Product Love: Method Laundry Detergent

Let me start out by saying “No, this is not a paid endorsement!” I just really, really love method products. They are environmentally friendly, safe to use, and have great scents! I first bought Method Laundry Detergent when we were gearing up for our big cross-country move. The bottle is compact (only 3 inches diameter across the bottom) will wash 50 loads with only a 20-ounce bottle, has a locking pump-style lid, and seemed like it would be easier to pack than the typical giant box of laundry detergent I was using at the time. Like all the other products in the Method line, the Laundry Detergent delivers big-time. It smells great, uses only 4 pumps of detergent for an average size load of laundry, works wonderfully in both regular and HE machines, and takes up very little space! Add to that the fact that the bottle is made of 50% recycled material and is 100% recyclable and I’m sold! Even better: a feature that allows the pump to dispense every last drop of detergent from the bottle. The only downside is that it can be a bit priceyabout $15.00 for a 50-load bottle, but it really does last all 50 loads. They also make a fabric softener that I have yet to try, but I think I will give it a whirl when I need to buy detergent again.

Music Love: “Dead Disco” by Metric

I love this song and just added it to the “happy happy run run” mix I’m compiling on iTunes for when the weather is a bit nicer. It’s a bit reminiscent of 80’s synth-pop/rock. Maybe I love it because the bass line seems like a mash-up of the Cure’s “A Forest” and “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” or maybe it’s because the vocals somehow bring Blondie to mind. Either way, it will get you up on your feet.

Yoga Love: Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2)

Warrior II continues working the legs just like Warrior I, but also opens up the hips and strongly tones the arms (particularly that area under the upper arms that tends to sag as we age), and with the proper modifications, can also work wonders on your inner thighs. This is a strong, stabilizing pose that challenges and tones the entire body. This is also a fantastic pose for improving body image and self-confidence.

photo courtesy of http://www.yogajournal.com

From Warrior One with your right foot forward, exhale and rotate your torso to the left, simultaneously opening the hips and lowering your arms to shoulder height with palms facing the floor. If you need to adjust the placement of your feet, please do so, in order to prevent knee injury! Hips and knees should be open towards the left. Keep your gaze forward, over the right hand. Take a moment to make sure your back foot is at a 45-degree angle with the outer edge of the foot staying grounded, and that your weight is equally distributed between both feet.

Glance down at your right knee, to be sure it is stacked directly above your ankle rather than rolling inward. Reach strongly in both directions with your fingertips, as though you are being pulled opposite ways. Strongly engage the muscles of your arms –particularly the triceps — taking care to keep the neck long and the shoulder blades drawing down the back.

Finally, root your heels down into the mat, and draw your feet toward one another, thus engaging the inner thighs. Focus on your breathing, keeping it long and steady. Hold for 5-10 breaths.

To come out of the pose, bring your hands to your hips, gently rotate the hips forward (the same leg position you used in Warrior One) and then step the left foot up to meet the right. As you exhale, step the right foot back, coming into Warrior One and then follow the steps for Warrior Two on the opposite side. End your micro session, by closing your eyes, and breathing deeply for 5-10 breaths. Enjoy the strength, focus, and determination that Warrior Two brings.



We have a lot of books in our home. With that comes a problem, however. If not kept in check books can creep off of shelves and wind up in every room in every imaginable place: stacked on top of tables and counters, hiding under beds, peeking out from behind dressers, littering the floor, and consequently, getting damaged in the process. I dream of having a dedicated library in our home. One room that is lined from floor to ceiling with bookshelves and furnished with oversized leather chairs, perfect for curling up in for a nice read. Maybe a sturdy table for homework purposes. Sadly, it remains a dream and so I am left with the dilemma of how to go about organizing the hundreds (thousands?) of books in our home.

I was thinking about this the other day, and realized that there are a lot of different ways to organize books and that, rather than adopt a single method, I’ve chosen a smattering that work for me and employed them in different places throughout the house. Not every method works in every instance. I’ve even implemented a system on my Kindle to keep things organized and accessible. Here are some of the different methods I use for organizing my books:

Color: The main bookshelves in my house are in the living room. These are filled mostly with books we bought to read for enjoyment. There is also some poetry mixed in there, from my days as an English major. These bookshelves, for about a year now, have been organized by color. I really enjoy having my books arranged this way. It’s somewhat unusual,  it’s  visually pleasing to look at, and I have discovered that I remember books by their cover art and can actually find what I’m looking for more quickly this way.  Both of my sisters have since adopted the organize-by-color method as well. If you like bookshelves to look uniform and tidy, this is a good place to start. You can even go more extreme, and turn the books spine-in for a subtle, monochromatic look, but obviously, it will be more difficult to locate a specific book with this method unless there is some other system of organization in place.

Subject: My husband and I have a lot of diverse interests from crochet and beekeeping to photography and art history. If we have more than one or two books on a specific subject, I tend to group them by subject on dedicated shelves. For example, my husband keeps all of his art, photography, and design books on shelves in his studio area. I keep all cookbooks together as well as books on yoga, crochet, beekeeping, home organization, and parenting casually grouped by subject on a large built-in bookshelf in my bedroom. Having the cookbooks there is mildly inconvenient, and I would encourage you to store cookbooks in the kitchen whenever possible. Religious books and manuals are stored together in another location.

Size: Try though I might, I have not yet found a better means of organizing the kid’s books. Right now we have a dedicated bookshelf for this in our son’s room and plan to add one to our daughter’s shared room. There is a fair amount of spillover onto the toy shelves, but I hope to eliminate this when I add another bookshelf. The shelf we currently use is small with only 3 shelves and the books are organized by size for the simple fact that it makes them neater as well as easier for children to put away. Since there are only 3 shelves, I can even tell at a glance what shelf each book belongs on. Large picture books are on the bottom, medium-sized on the middle shelf, and smaller books go mostly on the top. I say mostly, because the top shelf is really the only shelf that has another designation — all top shelf books are easy readers and early chapter books. This keeps them slightly more out of reach of the baby and also makes it easy for my two readers to find something that they might enjoy.

Type: I specify “type” because we do have a lot of books sorted this way such as my the easy reader books mentioned above, my husband’s old sketch books, photo albums, and my embarrassingly large comic book collection.

Tips for Tidy Shelves:

  • Don’t be afraid to try something different. Books don’t always have to be lined up neatly from left to right. Try running them from right to left or laying them on their sides and stacking them vertically. I also like to lay a book or two sideways in the space on top of traditionally arranged books. If they aren’t level, rearrange the base slightly, putting books of equal heights at the front and end of the section you want to stack on top of.
  • Mix things up. Mix in stacks of books with regularly shelved books. Add small, interesting objects to the top of stacks or in spaces at the end of a shelf to act as bookends. I have a few old, heavy cameras and some oddly-shaped vases that I do this with.
  • Store outside the shelf. Books look nice mixed in with decorative elements around the room. Stack a few to give a lamp more lift or to elevate a candlestick. If you have spare dresser space, consider lining up some books spine-up in a drawer.
  • Library books need homes too. Since it can be difficult to track them down when it is time to return them, I like to give library books a dedicated space. Our current library issued re-usable tote bags to our kids when they got their own library cards, so lately we’ve just been using these. They hang on the doorknob of the bedrooms with the books inside. Before that, we used a large basket tucked in a corner of the living room. Either way, it’s easier when you give library books a home of their own and let your kids know that they must be returned there each evening.
  • Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. It’s a good idea to go through bookshelves once a year or so and get rid of books you no longer use or know you won’t read again. You can donate books to hospitals, shelters, prisons, or goodwill. Used book shops will pay decent money for some items — it is always worth taking in a box full of books for the proprietor to sort through. They are also great sellers at yard sales. Another option is using old books for craft projects. I’ve seen some amazing things from wreaths, to simple book-folding wall art, to mobiles and purses.  I’ll leave you with this lovely inspiration:

If you have any tips for organizing, storing, or crafting with books, please share in the comments section!

This is one of our family favorites, and has been ever since my son (now 9) was about 2. I love it because it’s light, healthy, and is one of those rare meals that seems well- suited for cold and warm weather alike. If you don’t like feta cheese, don’t let that deter you from trying this recipe. Feta, when cooked, takes on a much milder, mellow flavor and blends perfectly with the rest of the ingredients. Best of all, you can throw this together in 15 minutes and then bake it in under 30 minutes. This dish really is a crowd-pleaser, is nice enough to make for company, and might even get your kids to eat spinach greens.

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • ¼ cup dry breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup feta cheese with basil and tomato, crumbled (can substitute plain)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves
  • ½ cup torn fresh basil (optional)*
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T olive oil
  • pinch of salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400.  Place chicken breasts in Ziploc bag and pound to ¼ “ thickness, cut in half diagonally.  Season breadcrumbs with salt and pepper and dredge chicken in crumbs.  Spoon 1 heaping TBSP cheese onto each piece of chicken and fold in half.  Place chicken in an 8-inch square baking dish that has been coated with cooking spray.  Drizzle olive oil over chicken.  Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes or until chicken is done.  Combine spinach and basil (if using)  in a bowl, set aside.  Combine vinegar, oil, and pepper and shake well.  Place ¼ of spinach salad on each plate and top with a chicken breast.  Drizzle the vinegar mixture over the top.

*We love to use fresh basil in the summer when we have it on hand, but in the winter, usually opt to leave it out.

This dish is fantastic accompanied by Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice. Sometimes we even cut the chicken up, and toss it, with the rice and spinach to make a warm salad.

Meal Planning 101

Recently I have heard (read?) a lot of women lamenting the fact that they struggle with planning meals for their families, including one dear friend (and fantastic cook, by the way) who posted on my Facebook Wall: “I command you to send me your weekly menu plan along with all subsequent recipes so I don’t have to do it myself. And cuz the stuff you make is always better than what I make.”

Let’s break that down:

#1 It was, after all, a command, so I complied.

#2 By saying “so I don’t have to do it myself”, she admitted to what, exactly? Incapability? Distaste for the chore? Laziness? We may never know, but I have a confession: I don’t really like doing it myself.

#3 Saying that the stuff I make is better is just a flat-out lie. But I think we all tend to get into cooking ruts from time to time resulting in getting bored with meal planning and cooking in general. Face it, if all you can come up with for dinner is something you also had last week and the week before that…anything else anyone else is making is going to seem like an improvement.

You may be wondering: “What was the point of that little story?” and “When do we get to the meal planning part?” Well, the point is, everyone can get into a rut when it comes to meal planning, even if you are a fantastic cook who cranks out french cuisine like it’s a walk in the park. And the meal planning stuff starts now.

Brainstorm: Start by just making a list of meals. I typically shoot for about 12-14 because I prefer to make one big grocery trip, but if that seems overwhelming, shoot for 6-7. I don’t ever pre-assign meals to days of the week. I prefer to look at my list and see what sounds good and do-able each day. Try to make most of your meals on the list follow the 1-hour rule. (Can this entire meal be prepared from start to finish in about an hour?) Most of my menu items follow this rule — the exception is Sunday dinner or if we have dinner guests. In those cases, I still try to limit hands-on time to about an hour. List 1-2 meals that are no-brainers for those nights that are busy or you just can’t face cooking a more involved meal. These can be old standbys like tacos or spaghetti.  Another good use of your brainstorming time is to think of ways to add interest to “boring” meals.  For example, make shredded pork or chicken tacos instead of beef, or add a new veggie into a casserole or soup.

Look for Inspiration: I do this in a few different ways. I am a huge Everyday Food fan, and have subscribed to the magazine for over 5 years now. It never disappoints, and I find the majority of my meals here. I like it because the meals are simple, use fresh, seasonal ingredients, and usually abide by the 1-hour rule. Each month, when the new issue arrives, I sit down and look at every single recipe. I dog-ear the corners of any that look really good. When I am making my menu, it’s really easy to grab a current or past issue and look for those folded corners. Sometimes as I flip through a second time, new recipes appeal to me, and I mark those too. It’s also a great idea to flip through your cookbooks periodically and see if anything jumps out at you.

My mom is a huge fan of looking through the weekly supermarket ad, noting what is on sale, and then planning her menu that way. I am working on incorporating this into my process, but am not great at it yet. I do however, keep my eyes open while shopping and stock up on staples that are on sale, and sometimes modify my menu on the spot — either by substituting one item for another or by changing a meal entirely in favor of something more economical.

The last way that I find inspiration for my menu is by keeping a document on my computer entitled “MENU” to which I add each week’s menu, (when I remember to) organized by month. I can look back, for example, and see what I was cooking in February of 2007.  Sometimes I will re-discover a long-forgotten favorite this way or find something that I only made once, but remember it being delish.

Finally, check your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what you already have on hand, and try to incorporate those items into your menu.

Make a List: I write my grocery list on the back of the paper that my menu is on. That way, if I think I’ve forgotten something, I can refer back to the menu list and (hopefully) jog my memory. I also like to write my shopping list in the order in which I will find the items in the store. If you are not 100% familiar with your store, this won’t work, but you can sort by category: produce, canned goods, baked goods, dairy, etc. This makes your trip through the store much more efficient and prevents you from forgetting an item while shopping.

If I need multiples of any items, I write how many I need next to that item on the list. I also use this time to check my freezer, cellar, and pantry (if I haven’t already) to make sure I won’t be buying items I already have on hand. When I get home, I rotate items as I put them away. If I have bread in the freezer, I pull it out to thaw and put the new loaves in to freeze, etc. Finally, I post my menu list on the fridge so I can refer to it easily throughout the week.

I don’t know that there has been anything in this post that is ground-breaking in any way, but I do hope that it will inspire you to plan your meals and grocery trips with more mindfulness and to get away from feeling uninspired in the kitchen. If you have a favorite meal-planning tip, please share it in the comments section!

This recipe is the perfect quick weeknight meal: it goes together in a snap and uses a lot of storage-friendly items like canned goods and tortillas. It is also versatile enough that you can easily change things around or make substitutions when needed. I’ve also managed to pack 6 different veggies into this dish: tomato, avocado, corn, black beans, green chiles, and onion, so eat up! This recipe is as healthy as it is delicious!

  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1/2 of an onion, diced
  • 1 can green chiles
  • 1 can black beans, drain off 1/2  of the liquid
  • 1 cup frozen sweet corn
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cooked chicken breast, diced into 1/4″ pieces (optional)
  • 1 can enchilada sauce*
  • 8 corn or flour tortillas
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Lightly oil a 9×11 glass casserole dish with a little olive oil. Heat the remainder in a heavy pot, over medium-high heat. Toss in the onion and saute 1-2 minutes. Stir in the green chiles and cook until onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add beans, corn, cumin, & garlic and stir to combine. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then stir in diced chicken. Remove from heat.

Pour 1/3 of the enchilada sauce into the bottom of the casserole dish. Fill each tortilla with bean filling and roll up. Place in casserole dish seam side down. If you have any leftover topping, sprinkle it over the top of the enchiladas. Pour the remaining sauce over the top. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling.

*If you don’t have a can of enchilada sauce, use a can of tomato sauce and season to taste with cumin, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. If you would like to add a little more heat to the dish, you could add cayenne pepper to the bean mixture or substitute a can of jalapeno peppers for the green chiles.

Serve the enchiladas on a bed of Mexican-style rice and top with shredded lettuce, sour cream, salsa, and diced avocados.

Product Love: SOS Cleaning Pads

This product is an oldie, but goodie, as they say. Beloved by my mother and grandmother SOS pads have remained virtually unchanged since they first hit the market in 1917. Since it is an older product, a lot of modern home-keepers may be unaware of this kitchen lifesaver, so I thought they deserved a spotlight. They are basically small pads of steel wool infused with a foaming soap and they are scrubbing dynamos. They are perfect for baked-on messes that won’t soak away. I find myself using them frequently as of late, since my less-than-stellar dishwasher often leaves stuff behind on my dishes that won’t come off easily until I dampen an SOS pad and rub lightly. The pads are quite large, and since they are made of steel, are prone to rusting if left wet on the side of the sink. I solve this problem by cutting each pad into halves or even quarters as needed with a pair of kitchen shears. My mom swears by wrapping used pads in foil and tossing it in the freezer to prevent rusting.

Music Love: Florence & the Machine

I’m digging Florence & the Machine lately. The dreamy vocals and catchy melodies are  heavily atmospheric and often have a dark edge to the lyrics, yet somehow leave you feeling strangely buoyed up .  The “Florence” of Florence & the Machine is Florence Welsh, an English songbird with a powerhouse voice. Her video for “Cosmic Love” is beautiful and haunting. If you want something a little more upbeat, give “Dog Days are Over” a listen. Or, for sheer rock-n-roll that will make you get up and dance, try “Kiss with a Fist” — the videos are great too.  Either way, you won’t be disappointed. And by all means, let me know what you think or let me know what music you are loving lately.

Yoga Love: Virabhadrasana I  (Warrior Pose)

photo courtesy of http://www.yogajournal.com

Warrior pose is strongly grounding pose that strengthens your legs, shoulders, arms, and back, challenges your balance, and stretches your  hip flexors. To move into Warrior 1, start out in Tadasana, inhale deeply. As you begin to exhale, place your hands on your hips and  step your left foot back 3-4 feet, turning the toes of your back foot forward at a 45-degree angle. Your front toes should point straight ahead. Make sure that your weight is centered evenly on both feet and the the front leg is bent in a deep lunge, bringing the thigh bone as close to parallel with the floor as you are able.

Glance down at your front knee and make sure that it is not rolling inward, but that it is staying stacked directly above your ankle. Also check to make sure that in your lunge, the knee is not extending past the ankle joint. If it is, this will put undue pressure on your kneecap and could lead to a knee injury. Correct this by widening your stance. Next, draw your attention to your back foot and press down with the outer edge of your foot.

Next, check your hip alignment. Both hips should be facing squarely forward and even with one another. With hands still on hips, pull the right hip (or left hip, if the left foot is forward) back gently until it aligns with the left. Another good way to tell if your hips are squared is to visualize which way your belly button is pointing. It should be pointing straight ahead rather than diagonally off to one side. If you are having difficulty squaring the hips, try stepping the front foot over to the right an inch or two. (Or to the left when the left foot is forward,)

Finally, inhale deeply as you fully extend your arms and raise them above your head, alongside your ears. Take a moment to make sure your shoulders are not coming up to the ears. If they are, relax the shoulders and draw the shoulder blades downward. Extend strongly through the arms all the way through the fingertips. If you find that raising the arms creates tension in the neck and shoulders, feel free to modify the pose by returning the hands to the hips. Yoga should be a  means of releasing tension in the body, never creating it.

Hold Warrior 1 for 5-6 full breaths. When you are ready to come out of the pose, return the hands to the hips on an exhalation. As you inhale, step the back foot forward to meet the other. Repeat on the opposite side. End your micro-session by adjusting your alignment in Tadasana and taking several deep breaths, ending with a final exhalation through the mouth, like a sigh.

A long time ago, in what seems like another life, my husband and I lived together in newly-wedded bliss in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. Every Thursday night, I would try to get home about an hour earlier than usual and I would quickly clean the entire apartment from floor to ceiling. I did this to get a jump-start on the weekend and so that I could come home to gleaming serenity on Friday night. No chores, no obligations.

Fast-forward 10 years. I mentioned earlier that I do whole-house cleaning on Fridays…which I have done for years since having kids. However, a couple weeks ago, everything changed. I made lunch plans with an old friend that I haven’t seen for over a year. Since we both have young children, she offered (generously) to bring lunch to me…here…at my house…on a Friday. Since my Fridays are typically spent looking a mess and scrubbing floors, I decided that — just this once — I would clean the entire house on Thursday, which, if you remember from the same earlier post, also involves laundry. It seemed like an insurmountable task when I woke up Thursday morning, but by the end of the day, I was feeling great. I felt even greater the next morning, when, kids off to school, I surveyed my domain. All I had to do was make beds and do the breakfast dishes — a task which took approximately 15 minutes at most. You can see where this is heading, right?

Today, again, I decided to do the laundry and cleaning all in one day and leave my Friday wide open. It’s a really, really, good feeling. Trust me. So today, if you are up to it, why not clean the house from top to bottom? Or do it tomorrow if you can’t manage it today. I have a system that works for me. Here it is:

Night before: Do a whole-house pick-up. Just pick up all the stuff that is not where it belongs and put it away. Then you can start fresh in the morning.

Morning Work: Pick up any stray items that are out, gather up all the laundry, and quickly make the beds.

Clean the Kitchen: Load and start the dishwasher, run a sink full of hot, soapy water. Wipe down all the kitchen surfaces, including wiping underneath things and wiping down appliances. Empty the water and while the sink is wet, scrub out the sink. If you need glass cleaner for any appliances, also do any windows and mirrors that need cleaning.

Floors: Sweep the kitchen floor and while you are at it, shake out any rugs and sweep bathroom floors and any other hard floors in your home. Next mop all the floors, starting with the kitchen, ending with the bathrooms. While floors are drying, vacuum all carpeted areas in your home.

Dust: Usually I just dust as I vacuum. My favorite dusting tool is an old sock. I cut the toes off, slip it on my arm like a sleeve, with it covering my hand. Give it a few sprays of dusting spray. (I like Method Good for Wood — it works well and smells fantastic) Then i just flip it up over my hand to vacuum and flip it back down to dust each room before leaving. Or you can go back and dust afterward, but you will just be re-tracing your steps.

Bathrooms: Since the mirrors & floors are already done, just clean the toilet, tub, and sink. I always hated cleaning bathrooms until I timed myself and realized it only takes about 5 minutes per bathroom. Cinchy.

Fold Laundry: While all this other cleaning is going on, I’ve been staying on top of the laundry, putting “easy” things away as soon as they come out of the dryer and piling the rest on the dining room table. (By “easy” things I mean towels, dish towels, hanging clothes, and jeans.) With the housework done, I like to turn on the TV, pour myself a Diet Dr. Pepper and fold away.

That’s it! It wasn’t so bad, right? If you have cleaning tips to share or any questions/comments, I welcome them! Please leave a comment to let me know you stopped by…I’m starting to feel all alone here!