Time Savers


I don’t do a lot of product reviews on this blog, because, well, I don’t like that many products.  I did once consider doing ONLY negative product reviews, but decided even that would get old after a while.  Anyhow, here are some things that I have been impressed with as of late:

Book: The Green Parent by Jenn Savedge – I have given a couple presentations on “going green” this year, and in the process of doing research, I’ve decided that this is my favorite greening guide book.  Not to say that I’ve read all of them, but this one is great. It’s straight-forward, easy to understand, broken up into easily digested sections, and most of the information in it is relevant even if you aren’t a parent.  Added perk: I picked up the copy I read at the library. ; )

Music: Blink by Plumb – I happened upon Plumb via a post from another mom in a forum.  I immediately fell in love with her voice, which for me falls between Sarah McLaughlin and Enya on the “ethereal” chart. Plumb’s Blink album is completely inspired by motherhood.  It’s full of songs I could have written if I was a talented songwriter and that I would sing if I didn’t score a negative 8 on the ethereal chart.  Plumb is a contemporary Christian singer, which is not a genre I usually listen to, but I think this CD will be my new standard “new mommy” gift.  You can sample Blink on Amazon.

Home: Biokleen Spray & Wipe All-Purpose Cleaner – I have vowed to start making my own cleaners, but I’ll be keeping this one.  I love Biokleen’s All-Purpose Cleaner because it really is all-purpose and it is also a green cleaner.  It has gotten marker out of the rug, mystery stains off of the chairs, lifted milk and potty smell off of carpet and fabrics, taken red sharpie off the refrigerator, and tackled many other cleaning challenges that you probably don’t even want to know about.  And when Callen grabs it and squirts it at his sister for shniggles, I don’t have to worry.

Beauty: Neutrogena Healthy Skin Enhancer makeup – I don’t like to spend a lot of time getting ready to face the world.  Even if I didn’t have two kids.  So this makeup from Neutrogena, which is a 3 in 1 product, is great.  It contains retinol, SPF 20, and a tinted moisturizer.   It’s not thick like a sunscreen, but provides nice coverage.  The only problem I have with it is that it scores a 5 (moderate hazard) on EWG’s Cosmetic Safety Database.  If I can find a similar product with fewer chemicals in it, I’ll be madly in love.

Web: GoodReads.com – My friend Nicole turned me on to this, and I am hooked.  I love to read, but I don’t have time to keep track of what’s on the bestseller list, and I don’t have the mental capacity to remember the names of the books that people recommend to me.  That’s where GoodReads.com comes in – it’s like Facebook for people who read. In addition to creating your own virtual bookshelf sorted by to-read, currently reading, and read (with a 5 star rating system), you can also link up with your friends and see what they have on their shelves as well.  If you have a smartphone, it would be a great resource to pull up at the library or bookstore!

Leave a comment and let me know: What is floating your boat right now?

Wouldn’t you love to know who is talking about you?  Online, it’s easy to keep track of references to not only yourself, but any other person, place, or thing that can be labeled with a proper noun.

Google’s alert system allows you to set up alert notifications so that anytime any of your chosen alert words appear on the web, you receive an email with a link to said appearance.  So if someone mentions you on their blog, or mentions your company in a forum post, you can be in the know.

For example, in an interview with a local newspaper, my husband mentioned that he is Asian-American.  We knew that the article would be published both in print and online.  What we did not know is that this little tidbit about Craig would be picked up by another website called AsiansVote, which published a thumbs up to Craig for “outing” himself as an Asian American.  Craig has been featured in several articles and tv news stories for his work in mobile dental care, but this little snippet is one of his favorite clips still to this day. If Craig wouldn’t have had a Google Alert set up for his name, he would never have known about it.

Google Alerts are quick and easy to set up.  Go try it out.

Check your mailbox.  I bet they’re in there.  Catalogs.  This time a year, it seems some companies start sending a new catalog once a week. I know I get tons of catalogs for companies I’ve never purchased anything from.  Others I’m familiar with, but I still don’t need a paper catalog when the internet is right at my finger tips.  So, this evening I sat down with the most recent stack of catalogs that were stress-testing my mailbox.  I jumped on each of their websites and sent an email to customer service requesting that I be removed from their mailing list. Even though we recycle our paper, I don’t even want to think about the environmental cost to produce all those glossies.

catalog_stack

image from Catalog Choice blog

Please join me and take a few minutes to unsubscribe from catalogs you’ll never order from. If you do it the way I did, it takes about two minutes per catalog.  Just type out your unsubscribe request in a word document (be sure to include your name and mailing address) and then copy and paste it into each company’s online customer service contact form. OR, if you have a lot of catalogs to get rid of, check out CatalogChoice.org.  Catalog Choice is a free service that allows you reduce unwanted mail and decide how you hear from over 1,000 companies. It has a search tool that lets you search for your catalog and set your mailing preferences without having to hop around to different websites.  So efficient, and your Mother will love you for it. Mother Nature, that is.

I have a really bad habit of checking books out from the library and then keeping them forever, avoiding late fees by renewing them online over and over and over.  Today I got one of those “Your library books will be overdue in three days” emails, and when I went online to renew, the system told me that I had renewed too many times.  Drat it all.  I suppose 5 months is a long time to have a library book.

fal001So, I after I dropped the kids at parents day out this morning, I made a trip to the book store to actually PURCHASE a book I’ve been hoarding.  I know that I cannot be without this cookbook I’ve been using for the past several months.  Frozen Assets, Lite and Easy: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month by Deborah Taylor-Hough has been of huge assistance in helping me get supper on the table on a regular basis.

Frozen Assets is set up on the concept of spending one day cooking several meals and storing them so that you don’t have to cook again for the rest of the month. In addition to a wide selection of recipes, Taylor-Hough offers straight-forward information on preparing your kitchen for cooking day, and a supply list for stocking your kitchen and pantry. The recipes are arranged in mini-sessions.  Each mini-session features four to six recipes and has its own shopping list, prep instructions, and main ingredient theme (chicken, pork, pasta, vegetarian, etc.). So, you can combine two or three mini-sessions and cook a month’s worth of meals, or you can just tackle one mini-session at a time. There are several reasons why this cookbook works for me.

  • Even if I don’t have a whole afternoon to dedicate to cooking an entire mini-session, I can break the work up even further.  One day I shop for ingredients.  The next day I do all the prep work. Then, over the next few days, I put all the meals together.  Putting meals together goes very quickly when all the prep work is done.
  • Each recipe is sized to serve six, which makes it easy for me to prepare half the recipe for dinner that night and freeze the other half for later, OR I can double the recipe to use as a meal for my Supper Swap.
  • The fact that instructions on how to package, freeze, thaw, and reheat each dish are included is very helpful to me as a non-cook who doesn’t know how to handle that sort of business.
  • The recipes are all “lite”, meaning they are lower in fat and sodium, so I can feel good about feeding them to my family.
  • By buying a large amount of the theme ingredient when it is on sale, I save money.  When the freezer starts to get a little empty, I look at what is on sale to pick which mini-session I will cook next.
  • My kids are a little young now, but when they are older, doing a mini-session with them will be a great way to share time with them while we all learn about cooking.

There is a non-light version of this cookbook as well with different recipes.  You can buy both books at Amazon, but of course I recommend checking to see if your library has it so you can try it out for three or four months before you buy. ; )

As the world’s leading expert in being NOT domestic, I struggle almost daily with making dinner.  While I consider myself an organized planner with a type A personality, I just cannot master dinner. I get stuck on what to make, usually trying to think of something that is easy to prep because the kids will be harassing me while I make it.  I also need something that is easily reheatable or will stay warm for a long time, since we never really know what time Daddy will make it home on week nights.  My pantry is well stocked with ingredients, but I rarely remember to unthaw meat or get a marinade set up early in the day.  I feel guilty feeding my family “boxed” dinners with their copious amounts of sodium (and who knows what other chemicals) too many nights a week.  Sometimes I get so stressed that I don’t make anything at all, and the kids end up eating PB&J with apple slices while hubby and I spoon down cereal (I have mine with a side of guilt).

Then, I came across an article about supper swapping.  “Ah-ha!”  I thought.  “I can do this.”  supper swapping is a micro version of village-style dining.  Two or more families of similar size work together on a rotating schedule to provide meals for one another, so that each family has to cook dinner fewer nights each week.  For example, I recruited three mommy friends who have families of three or four and live nearby.  The four of us rotate cooking one “swap” meal per week.  So, in week one, Rebecca cooks and delivers a meal to the rest of us.  In week two, Lucy cooks and delivers, and so on.  Other supper swaps are set up so that each family cooks a meal on a set day of the week, meaning that each family only has to cook once per week.  That’s one great thing about setting up a supper swap – you can customize it to be whatever the families in your group would like.

The huge and obvious benefit for me is that I have one less night per week to stress about dinner.  In addition, it gives me more time to spend with the kids, and when Craig gets home, we can all sit down to a wonderful homemade dinner.  We get to try a lot of new dishes we haven’t had before, and the kids seem to get a kick out of knowing that “David’s Mom” cooked our meal.

So, gather up a couple friends and give it a try. Here are links to a couple resources to get you started:

http://www.trishberg.com/html/supperswapping.html

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/157621/how_to_start_a_supper_swapping_group.html?cat=51

As a former website coordinator, I am ashamed to say that I am just now learning about RSS.  But then, in asking around, I didn’t find too many other people who know about it either.  RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (in case you’re one of those people).  In essence, it allows you to “subscribe” to all your favorite websites through a RSS reader, which “feeds” you any new updates made to those websites.  So, instead of refreshing that really great blog site twenty times a day to make sure nothing new has been posted, you can just check your RSS reader.

I have been trying out Google’s RSS reader, called Google Reader, for about two weeks now.  I cannot believe I have waited this long to take advantage of this technology.  Essentially, by using the reader, I have taken away the need to click through my bookmarked websites, and I don’t waste time surfing to websites and blogs that don’t have any new content.  Google Reader is web-based, so there is no software to download to your computer. It is incredibly easy to use, even if you are not techno-savvy – the interface looks a lot like your email inbox. In my opinion, this tool is a must for those of us who have a limited amount of time to spend online, but who want to stay connected.  Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?

Within 10 minutes, I had my reader up and running, with subscriptions to all of my favorite blogs.  I still have some websites I need to add in, but my list of bookmarks is quickly shrinking as my RSS feeds grow.  Many blogs and websites have a little RSS logo or icon (see mine up there in the upper right corner?) that you can click on to subscribe.  However, if you don’t find an icon on a site you want to subscribe to, you can just paste the site’s URL right into your reader, and if there is an RSS feed available, the reader will find it for you. As Google suggests, using RSS is much like creating your own custom online magazine with only the articles and information that you want in it. In my case, this means that my friend’s blog post about apple pie is right there next to the latest job postings for freelance writers.

I’m not going to waste any more of your time explaining how to use the reader – go and get it now!  My blog can be the first you subscribe to…