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Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Favorite Healthy Oatmeal Recipe- Apple Flaxseed Spice

Okay, so this really isn't a blog entry about simplicity or organizing, at least not explicitly. But if you are into "clean eating", which is a diet many bodybuilders & fitness buffs follow, you may like this recipe a lot. I am not an oatmeal person. Before I created this recipe, I practically had to force it down, so I'd end up not eating oatmeal at all. But as a person who does aerobics & weight-training, I need this kind of healthy fuel to keep me going. It is pretty cheap to buy, quick to make, filling, healthy, satisfies my sweet tooth & keeps me...regular. Flaxseed is full of the Omega-3 that is hard to get out of a normal Western diet. It doesn't do much when it's cooked for your health, but sprinkling it on cooked oatmeal afterwards will give you the benefits without destroying the positive Omega-3 properties. Flaxseed compliments oatmeal well. I keep my ground flaxseed in the fridge, with a 1 TBSP. measuring spoon in the bag. This way, it's easy as pie to put recipes together. So if you consider keeping fit & "regular" a simplifier in life, then you'll understand why I post this recipe from me to you. :D Every food ingredient listed can be bought at Every spice can be purchased at

Note: A kind soul online advised that the oats should be soaked for maximum nutritional value. You could always make this a part of your nighttime routine, if you eat oatmeal daily- put your oats in the cereal bowl to soak overnight, so they'll be all ready to eat in the a.m. Here's an article on the topic, so you can understand what I'm talking about:

The book mentioned in the article, called Nourishing Traditions, is a well-recommended book in nutrition & fitness circles. I've read the book Firm for Life, by the late Anna Benson & her sister, Cynthia Benson. They recommended reading Nourishing Traditions, and Anna was the creator of the hugely successful exercise program called "The FIRM". I've not read Nourishing Traditions, but it's on my list of reading to-do's! Anyway,  I hope you like the oatmeal!

Liz' Apple Flaxseed Spice Oatmeal

A packet of Kashi Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal OR 1/2 c. Quaker Oats
1/2 c. Bob's Red Mill Dried Diced Apples (I keep these stored in a Lock n' Lock container in the fridge, once they're open. I also mix Penzey's Ceylon Cinnamon into them when I put them in the container, because extra cinnamon is good for you & makes the apples taste ever better! I put a 1/2 c. measuring spoon in the container, as well, to make it super-easy to portion it out for oatmeal.)
Penzey's Ceylon Cinnamon or any other sweet spice blend, like Pumpkin Pie Spice (this recipe is a great way to use those mixed spices up), as much as you like sprinkling in
1 c. water
If you like it sweeter- add 1 to 2 tsp. raw unbleached sugar or Sucanat (which is my favorite), stevia, raw dark-colored honey, coconut nectar or organic raw blue agave
1 TBSP. Bob's Red Mill Whole Ground Flaxseed Meal Organic
Splash of milk- can be cow's milk (I prefer 2%), almond, soy, coconut or rice milk. Choose whatever milk that you like best. :)
A good-sized cereal bowl

In a cereal bowl, mix all ingredients except the ground flaxseed & the milk together. No need to stir, at least not yet. Put the bowl in the microwave for approximately two minutes. Keep an eye on it just to make sure it doesn't boil over. You may want to stir it once while it's cooking, just to make sure the apples get cooked (they rehydrate extremely fast). When it's done cooking, put the ground flaxseed in & stir well. (I promise you won't even taste it.) Add the splash of milk to make the oatmeal thin enough to your liking. I like my oatmeal thick, so I only add a small amount.

Here's to being a well-fed organized minimalist,


Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Peace That Comes From Being "All Done"

As I'm sitting here writing this, it's about 8:45 at night. I'm in my nightclothes, ready for bed whenever I want to go to it- my face is washed & my teeth are brushed. Both beds in the house were made hours ago. Dinner earlier was cheeseburgers & waffle fries- made at home from scratch, not from take-out or fast food. My bathroom was swished-and-swiped this morning already. I had dressed to the shoes not long after waking up today. My cell phone sound is turned off for the evening now, but it is right by my side, charged completely this afternoon- as it is every day. My outfit for tomorrow- including jewelry & shoes- was laid out right after I got dressed today, just as it always is. My water bottle is to my left. I just got done starting the dishwasher, wiping down the counters & stovetop, then using my Sh-Mop to quickly wipe down my entire kitchen floor, as I do every night after dinner. It takes me about fifteen minutes each evening to clean up from that day's kitchen work, and prep it for the next day. I did my normal Thursday [weekly] kitchen routine, which is to fill the salt shaker & sugar bowl, check the cabinets for outdated spices, herbs, medications, pantry items & old leftover food (of course tossing whatever's needed), then wiped down the inside of the fridge quickly. My cat has fresh water to drink in her bowl, plenty of food in her dish & her litter box is all cleaned out- as usual, my Queen of Kitties lives in clean splendour! I read today's chapter in a favorite book I have for daily spiritual motivation, took time to pray & spent the day doing what I love- writing. I'm just about finished reading a really good book, too. My living & dining room are neat & decluttered. Every drawer, closet, shelf, cabinet- all are organized & neat in the house. I have one load of laundry to do tomorrow, plus I will conquer my normal Friday cleaning routine- polishing the wood furniture with Pledge, cleaning mirrors & glassware with Windex, vacuuming the upholstered pieces + the floors & then mopping the bathroom's hard floors. However, if an emergency or change in plans came up, it'll be no big deal- my laundry is all caught up on otherwise, the sheets on both beds got changed already on Monday (which is a part of my normal routine) & I did Monday's Weekly Home Blessing Hour, too. My desk, because it's got a couple of big electronics on it, is a magnet for dust. But it just got polished yesterday, because I have a goal to dust the desk every other day. So if worse came to worse tomorrow & I couldn't clean my house, I still wouldn't be stuck putting out fires all weekend long. I'm not tired enough yet for going to sleep, but I've taken my evening dose of supplements & I can go to bed without guilt any time that I wish. On Tuesday, my computer got it's weekly maintenance routine- the monitor got wiped down, the hard drive "sprayed" with compressed air to loosen the dust, Disk Cleanup & Defrag got run, the keyboard was cleaned & my anti-virus's computer scan got implemented again. All of my files are backed up to disk. The computer's got the maximum memory on it that I could install. My printer is full of paper & has new ink cartridges installed. My file cabinet is cleaned out daily (one file folder per day), it's organized logically & well-labeled. My mail gets dealt with daily. All of my bills are paid & up-to-date. My next shopping list for the drugstore is at the ready. I feel a tremendous sense of peace.

What a huge change this is for me from even just a couple of years ago. Even when I was home all day, I never ended my days feeling this much peace years ago. There was always this lingering feeling of guilt- that I'd left things undone, that my home just wasn't looking good enough, that I didn't accomplish enough. I focused on the negatives & not the positives. I didn't celebrate the accomplishments, but I ruminated over the undone chores. That was before I learned that what I accomplished today really is good enough, and tomorrow I'll do what I'm scheduled to do & it'll all be okay. Tomorrow is always the chance for a fresh beginning in my home, I now know. I owe much of the knowledge on how to keep up my home to FlyLady & a few other great people- but the actual work of it all, I did myself. I made my home a priority in mind, body & spirit a long time ago. Some people take on this responsibility, and some people blow it off. I've always taken it seriously. It wasn't from a lack of concern for it that my home ever looked less-than-great. My finances are dedicated to taking care of myself & my home first, in a reasonable manner. But it took years to get my home humming along like this. My brain wasn't wired to keep house in such a methodical, step-by-step manner, so it was a huge uphill battle for me each step of the way. I never saw things in that linear way that I always wished I did- the abstract was what I excelled at. I wanted to be stable, reliable, responsible & dependable- but my creative, scatterbrained, changeable nature prevented this over & over again. The old I'm-a-square-peg-in-a-round-board-world syndrome, and everyone successful around me seemed to be shaped like a circle! That's why I'm reveling in my current life to this degree. I didn't know years ago that it was possible to keep a home so easily & yet still stay true to myself. When I got up earlier & got all of my chores done within an hour, I was actually shocked. Epiphanies happen all the time like this, even years after starting on the organizing journey. It is all-too-easy to recall the years when housework seemed a perpetual chore, as if the devil had nothing to do all day long but create more dirt for me to clean somewhere new. I don't feel dead on my feet anymore. I don't have an aching back right now. I don't exist feeling perpetually defeated. I didn't spend all day cleaning today- far from it. Actually, I haven't spent a whole day cleaning in years. I've gone over a year without having to get out the "heavy guns" of cleaning products that used to be in my regular arsenal. I didn't have any laundry to do today because I've been consistently doing a load or two a day as needed all along for years now.

Is my house "perfect"? Yeah, right. Of course it isn't. Do I care anymore if it's not? No, I honestly don't. But it looks good. It functions well. It smells nice. Do I still have dark minutes, hours & days? Absolutely. I have fibromyalgia & the pain that it creates is mind-boggling at times. Do I still experience setbacks & failures, even with all of my knowledge? Yes, quite frequently. But I pick myself back up every day & go for the gold again. My Southern ancestors, with all of their warm hospitality, superb cooking skills & immense housekeeping knowledge would be proud. When it's time to cook dinner, the kitchen has enough counter space free for me to work, even though it's a small room. Clean pans & pots wait for me to easily cook anything within them that I wish. When someone comes in & needs to use the restroom, I gladly point the way, knowing my bathroom's always sanitized & fresh. Quickly taking a clean white hand towel to my shower tile & bathtub each night after my shower or bath means that I never get stuck scrubbing a mildewed nightmare anymore on a Saturday. You know, a day that I should have been out having fun each week all along, but that I used to spend angrily, sweating it out as I cleaned like a madwoman! I went out last Friday evening with my best friend for a birthday celebration & for the first time ever as an adult, I felt not a twinge of guilt that I left something undone at home. How could I? Just about everything was caught up. It was yet another epiphany. I knew that I put so much effort into my home all of that previous week that one day off wouldn't break my good habits anyway. There are no lurking disasters anymore. I know now that any chore I have doesn't take all that long to complete- no more overestimating the workload anymore. I'd given my home my all. Because of my planning, I knew what needed to be done & when- no nagging feeling can remain that you left something undone when you've been following an established list. This is important- it's the "maybe I didn't do what I should have" thought which tends to haunt people more than a specific chore jumping out in your mind to do. When you start writing down your routines & sticking to them, this vague feeling of unease lets up. I'd simplified my house down to only what I used & loved. I spent a few hours leading up to going out last week listening to fun music, cranking it up as I got all dolled up to go out, just like a teenager again. It had been years since I'd felt so carefree- I couldn't remember the last time that I'd turned on the stereo & got pumped for my night out to great tunes. I felt ten years younger. And what a blast I had going out! The night was filled with laughter & great conversation, good food & wine. I didn't think about my house once while I was out. That doesn't sound impressive to some people, but if you've been a perfectionist about your house like I was for years, you'll know exactly what I talking about. I didn't even know when I started this journey that living without guilt was possible. My only goal when I joined FlyLady & started simplifying my life was to get my house in order- gaining peace was the last thing on my agenda. Heck, it wasn't even on the radar. If I managed to get myself to work every day, stuck to an exercise routine & lost a little weight while keeping my house looking clean enough all the time, I would've considered that a triumph. I thought that feeling peace for any length of time while still on earth was an impossible dream. I was wrong. It's not only possible, but I'm now living it all the time!

My closet is filled with clean clothes that fit me well, are comfortable, appropriate for the season we're in & organized by rainbow to locate easily. Shoes are neatly laid out in a similar manner. My jewelry sits in my jewelry box, organized, clean & untangled. Clean underclothes fill my dresser drawers, along with workout wear & handkerchiefs. Emergency candles, matches, flashlights, a radio, food, plastic cutlery, water, paper plates, a cooler for filling with ice & plastic cups are at the ready in the event of a blackout. A fully-stocked first-aid kit is underneath my bathroom vanity, easy to reach & use if someone got hurt. On the other side of my bathroom vanity are a small set of backup supplies for commonly-used toiletries- extra shampoo, Q-Tips, facial cleanser, body soap, sunscreen, etc. I have an evacuation plan, a portable survival kit, an address & phone list for my friends & family, plus a list of safe places to go in the event of an emergency. My Office in a Bag is filled with thank-you notes/envelopes, postage stamps, address labels for myself, business envelopes & a few larger mailing envelopes. I've got a Control Journal which details all of my daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly & yearly to-do's in it. I've also detailed my final wishes, how someone would need to take care of my kitty if I'm not home & have my medical & surgical history detailed in this binder. I can put my hands on any important paper- my Social Security Card, my proof of life insurance, my birth certificate & more- in five seconds or less. I'm thirty-two, fully aware that I could live another fifty years, or I could die tomorrow. Either way, I'm prepared for the outcome, and I've tried to prepare others in the event of my passing. But I don't obsess about this- I got done what I needed to in order to experience peace surrounding the subject, and then went on to the events of living a full life. My email is cleaned out. Old photos, music & other media no longer needed are deleted from my computer. I know what my needs are for solitude & quiet. I'm able to be there for others when needed. I'm ready for just about anything thrown my way, and I can recover quickly from blows.

The peace that comes from being "all done" doesn't happen in that magical but mythical moment when you've hit your perfect weight, your home is without a speck of dust to it's name & your bank account in in the seven-digit range. It comes from having a simple set of routines written down, personalized for your life, knowing that you've done them to the best of your ability & then going out to enjoy your day fully. It comes from knowing that you ate wholesome food for fuel, drank clean water for hydration, got a little exercise & took good care of yourself, not from wearing a particular dress size or attaining a certain weight on a scale. Peace is intangible, but boy will you know it when you finally feel it. It's attainable, I promise. Work until you get that peace, because it can & will be yours.

Here's to being a peaceful organized minimalist,


Let Life Lead You Where You Need to Go

So many times, a topic will come to my mind for a post in this blog, and I'll start writing thinking I'll be approaching it from a certain slant. And then, for some reason, my writing seems to almost be taken over by some other force & it ends coming out an entirely different essay than what I intended to talk about! I don't go into any of my writing hoping to be controversial, hit a nerve on anyone or gain fame. Some of the posts I thought were very basic or "not my best work" end up being my most-read, and vice versa. I may pour my heart into a blog only to see five people read it. But my work isn't about me, it's about you all. There's no room in my blog for my ego. I have no clue going in what will be popular & what won't be, and I've given up trying to figure it out. I may start out writing about being good to yourself & think I'll be talking about pampering, only to end up telling you how to stand up for yourself in the workplace! I don't necessarily want to share personal stories from my life sometimes- but I get compelled to! I do not get enough feedback to know if I'm sharing too much or too little information, and maybe that's best- it might color my writing if I did know how every reader truthfully felt.

I remember watching Joyce Meyer's "Life in the Word" show years ago, and periodically she'd say, "I didn't have any intention of talking about this tonight. It wasn't what my message was on in the title, and nothing in my notes was about this for tonight's talk. But I prayed to be a vessel, and for God's will to be done over mine, so I guess He thought you all needed to hear what I'm saying now!" She was & is willing to change horses in mid-stream, and she's an extremely successful evangelist. She is also willing to be bracingly honest with her audience, and her example of allowing others to see her faults is one that sticks with me to the core. The women I've admired most- Joyce, my mother, my great-grandmother, Hillary Clinton & a few others- were all outspoken & yet willing to acknowledge their own faults. If someone "important" like Joyce Meyer is willing to let her hair down & expose her flaws to the world, why shouldn't I be willing to do the same? She's the only TV preacher that I can stand to listen to, I might add. She may say things that taste more acidic than sweet sometimes to get down, but her heart is eternally in the right place, and Joyce is always more than willing to advise how she get the knowledge she did (which is usually through making her own mistakes many times over). I admire that she was not a person who immediately got perfected when she accepted Christ into her life, and is willing to acknowledge that. How could any of us have gotten her great teachings if she had been perfect right from the get-go? We couldn't- she never would've been called to preach if she'd never had to learn from her mistakes. It's a huge part of why Joyce is the most successful TV preacher that I'm aware of. When she preaches, you're not being talked at with the condescending voice of authority, but the loving voice of someone who has lived through giving her flaws over to God to make them into something great instead. It takes time to see through mistakes to the other side, but what a wondrous thing when that happens. We are given our failings for a reason- not to feel bad about ourselves, but to learn & grow from them!

I didn't start out this blog to be religious, and I am not out to convert anyone to anything. That isn't my place. You & you alone know what's right for your life. I do know, however, that if you're reading this, you're a special person. You want to get better at living life. You want to give more to those around you. You want to stop feeling sad, frustrated, underwhelmed with life & overwhelmed with work. You know that you can improve your circumstances, and the lives of those around you, but you may not know how. I may not always know what will touch your heart in my writing, but I believe that something or someone else does know how to reach you, and maybe that something is what puts these words on the page. Something I say may stick with you for the rest of your life without me ever knowing it, and I hope that something is good if it happens. Don't ever let anyone determine your destiny for you. If you are living in a cluttered home & it's the butt of everyone's joke in your family because you've always been "a messie", don't think for a second that you're stuck living the rest of your life that way. I could not have written this blog ten or even five years ago. My life was a mess. I looked good on the outside, but my home was a chaotic disaster. I had no clue what I wanted in life. I had no idea what I should be doing for a career. I questioned every choice I made. I felt unloved & unneeded by the world at large. I felt like a failure in so many ways. I had many dark days. Chronic pain followed me like a shadow. Don't think for a second that I was born having it all together. If you asked more than a few people in my school who would've been the most likely to fail in life, they probably would've picked me. If you asked a few people from my childhood who the most worthless person they knew was, I would've been pretty close to the top of the list. But the universe, or God, or whatever you choose to believe in, doesn't exist by those human standards. What was once the least can & will become the greatest. It doesn't mean you're better than anyone, but that you can achieve remarkable things. You can be the person that you were always supposed to be. It doesn't happen overnight, and it doesn't happen without walking through fire. But keep walking, keep growing, and IT DOES HAPPEN.

I don't know most of you personally. I have no idea what challenges you're facing right now. But I'll speak from my heart & hope that somehow I can reach those who are most hurting with this blog. I've been rejected by a parent- one of the two people in life who was supposed to love me unconditionally, didn't love me. And they never will. I had to let that go & look closely at who else loved me instead. I had to heal from that hurt and it took time. I struggled with severe depression, anxiety, agoraphobia & suicidal thoughts for many years. Hopelessness & I were once the best of friends. I've been obese in a world that despises excess fat. I've been told by many a teacher & others in authority that I was lazy, undisciplined, had no work ethic & was a negative influence on others. I've been pushed, teased & called names which no child should ever have to hear. I've had a bedroom where I couldn't see the floor for the clutter. I've faced a kitchen piled with dirty dishes many times. I've been unemployed & didn't know where the money to pay the phone bill would come from. Something, somewhere is always holding me up & holding my hand. I gave my life over to that, and miraculous changes took place. I prayed for big changes, for my life to go in the direction it needed to, and I got my answers. That isn't to say it's been easy, or that my tests are over- I face fresh testing every day. But I made it through to the other side of life where hope reigns over despair. I live the life of my dreams. I have the most wonderful best friend in the universe. I have a loving family. I live in a beautiful, clean, safe home in a free nation. I'm attractive, fit, pretty healthy & very organized. I'm well-respected, knowledgable & talented. I found my calling in life & I get to work at it daily. I have the most beautiful cat on earth for a furry companion. I want for nothing. You can get to your own version of this nirvana. I promise you this. But first you have to believe that you're worth it, that it's coming to you (it's your inheritance) & that something big is on your side. Don't hide from the light- walk into it, because that's where your place is.

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,


When Was the Last Time You Treated Yourself Well?

Do you talk to yourself the way that you would talk to your most treasured friend? Do you allow others to say things to you which are hurtful without defending yourself? Do you automatically accept reprimands or punishments without even checking to see if the person doing the punishing was in the right? Are you aware of all of your rights as a worker, as a citizen of your nation & as a voter? Do you use your voice, your keyboard & your pen to speak up for what you believe in, or are you coerced by fear into silence or smoothing over wounds with superficialities? Each time that we step out & speak out for what is right, but do so in a professional and thoughtful manner, we gain a bit more ground in life. But every time that we cower in the shadows, take blame when it's not warranted, stay quiet when we know that we should say something (but are afraid of the personal cost), we lose ground. No great leader, in either religion, politics or any other arena, got to be where they ended up by vacillilating. People who lead face hard facts. They refuse to be stepped on, especially over issues where they've studied & know the answers they have to be correct. They may choose to be peaceful warriors, but they know that they are in a battle nonetheless. They're opinionated, but balance that with the thoughtful reading of others' thought. We can choose put our beliefs out there with love first in our hearts- and people still may choose not to take the advice, but at least you're not putting it out there with the spirit of condemnation. We can pray that the way we phrase things will come out kindly, but will reach the reader & listener firmly. Every day, we decide whether or not we shall live a life borne of lasting great purpose, or waste it on the trivial matters of existence. We can sit for a spell & think clearly on what the best way is to approach a problem, then go forward humbly but boldly with the solution.

A young man at work came to me for help because he was not being allowed to take time off to be there for the birth of his first child. People at work knew that I was well-read & that I studied employee-employer law backwards & forwards, when it came to disability leave & time off. He discussed the issue with our supervisor first (who sadly did not live up to her title as a "manager") but she told him he had no choice in the matter but to accept their denial. He had been with the company for less than a year, and therefore was not eligible for FMLA. However, I quickly looked online for him & found out he was eligible for First-Year Leave, and his job would be protected for up to six weeks while he took this time off. It was unpaid time, but he was okay with that. I was not a manager- but I knew my rights as an employee, because I did my homework. I knew what the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 said, I knew what the Family Medical Leave Act said & I also knew company policy as clearly displayed on it's Intranet. I did not accept the answers that the supervisors gave as the gospel truth, not ever- I always did my research. If it meant going over their head, so be it. No job was worth failing myself. Now, as a supervisor she should've known about First-Year Leave, especially considering that she'd been with the company for over ten years. So she either didn't know the guidelines- though a five-minute check on the Intranet would've yielded her the same answer I got- or she deliberately lied to him. If it was the latter, I wouldn't be at all surprised, because having a warm body in the seat taking calls was more important to her than someone being there for the birth of their first child. My great pleasure didn't come from proving her wrong though, but in helping this young man stand up for himself & get the time off that he was entitled to take. He was grateful for the help, and realized that he could no longer trust this supervisor to look out for him in the least. This supervisor only undermined her own authority, and made herself look both foolish & devious, not to mention lazy. These people are usually easy to recognize- they love to criticize others, but can't take any criticism themselves. They are happy enough with you as long as you act like a meek little sheep & never challenge any rule put out. They're great at playing favorites, and aren't above nepotism. They frequently talk over others, not allowing them to finish a sentence. In their own minds, they themselves can do no wrong. Leaders like this abound in every industry & branch of government throughout the world, and this lack of ethics is the chief reason behind the societal failures we see today. I do not know if you can ever teach the unethical to become ethical, but I've never seen the change occur in my own life. Either people choose the right consistently or they don't. The lack of a moral compass may be due to some part of the brain being either turned off or skewed in some respect, so I'm not saying there's no physiological cause for it. But if we were to go back in time fifty or one hundred years, I do not think that we would have find the lack of work ethic & morals that abound today. Our general culture pushes making the quick buck over careful deliberation & concern for the greater good over time. 

Friends at work would come to me for help when they'd get written up for leaving early because their daughter would have an asthma attack or they themselves got a diabetic complication & started throwing up at their desk. I was rather well-known for standing up to various injustices against employees (you can imagine how popular this made me with management...), because my mother brought me up to be a vocal critic of anything wrong I saw being done. My mother's ethics at work were reknowned to the point where if she wasn't directly involved with handling an issue, people within the agency would immediately ask for her to get onboard, because they could trust my mom to handle things thoroughly & correctly. My mother made her own enemies for demanding high ethics & complete knowledge from all involved but boy, was she ever respected for it. (She was "old school" Federal Government, a woman who had to pass the Civil Service Test to get her job, and worked her way up the ranks through old-fashioned hard work, learning each job inside & out. Sadly, these people are a dying breed, as many have been forced out by age & retirement.) Anyway, I was astounded at how few people looked into whether management even had a right to do such a thing to them. Why weren't these employees signing up for FMLA & getting the paperwork filled out the second they hit their one-year anniversary with the company, when they knew that a loved one had a persistent medical condition? Again & again they answered, "Nobody told me I was eligible!" By this time, FMLA had been law for nearly twenty years. I couldn't believe, in the era of 24/7 Internet access in America, that so many didn't even know the most basic tenets of the laws that applied to their situation. But it was simple- no one ever taught them to take matters into their own hands. Their parents didn't encourage them to fight or think for themselves. Many were conditioned to go along with authority without question. Critical analysis is a skill most parents, teachers & employers try to kill from the moment that you're born. There are many sufferings to be gained by daring the establishment via the use of your own critical analysis skills, or at least that's what they'd like us to believe. Most of the workers I talked to were female or from an ethnic minority, many were from poor or lower-middle-class families, did not get much education about the inner workings of the Federal government, grew up in the bureaucratic American school system (which has plenty of it's own evils) & were taught not to make waves. I could not fathom how "turn the other cheek" was continually skewed into "never speak & stand up for yourself"- but it was. Employers know how explicitly to manipulate fear, superstition, anger & a sense of morals to their advantage. They should be infamous for expecting the utmost in ethics from those employees lowest on the totem pole while allowing literally illegal behavior daily from those at the highest segment of the pole. Yes, some people will actually realize this- but do they actually DO SOMETHING about it, beyond complaining? Typically, no. The costs are too high. Who wants to stick their neck out & be known as "difficult" (especially women)? Who wants to be known, in this day & age especially, for being pro-union?

Everyone has had a time in their life that they look back on & say, "I should have spoken up for so-and-so, or for that issue." When one person stays silent, the result is normally just that person forever having to live with the conviction that not speaking up was wrong. When many people choose not to speak up, horrific consequences can & do occur. Loss of worker's rights, genocide, mass torture, wars- all have come to fruition because not enough people spoke out & fought against what was wrong. Do not assume, "Someone else will speak up". It isn't only others who pay the price if you maintain silence. You will live with the guilt for the remainder of your life that you didn't follow your conscience, depending upon the severity of the circumstance. Whole nations live for generations with guilt over going along with wrong actions, regardless of whether they agreed with them at the time or not. Of course apologies can be made after the fact, and forgiveness can & often is granted. But it doesn't change the sin's occurrence, or it's lasting consequences. If you want to start simplifying your world, and the world at large, start today by saying what you mean & meaning what you say. Get back your critical analysis skills. Take back your power. And encourage others to do the same. Treat yourself as well as you would your most beloved friend or family family- with honest, good advice & a kind heart. Be a leader. The world may say you'll pay a cost, but it won't be the highest cost of all that you pay- the price of losing your righteousness. Lose that, and you lose everything, even if you gain the whole world.

Here's to being an outspoken organized minimalist,


A Good List of Tips to Simplify Your Life Further, Starting Today

Every single professional organizer, minimalist, survivalist & simplicity believer has a different take on things, because we all come from different backgrounds. I have never seen two professional organizers or simplifying mavericks go at things with the same exact approach. We all have varying personalities, and some of us want to focus on minimalism over organizing what we already own, or vice versa. Some people bring politics, religion, and things that are more personal into the path, while other organizers (especially those who are in the business for profit) wouldn't touch those subjects with a ten-foot pole. You will never find two professional organizers who concur on every single little "best way" to get organized or simplify. Some believe that a home should look as if Donald Trump could stand living there, and others think that anything goes as long as you feel happy with it's level of organization. This is why it's important to seek out divergent views on the subject, because in each writer, you'll find appealing things to try & not-so-appealing things that you'll instantly veer away from. While I recommend many websites, books & people to learn from, I've yet to find one that I agree with 100% on every single subject. And I believe that this is the way it should be. The link that I just shared with you can be a jumping-off point for some, becoming vastly inspiring. For others though, the very minimalist lifestyle written about holds no appeal.

Madonna was my girlhood idol. She was not only a good dancer & put out great pop songs, it was obvious that she controlled her career & was making the moula. She co-wrote or wrote a lot of songs she performed herself, and everyone knows that's where a lot of the best royalties come from. And that songwriting is not something just anyone can do well in a commerical market- definitely not for the length time that she dominated the charts, either. At one time, I couldn't fathom why Madonna would ever be upset that people would perpetually refer to her as "The Material Girl". What's wrong with that, I thought? When I picked a song to choose from in high school for a performance where we would sing & dance on our own for a bit, it was the appropriately-chosen song from the film Dick Tracy entitled, "More". When I first saw the film Desperately Seeking Susan years ago, I couldn't understand for the life of me why the character of Roberta was unhappy in her yuppie marriage. She had it all- money, a gorgeous house in Jersey with a huge bathtub, a wardrobe full of nice clothes, she didn't have to work, she had a husband who treated her pretty nicely (if a bit cluelessly) & a sweet convertible to drive. (Though I will say that I finally "got it" years later when I saw the movie again, this time as an adult, and took a good look at Aiden Quinn's magical blue eyes. Poor or not, his character in the film was...Whew! Some kind of good-looking! And he definitely seemed more fun & devoted to her than Roberta's hot tub-salesman spouse.) As a kid I lived in a small apartment, I wore hand-me-downs from the 1970's in the 1980's (not cool- retro was so not in back then), my mother drove an old car, and it would be no stretch to say I lived in a town as small-minded as it was small in population. I hated every stinking second of it. I despised every aspect of that limited, little, gossiping world of everyone-knows-everyone. I couldn't wait to get out of it. I wanted to put that fat, poor little girl I used to be in her grave forever & never look back. I dreamed of the day when money, good looks, men, a gorgeous car, clothes galore & fame would be mine. And while I never reached the pinnacle of success that I fantasized about as a kid, I reached adulthood & bought the finest cosmetics, nice furnishings, pretty clothes, restaurant meals galore, alcohol, food from around the world, perfumes- you name it. I gloried in looking good, appearing to have money & I loved to shop. I was known for wearing beautiful makeup, matching my gemstone jewelry to my clothes & in general being a woman of refined tastes. But of course it was never enough. I had more to clean, more to care for, more to look at, less time to myself because I worked all the time to afford the lifestyle. And while the ugly little fat girl had grown up into an attractive enough woman, I was certainly not experiencing the fulfillment that I'd assumed material abundance would give me.

When I first took to simplicity & minimalism, I still assumed that more was more (I am an American, after all- this is one of our guiding principles as a nation, this belief is having plenty of everything at all times), so I went at cutting the dross from my life out at full force. I attempted to get every aspect of my life down to bare minimums. I was as extremist in my cutting back as I had been in my gathering of things. I found myself deeply attracted to the Quaker belief in simplicity, truth & letting go of the ego (gaining attention for myself). I tried to get down to wearing no makeup, tossing the nail polish out, eliminating goals related to gaining money or attention for myself, not owning any fancy clothing- you name it, I wanted to either simplify or (if I could) completely eliminate things that seemed superficial or trivial. But then I was bored, cranky, angry, anxious & very depressed. I had a lot of time on my hands when I dumped "the things that didn't matter". At first, I used this extra time to read about world history, religion & politics in a way that I never had before. I don't know how many other people have had this happen, but as with opening up any Pandora's box, my quest for knowledge left me deeply disenchanted with humanity. I cannot tell you how many ideas that I had about people were shattered as I read over fact after fact about them. Often I opened doors that I didn't even know existed, finding out things that hurt deeply to acknowledge. Sometimes information about famous people that I already didn't like came through that just made me absolutely despise them. These things were not hearsay that I could fool myself into disregarding, but well-established & documented facts. Nothing looked the same to me anymore. I felt like something or someone had died, and I guess that someone was me- the old me, that is. Everything was ugly & bare to look at, akin to a house stripped down to it's bare beams. I felt like an astronaut who had been sent to outer space in a spaceship, then got cut off from NASA with no way of making it back home to earth- and had nowhere new to land, either. Every anchor that I'd ever had seemed ripped right out of the ocean floor. It was disconcerting, overwhelming, and one of the chief reasons that I warn people ahead of time that simplifying is not the piece of cake to the brain that a lot of organizers claim it to be. When you eliminate clutter, you finally face head-on the glaring feelings about your job, marriage, kids & much more that have been in hiding under a mask of busyness. This is how some people start de-cluttering stuff, only to pick up some other habit as a replacement to their former shopping or hoarding habit. Starting to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, take drugs (prescription or illicit) or do other things to numb the feelings that come up when you make drastic changes to your life- or if the changes were made for you- is not unheard of. I'm not telling you to ignore your desire to simplify your life, or that it's a bad idea to get organized. I'm giving you the information about the aftermath, what you can expect if you undertake it as a serious journey. It isn't all about having that mystical, mythical time regained for smelling the roses, walking in the forest & meditating when you're done with working. If you have nothing healthy set up to replace the things you get rid of, like spending more time with family or friends, taking a class at college or a new workout routine, you'll be faced with a lot of spare time that won't be filled with cleaning or bemoaning your cluttered spaces anymore. Have a goal for what you will do with the additional time, energy & money you won't be spending on housecleaning or de-cluttering, when that is set up with minimal maintenance.

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dinner Menu Ideas Based on Rotating Protein

I know from twenty years of being the cook in the house, and working or going to school full-time during most of those years, that coming up with new or different dinner ideas is rough after awhile. I like to plan my menu in advance, before I go to the grocery store, if at all possible. It's exhausting to come home & not know what you're cooking, only to find out you're missing a key ingredient. It's also no fun to argue with your spouse or housemate yet again about what's for dinner, especially when everyone is exhausted, cranky & starving.

Don't turn to fast food to continually solve this dilemma of what to eat. Your body will pay for that behavior, because the stuff that nearly every one of those places offered is filled with chemicals, preservatives, trans fats & much more. Eating balanced, home-cooked meals is the way to having strong hair, clearer skin, nice fingernails & high levels of energy. Aim to eat as many fresh fruits & vegetables as you can. I know that not everyone can afford to eat meat every single night, and the region that you live in will determine availability of certain items (especially fish). Just aim to get a good amount of protein, healthy fats, plenty of vitamins & minerals into your body. Drink adequate amounts of clean ice water, and you'll feel less hungry. Switching to iced or hot herbal, green or black tea with a little raw sugar, instead of eating meals with soda or an alcoholic beverage to wash it all down, will make a big difference in your health. Your liver, kidneys & bloodstream all know the difference. Don't replace eating healthy meals with smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, especially out of a desire to stay slim. If you're going six or seven hours between meals, and you don't eat much at breakfast and/or lunch, you're probably going to set yourself up to eat more at dinnertime. Some people have a fast metabolism & can get away with that behavior (at least when they're younger), but it's definitely not going to give you the brain & body most filled with energy. Low blood sugar causes brain fog, and a lack of proper nutrients (enzymes, vitamins, minerals) causes all sorts of health problems eventually. Educate yourself about what your body's needs are to stay healthy & energized, then eat, drink & supplement accordingly.

Aim to serve your dinners with a whole-grain carbohydrate choices (if you eat carbs at dinner- I know some people don't) such as barley, brown & wild rice, oats, millet or whole-wheat couscous. I recommend eating two servings of vegetables at dinner, preferably one of them being raw (like a salad or a serving of baby carrots). Dessert, if eaten, can be fresh fruit, a piece of crystallized ginger or a piece of dark chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher to it. Canned or frozen fruit is okay, if fresh isn't available or is out of your price range.

If you're going to drink alcohol at dinner, I recommend that it be a good-quality vino. The jury is always out on drinking wine with dinner as a health measure, and I know that some people do not drink alcohol for religious reasons. If it's something that you enjoy, doesn't interact negatively with any medication you take, doesn't affect your judgment & you can easily stop at one glass, then I don't see a problem with having a glass every night. If you are watching calories, have a history of alcoholism in your family, have someone in the household with an alcoholic issue or are taking prescription medications that shouldn't be mixed with alcohol, please choose not to keep it in the house all the time. Remember that wine may have good properties to it, but it still can affect the liver negatively over time when it's not kept to a moderate amount. For every bit of alcohol you drink, please drink an equal amount (at least) of water to avoid dehydration.

I'm not going to include "formal" recipes here, but if you would like any of my recipes, I'll be happy to provide them to you- just let me know which ones you'd like. :)

Monday- Beans/Eggs/Vegetarian
Spinach-and-mushroom cheese omelet
Bell pepper-and-onion cheese omelet
Greek salad variation- Raw dark greens (I like baby spinach or romaine leaves), thin red onion slices, sliced Roma tomatoes or whole grape tomatoes, chickpeas, feta cheese, Greek olives, Penzey's Greek Salad Dressing & a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper
Summer Pasta- linguine with sauteed sliced squash, mushrooms, zucchini, red bell pepper, onions & some minced garlic in extra-virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper & a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper, then topped with fresh Parmesan cheese
Bean soup (try to include at least two different types of beans- I like split peas & white beans, personally)
Black bean burritos
Hummus or bean dip with warmed pita wedges, shredded lettuce or lettuce leaves & chopped tomatoes

Tuesday- Turkey
Turkey burgers on whole-grain buns
Traditional turkey dinner with roast turkey (brined or not), mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole, rolls or biscuits, etc.
Ground-turkey meatloaf
Turkey meatballs in marinara sauce, over spaghetti
Pulled turkey breast sandwiches

Wednesday- Fin Fish (I usually grill mine on a George Foreman indoor grill, with a little extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper & garlic powder, but there are a zillion ways to cook fish)
Grilled Teriyaki-marinated salmon
Bluefish baked in olive oil & butter
Salmon burgers
Tuna melts
Tuna noodle casserole
Italian-style tuna in extra-virgin olive oil with lemon juice, served over linguine

Thursday- Beef
Beef Stroganoff
Penne rigate pasta bake- Mix al dente cooked penne or penne rigate with marinara sauce, lightly-sauteed sliced mushrooms & cooked, drained ground beef or Italian sausage in a casserole dish. Top with mozzarella & Parmesan cheese, and then bake at 350 degrees until golden & bubbling at the edges (usually about 30-40 minutes, depending upon the amount in the dish & your oven). You can add more vegetables if you like, and of course change the protein to chicken breast, instead.
All-beef hot dogs
Beef enchiladas
Grilled or broiled steak
Ground-beef meatloaf, or use a mixture of 1/3 pork, 1/3 veal & 1/3 beef (creates the most flavor & moisture with that combo)

Friday- Chicken
Oven-fried breaded chicken
Chicken Stroganoff (this is a different recipe from my beef version, and it's awesome- if you'd like this recipe, let me know)
Chicken Divan
Chicken noodle soup
Chicken-and-rice soup
Ground-chicken burgers
Pulled chicken sandwiches (with or without BBQ sauce)
Grilled lemon juice-and-black pepper chicken

Saturday- Shellfish
Shrimp Alfredo over fettuccine
Shrimp & scallops in garlic sauce, Chinese-style
Scallops in gruyere cheese sauce over saffron rice
Lobster rolls
Linguini with clam sauce (white or red)
Smoked oysters with cream cheese & crackers (Okay, not all that healthy...but it is tasty now & again, for those who have this acquired taste. Which would include me!)
Oysters on the half shell (shucked)
New England clam chowder
Manhattan clam chower

Sunday- Pork
Ham sandwiches
Pizza pasta- linguine with pepperoni slices or Italian sausage, chopped green bell pepper, chopped onions, sliced mushrooms (Green Giant's jarred version work well for this dish),
Roast pork
Asian-marinated pork roast
Breaded pork chops
BBQ sauce-marinated pork chops done on the grill
Pulled pork sandwiches (done with or without BBQ sauce)
Baked ham w/ brown sugar, orange juice & Dijon mustard coating

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Household Repairs Supply List

This list is geared more towards women, I'll admit right off the bat. These are items that I own, in part at least, and items that generally have very good or excellent review scores. Everyone's home is different, and what you're willing or even allowed to do to your home varies, too. This list is designed as a generic household repair supply list, along with links to see what I'm talking about and/or to purchase the items. Survivalists are usually good at having these types of tools on hand, as are many homeowners, but I'm a renter with fabulous maintenance. However...I'm soon moving to a home in the countryside with an acre of land (gulp) & gardening to do (yikes!) I had to do a lot of research to see what basics I'd need for repairs, because I'm about as "city girl" as you get!

Think about all that would be needed in the event of a flood, fire, earthquake, and more in terms of natural disasters when planning for household repairs. But mainly focus on the things that are more likely to occur, things that come up all the time, like pipes getting clogged or power going out in your house. I'm sure that I'm missing a few things from this list, but I hope it'll help you get started, if this type of preparation is a goal of yours. It's a goal of mine to be prepared for every eventuality & emergency. A lofty goal, I know, but I feel it's a worthwhile one. If I find more items on my quest that are useful, I'll add them to this list in an edit later on.

Liz' Household Repairs Supply List

Adam wrench_

Bandana (can serve as a tourniquet, will keep sweat from dripping down your face & it'll keep your hair out of your eyes. I like 27x27" bandanas that I can fold in half on a diagonal & put around my head_

Battery-operated lantern_

Book or printed off pages from the Internet on household repairs_

Bungee paracord (can support items that need to held together or tied to something, while holding a lot of weight)_

Cordless drill with a variety of bit sizes (preferably with a tool kit)_

Cord organizers_

Double-sided tape_

Dryer vent brush (for more deeply cleaning your lint trap- this should be done every other week or so)_

Duct tape_

Ear protection muffs and/or ear plugs (I like Hearos brand ear plugs)_

Eyeglass/Sunglasses repair kit_

Floating waterproof flashlight_


Hand saw_

Hard hat_

Heavy-duty ladder and/or step stool_

Level (if not a part of your tool kit)_

Magnifying glass_

Multi-bit screwdriver or screwdriver set in various sizes_

Household nails_

Nail gun (not an absolute necessity, but nice to have if you're doing renovations or a lot of hanging up wall art)_

Plier set (if not a part of your toolkit)_

Pry Bar_

Safety glasses_

Safety vest (for any outdoor work)_

Self-stick felt pads for putting on the bottom of furniture or items that will scratch the surface that they're on; an example of this would be an all-in-one printer sitting on a wooden desk_

Self-stick small, medium & large plastic hooks_

Sewing kit_

Staple gun (again, not a necessity, but it can come in handy in cases of lighting & a few other issues), plus staples to go with it_
Swiss Army knife/multi-tool with a case_


Tape measure (if not a part of your toolkit)_

Tool box (holds items that don't have their own case or container neatly, and it's great to have a portable caddy like this at the ready)_

Utility knife (also known as a box cutter)_

Velcro cable ties, dots, squares and/or strips (these come in white, black & beige, typically)_

Wood glue_

Work boots_

Work gloves_

Wrench set (if not a part of your toolkit)_

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,


Sunday, June 24, 2012

How to Make Packing Lunch an Easier & Better Experience

I can't say that I've always been a lover of the packed lunch, but for personal economical purposes & health it really can't be beat. You have to have the right tools, though, to make bringing a lunch to work or school a healthy & enjoyable venture. If you're eliminating or diminishing packaged foods from your life (no more Twinkies, for example), you'll have to have your own storage containers. This means not just a baggie for chips & one for sandwiches, especially if you're going to be bringing snacks as well as a meal. Lunchtime products for packing have come a long way since I was a kid, when a hard lunch box, a thermos if your parents really cared (mine didn't) or a brown paper bag were your sole options for toting!

Lots of great options exist for carrying lunch to work or school these days, far more than I could ever include in entirety in this blog. A black, zippered, insulated tote bag is an inconspicuous way to carry your lunch to & from work/school, for example. Consider carefully how much & what type of food you'll be bringing with you each day, how heavy a bag you're willing to carry, if you need to put containers in the microwave or not & your personal style when choosing a lunch bag. If you're disabled, bear in mind that you'll likely need a bag you can wear cross-body or at least over your shoulder- you probably don't want to be stuck carrying it in your hand all the time. For some, a soup thermos would get used daily while for others it would sitting gathering dust in their kitchen cabinet. Just to give you an example of what's out there, here's a few links to well-liked bags with reviews for purchase:

One of the key elements to the concept of "clean eating" for fitness enthusiasts is eating every three hours or so. If you work away from home nine or ten hours a day, obviously you will need more than just a sandwich to fuel your long day. Lock & Lock products are my favorite for storing salad dressing, salads, fresh fruit & much more. They're easy to open even with one hand, but because of their design won't flip open & leave you with a wet mess somewhere in your lunch bag. The small pieces hold salad dressing, toppings like sunflower seeds, single-serving portions of nuts or dried fruit & condiments. They are also great for storing leftover chicken broth or tomato paste when you're cooking. The bigger ones hold anything & everything you can think of- tall, slender ones are great for storing pasta, for example. So their uses go far beyond lunchtime, and you know how much I love multi-functioning pieces! Many times these pieces are sold individually in grocery stores, but sets can be the cheapest way to buy in bulk. I've had all of mine for several years- no mold or mildew builds up in any crevices, there's been no broken pieces, no misshapen tops, nothing. They come out clean in the dishwasher every time. They also store leftovers extremely well in the fridge or freezer because they're airtight & lock together in four places on every piece. I'd say I own about twenty pieces, and I've given some away to family to help them out, too. One of my family members even uses a big round one with a locking top as a mixing bowl for things like pasta salad, and then puts the top right on it to store in the fridge. Talk about simplifying!

Even if you use an insulated bag, I would still suggest putting in a blue ice freezer pack. There are refrigerators for putting stuff in some workplaces, but I always preferred to keep my stuff at my own desk when I worked outside the home anyway. Theft, messes & other issues can come into play when you store your lunch somewhere that you can't keep an eye on it. And it means you have to go get your bag whenever you want to eat- if you're like I was & are on timed breaks (which was unfortunately just company policy), then you won't have the time to do so. These freezer packs can usually be found inexpensively in the grocery store, but in case they aren't, here's a couple of links below.

I always keep my stainless steel 16 oz. water bottle in my purse, but you can definitely put something like this in your lunch bag if there's room instead. It just depends on personal preference. I only use FlyLady's water bottle. Not because I have to or because I have some endorsement agreement (I wish!), but since it's simply the best. It fits in every car holder for drinks. It slips easily in my purse's side pocket. It doesn't sweat, it's airtight, it has a bigger slot for putting in ice & a smaller one for drinking from. There are no spills. Stuff stays cold as can be in it- don't overfill it with ice, because if you keep the bottle closed, ice lasts for hours & hours in the container, even overnight. I've used it for hot drinks, too, and it works well for them. You can use them as your protein drink shaker, again because they are so airtight & sturdy (it'll be loud if you have ice in it, but whatever works!) I can wash both the top & the bottle itself in the top rack of the dishwasher, and they come out fine. If you have a bottle brush, that'll clean up it up through hand-washing quite easily, though. She's made them in both a 16 oz. size & a 12 oz. size:

You can also buy them in a set of each:

Finally, for medications and/or supplements, a few different storage options exist. This isn't applicable to everyone, but if it's something you need to do, I wanted to bring it up. You can use the smallest Lock & Lock piece to hold these little items. Personally, I need & use a divided pillbox. Not everyone wants to carry something like this around, but I find it invaluable. Pill fobs are also good to hold an emergency storage of pills, or just one day's small supply with you, especially on your keychain.

Remember to bring along flatware & a napkin or paper towel with lunch, as well.

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,


Friday, June 22, 2012

Organized Grocery Shopping Made Easier

Some people enjoy grocery shopping. I'm not one of them, although it got easier when I got organized about it. We have a rule in my house- I handle the housework & cooking, and my mother does the grocery shopping. She's good at it, and much of her brain cells have been devoted to memorizing the aisles of every grocery store in a fifty-mile radius, so I use that to my advantage. (We're foodies, we're kind of picky & eating dinner is considered a sacred hour in my home.) However, when she became ill earlier this year with a series of diabetic complications, I had to take over the chore of grocery shopping. Eating out is virtually unheard of in my home, because I can make just about any dish you'd get in a restaurant & then some. Besides, it's too expensive to eat out all the time for us, and I know how to cook more healthfully at home than virtually any restaurant. Between Penzey's Spices (available online & in catalog- I highly recommend you check them out, as their prices alone beat the grocery stores, not to mention the quality!), a cultural shift that has made getting ethnic foods easier than ever in my town & the Internet for recipes, why eat out? I want to know about every ingredient going into my food. If at all possible, I want to eat healthfully & eat the organic version of everything that I can. Everyone has a different schedule for shopping- some shop every day, some once a week, some once a month. Tastes are far too different in American life, as are family sizes & the options of where to shop, for me to get terribly specific on this topic. But I can offer up a few pieces of more generalized information that may help if this is a frustrating area for you, as it was for me.

Here's the way to start if you're starting from scratch on making your shopping list: Go through your fridge, freezer (including deep freezer), liquor cabinet, pantry, medicine cabinet, cleaning products, bathrooms & outdoors if you need to (depending again upon your lifestyle) to determine what your personal grocery list first thing. Write every single item down, including the brand name. Having this list in hand will help you tweak any generic, pre-printed grocery list that you can utilize, as well. Everybody has different brands that they like or need, and you're not going to find that detailed info on any pre-printed grocery list. Not everything that you need can probably be found right at one grocery store. While most grocery stores have vastly improved in their product line's quantity & variety, sometimes their selection is still lacking and/or the cost of the item is inflated. I turn to, (a really awesome source for much-less-expensive but completely legal & safe dietary supplements, organic foods & clean-eating-diet items) & sometimes Amazon to round out my selections. Even if you don't shop on these sites, you could always utilize their list-making capability so that you have a resource of reminders for what you use in the home, and what you want to try. I know that allergies or other issues may also mean that typical grocery-store products won't work for cosmetic purposes. For fragrance-free skincare that doesn't induce acne or dry out my skin, I shop at

In my state of residence, I cannot buy liquor online legally, nor is it sold in the grocery store. I have to shop at a separate liquor store if I want something of that nature. Which brings me to my next point. Elaine St. James wrote in her book, "Simplify Your Life", that it's wise to shop all in one place- in other words, a shopping center that has dry-cleaners, maybe a good restaurant, a bank branch nearby, whatever you need. This way you're not wasting time all day, every day driving around town from end-to-end. I live in a sprawling town where everything is just laid out here, there & everywhere. It was not a well-planned city, so it's just a mess to navigate & the road width is way behind the times. My town was once basically nothing but a downtown strip of two-lane road surrounded by big farms, but has quickly turned into a vibrant bedroom community which is a part of the most highly-populated county in the bustling but tiny state. Traffic is a nightmare off of the major exits most times of the day, especially when school is starting or when it lets out & during rush hour (and the latter can last until 11 p.m. at night sometimes). Gas is expensive- we all want to try & cut that expense if we can. However, a difficult economy has made it hard to find a shopping center where every business has stuck around to keep this ideal shopping center physically in place. I once went to a shopping center with a good grocery store, an Outback restaurant (nice if you want to pick up a gift card from there or some dinner on the way home), a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store (yum), a vacuum-supply store, a liquor store, a dry-cleaners & a real estate office all on the premises. But now about half of those stores are gone. In the shopping center that I used to patronize the grocery store was under-performing, so it was eliminated. My habits changed with time, too, and needing a dry-cleaner is no longer relevant to me, nor is that lovely place called Baskin-Robbins (tasty but not in my abundant figure's best interest!). I also realize that despite certain mega-stores' convenience factor, you may have ethical reasons for not shopping there (there's one very popular store in particular that I feel this way about, so I understand if you feel that way, too). I do not, however, place judgment on others for where they shop. I make it a point to buy Fair Trade and/or organic when I can & try to only shop from companies that treat their employees & the environment ethically. However, I know that it is virtually impossible to ensure doing this at all times, and it is usually a bit more expensive to purchase items that way. Some people just can't afford to shop anywhere but the modern super-centers. Just think about the concept of trying to contain your shopping that can't be done online to one centralized location & utilize that as much as you can, what it might do for you & your time, though. It's usually harder to shop all in one place in a small or not-well-laid-out town than in a big city, I know. St. James' book was also written in pre-Internet times, so that was not taken into account when she discussed the concept, either.

Planning a dinner menu a week or a month at a time in advance has helped many people feel less crazed in ths grocery-shopping department. While I don't belong to it, I know that Leanne Ely has a program called "Saving Dinner", which can help in this department. As she's a nutritionist, I do know that she's got her act together in creating healthy but filling meals (I have looked over her website & have read through her recipes when they're sent out FlyLady.) One of my favorite sources for healthy recipes that are tasty but different are via "Oxygen" & "Clean Eating" magazines. They're the only magazines that I subscribe to- they are that good! I believe they both have online subscriptions, where the magazine doesn't come to you in paper format but is Internet-only (a good way to decrease clutter & environmental waste). When planning a dinner menu for the following week or month, get out your favorite cookbooks & printed-off Internet recipes. Recipe websites with reviews written on them are particularly fabulous to get new ideas from, without trying out lots of "duds" that you & your family won't like. Cookbooks aren't cheap & often only have a handful of recipes that you actually end up making regularly. I keep a binder set aside specifically for printed-off recipes, and it stays at the ready in my kitchen. I bought a nice three-hole-puncher from Amazon & it was a wise investment. I just added in some dividers, created categories (chicken, beef, etc.) & put the recipes in each by alphabetical order, after hole-punching them. Old recipes that were yellowing & handwritten also got typed up, printed off & put in the binder as well. Yes, this was a "project" to collect those together, but it was worth tackling. This beats having to go through a scattered old collection of faded recipes every time you need that one dish for company you want to make. If you have one, sit down & talk to your family about what their favorite meals are without judging them for the answers they give. You may be surprised at their answers. Many husbands are happy to eat salads if you serve raw spinach instead of iceberg lettuce. Kids may not mind tomatoes when they're in a marinara sauce or salsa, as opposed to just serving them a plain old sliced tomato. People may have an aversion to a food because of gastrointestinal issues or some other experience in the past, so be mindful of that- they may not want a certain food for that reason. Don't take their answers personally (as in they don't like your cooking- that may not be true at all), but do write down what they say. Sometimes parents automatically think that kids like what they themselves eat, when your child may in fact have totally different tastebuds.

Try to be fair & don't cook the same stuff over & over again simply out of habit. Instead of ground beef tacos, make them with skinless chicken breast or lean steak for a change. Try green tomatillo salsa (also referred to as salsa verde) instead of the typical red tomato kind. Instead of spaghetti with Italian sausage, try making meatballs with what is sold as meatloaf mixture- 1/3 veal, 1/3 pork, 1/3 beef. This outstanding combo makes the moistest meatballs, meatloaf & burgers ever. I bake off my meatballs for a half-hour in the oven at 350 degrees, in a Polish stoneware dish (so they don't burn on the bottom). I put a layer of extra-virgin olive oil in the bottom so they won't stick. Baking them off for this length of time means that I get a lot of fat out of them without losing flavor or moisture. By this time, the meatballs are just about cooked through, if not entirely done. I simply dish them out with a slotted spoon & add them to whatever sauce they're going to be served in, let them simmer lightly for up to twenty minutes, and they're ready to go. Meatball subs are a nice change of pace- find some crusty sub rolls, serve with marinara sauce (I like Raos) & melted mozzarella cheese. I've never seen a kid who won't at least try a few bites of a meatball sub! Most grocery store butchers are happy to grind up whatever you need special if you call in the morning before you go shopping, even if they don't normally put out meatloaf mix or chili meat. They usually don't put it out all the time because it's a seasonal item and/or doesn't sell because people don't know about it. Chili meat is a larger grind of ground beef, and it does indeed make for very a hearty, tasty chili base. I simply try to buy these various proteins when they're in-season and/or on sale, and freeze if need be. Yes, it takes time & a little creativity to make at least one new dish a week, but it's healthier to get a wide variety of different foods into the body, especially for kids.

We all need the nutrients & energy that can only come from good wholesome meals. Supplements in pill form or energy drinks can only do so much. Valuable enzymes & antioxidants come from fresh fruits & vegetables. Items such as greens (kale, Swiss chard, collards, etc.), beans & plain rice (usually sold in bags, not the packaged box mixes) are dirt-cheap but provide vital sustenance, vitamins & minerals to the body. Whole-wheat couscous, millet, barley- all add healthy, cheap "bulk" to meals & give your body a break from wheat-based starches. Sadly, these overlooked items often end up in the trash (both by us & by the grocery stores who couldn't sell them) because we're afraid that we won't like them, don't know how to cook them correctly or we are too tired to try. I'm personally not a big fan of whole beans, but I don't mind hummus or white bean garlic dip because they're smooth in texture. I can stand chickpeas when they're in a salad, mixed up with ingredients that have a different texture, as well. Salads & soups are a good way to sneak in healthy ingredients. Unsalted, shelled sunflower or pumpkin seeds add terrific crunch to salads without the preservatives & lack of nutrients in packaged croutons. Brown rice bought in bulk can be a great "filler" in soups, fajitas & more, stretching your food dollars while still filling up your family's tummies. Our landfills could definitely use a break from the processed, packaged foods we buy all-too-often from grocery stores or fast food joints. Rotate foods according to the seasons- steaming soups, starchier items like potatoes & root vegetables are great in the cold months, but hot weather requires a different approach. Using creative salad additions such as hearts of palm, experimenting with the farmer's market vegetable pickings, making quick stir-fry dishes done in a wok, more frequent use of fish (especially if it's grilled), cold soups such as gazpacho, various chilled pasta dishes, gelatos, Jell-O & utilizing ripe fresh fruit provide abundant opportunities for warm-weather food adventures. Frankly, I love turning to iced coffee drinks, popsicles made with fresh fruit + pure juice & utilizing my blender for making awesome chilled smoothies in the hot months. Greens such as baby spinach can be thrown in a blender smoothie to add a lot of nutrients & surprisingly taste just fine in it. Unflavored whey protein can always be added to blender drinks to give a protein boost to these shakes without affecting the flavor. Be creative- pure unsweetened blueberry juice, frozen blueberries & blueberry-flavored protein powder can make an awesome antioxidant drink which powers up your day, for example. Your brain & body will thank you for the variety & the quality of the fuel you give them. Don't forget that eating a wide variety of fresh food like this will also keep your gastrointestinal system working well, and that (along with drinking plenty of water) will help prevent bloating & may help you lose weight.

Consider the season that you're in, the sales on at your grocery store, what you already have on hand & need to use up. Try to shop according to what you plan to make in the following days or weeks, to avoid as much waste as possible. When you just stock your pantry & fridge haphazardly without a meal plan, chances are you'll end up throwing things out since they'll expire before getting eaten up. That said, try not to under-shop. When you go to the store, consider your family's lifestyle carefully. If you know people will be home for lunch, keep broth-based soups, healthy breads & salad fixings on hand for them to easily make healthier choices. Hard-boiled eggs, 100% fruit juice, unsalted nuts or seeds, all-natural food bars, fresh fruit, baby carrots, bean dips, natural nut butters or other family favorites should always be available to eat as snacks. With items like that chosen to be eaten first, the "temptation" to much on candy or other foods with no nutrient value goes down drastically. Sometimes I'll want some cookies or another sweet- but if I eat a well-balanced snack of nuts & a little dried fruit, the desire for the cookies goes away. The combo of one's blood sugar dropping plus not having healthy snacks on hand usually drives people to munch on sweets- it's not a lack of willpower! The more active people are, the more protein they'll typically need in their diet. Picking up fast food is usually more about a lack of planning, impatience & exhaustion than a real desire to eat the stuff sold by those establishments. Learn how to freeze vegetables that you can buy in bulk in the produce section when they're on sale, instead of purchasing the pre-packaged stuff- some vegetables require blanching before they can be frozen, while others can just be cut up raw & frozen. I'll readily admit that I've never canned anything from scratch in my whole life & therefore hesitate to recommend it myself, but some people swear by it. If it helps you feel more organized & prepared to have your own canned foods on hand, by all means do so. If you clip coupons, review them one more time as you're making the list for the following week or month out. Always get out your recipes before you go shopping, even if you think you remember every ingredient in it & believe you have it on hand. Double-check, and if something is missing from your house, add it to the grocery list immediately. I like to make a double serving at suppertime, and make the second serving my lunch for tomorrow. Different people use different methods of creating dinner menus, but here is mine (based on rotating the protein of my main dish):

Monday- Vegetarian/Beans/Eggs
Tuesday- Turkey
Wednesday- Fin fish
Thursday- Beef
Friday- Chicken
Saturday- Shellfish
Sunday- Pork

Another tip- put white adhesive labels & a black fine-point Sharpie in one of your kitchen drawers where they'll be easy to find. Every single time that you buy ahead & put something in the freezer, stick that label on the outside packaging, and write down the contents & date when it was put away. If you use certain Freezer bags, there's a place already allotted to writing the date & contents on- use it. Include the weight of the item, too, if it's meat. I had to make Parmesan chicken one time with drumsticks because someone didn't label the package, and they thought it was chicken breasts instead. I was not happy, and neither was the dish itself!

The best reusable grocery bags that I know of come from FlyLady. I know that it may be suspect that I'm always bringing up FlyLady, but I own these bags and they are truly awesome! You get a set of five- what they hold is equivalent to somewhere between ten & fifteen normal plastic grocery bags. So for the average person shopping, one bag set will be enough for their grocery trips. Not only are these bags terrific for grocery shopping each week, but they came in handy when I moved last year. I was able to pack everything from my pantry, refrigerator & freezer into the bags & transport them to my new home more safely. Normally with the heavy pantry items (cans, glass jars full of sauces & condiments, boxed goods, etc.), I would panic that the plastic or paper grocery bags would tear or a handle would break- and then I'd have a gigantic mess on my hands. These are easier on the hands that paper or plastic bags, too- important if you have arthritis, carpel tunnel syndrome or fibromyalgia. The two insulated black bags also came to the rescue in yet another situation that occurred twice this year. When my mother was in the hospital, she absolutely despised the heavily-processed, salty food that they served there. So I was able to bring her healthy food from home & keep it hot or cold (as needed) with the insulated bags. I also used one of the insulated black ones to tote my healthy snacks & lunch to work- I added an ice pack or two to the contents, and I had a great lunch tote that looked very understated. Multi-use items are something an organized minimalist should always appreciate! The best way to make sure that you always have them with you is to put them back in your vehicle right after you unload the groceries you just bought. That way, when it's time for your next trip to the store, you don't have to remember to bring them along- they'll already be in the car. I store mine in a clear Rubbermaid container with no lid in the trunk. Another nice aspect of these bags is that they do not fly all over the car like a plastic grocery bag will, because of their weight & material. The black insulated bags work best for frozen & refrigerated foods, and have zippers. My suggestion is to bring an ice pack with you for each bag if your trip takes longer than thirty minutes to return home from the grocery store. Meat (especially chicken) should still have a separate plastic grocery bag around it to prevent any juices from leaking at all into your reusable bags for safety reasons. Periodically wipe down the interior of your insulated bags with a Lysol wipe or something similar to keep them clean & sanitized, too. Here's the link for the bags:

The following is the very best list that I've ever seen made up already for buying groceries each week, and it's a free download. It's very helpful as a reminder list, too- in other words, all the stuff you forgot because you've run out when you made your personal list, it's likely to be on here. Other organizers have recommended organizing a grocery store master list by aisle in your particular supermarket, but this isn't my favorite way to draw it up. I don't think that you're required to use a list that separates items by where they are in your particular grocery store for a few different reasons. One, not everybody just shops at a single grocery store to get even their weekly shopping done (I know that I don't). Two, grocery stores add new items all of the time. Three, grocery stores move items all of the time. So if you make up a super-duper list based on one grocery store's layout, you'll be stuck making out a whole new list every time they rearrange stuff. Most of us who shop often enough retain the memory of approximately what aisle a particular item is in after a couple of trips to the store, anyway. However, do whatever is easiest for you. My favorite list's link is below (you just have to agree to the terms of use; it's completely free & there's no personal info you have to give, so it's safe):

Next is my second choice, but also a decent printable list that you might actually prefer. It's up to you how detailed you like your lists. There is also a vegetarian version of my second-favorite grocery store list available on the same page:

I highly recommend that you leave a master grocery list, down to the brands & actual names of products you use (assuming your as picky as me with groceries brought into your house), should someone unfamiliar with your household have to do the shopping for you. Aunts, uncles, nieces, etc. If you only like Green Giant kitchen-cut green beans & will throw a fit if they purchase the French-style one...well, then I suggest you follow my advice. It's worth taking the time now to write your personal master list if you think you might ever be laid up & need help from someone else. Not everybody understands when you say, "Get coffee at the store", that you mean purchase medium-roast Folgers K-cups which are in Aisle 3, not the can of Maxwell House coffee over in in Aisle 6. Now you understand my point & I can move on. :)

I wear an apron with pockets virtually every day as I go around the house (I am a Southern woman, after all :D). I carry a pad of Post-it notes & a pen with me in the apron all day long, too. As I use up items in the household- bathroom necessities, cleaning products, food, spices, drinks, etc.- I make a note of it on my Post-it pad. Then, at the end of the evening, any notes that I wrote during the day as reminders, I transfer to the appropriate place- my calendar, grocery-shopping list, wish list, etc. You can carry 3x5" note cards or a memo pad in your shirt pocket instead, following the same principle. Some people like to list things like this in their cell phone notepad, or have a phone that allows them to immediately delegate this info to their e-calendar. This works fine, so long as your phone doesn't die or you will need someone besides yourself to shop in an emergency (especially if they have no clue how to pull notes off of your cell phone). Do whatever appeals to you & use whatever technology that you feel comfortable with. If you're like me, things must get written down as I go along because my brain works a mile a minute, I'm easily distracted and what I need to replenish will go right out of my head as soon as I leave the room where the item is needed!

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,