stick at what goes into college admissions and preparations these days, but even though I work at a college, I’ve come to learn that many things are just different for today’s students even when something was “good enough for me”.

Most things are done online, social media is key to getting information and finding roommates, and it doesn’t always have to be a “rite of passage” as a freshman to live with a stranger in a cinder block room the size of a postage stamp with a communal bathroom down the hall.  Also? The washing machines will text you when the cycle is done. (I know!)

However, one thing that remains constant is that there’s always going to be a list of “what to bring”.

More experienced college parents will probably chuckle at my freshman parent ways, but in the interest of avoiding a 4-digit Target bill in a strange city after forking over tuition and such, I have been trying to plan ahead a little by attempting to make a thorough list and buying and/or gathering things as I go.

I understand that students don’t need most of the stuff they bring, you have to carry it and there’s not much room. But, as far as I can tell, there are some start-up things they need, and I’ve been doing my best to get some things in order.

Even though we weren’t sure where she’d be going to school, I actually started purchasing things at Christmas, since getting “college stuff” was exciting.  Two birds, one stone, if you will. I started with items such as a small tool set, a hand vacuum, one of those pop-up laundry hampers and an array of no-damage sticky hook and squares, all things that can be used in any housing situation.

Since then, I’ve divided the list into different sections and am trying to tackle one division at a time. For example, I started with, “Study/Desk” earlier this year and I gradually acquired a box of items such as: a desk lamp, tape, tape dispenser, stapler, staples, a good pencil sharpener, some decent scissors, a ruler, a pencil holder, blank CDs, flash drives etc. While none of those items are especially glamorous, they’re needed, the cost can add up and I don’t want her to strip our desk at home of them.

Other areas I’ve worked on recently are “Medicine and First Aid”, “Clothing” (iron, small ironing board, hangers, stain release, detergent, etc.) “Storage”, “Cleaning” and “Repair”. She’ll be in a suite with a partial kitchen, so I’ve gotten just a few items classified as “Eat/Kitchen”.

The haul is accumulating in the dining room, and while the results aren’t especially attractive right now, I hope my attempts at shopping will prove useful and get her off to a good start:

Of course, she gets to shop for the fun stuff like bedding and decorations and I’ve had to remind her that this stuff is a one-time purchase for us and not to expect this every year!

How about you? Do you have any hints for college dorm shopping or just getting ready for college in general?

In search of meatloaf hints

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Organization, recipes

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I unabashedly admit I’m a huge fan of the much-maligned meatloaf. Actually, I’m a fan of the much-maligned singer, Meatloaf, too, but that’s a different post for a different time.

If meatloaf (the food, not the singer) is very traditional, and made “right”, I can’t get enough. I like it made with ground beef and a simple tomato sauce topping. The problem is I’m not all that good at making it. My actual meatloaf never quite matches the vision in my head. A “meatloaf letdown”, if you will.

I know it’s not that hard to make, but I just can’t seem to get it to come out the same way twice. Sometimes, it comes out in a loaf fashion you can actually slice, sometimes it comes out in “meatloaf crumbles”. I’ve tried it in a loaf pan, out of a loaf pan, in muffin tins and once in the crockpot (Do note the “once” part.).

I usually use the meatloaf recipe on the Quaker Oats package:

Ingredients

1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
3/4 cup Quaker® Oats(quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup catsup
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation

Heat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in large bowl; mix lightly but thoroughly. Shape meatloaf mixture into 10×6-inch loaf on rack of broiler pan.

Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until meatloaf is to medium doneness (160°F for beef, 170°F for turkey), until not pink in center and juices show no pink color. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing. Cover and refrigerate leftovers promptly and use within 2 days, or wrap airtight and freeze up to 3 months.

I’m sure this is the way my mother and grandmother made it, too, but perhaps meatloaf skips a generation or something? All I want is to make a simple meatloaf that tastes good and that can be sliced so it looks like meatloaf, is that so much to ask?

Do you have any helpful meatloaf hints or recipes? Please share them!

What do you put in a guest bathroom?

Categories: Organization

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We don’t have guests a lot, but I like to be prepared when we do. I’m funny about staying at people’s houses sometimes (it’s me, not you), so I put a lot of time into preparing the guest bathroom and bedroom and enjoy thinking of things that I like to make someone’s visit more comfortable.

Now that I think about that, I guess someone’s visit would be more comfortable if we actually cleaned the junk off the guest bed since it tends to be where “homeless” items downstairs live, so I guess we’ll just talk about the bathroom.

I like to have a well-stocked guest bathroom and enjoy showing people where everything is because I hate when I’m at someone else’s house and can’t find soap or toilet paper. Actually, I was at someone’s house one time, and I couldn’t find the bathroom, but didn’t realize that was an issue until the middle of the night (I had arrived late), so that was fun.

Some of the things I have on hand in the guest bathroom:

- a night light
- extra toilet paper in a logical place
- common medicines (antacid, Tylenol, cough drops)
- clean towels and washcloths
- hairdryer
- a small basket of toiletries (shampoo, lotion, soap, razors, tissues, bandaids, toothbrush, toothpaste, sewing kit, etc.)

Even if the guest bathroom is the same as your bathroom, these are all things easily stocked for your guests.

What do you put in a guest bathroom? Have you been to someone’s house and seen something and thought it was a great idea or had trouble locating something you really needed? Do tell!

What’s in your glove compartment?

Categories: Organization, travel

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Lest you think I’m obsessed with my car, it’s just that I spend a lot of time in there, and I like to be prepared. We’ve already discussed must-have items for the car trunk, as well as handy items to keep in the car console.

But, what about the glove compartment? What goes in there?

When I was in high school. most of my friends turned 16 before I did, and could drive. I longed to have a car of my own, ready for whatever came my way. I remember one friend in particular who had snacks in the glove compartment (it would be many years later before I realized that she probably had an eating disorder), and I recall thinking it was cool that she could keep whatever she wanted in there.

The day finally came, and I had a car of my own. I don’t know exactly what I kept in there, but I’m sure it was all “useful” stuff crammed in there with the silly things my dad made me put in there like the registration and insurance information.

As an adult, I’ve learned to keep the most important things in there and reasonably organized so they’re easily accessible, but I’m wondering if my “important” things are the same as yours.

What’s in my glove compartment?

(Apparently, I keep a mystery piece of my car interior in there to the right of the sunglasses, too.)

Owner’s manual
Proof of insurance
Car registration documents (it’s debatable if you should keep these in there)
Roadside assistance instructions and phone number
Maintenance receipts
Pen and paper
Extra sunglasses (a must, if you wear contact lenses)
A flashlight
A snack (I keep it hidden in there in case we forget my 4th grader’s snack for school)
Extra straws (yes, they are important)

One thing I need to remember to put in there is a list of emergency contacts. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if I have a list in my wallet, either. I need to get on that.

How about you? What’s in your glove compartment?

What should you pack in a carry-on bag?

Categories: Organization, travel

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I love to travel by air even though it makes me a little nuts, sometimes.

I obsessively check and recheck things (Boarding pass? Phone? Carry-on? Suitcase?) when I’m at the airport, so there’s no telling what I must look like. I live in fear of doing something really stupid and being stranded forever in some airport.

Hey, I never said my fears were realistic.

Even though I usually carry my suitcase on board (It fits, I promise) I’m especially attentive to packing the bag I keep in the seat with me. I’ve spent more than a few hours delayed on a tarmac wishing I’d had a bottle of water or an actual paper book when the electronic ran down.

Also, I really don’t like being bored on long flights, so I’m always balancing just the right amount of essential stuff that’s easy to access with what won’t drive me crazy around an airport all day.

I just got back from a trip over the weekend, and am unpacking, so I thought I’d share what I think is important in a carry-on bag.

1. The bag itself - I’m very picky about the bag I use. First, it’s got to zip across the top (as opposed to a magnet closure) so things don’t fall out of it when you have to shove it under the seat. It also has to be bigger than an average purse, but not like a second suitcase. It’s also a plus when it’s at least somewhat stylish because I often carry it around conferences and meetings.

It’s also got to pass my “one arm scoop test”. I suppose it’s left over from my days of carrying kids around, but the straps have to be long enough for me to get it over my shoulder comfortably using one arm. It’s also got to be really sturdy with the straps fastened solidly to the bag since it’s no fun to have a strap break when you’re on your way to Gate 346C from Gate 2C.

2. Travel documents - I always carry 2 printed copies of boarding passes, and I’ve actually had to use them both before. I also make sure I have paper copies of ground transportation, lodging and meeting information even though I keep that information electronically, you just never know.

3. Magazines - I confess: I read celebrity rags on the plane. They have to be the latest copy, too. Don’t judge.

4. Book - Even though I don’t tend to read them on board, I always keep a book with me when I fly. You never know when you’ll be delayed or batteries will run out on your electronic devices leaving you with nothing to do but stare at people while they decide if they should get up and go to the bathroom, or not.

5. Water - I’m not really one of those people who carries a water bottle around everywhere, but I’ve learned the hard way to keep one with me.

6. Snack - I make sure I have something on the sweet side and something salty, since if I have one I inevitably want the other at 10,000 feet. If it’s an especially long flight, I might bring a sandwich or something.

7. Movies and games - I like to watch movies I haven’t had a chance to see. I load up my phone or table with one for going and one for the way home. I also play games on my phone when I’m in the mood.

8. Jacket - A jacket can keep you warm, and it makes a reasonable pillow in a pinch.

9. Pen and paper - It’s handy for making lists, drawing pictures or compose blog posts when you’re bored.

10. Wallet - I don’t usually carry a purse with me when I’m only going to be gone a couple of days. I put my wallet, sunglasses, keys and essentials in my tote and leave the purse and things I can live a couple of days without at home.

11. Personal items - I keep a hairbrush, mints, lipstick, mirror, nail file, Tylenol, bandaids etc. in my travel bag at all times, so I don’t have move those things from my purse to the bag and back.

12. Cords and headphone - I have a make-up bag just for cords, chargers and headphones for my various gadgets.

Since I usually carry my suitcase on board (Seriously, it fits. I’m not one of “those” people. Why are you looking at me like that?) I also have my clear bag with liquids, but I usually put that in the suitcase after I go through security.

I like to believe I’m prepared for anything that comes my way with one simple bag over my shoulder.

What about you? What goes in your airplane carry-on bag?

Handy items to keep in the car

Categories: Organization

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I pride myself not only on keeping my car reasonably neat, but also on being prepared for whatever comes my way when I’m out and about.

A while back, I wrote about must have items for the car trunk, but I also have a certain set of things I keep in the console next to me.

The contents may look like random items (OK, the loose change in there is random, I don’t know how it got there), but I spend a lot of time in the car, and contents of the center console are a carefully crafted list of things I like to keep close without having a lot of extra stuff.

They’re not emergency or winter-preparedness items (I keep that kind of thing in the trunk) or anything smart like that. I’m talking about little things that drive me crazy if I don’t have them when I’m away from home.

Some of the things in my car console:

Lip balm - inevitably, one of the kids will complain about the worst chapped lips in the history of ever when we are 250 miles from civilization on the Interstate in the middle of the night.

Spare reading and sun glasses - Mostly self-explanatory, but they rank near the top of my list of things that bug me to death if I accidentally leave them at home.

Hand lotion -I’m not a lotion addict by any means, but there seems to be some relationship between noticing dry hands and sitting in a huge traffic jam.

Nail clippers and nail file - For those times when that annoying fingernail has to be dealt with RIGHT. NOW.

Pens and paper - I’ve never mastered typing in a number on the phone at the same time I’m talking on the phone, so I have to be all retro and write it on paper.

Mints - I keep them in there mostly to let my youngest child think he’s discovered a secret treat.

Napkins - I have kids, need I say more? My paper napkin stash is also like a retrospective of everywhere I’ve been over the past few weeks.

Tweezers - We all know about the annoying stray hair that only shows up when you’re at a stoplight, right? Tweezers are also good for a variety of kids’ backpack-related malfunctions like stuck zippers.

Also, when my kids were younger and were going to lots of birthday parties, I used to keep gift bags, tags and tissue paper in there because I may or may not have been that person who bought the gift on the way to the party.

I may be the only one who thinks this deeply about the subject, but are there things you find handy to keep in your car?

Packing the Christmas decorations

Categories: Organization, Tips and Tricks

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Every year, I promise myself that I’m going to put the holiday decorations away properly.

I even plan to go out and buy things on sale for next year so I’ll be prepared.

However, I somehow talk myself out of it saying, “I’ll just take care of it next Christmas”.

But, now? This is my year.

I may have missed the sales (we’ve been out of town a couple of times), but I’m going to get a grip on storing this stuff if it’s the last thing I do.

Here’s my plan so far:

1. Get rid of worn/broken items and things we don’t actually display. We have quite a bit of Christmas decor as a result of being on a tour of homes thing (long story) several years ago. I don’t really have a need for the “all out” decorating scheme anymore, so it’s time to thin out the collection.

2. Make sure we have proper storage containers and decide what goes in each. While I don’t want to fall into the trap of buying boxes to contain junk, I do want to have what we need, and home organizing things are on sale right now.

3. Divide items into categories such as soft items (stockings, towels, tablecloths etc.), knick-knacks, garland and lights, fragile items, tree ornaments, outside decorations and kids’ personalized items.

4. Re: kids’ personalized items. A couple of years ago, I bought 3 identical plastic boxes for each of my kids. They each have a nativity set and personalized ornaments from each year, so these things go in their labeled box. They like to unpack them each year, and eventually I can present them with their box when they have homes of their own.

5. Plan for where the boxes will be stored. Most of our decorations go in the closet in the dining room, but I don’t want the boxes to outgrow the closet or anything, so I want to make sure they all fit before I pack everything.

6. Pack everything logically and carefully, even if it takes a long time.

We’ll see how I do as it’s just now underway, but I’m going to try to make sure Christmas 2012 me thanks (instead of curses) Christmas 2011 me.

Do you have any tips for storing Christmas decorations? I’m all ears.

Storing gift wrapping supplies

Categories: Organization

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The gift-giving holidays are done for the most part, and there’s a wrapping paper, gift bag, box explosion in the house now.

Someone (and, by “someone”, I mean probably you) will eventually have to sort through is because some of that stuff can be reused. Really, have you noticed the price of gift bags?

Once the aftermath is combed through, you have to decide what you’re going to do with it all.

A long time ago, gift wrapping supplies consisted of a few rolls of paper, some tape, a few sticky bows and some scissors stuck in the hall closet. But, when gift bags, decorative boxes and such came on the scene, gift wrapping supplies began to take up more space.

Additionally, gift wrapping has become such an art form (a competitive sport?) that birthdays and other events no longer mean there’s just a roll of non-Christmas paper to add to the supplies. Now, is seems like there’s a whole other set of item we have to store for birthdays, anniversaries and surprises.

Maybe that’s just me since my kid’s school sells wrapping paper for a fundraiser, and I have quite the display of “all-occasion” wrapping supplies.

Any way you look at it, all that stuff has to go somewhere, and for those of us without a “wrapping room” in the house that means paper, bows and other supplies go in some sort of box.

A long time ago, I splurged for a “gift wrap organizer” that was actually just a long box, thinking it would solve the mess. But soon, paper rolls got longer and gift bags came along and things no longer fit neatly inside it and I ended up having an “annex” box.

I’m not really happy with my gift wrap storage solution, but I haven’t come up with anything better.

Currently, I have those 2 boxes for holiday wrapping supplies, and I keep the all-occasion supplies in the kitchen closet since we have to access them more frequently.

When the kids were younger and they were going to birthday parties all the time, I also kept a supply of gift bags, tissue paper, tags and tape in the car because I confess to being the person who usually bought the gift on the way to the party, but I really don’t have to do that anymore.

Also, since the kids are old enough to get into the supplies themselves, things end up looking like this:

I’d love to be able to keep the gift wrap supplies neat, and all in the same place. Do you have a storage system or a container you like to use to organize gift wrapping supplies?

Please share in the comments below!

How do you organize your digital photos?

Categories: Organization

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I have a nice enough digital camera, and I love to take pictures. I’m not especially good at it, but what I take is meets our needs, and I’m always learning something, so I keep doing it.

One thing I’ve never come close to mastering is what to do with the digital pictures I take.

I’ve tried most every system I can think of, but I haven’t been able to sustain any routine with them. From storing them to viewing and printing them, I have a bit of Digital Photo Paralysis, I want to make sure I do “just the right thing”, but sometimes I can’t decide what that is, so I don’t do anything.

Saving our digital pictures has been a bit of a challenge. I always download them to the computer (Confession: our computer isn’t backed up, so I need a plan quickly. Don’t judge.), and sometimes I even sort those files into years and months, but not always. I’ve always managed to rescue pictures from the hard drive if we have a computer croak, so I have some on external drives.

Viewing and enjoying our digital pictures has been a challenge, too.

For a while, I kept a photo blog, determined to document everything promptly and in order. Predictably, that started taking up a lot of room, and it fell by the wayside. Additionally, that method never really caught on with my parents who just wanted to see pictures of the grand kids.

I’ve had a Flickr account since it became popular years ago, but I mostly use it for blog-related photos rather than our entire collection because I’m not wild about the idea of depending on a 3rd party to store them. If I have pictures from an event that I need to share with other people, I upload them to a photo sharing site, but even then I haven’t really settled on one with any regularity.

So, we have many years of digital photos that we actually don’t look at all that often, mainly because I’m not sure of “just the right way” I want to do it.

Don’t even start me on printing digital photos. We usually just don’t do it, and I know that’s terrible, but it’s true. Our 3rd child is the only one who was born during the digital photo age, so there’s very few prints of him, and he’s old enough to notice, now. That’s going to be a problem for graduation someday when he needs baby pictures for the yearbook, huh?

I’m ready to try to turn over a new leaf, though, so tell me about your digital photos:

1. How do you store your digital photos? Computer hard drive? External drive? Third-party site?
2. How do you organize them? By year and month? By event?
3. How do you share digital photos with other people? Do you send specific photos, or do you put them all on one site that anyone can view if they wish?
4. Do you print your digital photos? What do you do with the prints? Scrapbook? Traditional photo albums?

Also, if I were to turn over this new leaf, should I try to go back and organize/upload/print photos from the beginning, or should I just start today and move forward?

My kids are getting older, and I want to make sure we have photo memories for them, but I hate that they have to fish around the computer to find them, so I’m determined to get our digital pictures organized and keep up with it!

What’s in your junk drawer?

Categories: Organization

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I have a kitchen drawer that’s a “catch-all”.

OK, OK some people may refer to it as a junk drawer, but we prefer to think of it as “miscellaneous storage”.

(Apropos of nothing, as I was pondering what to write, I discovered a guy who photographs junk drawers and medicine cabinets and a Flickr junk drawer group. Who knew?)

While there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to what’s in our junk drawer at first glance, the inventory has actually been cultivated over the years, and we know what is supposed to live there. Here it is:

We’ll probably never be those people with the meticulously divided junk drawer. It actually needs straightening at the moment, and we do clean it out from time to time. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t usually look like this.

We keep things in there that we use intermittently,  things we don’t want to lose track of, and things simply may need “sometime”.  Yes, I do know this violates all manners of organizational principles, but I’m just putting the good, the bad and the ugly of disorder out there for you.

Actually, it’s kind of like a treasure hunt and a time capsule all in one!

I may try to make better sense of this area someday, but for now, here’s 5 things in our junk drawer:

1. Conference badge lanyards - I keep those in there because the kids have to have IDs for school, and trading lanyards is big business there.

2. Vintage postcards - I found some vintage postcards at my dad’s house. He doesn’t need them, and I don’t have a “vintage postcard drawer” and I don’t want to lose them, so there ya go.

3. A bag of safety pins - Self-explanatory.  Many moons ago, people kept safety pins in their sewing baskets. I have no sewing basket. But, I do have a “miscellaneous storage” drawer!

4. Birthday candles - This is just where they’ve always lived.

5. A telephone line splitter - If you come over, and say, “Hey, I need to split a land line connection in two, can you help”? I’m on it.

Do you have a junk drawer? Tell us 5 things in there. Are they useful or just orphaned?

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