Monday, February 25, 2013

Clutterbusting the Travel Toiletries

A few days ago I busted the clutter in my home's front hall closet. It was so simple and easy to doI was energized to tackle another  mess. This time, I attacked a small unit of stackable drawers stuffed with my travel-sized toiletries and plastic containers.

The two drawers looked like this when I started:

 Euww. And ugh.

But going by the same rules as last time, first I took every single thing out. Here's Mu Shu, supervising the bag full of stuff:

I set aside a place to put trash:

Then I cleared off a big working surface (in my case, the kitchen table) and made small piles, putting like objects together.

Wipes are great to have for travel, but nobody needs quite this many on hand. I moved all but one (the "Nice n Clean" package of 20 wipes) to another place in the house, where they'll get seen and used faster:

When you travel--especially when you hike cross-country as I do--you MUST have a small supply of tissues and/or almost-empty toilet paper rolls. These go back in the drawer:

It's good to have a selection of empty little pots and bottles for decanting makeup and skin products. But I had too many, so I recycled a few of the crummier ones to the plastics bin and kept the best:

Sometimes when you buy a nicer purse or shoes, a cloth storage bag is part of the purchase. I use these bags  in my luggage to keep leather shoes from getting scratched. I have four--that's not too many--so they all get to stay:

Hand sanitizer is great. Six bottles of it is silly. I saved the Keck USC one (because it's so cute, and I'm a proud mama of a medical student there). And I saved one of the small Purells. The rest got the sendoff:

A traveller needs various creams for soothing chapped and bug-bitten skin. These itty bitty pots are all an ounce or two each, so they stay:

Oops. Duplicate lint rollers and nail files. Give one away and keep one.

Ah, dear; more duplications. A shower cap in a petite little box, and one out flopping around like a dead jellyfish. I kept the boxed one and recyled the plastic in the floppy one.

This is one of my best travel ideas: a small nail brush and a petite bar of soap in a travel case. Many times I've hiked into a tiny village for lunch, only to discover the rustic "washroom" has running water, but no soap, no paper towels, and nothing to scrub the dirt out from under my nails. These babies may not be pretty, but they've made it easier for me to get my hands clean before a meal:

A small container of biodegradeable liquid soap is great for travel. You can use it to wash out clothes in the sink, but it also works to wash your hands, body, or even your hair (in a pinch). I suppose I ought to get rid of one of these. But the Camp Suds makes me happy because it reminds me of backpacking in the Sierra with my dad. And Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap makes me laugh because of its oddball packaging. So they both get a pass:

Why do I keep picking up those hand creams in hotels? They are never heavy-duty enough for my dry skin. I kept the small tube of Eucerin, which is fantastic and has no fragrance (The Hubby appreciates that; fragrances make him cough). I gave the rest to a friend:

A segmented caddy for daily meds and vitamins is good. So is something to get out spots when you are away from your laundry room:

Once I tossed/recycled/relocated about a third of the crud, I had two nicely pared-down drawers:

Here's the toiletries drawer, after the clutterbusting:

And here's the equally streamlined drawer of travel containers and bags:

Hey! How did a second mini lint roller sneak back in the drawer??

Oh, well. In a house with three pugs, it's probably a good idea to have two lint rollers when traveling.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Brownie Fail, Scone Success

Yesterday I tried a new recipe that seemed pure genius. Instead, it was a disappointment. The recipe is from a recent "Oprah" magazine, and it calls for an entire jar of Nutella--the chocolate/hazelnut spread. You know it, right? (Please tell me you know it, and if you don't, run right out and get some NOW. It is di-vine.)

So, anyway, you blend together Nutella, a couple of eggs, some flour and salt, and bake it up. Ta-daa! Chocolate-Hazelnut Brownies, from stuff you probably have on your shelves.


Except, it isn't. The fault isn't that there's no leavening (baking soda or baking powder, usually), which makes baked goods rise. There is room on this planet for dense, flat brownies. They can still be yummy, even though they may bake up to less than an inch high, like this:

The brownies smelled wonderful, coming out of the oven. They looked good, cooling on the rack:

They cut up nicely, and I was all primed for sharing them with a friend for tea.

But they tasted bleah. They weren't bad, exactly, but neither were they really good. And for the number of calories packed into one brownie, they'd better be exceptional.

Which they weren't.


On the other hand, I continue to fall in love over and over again with my Easy Drop Scones recipe. Lately I've added nuts to it, and the result is fantastic.

This gorgeous batch is made with roughly equal parts of chopped dried cherries, chopped pecans, and white chocolate chips.


The batch before last, I used macadamia nuts instead of pecans. Omigosh. Swoon-worthy.

And--unlike the brownies--worth every calorie.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The 10% Solution

Spring cleaning season is coming soon. I have devised a "clear-the-clutter" system that works for me:

1. Identify one small thing that needs cleaning out, like a junk drawer or the hall closet.
2. Pull everything out and separate it into piles of like stuff (rubber bands all together, scarves with scarves, etc.).
3. Figure out what 10% of that stuff is (if you have 40 pairs of shoes, that's 4 pairs).
4. Donate the least used 10%.
5. Dust or wipe down the emptied drawer/closet/shelf, and put the remaining 90% back...neatly!

The "10% Solution" works for me because it's a serious percentage of the whole, but not so drastic that you'll be running out to the "giveaway" bags in your garage in the middle of the night, full of Organizer's Remorse.

Here's how I applied the 10% Solution to my front hall closet. It was a jumble of people coats and dog coats, umbrellas, scarves, and gloves:

Uhh, nice hanging-organizer thingie, Juli. But that's a not-so-nice mess dripping out of it:

A jumble of stuff on a dirty floor. Ugh:

I took everything out of the hanging-pockets organizer and tossed it all into a big basket:

Then I put like with like. With the gloves all together, I knew instantly I had to get rid of the lavender fingerless gloves, second from right. Even though I love the color and I knitted them myself, they are too small for me and I never wear them. Off they go:

Medium-sized scarves together. There's one in the pile I'm fond of, but only because I knit it from leftover yarn I used to knit a blanket for Lovely Daughter #1. I never wear the scarf (top one, in photo below):

Two shortie scarves, below. I love and wear them both, so they stay. (If the number of items in a category is small, I think it's okay not getting rid of any. Just aim for the overall amount to equal 10%.):

These are my scarves so big they are almost shawls. The burgundy plaid one belongs to The Hubby, so it stays until I can ask him about it. The grey silk one is lovely, but I wear so much grey that it doesn't give me that necessary "pop" of color. I'll offer it to Lovely Daughters #1 and #2. If they don't want it, then I'll donate it.

Speaking of mess, it is NOT redundant for me to have two lint rollers and a lint brush all in one closet. Not with three pugs in the house! So they all stay.

This is the pugs' life vest, necessary for playing in the pool, and my ugly-but-sensible, light-reflective jacket for walking the dogs at dusk. Both things are essential safety items. But I only use the life jacket a few times a year. So I'll relocate it to another closet that has more space:

Everyday terrycloth fingertip towels are a must, as the front hall closet is right next to the powder room:

I keep my vintage fingertip towels, and my paper versions, in this bin with a see-through window on a high shelf. They get put out in the powder room when company is expected:

Ack. This basket filled with dog coats and umbrellas needs a little look-through:

Ah-hah! A sheath to an umbrella I don't own any more (buh-bye!) and a holder thingie for my dogs' rain jacket. I never use it, so off it goes:

Everything back in place, and it's looking a bit better:

Here's the 10% that got the axe. Even though this is a really nice London Fog raincoat, I never wear it. I have another I always choose. Somebody shopping at the thrift store will probably be delighted with it:

A dog lifejacket to re-house elsewhere, and a few things to offer to family/friends, then off to Goodwill this 10% goes.

Hmm. I wonder what I'll choose to streamline next?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My Fave New Book

 I am so excited about this book, which hit the shelves yesterday:

It's a fantastic memoir by Alison Singh Gee, formerly of Asiaweek and People magazine. Singh Gee chronicles her life in Hong Kong, working by day as a journalist in Jimmy Choo heels, and enjoying nightly cocktail parties with the Smart Set. Her world turns upside down when she falls for a handsome man of very modest means. She gives up her lavish lifestyle for love, pinching pennies and cooking tofu dinners, while enduring the scorn and pity of her former "friends in fabulousness."

Then she learns her beloved grew up in India in his family's 100-room palace.

And it's all true! It's my writing teacher's first book. All of her students and fans are so excited for her. I borrowed an early, author's-proof copy to read, but I couldn't underline my favorite passages, and the proof didn't have the color photographs in it. Now I have my own copy to keep, complete with photos!

I love this picture of her on the roof of her husband's gently shabby palace:

Alison is the best teacher I could hope for. She's intelligent, sensitive, funny, and very supportive of all us fledgling writers:

And for the first time ever, I'm (kinda sorta) mentioned in an Author's Acknowledgements--I'm one of  the "Eastside Writers" group mentioned in paragraph #3.

Do yourself a favor and buy a copy today! You'll be transported on a magic carpet ride to exotic lands, and you'll experience a satisfying tale of love and the importance of finding your heart's true home.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mu Shu!

Today, our second pug, Mu Shu, is exactly seven years old. He was so young when we adopted him, he hadn't yet grown that famous pug scruff around his neck:

Mu Shu has always been our dog. And the deep wrinkles on his forehead make him extra pathetic-looking, especially when we are doing silly things to him, like dressing him in hats:

We love him when he's being silly, whether he knows it or not:

We love that he has put up with his annoying younger brother, Pao, since the first day we brought the puppy home:

We love that he looks so worried all the time, but really, he is a very happy dog:

We love that his little pink tongue sticks out a bit all the time now:

We love you today, Mu Shu, and every day. Happy birthday, baby!


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