Wednesday, January 29, 2014

De-cluttering - Week 5: One Thing Leads to Another

As I mentioned, I have a new computer. My old one still had a floppy drive but the new one, of course, does not.  I still had lots of floppies full of photos and other files I wouldn't want to lose.

I spent the week sorting through all my old files on the floppy discs and copying things I wanted to keep to my external hard drive.  I had some with sensitive material on them that needed to be reformatted before I could dispose of them.

During all this I actually found some files I thought I had lost as they had disappeared from my computer sometime during the past year.  I'm happy not to have to do all that work over again.

One good thing about all this was that it forced me to clean up the top of my bookcase, where many of the floppies had been stored.

 It looks a LOT better now.  Mind you, I will still have to tackle the rest of the bookcase.....but not yet.

 I hear the local United Church will be hosting a big book sale this spring, so I'll get it done in time for that.  In the meantime, I did send a big bag of books to my daughter-in-law this week, so that's good.

While I was at it, I decided to tidy up the top of the storage unit next to the bookcase. The cubby holes are full, and stuff has now started landing on the top.  Like the bookcase, the rest of it unit will have to wait. I have a new season starting at the karate club soon, and I need to prepare for that before I tackle messes that are, for the most part, contained.

The floor vinyl floor in this room has buckled and is starting to split, so it will need replacing soon. At that time all the furniture will need to emptied and moved, so I guess that's when the book case and the storage unit will get cleaned out.

In the meantime one more area looks somewhat better.

I even managed to tidy up the spare bedroom I showed you week one.  I think I've done quiet  well this week.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Robbie Burns in Cramped Quarters

As is the custom at the New Horizons Club, the annual Robbie Burns Celebration was planned and everyone was looking forward to it. It had been an extremely cold week, and when the seniors arrived they found a very cold  hall.  The furnace wasn't working and help would not be available for a few days, at least.

Usually the hall is set up with tables, and everyone is comfortable seated for a meal of soup and haggis. The soup was made, and it was either come up with some alternate ways of doing things, or throw the soup out. I did hear that phrase used, but I'm sure someone would have managed to save it from such a fate.

The community centre is very old, and happens to have two distinct parts. It turned out that while the furnace wasn't heating the side we normally use, there was at least electrical heat on the other side. A decision was made to set the chairs up in there, row upon row. There was no room for tables. 

There was a piper, as usual, and this year we had a couple of little girls from the Andrea Goral School of Highland Dancing perform for us. I'm not sure anyone beyond the first row was able to see anything, but the members gave them a good round of applause anyway.  The haggis was piped in and addressed in grand style, by John Sullivan then carted off again to be cut up and served.

The soup found it's way into mugs this year, as that was a much safer way to eat it without tables, and sitting elbow to elbow. The haggis and a bun were put into the soup bowls and served as a second course.  Following that we had cake and then tea or coffee. Then Coral Lindsay filled us all in on the life and times of Robbie Burns. Apparently he was prolific in more ways than one.

While the day didn't turn out quite as planned, it still was an enjoyable one.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Need Multiple Recipes? It's a Crock!

It's hard to declutter when you're sick. I managed to catch my hubby's cold.  He slept through the first 48 hours and then went back to work. He likely shouldn't have, but he's the conscientious type. He's on the mend now, but I'm just getting worse each day.

I decided that if I put a little chicken in the crock pot, we would at least have some decent food over then next couple of days.  I checked out my chicken recipe file and found three for whole chickens in the slow cooker.  Two of them were ones I have never tried, so, because I'm supposed to be weeding them out, I tried to pick one of them.  The first just had a prep time of 15 minutes. I figured I could handle that.

Slow Cooker Chicken Provencal

Cooking time: 6 to 7 hours on Low
Yield:  4 servings

4 medium potatoes
3 carrots
1 whole head fresh garlic
1 chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
2 medium onions
20 cherry tomatoes
20 white button mushrooms
1 cup pitted ripe olives, drained
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil
1 tbsp dried thyme

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices.
Cut the carrots diagonally into 1/4 inch thick slices.
Peel all the garlic cloves and thinly slice them.
Cut the chicken into pieces
Cut the onions into quarters
Lightly spray a 6 quart slow cooker with vegetable oil cooking spray.
Layer the potatoes and carrots in the slow cooker.
Scatter half the garlic slices over the vegetables.
Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
Salt and pepper the chicken pieces.
Place the chicken on top of the vegetables.
Scatter the remaining garlic, the onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and olives around the chicken.

This all sounded wonderful to me, but I quickly realized that my hubby might not like it because of the mushrooms and olives. That also sounded like a lot of garlic to me.  I decided against it. I didn't have the mushrooms anyway and there was a bit too much work involved, considering how I was feeling. I wanted to cook a whole chicken, not cut it into pieces.

The second recipe sounded much easier and I had all the ingredients.

Whole Crockpot Chicken

Cooking time: 8 hours on Low or 4 hours on high
Yield: 4 servings

1 (3 pound) whole chicken
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp minced garlic

Remove skin from chicken, and empty inner cavity, if there's anything in there.
Pat chicken dry with paper towel, and place inside slow cooker.

In a bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients and pour the mixture over the chicken.
Cover and cook chicken on low setting for 8 hours on high heat, or 4 hours on low.

Wait a minute.  I really wasn't feeling like skinning a chicken.  I just wanted to stick the thing in the pot, and turn on the heat and go back to bed. I gave up on and resorted to my tried and true recipe. 

Lemony Roasted Chicken

1 fryer or roasting chicken (3 to 4 pounds)
1/2 cup chopped onion (I don't bother to chop it)
2 tbsp butter
juice of one lemon
1 tbsp fresh parley (optional)
2 tsp grated lemon peel
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves

Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
Remove and discard any excess fat.
Place onion in chicken cavity and rub skin with butter.
Place chicken in the slow cooker.
Squeeze juice of lemon over chicken, and sprinkle with parsley, grated lemon peel, salt and thyme.
Cover and cook on Low 6 to 8 hours.

We had mashed potatoes, corn and a salad with that, and it was great.

As my rule now is to throw out any of the stored recipes I don't seem willing to make, I've done that, but at least they are now on here if I happen to change my mind.  The rest of you can test these recipes out and let me know what you liked, and what you didn't, and why. I'll look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sorting Out Electronic Clutter

This week I got a new computer, but other than give it a test run, I'm not really on it yet.  I have year end for the business to do first. The records for that are still on the old machine and since I'm not sure yet that the program will even run on the new one, I figured I better not try to move things at this point.   I also had to do a lot of weeding and juggling of files in preparation for the move to the new machine. Yes, electronic files can get cluttered too.  I know that I still have a lot of files saved on my external hard drive that should likely be pitched, but I'll just have to add that to the growing list of things that need to be de-cluttered around here. I'm glad this is meant to be a year long project, as I have found that clutter grows in new places when you are busy cleaning it out of somewhere else.

My new computer is a Windows 7 machine, and sits flat on my desktop, instead of standing tall and proud like all my previous towers. That means, since the monitor can sit on top of it, I will have a lot more space on my desk ... at least until the usual piles start to grow.  No, no, no .... I need another new resolution!  Not only am I not going to print off any more recipes (that's a habit I've been working hard to break this week), I also vow not to let my desk accumulate piles of paper. It must all be filed in it's proper place on a regular basis.

Now, that may mean I will have to create some proper places.  Until recently I had an old monitor that I could fit a shelving unit over.  It had little cubby holes down the sides where I stored certain types of things, and there was a slotted unit on top where I could file various papers that either had to be dealt with or needed to be held for one reason or another.  Then my monitor died and my hubby gave me the flat screen he had purchased for me earlier in the year. I had turned it down at the time as I knew it would interfere with the filing and storage system I'd had for years.  Perhaps with all this extra room I will be able to have some sort of file box with in and out baskets, or something.  I hope I get that sorted out soon.  With all the shoving around and rearranging that's been going on in here lately, I managed to mail off some paperwork this week, without some of the needed forms included.  Nothing is where it usually is, so it was really easy to not immediately see what needed to be included.

Meanwhile, my printer has also died, and I'm totally lost without that. I tried networking to my hubby's, but didn't succeed.  He then moved his over to my desk, as I need one much more often than he does. My old computer and his printer don't seem to play well together so I still don't have the year end report printed off.  I never had a compatibility problem with a printer before. Hubby seems to think it's my firewall that's preventing it from printing.

Then I won a $100 gift card in a contest from Subway.  In order to claim my prize, I had to print some forms and sign them, and then scan them and send them back.  But as I said, the printers wouldn't cooperate. Then I discovered that the old computer didn't have anything on it that would even open the file I was supposed to print. Neither did my hubby's computer but the new one had the needed software. So we hooked up the working printer to the new computer, and found that it wouldn't work on it either.  After a bit of messing around, and a computer search for assistance, it was discovered that hubby's printer would work on the Win7 machine if he downloaded Windows Vista drivers for it. I never would have thought of that! The contest rules state that they are not responsible for computer problems for equipment failures that may cause the required forms to not be filed with them on time.  I have to wonder if that is meant to eliminate some of the winners, as it certainly hasn't been easy.  If you wave money or food in front to me though, I'm usually motivated.

While I still don't have the year end reports printed, and am starting to wonder if a new printer would even solve that, I did at least get my desk cleaned off. The old computer tower is still on the desk until I get that task done though.  The photo pointed out to me that apparently there is a clutter of envelopes hiding back in the corner under the desk.  Cleaning those out will likely be the easiest thing I've done all week.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Organized Hoarding

When I first got married I bought a stenographers notebook to write my favorite recipes in.  Over time that filled up and I progressed to a three ring binder.  When that filled up, I got another one, and separated the desserts into that.

The binder system works well because I can keep things more organized by putting recipes for certain ingredients, or types of dishes, together.  Salads, Soups, Chicken, Ground Beef, Crock Pot, etc.  In the dessert one, I not only put the recipes for certain types of things together, but I do it seasonally as well.  Rhubarb, Strawberries, Blueberries and Blackberries, Pumpkin, Zucchini. Chocolate and Lemon somehow don't quite know where to sit in that book so they landed in folders tucked inside the binder cover.

All this makes me sound rather organized, don't you think?  The thing is, I get a lot of women's magazines and when  I see a recipe I like, and I turn down the corner.  That makes them easy to find later, when I'm cleaning out the magazine pile, which happens every 3 to 6 months. Then if I haven't done so already, I pull out the page, if the recipe still interests me. Some of them get weeded out at that point, so that couple of months waiting period sometimes turns out to be a good thing. The bigger problem is that some times there is a magazine with so many good recipes in it, that I keep the whole thing rather than tear out so many pages.  Trying to remember just which book holds the recipe for spaghetti pie, or a certain cookie isn't easy.  The magazines piled up so quickly that it never occurred to me that I could have kept a master list of where to find favorites, like I do with my cook books.  For those I list the recipe and the book it's found in, right down to the page number, and keep it in my main binder. Maybe I'll have to resort to that when I get to the magazine part of this de-cluttering.  But then again, if I keep the magazines, I'm still not throwing out the clutter, right?

Another source of incoming recipes popped up when we got high speed internet, just a few years ago. With that came the ability to sign up for numerous newsletters.  Many of those come with recipes, or links to recipes. I'm always on the look out for something different, especially if it doesn't require me to go out and buy ingredients that aren't already a staple in my house.  I print off several new ones each week and add them to the growing pile.

I outgrew my binders, but I have a red file folder for recipes I want to make, and have not tried yet. The file got so thick that a couple of years ago I created some more files, with categories for Beef, Fish, Pork, Chicken, Pancakes and Muffins, and Pasta, and.....well, once again, I'm sure you get the idea.  One would think I'd be able to find the recipe I'm looking for.

But say I get my hands on some boneless chicken thighs.  I know I have recipes that call for those, and I'd love to find them at times like this, rather than have to do the de-boning myself some other time.  But when I have to sift through the piles to find the required recipe I generally give up and make some old standby.

It's only in recent years that I've had this problem. Last year, when I first thought I'd get this situation under control,  I even created sub folders within the Chicken folder, for Legs and Thighs, Breasts, with and without bones, etc.  But since I still have the tried and true recipes in the folders mixed in with the untried ones, that's not working out as well as I had hoped.  This year I'm going to try to put all the tested and approved recipes in the binders, and get the untested ones out of there. I'm going to get rid of duplicates, though finding 4 copies of one recipe, or even 4 different recipes for a similar dish actually lets me know I must really want to make that.  I'll test those ones as quickly as possible, and get rid of the duplicates, or copy cats.
I made my first stab at all this today.  I chose to start with the Pasta folder.  Maybe that wasn't wise as I kept finding things I wanted to make instead of recipes I didn't mind disposing of.  I did get rid of 20 and file 5 previously tested ones in the binder.  I thought this year, instead of copying out recipes onto lined paper, I'd simply glue them on.  After all, I do have an over abundance of glue in the house.  But the two recipes that were not already printed off the computer were on small pieces of paper, so I ended up copying them after all. So much for saving time with glue.

It was day one. I'm sure I'll get better at this as I go along. Hopefully I'll learn to be more ruthless quickly. If not, I'm likely to replace the few pieces of paper I'm throwing out with even more when I get to the magazines.

I've made a couple of new resolutions:  I will not resubscribe to any of the magazines this year, and I will not print off any new recipes (unless I'm actually going to make that dish that very day). I might even go so far as to cancel the newsletters if I find I can't resist.

Baby steps. One thing at a time. One day at a time. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Going Forward in a New Year

As a new year begins, even people who claim not to make resolutions seem to think it's a good time to start a new project, or make plans for the year ahead.  The web is full of helpful tips for those who are determined to lose weight, or just live a healthier lifestyle. Getting rid of clutter seems to be another popular theme.

I didn't really have any new plans for this year, but when I read a blog by Bonnie at Jasper's Gems about Week One of a De-clutter Project I was reminded that I definitely have that sort of problem here and perhaps I could follow along for a while and tackle some of it.  I say "for a while" as I'm not about to make it a New Years Resolution, and set myself up for failure.

I've lived in the same house for over 37 years, so you can just imagine the piles of stuff I have accumulated during that time. There is no doubt that the time has come to try to weed some of it out. I'd be totally overwhelmed if I committed to do it all in one year.  I'll just start someplace, and hopefully keep on going.

There are three areas I'd definitely like to tackle this year.

I need to go through all the accumulated recipes, and try to just keep the ones I've already deemed to be good. I set up a filing system for them last year, but I wasn't really trying to getting rid of many at that point. I just wanted to make them easier to find. I think weeding them out will have to be project number one as I'm still having problems locating some of the recipes I know are in there, on days when I actually want them.

Project number two is related. I have piles of magazines under the bed in the spare room. They all have corners turned down on recipes I intended to make. No, let's not think about that yet. I have to do the first purging before I go there! I know now that I've somehow become a hoarder, when it comes to recipes, and that's just silly since we can find one for anything we want to make right here on the web.

One should never make a spare room a storage area, according to Flylady, who also has a page on de-cluttering.  Too bad nobody told me that before I got started.  At least she seems to think I can get everything under control in just 15 minutes a day!  I can handle 15 minutes, but I can't guarantee how long this plan will last.  One day at a time.  Collecting recipes has become like an addition, and I'm putting myself on the program!
The third area is right here in my office/studio. It needs to be thoroughly cleaned out and reorganized. As it is, I'm dragging my art work to the kitchen again, as my desk is piled with stuff I really have to find a way to store. I cleaned it all off just before Christmas, but you would never know it.

I thought, perhaps if I followed along with another blogger trying to tackle clutter, and reported in here from time to time, I might feel more accountable, and actually get something accomplished.  Don't lay any bets though, as life gets pretty busy for me between now and the end of the tax season.

Oh, that reminds me.  My recent computer problems have delayed my year end report for the karate club. So, balancing the books, printing off those reports and properly filing all the paper involved in my business will be the first project for this year.  That should even clean up some of the clutter on my desk. :)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Results of A Little Commitment

My New Years Resolution for 2013 was to get more involved with my art. Back in March I told you about various projects that I had been doing for the Art House Co-Op .  I had also signed up for a few other projects by that time, that I knew I wouldn't be able to share until they were all done.  The idea was, that if I committed to such painting projects, it would force me to take the time needed to complete them. It was a good plan.

Early in the year, on Facebook, I saw someone post something about giving away things they made to the first five people who commented on that status line.  There was a condition that the responders post the same offer on their page.  Then I saw more of my friends post the same notice I mentioned to one of them that I'd love to get in on that, but I didn't know what I could make. She told me that a small painting would be lovely, so I jumped in with both feet.  I lucked out though, as, instead of having to make things for five people, and only getting one thing back, I managed to get into a basic exchange with four other people. I posted on their page and they posted on mine.  I was thrilled, but still had to figure out what I would paint for them.  I was very happy that the project deadline wasn't until the end of the year so I had all year to work on it.

The lady who said she'd be happy with a small painting happened to have a photo on her facebook page that I had already saved to file, as I thought it would be a good thing to try painting someday.  I would have asked her permission if I'd done it for any other reason than to give to her for this project, but it seemed the perfect subject for this, so I started with that.
This is the first time I had ever tried to paint a dog, I thought he was pretty cute, though I wasn't sure if she would recognize him or not.  As she has a few of these little fellows, I'm still not sure if she identified it as the right dog.  I don't know the dogs personally, so I have no way of knowing which one it was originally meant to be either.  It doesn't matter, I guess, as she seemed pleased with it, and I was pleased that it resembled any kind of dog, let alone a specific one. Not too bad for a first try, I was thinking.

That made it easier to decide what to do for the next
project, as there was a dog at that household too.  I went back to the facebook files to see what I could find for the second project, and I came up with the family beagle.  That's a step forward as now I had to contend with an entire dog, not just the head. I was very happy with it when I finished, but now, months later, I'm not so sure.  Perhaps I've improved as the year went on, causing me to be more critical now. However, it was mailed off to one of my long lost cousins, who immediately recognized her dog, and sent many thanks, so I guess that was another success.

A friend of mine had seen me working on both of the above projects and made some rather nice comments, so I thought I'd surprise him by trying to paint his puppy. He's not on Facebook, but he does have a Flickr account, and while he thinks his photos are safe there, I do know how to steal them.  He was extremely pleased when I presented it to him.

Oh, I must say that in the past I've never felt that I produced anything good enough to give away, and here I am doing it time after time. I guess that in itself is a step forward.

So, since I'm learning to enjoy giving away paintings, I decided I'd try a portrait. My daughter-in-law had lost her grandfather over the winter months, and the family was preparing to do a memorial service for him in the springtime.  I thought he had an interesting face, but in most of the pictures I saw of him, he had on a baseball cap.  While I wanted him in his overalls, I didn't want the cap, so I looked for another photo of him facing the same way, and then combined the two. I was really happy to have produced a human face, but since I didn't know the gentleman well, I wasn't sure if I had captured him or not.  I took it to my daughter-in-law and asked her if she recognized this person. She got the sweetest grin on her face and said, "That's my Grandpa!"  I asked if I could take it to the memorial, and she said I could. When I arrived there was no one around to see me place it among he other pictures on display, and it took a while before anyone knew where it had come from.  Then one of the aunts said, "There's only one artist in the room."  LOL  I've been elevated to artist status now. That made my day.  The painting went to reside at the family cottage where the old gentleman spent a great deal of his time.

With one portrait under my belt, I decided to try another. I couldn't find usable photos of pets on Facebook to use for my next exchange project, so I made off with a photo of the lady I would be sending the painting to.  Faces were a nice change from dogs, and I think perhaps I even do better at them.

Meanwhile, I had also discovered something called the Petal Parade on Wet Canvas. I told you about that back in May, when I painted the Parrot Tulip.  For me, to finish painting something within less than a months time, takes a concentrated effort.  I started with the Parrot Tulip in May.

Moved on to Apple Blossoms in August

And switched to acrylics to try a pumpkin flower in October.

I decided it was time to get back to my exchange project, and I just had one more to do. Since I was doing so well with faces, I decided to capture this lady in one of her many costumes. She's involved in re-enactments, steampunking, archery, face painting, belly dancing and karate, so she's seldom in regular clothing.

I discovered that while I had no trouble with likenesses at a larger size, when I made it smaller, even the tiniest fraction of an inch out, you create a totally different person.  I rather like this painting anyway, and may make it into cards, but it definitely could not be sent out as the final exchange project.  So, back to the drawing board, so to speak.

I noticed she had a new dog, so I took a stab at him.  Cute little fellow, don't you think.  I hope she's as happy with him as I am.

I couldn't finish out the year without doing one more dog.  I have a friend who is good enough to give me a lift to various functions in the area that I wouldn't have gotten to without her. She has a pug, so I decided I'd surprise her with a little Christmas present.  I'm getting rather confident at painting dogs, and I must be doing alright as now I've had a few people ask me if I'd paint their pets.

All in all, the idea of committing myself to projects this year has worked very well.  It kept me painting while some other friends from my old paint class tell me they have not picked up their brushes at all this year. All this practice has given me more confidence, and, I'm sure, increased my skill levels as the year went on.

I did very well at keeping my New Years resolution for 2013.
Now I just have to set some new goals for the coming year.