Stop Wasting Food: The Organized Kitchen and Meal Planning Breakthrough (For Us)

We seem to spend a shocking amount on food every month, and yet there are nights when I find myself at a loss for what to have for dinner, what to cook, why everything in the fridge has gone bad, what the heck is all that stuff in the deep freeze, and let’s just have cereal.

In this year of reorganizing my life, 2015 has to be The Year We Quit Wasting Food.  It’s like cable TV – a million channels and nothing to watch, or a houseful of food and no ideas on what to eat.  I tend to shop for food the way I shop for clothes…randomly choosing items that I think look good, that are not purchased with an eye toward what to pair them with, and the result is a lot of individual items and no combinations.

Last week, I started by cleaning out and reorganizing my refrigerator.  I had the help of some really terrific bins I bought online from The Container Store (you can find them here and they’re priced right).  I confess, I originally thought I would use them for hanging file storage, but they’re a tad too wide so I put them to better use. I took everything out of the fridge and tossed a few condiments that were old and or nasty.  The lesser used condiments went into a bin on the bottom shelf of the fridge (salsa verde, tartar sauce, sriracha, etc.).  The next bin was for cheese: mozzarella for pizza, shredded cheddar, chunk cheese and laughing cow brand for lunches.  The next bin is holding all our lunch/sandwich supplies:  ham and smoked turkey, Swiss cheese, American cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches, and a jar of dill pickle chips. The other bin on the bottom shelf holds a few bottles of beer, a big bottle of Starbucks caramel macchiato, and a bottle of grapefruit juice.  Stuff we don’t drink all the time, but keeping it contained means it doesn’t end up in the back of the fridge getting forgotten.

In the middle of the fridge is a stack of containers of leftovers – I switched a while back to clear glass containers to see what’s in them better.  Next to that is a space for my daughter’s school lunch box.  Then another bin!  This holds small cans of V8 for lunches, little cartons of orange juice, and a couple of cartons of coconut water (which I do not care for but am hoping someone comes over and wants to take them off my hands as they were $1 each). Then there’s hubby’s milk (he and my daughter drink 2% milk) and then my lactose free milk, which is so inexpensive at Aldi!

Top shelf, a couple of cans of soda for hubby, and behind it, a basket containing a carton of cottage cheese and a large carton of Greek yogurt, which we use for yogurt and as a substitute for sour cream in recipes.  Then 2 dozen eggs (we eat a lot of eggs), then a carton of grapes, and a container of high protein energy bites (recipe here – don’t freak out over the ingredients: I’m here to tell you they are awesome!). Behind it is some tonic water for adult beverages.

In the fridge door are pickles, a carafe of cold water, orange juice, club soda, salad dressing, ketchup, mustard, butter, etc., etc., etc.  

The big things I did, though, after this?  I inventoried my freezer, deep freeze and pantry. THAT. WAS. A. PAIN.  Also? A revelation.  I froze a lot of leftover soups over the past six months, which will be a good thing in the weeks to come. I threw away only a few things and I didn’t take a picture of the freezer because it was that boring.  But here is a picture of the inventory.  (By the way, visit this blog for some kick-ass printables, which I used in making my lists).

First, the freezer list:

There are little boxes to put a slash through, and when you use up the item, make it an “x” to indicate it’s all gone.  I found a lot of things the husband had bought and thrown in there, so now we have a list.

Then, the pantry lists – man, that was a weird inventory.

Cans of fire roasted tomatoes with jalapenos, dried mushrooms, lentils, dry beans, lots of pasta, a lot of things I bought when hungry.

I went through the lists of what I had, including frozen leftover soups, frozen meat, canned items, fresh items…and came up with a list of 22 separate meals I could make just with what I have on hand (buying occasional fruit and veggies as sides), with a few repeats for a total of 32 meals.

Last night, I sat down and had my husband look at the list and pick out a few meals he liked for the next two weeks.  I wrote out which ones, taking into account our schedules and whether I would be home in time to make dinner or if he would have to, what would need to go into the crock pot, what meals would create extras for later that same week and so on.  Then I assigned meals to days, and went the extra step (which I’ve found I need based on past experience of spacing off taking things out of the freezer!) of putting small post-it notes on each week’s meal plan to remind me of which day I need to visit the freezer to take out food to thaw. (I LOVE the magnetic pad for these meal plans – it sticks on the fridge and I enjoy using the tear-off pages)

Week one, above, includes one evening of “BFS” or “Breakfast for Supper.”

My grocery list for each week is very short, since there is so much already in the freezer: just milk, eggs, some produce and maybe some hamburger buns unless I get really ambitious and make them from scratch when I make homemade bread. Which probably won’t happen.  So I had better buy buns.

Now listen to me: I know YOU ARE BUSY.  But if you could see the hours I’ve put in over the past several weeks/months, you would know I’m pretty dang busy myself.  I’ve sold 15 houses in 14 weeks, and that’s including two weeks out of commission (pun intended) to recover from surgery. I show houses or meet clients four evenings a week right now, and often spend all day each weekend at work.  To do this planning, all of the effort work was maybe four total hours over the past week, plus maybe an hour printing off the stuff to make lists.  But it will save me many hours and many dollars to use up what we have already.  I’ve even put links in here for the printables, the meal planner pad, the containers….it’s not hard.

Now that I have some health issues to monitor, I have to be vigilant about not skipping meals, taking my supplements with food, keeping my metabolism going.  But getting organized is not just about myself.  I find my stress level drops markedly, which is good for my whole family.  Having a meal planned out in advance means one less thing to worry about on a busy day, and it’s good for our budget and our health to avoid a desperation fast food or restaurant meal.

Wouldn’t we all benefit from more home cooked meals with family, if it’s possible?  We still plan on restaurant night once or twice a month as a treat…and this will help us to budget for it better.

What’s your meal planning system, if you have one?

The Paper Purge: How to Get Your Life Back

For my entire life, I have had a sentimental streak that has caused me to hang onto items, pictures, gifts, cards and old letters for years. The other problem I have struggled with for years has been the overwhelming desire to be organized with no real method for accomplishing it.  Combine that with my inability to throw things away, and there’s a recipe for disaster.

What do I keep? What do I throw away?  What if I need it later? What if some governmental agency decides I need to have kept that one piece of paper and I didn’t and now I can’t function as a respectable member of society? (That’s the thought late at night after too much caffeine). 

When my dad died, my brothers and sisters and I spent months of on again off again sorting, traveling to my hometown for a weekend to sort through paperwork and try to make sense of the tons of documents and receipts and slips of paper, folders, notebooks and other things piled in boxes throughout the house.  It was A NIGHTMARE.  

Plus? That nightmare is a bit of a legacy with many in my family.  From photos to utility bills, many of us file things by stacking them, and then shifting the stacks into boxes, then sliding the boxes against a wall in a bedroom or home office, and then occasionally sorting through on a rainy day, stuck looking through old letters and photographs instead of doing our taxes.  


Now, please be assured I am not here to say I have discovered the answer.  I know it runs deeper than that, and that any system works if you work your system – disorganization isn’t the fault of a poor filing cabinet, but more the fault of the one who owns it and hasn’t enough discipline to use it properly. 

What I will tell you is that I have discovered something liberating for myself and if you aren’t aware of this and I can help you, then my day’s work is done.  That something is this:  YOU CAN THROW A LOT OF THOSE OLD DOCUMENTS IN THE SHREDDER.  I think 90% of the paper that comes into your house can be discarded – if not immediately, then after that year’s taxes have been filed.  

Today, I spent hours going through boxes and bins and totes and folders, sorting papers and casting reams of paperwork into a box to take to my office and put in the large industrial shredder bin we have there.  Utility bills prior to 2014, old insurance bills, old medical bills, old receipts, old bank statements…hour by hour, I could feel the burden of maintining this most boring informational archive lifting from me.  The sheer volume of paperwork is exhausting.  

For a complete guide to what to keep and where to keep it, including what to have in an emergency file to grab in case of a fire or other household disaster, I consulted this website:

After organizing as much as possible, I set up a mail sorting station in the kitchen, which is where most of our paperwork starts its assault on our home.  

I got a 3-tiered plexiglass file sorter from The Container Store (online) and started active files to sort papers into.  They included the following:

  • Vehicle Paperwork
  • Tax Related Documents
  • Documents from my husband’s painting business
  • My health documents (lots of doctor bills, blood test results, treatment updates, etc coming to the mailbox all the time)
  • Our daughter’s school and activity stuff
  • Coupons, lists, recipes and meal planning
  • Letters/Cards/Pictures/Sentimental Things
  • Things to Review/Sign/Approve
  • Bills to Pay
  • Completed Items/ To Be Filed
  • Receipts to Itemize and File

Everything that comes into the house is now opened immediately and sorted.  Once a week (or more often if possible), I pick up the file sorter and take it down the hall to my office and sort things out.  We don’t have a file cabinet yet (I know.  I know) so I set up files in a big tote on the desk for now.  Bills are paid as we have funds, and the bill stubs are marked with the date and amount and check number, or online confirmation number.  Everything is sorted and filed away for the week.  Then the sorter goes back into the kitchen.  If the week is busy, I will at least take the receipt file and the bill file and take care of those, as they create the most havoc when neglected.  

Some people have binders for certain info, and I love that idea, but for now, I can just see it as one more project I’ll half-ass my way into starting and never finishing.  If I had a nice shelving unit near my desk, I could almost see it, especially for my health stuff and records of cancer treatment. For the time being, though?  Just clearing the counters and desk and bookcases and file boxes of all this paper is a life-changing thing.

If you’re anything like me, disorganization causes stress and stress leads to anxiety, and then you are paralyzed by stress and anxiety and can’t take action to fix the disorganization problem leading to the stress and anxiety, which is a vicious and escalating cycle.  The old adage is true: “How do you eat an elephant? ONE BITE AT A TIME.”  [Please note, I am not advocating the consumption of elephants.  This is just a saying.]  You can do anything if you break it down into small steps and make a little time on a regular basis to do them.  

There’s just not much for me that is a better feeling than a clean and organized desk and kitchen – and not just things stuffed into a box in another room, but the knowledge that things are really and truly organized.  What’s your system? What works for you and your family? 

No Big Deal

I might be crazy but I’m back here writing again.  It’s because tax time is coming up and I’ve reclaimed my home office which, for much of the summer, was a convalescent home for our new kittens and then, a convalescent home for dust and stacked furniture and boxes and crap we hid when company came over.

2014 was a rough year, and the first three months of 2015 have not been organized or tidy.  Rather than clean and organize my office  in one fell swoop, I follow the tried and true path of doing a little work and then sitting down to browse the web on my laptop, looking for organizational inspiration on Pinterest and then later find myself on Instagram following a user who posts photos of the inside of other peoples’ refrigerators.

Anyway, I renewed my blog domain name again so I feel that I must write something here. Hopefully over the coming weeks I will be able to update all ten of you who might still check in, about the things happening here at my place.  For example: super busy, then trouble swallowing, then a total removal of my thyroid gland and a diagnosis of thyroid cancer.  WHAT? Yes, but it’s been a smooth recovery for the most part with minimal treatment required so far, so let’s not make it a bigger deal than it needs to be.

For now, let’s focus on getting my office purged of unnecessary papers and getting the rest of our stuff organized.

The Comfort of Knowledge

Rabbit is out of town with her Girl Scout troop, attending an Apple Festival in a town 50 miles away, sleeping in bunk beds in the lodge, picking apples, getting muddy and hopefully having a good time.

PC and I took the opportunity of an evening without her to go out to eat at a restaurant where chicken fingers do NOT appear on the menu anywhere. We had been to this restaurant a few years ago on our 23rd or 24th anniversary and liked the atmosphere and the food.

Tonight he had a ribeye steak and a glass of pinot noir. I had seared scallops, risotto, green beans…with a garnish of bacon and onion jam (which was delicious but very rich). We had coffee and dessert afterward and drifted home stuffed and happy.

Walking in the door of the house, PC exclaimed “Have you seen my phone?” I dryly thought “Not since you took it out at the restaurant to look up the Oscar Pistorius verdict and I told you to put it away.” I thought it but did not say it.

He had apparently set it on top of his coat, folded in the chair next to him, and it had slid off his coat onto the floor when we got up to leave. The waitress had found it and was holding it at the front of the restaurant, hoping someone would come for it. He sped off in his truck to go across town for his phone before I had even put my purse down. He is lost without his phone.

My husband loves having a smartphone: he can look things up on the Internet no matter where he is and, as someone to whom being right is supremely important, this is an invaluable tool.

Here is a brief list of things my husband has researched (or should have researched years ago, based on the number of times the topics have come up over the last 27 years) on his iPhone while we have been eating or watching movies or traveling for hours on long car trips:
1. How many ounces in a magnum of champagne?
2. The name of that guy starring opposite James Gandolfini in that new movie.
3. When did Peter Falk die?
4. Who narrates that car commercial?
5. What time does the Nebraska vs Fresno State game start?
6. Which states do not observe daylight saving time?
7. How many ounces in a shot glass?
8. Does the treasury still print $2 bills?
9. Is a clementine the same thing as a mandarin orange?
10. What is the highest auction price for a Winchester rifle?
11. What year was Mark Twain born?
12. Which philosopher observed that intelligence is invisible to the man who has none? (Schopenhauer?)
13. What year was Vatican II?

The nice thing for PC is that his little portable argument solver/encyclopedia/ready reference guide is also a versatile device that can be used occasionally for phone calls, or for texting his wife. For example, while he was watching the News Hour on PBS in the garage the other night, he texted me to ask “Hey, did you know that Prince William and his wife are expecting another baby?”

To which I texted back “Of course. I follow that sh*t like Fantasy Football.”

Hair Today, Gone in June

Oh by the way.
I got all my hair cut off.

It started out in June (I think) that I went to Annette and said I was ready for a change. She cut off several inches and although I wanted it cut to be above my ears, she felt a gradual approach would be best. Over the next couple of months, we gradually went shorter. By August, I had it the way I wanted, which was an asymmetrical “pixie” modification, with highlights.

I love it. The long hair, while flattering, was a pain to maintain and most days it ended up in a ponytail or a clipped up twist. This is not to say I won’t eventually grow it out again, because I might. For now, though, especially in the summer, it is nice to have short hair.

PC is not really a fan – he told me he prefers my hair longer. Oh. WELL.


King of Glory, Chocolate Cake

A deeply held and seldom drawn well of Catholicism overflowed from me yesterday as I vainly struggled to keep my grip on a six foot tall bookcase I was trying to ease down the carpeted basement stairs without assistance. As it slid down a step and my arm became caught behind it, I felt that I should call upon a higher power for assistance. I involuntarily shouted “The King of Glory Comes The Nation Rejoices,” a line from a song I have not sung or heard in over 30 years. [For those of you who remember, isn’t the next line “Open the gates before him lift up your voices”?]

I believe God heard me and spared my life, but not the bookcase. It sickeningly dragged itself across my arm, pinned to the stairway wall, and smartly pinched the friendly portion of matronly fat beneath my bicep until I reversed myself and called upon the king of Glory to damn that bookcase straight to hell.

It raced to the bottom of the stairs and wedged itself into the wall, and couldn’t be moved until PC came home to help me and stood there, staring, shaking his head. Consequently, I came away from this most religious experience with a newfound knowledge: God will help you, but you really should have a spotter.

In other news, the kitchen is painted!



My husband, the professional painter, took on a mammoth task of prepping my filthy cabinets and spraying them a creamy white, and prepping my beat up kitchen walls and painting them Mindful Grey. We pulled all the tape and paper last night and last night we had a sit-down meal at our kitchen table as a family for the first time in almost two weeks.

I am so grateful for this kitchen renovation; grateful that PC did such a nice job, grateful to still be married….the intensity of the frustration and irritation are not to be underestimated – we were murderously angry at many points in this little project.

And now, I am sitting at my kitchen table, my favorite spot in the house. A fresh chocolate cake (minus one piece – taking one for the team) is on the counter. The dishwasher is humming away and there’s a cinnamon apple candle burning nearby. I’m making a grocery list for tomorrow’s joyride to Trader Joe’s. Hopefully tomorrow the cats will all be released from their various prisons (all convalescing from various veterinary indignities and emergencies) and we can be snuggling on the sofa together or watching them wrestle in the kitchen.

I have said it so many times; find joy in the small things, find pockets of holiness in the joy of your life. You don’t need to shout lyrics from old Catholic songs – you just have to know you are not God, and that you can’t control the world. You can only experience it and choose to either love it or not.

Mic Check


Testing 1..2..3..

I thought about starting up a new blog and even had a name picked out for it and everything, but when I went to write something, there was no voice there.  I didn’t feel like explaining to someone who might stumble upon it why there was so much about hair or cats or real estate or Alzheimer’s disease – explaining who I am is just so damn much work.

And I have missed this thing.  I have missed having someone to talk to, even if it is only myself.

If it’s okay, I’d like to catch you up on what’s been happening, which is EVERYTHING.

Rabbit is going to be twelve years old soon!  She has braces and started middle school this month, and will be starting on prescription acne medication next month.  She also, this week, announced she has come down with another case of motherthumping HEAD LICE.

Which is fun because we are also tits-deep in a home renovation project involving our kitchen, so everything from that room is stacked in the living room and hallway.  So. Much. Stuff.  I am already a wreck with that because the fridge is masked off with painter’s plastic and I can’t eat my feelings like I am accustomed to.  We are living on fast food and pop tarts, the household cleaners are packed in a box in a far corner, and Hazel (our old cat) is so worked up about the disruptions, she has stopped using her litter box, preferring instead to leave gifts on beds, rugs or in the middle of the basement floor.

Part of it, I’m sure, stems from her disgust with new members of our family.  Rabbit’s cat, Flower (whom she got from Santa in 2007) died in May, after swiftly deteriorating mental and physical health required us to have him put to sleep.  Hazel always hated good old Flower and was ecstatic for the few weeks she was again a solo cat up until Memorial Day weekend, when we drove to a farmhouse near town and chose two very very small kittens to be companions for each other and our daughter (and us).  They were only five weeks old and when we set them down in the house, we were all goners.

So we have Buttercup (a boy) and Ivy (a girl).  This is not supposed to be a blog about cats, but you guys.  They are so ridiculously cute.

Hazel despises them.  And she kind of despises us now, too.  And now we have three cats.

The kittens were neutered/spayed and declawed last week.  Ivy tore open her abdominal sutures Saturday, mere minutes after the vet’s regular closing time.  We took her to the emergency vet, who must drive a Rolls Royce, based on projected revenues from veterinary procedures they perform at double the regular rate because they are open after hours.  The kittens are confined to my office for two weeks, wearing little blue fabric cones around their heads to keep them from getting at their surgical sutures.  They look like little blossoms of muchkinland flowers from The Wizard of Oz.

So, to recap: my kitchen is torn up, the house is more of a shambles than ever, my home office is now a convalescent ward for kittens and has litter boxes in it, I am banned from my kitchen and fridge, my 12 year old cat is shitting all over the house, my daughter is in middle school and just announced that on top of everything else, we get to comb lice and eggs from her hair and do endless loads of laundry.

On the bright side, I have a beautiful new washer and dryer that steams the clothes.  I have a husband who is a professional painter, who set aside a week of his business to paint my kitchen cabinets, trim and walls, and brought in a laborer to help him.  For PCs services, we don’t have to write a check – just keep the coffee flowing and make sure he gets a good night’s sleep after a bourbon and Coke in the evening.  My daughter is a huge help with the kittens and is enjoying middle school so far.  Our back yard was recently cleared of brush and old debris and a broken swing set, and Rabbit decorated Flower’s grave beautifully to blend in with the landscaping.  We will soon be getting a new patio where the old deck had to be torn off.

Home life is absolutely nuts, but our families are doing fairly well.  My mother in law is getting remarried next month, God bless her!  My mom is getting moved about six hours closer to me to an assisted living facility near her hometown and two of her sisters – it will only take me two hours to drive to her now.  PC’s painting business is steady.  My real estate business is steady and improving, although it’ll be a chore to match last year, which was freakishly productive.  My brother continues to do well after years of struggle – he’s been in an apartment for two years and works a full time job with support from his case worker.  He has not been homeless in three years.