Blogger 201: Day 3/5

Nope, that’s not three-fifths of a day – I am combining my B201 assignments from day 3 and 5 into one project today.  I think it’s fair, and I have SO MUCH awesome content I want to share with you guys right now (pregnancy fitness tips, a “day in the life” of a trainer, healthy baking hacks) that I want to make sure I get it all done.

That said, the assignments are as follows:

B201 – Day 3 – Create a Custom Widget

Ok, admittedly this is the hardest one for me so far – I am not great with image editing software nor do I technically need custom widgets right this second, so I dragged my feet a bit on completing this.  That said, once I got into it – it’s fun!  And inspiring!  And will (one day) be the way I do all the menus for my page.  But for now, it’s just this:

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 9.44.40 AM

Yep, one little footer widget – all the way at the bottom of my blog, and linked to my “California Living” Pinterest page.  Nothing groundbreaking.  But I made it!  I sourced the image, customized the text and layout, and activated the little thing.  And I am proud.

So, moving on:

B201 – Day 5 – Drive Traffic to Your Archives

I have some amazing archives, dammit – or at least I have a good amount of posts (workout ideas, reviews, tip lists) that will stand the test of time – and should be easily discovered by new visitors to my site, even months after I post.  Today’s assignment is thus:

Integrate features to draw traffic to your older content, including widgets, related posts, and a “Best of” page.

I already do a decent job of linking back to my own posts, but I definitely don’t have any formalized way of suggesting content other than my own in-text links.  That said, I added a “related posts” section to my entries (although I can’t see it posting on the blog yet, hmmm) and I am trying to create my “Best of” page (but again, I can’t see it posting yet).

All in all, today’s assignment is a bit of a fail – but I will not give up!  More updates once I can figure out these newfangled “additives.”

Do you blog?  What widget/feature/extra are you most proud of on your page?

More Lessons From the Organizing Pro

Guys, remember when I had a professional organizer come to my house last week?  Well, turns out I’m becoming a regular customer.  Having Teresa in my house is like working through a zen meditation with a mindfulness master; when she leaves you feel calmer, more in control, and somehow like a better person than before.

That said, our project yesterday was a toughie (not the toughest to come – but perhaps toughest so far).  We worked on my bedroom shelving unit and living room bookcase.  Simple-sounding, perhaps, but you should know this: my (dear, lovely) fiance is a bit of a packrat, and moreover, has a hard time letting go of things (even objectively stupid things, like a cigarette-shaped figurine smoking an even tinier cigarette.  Nope, not kidding.).

Add to that the fact that those stupid IKEA Expedit shelving units are a hoarder’s dream, with nooks and crannies aplenty just taunting you, begging you to cram your crap deep in its dark, shadowy shelves, never to be seen or dealt with again.  Until yesterday.

photo 2We started with a 4×4 (16 “squares”) shelving unit, which seems like a lot of room until you realize it was spilling over onto our fireplace, in front of the unit, and even squished in the little side-panel area between the shelf and patio doors.

No bueno.  

There were mismatched cardboard boxes, some plastic tubs (with and without fitting lids), a useless “file box,” and all sorts of muddled attempts at organizing the square behemoth (pencil cups, Tupperware, file folders in piles) that had, ultimately, failed.  Teresa took one look at it and said this:

We gotta take it all out.

And she was right.  Because the first step in organizing a unit like this, where there are sensitive documents among sentimental collectibles amid actual trash, is to see exactly what you’ve got and create functional piles.  So we did.  We went cube by cube, throwing away trash as necessary and organizing into distinct piles: office, party & wrapping, documents, cards & stationery, tools/hardware, and gifts.

photo 3 (1)Once the piles were made (and the trash ousted), we moved anything that didn’t fit in a separate area (for example, large pieces of framed artwork that weren’t yet hanging on a wall, stacks of misplaced books, very old tax and important documents) into the living room as the go-elsewhere pile – knowing full well that we had to put those things into their proper “elsewheres” before the project was over.  Don’t be afraid to create a temporary messy pile. These things still had a nice, organized home in the end – it just wasn’t my cube shelf.

Finally, we organized the piles into workable little “stations” using cube-sized sturdy baskets, and placed the stations back into the cube where they could be easily accessed, but not visible.  Now I know when I need to wrap a gift, I have wrap, tape, ribbons, and cards all within easy reach – one little basket – yet I don’t have to see those items spilling out over my 4

Finally, we addressed the go-elsewhere pile, reorganized the living room bookcase (a crazy mess in itself – we got rid of 4 boxes of books plus have some room left over for new acquisitions) and made a plan for next time – this way, I can prep my Container Store and runs to maximize the time we need for our next big project (da-da-daaaa): THE CLOSETS.  God help me.

For now?  A quick peek into the next stage of our organizing project and an overview of my “shopping list” for max household efficiency:

  • those amazing little velvet hangers, so everything in your closet looks uniform, and thin straps and silky shirts actually stay put on hangers
  • clear sheet protectors for the recipe cards I am already accumulating from our recent foray into Blue Apron (full post coming soon!)
  • one of those nifty greeting card storage boxes with the individual categories
  • a storage ottoman so when we unmake the bed, we aren’t creating a veritable moat of pillows and throws around the bed
  • a new minimalist desk so I don’t have to work from the freaking kitchen table; and
  • shelf separators so my piles of workout pants and tops don’t collapse all over each other

What is on your shopping list for your well-organized home?  What tips do you use to stay tidy around the house?

My Top 8 Lessons Learned in a Year of Wedding Planning

769_10101891931905125_953911257_nExactly a year ago today, my fiance Nick proposed.  I was overjoyed!  We flew off to India, celebrated the heck out of our engagement, and came home full of love.

And then wedding planning was in full swing.

I have always been a planner, and my inherent planning gene is in high gear when it comes to my own wedding.  I came prepared with a general idea of what I wanted (outdoors, bright colors, lots of details) but when it came time to actually put it all down on paper, commit to it, and budget for it – well, that’s a whole different story.

Nick is a fantastic partner.  He lets me have what I want to a certain point, and offers input only when valuable and necessary.  That said, wedding planning is a huge task, and although I’ve planned smaller parties and events, this is definitely the “big one” when it comes to my own planning experience – so I thought I’d share some of my own planning tips from my first year:

1) Read contracts closely, and prepare to fight for what you deserve.  I am currently working with a contracted vendor that wants to change the terms of our contract; after consulting several attorneys it is clear they are in the wrong.  That said, it’s easier said than done trying to get a vendor to understand their contracted responsibility while also trying to maintain any sort of friendly/positive working relationship.  Be ready to strike a balance between what you want and what you absolutely cannot live without – and be firm on the latter.

2) Stick to your budget, even in the face of amazingness.  I have a budget that is tighter than a pair of Richard Simmons’ Spandex pants.  But because I refuse to budge on it, I am much more creative with what I need to accomplish, and I’ve even “talked down” some vendors to meet my bottom line (like the floral designer who cut his estimate in half after I offered to pick up the bouquets!).  There are a lot of trendy ideas out there that seem like “necessities” – but you don’t need them to have a great wedding (for me, these things are wedding favors, a dessert table, and a champagne toast – all eliminated, no regret).  Your budget is your religion – don’t let anyone else’s influence shake your commitment to staying in the black.

3) Spend lots and lots of time on Pinterest – but then commit.  Just when you think you’ve seen the final word in a certain category – let’s say, aisle flowers – you do another Pinterest search and BAM – you’ve got a new concept in mind.  Sure, I am in full support of checking out the goods on Pinterest and finding your wedding style through the copious images available there.  But once you’ve made a decision on something, forbid yourself to look further into that thing.  Send a photo to your wedding planner and/or vendor, and leave it.  You can go crazy looking for “perfect” when what you really need is “perfect for YOU.”

4) Customize your dress.  Without throwing out numbers, know this: the alterations on my wedding dress cost twice as much as the dress itself.  So be it.  I want my dress to be one-of-a-kind, special, and perfectly fitted to me – and I will do anything to make the dress fit my exact specifications.  Sure, the “base dress” should already be darn good.  But to take it to the next level – whether it’s changing the hem, adding sparkle or detail, or adding straps – you need a good tailor.  Get one and make your personalized dreams come true.

5) Consider details.  Can you have a great wedding without a personalized napkin?  A custom-printed wine label?  A monogram-engraved cake cutter?  Sure.  But why should you have to?  A wedding is all about expressing your personal vision of you and your fiance’s relationship, and often the details are where those expressions are most genuine and real.  I have spent hours on Etsy concentrating on details like matching, custom-made flower girl and ring bearer outfits, and when they walk down the aisle, my guests will see unique and special people – not cookie-cutter, conventional kids.  It matters.

6) Provide information, then provide it again.  And again.  And again.  We sent out Save the Date cards in April and May with a single piece of information – a website link, which sent guests to a comprehensive website on which every detail about the wedding (from hotel accommodations to registry information to the wedding-day schedule) was contained.  However, we still got questions on these details from lots of guests – many of whom had never even turned the Save the Date card OVER to read the text (!).  In retrospect, I would put the website link on the FRONT of the card, reiterate the information on the back of the card, and perhaps even send a mass email to guests to remind them how to find the relevant information.  Too much is never enough in the case of wedding-related communication.

7) Ask for help.  Although I am planning everything myself, I still hired a day-of wedding coordinator (who will also be serving as our floral designer) to make the actual day easier on me.  I have also recruited my parents heavily (thanks Mom & Dad!) since they live i1800205_10102140640491125_1983772613_nn the wedding location and are retired, meaning they have time to do some of the things I can’t (like put individual liners in each and every invitation envelope).  It’s not a sign of weakness, bad planning, or impatience to ask for help – it’s the only way to maintain sanity through the process.  For most brides, you have a planner, a set of parents, a set of parents-in-law, an officiant, and an entire bridal party.  Don’t forget that they are there as a support group – not an entourage.  Ask for help when you need it!

8) Remember why.  Throughout all of the planning, a lot of my married friends have reminded me simply to remember why I am having a wedding – to celebrate the union of life and love with my partner and our family and friends.  That’s it.  As long as we both show up, the people we love are there, and there’s a celebratory atmosphere – that’s all that matters.  The little stressors will fade and the big picture – that we are getting MARRIED, joining our lives together, and continuing our relationship in a completely new and important way – is all we need to remember.

Brides – what are your best planning tips?  What would you tell me to think about NOW – four months out from the big day?

Lessons from the Organizing Pro

If you think this post is going to be about my personal organizing tips, take a moment to shake that off and have a hearty laugh. While I do credit myself with many talents – training, writing, and doing makeup among them – I come in about 50th percentile when it comes to organizing.  My home is “basically” neat (I’m no hoarder!), but if you look just beyond the surface, you’ll see the problems: piles of papers, stacks of books, spilling-over spices, and much, much worse.

A friend and client of mine mentioned that she’d had a professional organizer come into her new (much smaller) home and help her get unpacked and established.  I realized then that I’d moved into my home over five years ago and still didn’t feel established.  So I called this lovely woman* right up and made an appointment.

First task on the docket was to make a room-by-room task list, which I did in about 12 seconds.  List-making is no problem.  Execution…well, not so much.  She asked to organize the list by which room was causing me the most stress, which in this case was my kitchen.  So when she arrived at my house at 11am yesterday, we walked straight into the kitchen.

And I sighed.

See, this is exactly why I need a professional organizer.  It’s similar to why many people need a personal trainer.  It’s not that I am incapable of organizing, similar to how most healthy adults not incapable of exercising.  It’s more that when I look at what needs to get done, I don’t see a clear path on how to do it, and I get overwhelmed.  So she asked me a simple question:

Where do you keep your cookbooks?

This simple question was the catalyst for our entire day.  We started with the fact that I was storing cookbooks above the oven, which left them smoky, sticky, and generally forgotten – so we took them out and weeded through them (did I really need The Sunset Seafood cookbook from 1971?).  After picking my “top 10” (ok, top 17, but seriously, I love cookbooks!) we stacked them neatly by height across the kitchen from the oven,photo 3 out of harm’s way, yet completely visible and useful when I want to refer to them.

Once the cookbook cabinet was clear, we were able to take a lot of the countertop “junk” (read: Costco-sized food that was too large to go in the pantry along with some seasonal/party supplies) and put them up over the oven where a little bit of grime wouldn’t hurt ’em.

Next up was my spice problem – I have almost 100 unique spices (!) in all sorts of jars, tins, and bags, and they’re spread out all over the kitchen – some near the oven, some with the baking stuff, and some strewn about in a nearby basket.  She asked me to find a permanent home for the spices – whether on a rack, in a drawer, or somewhere else – and committing to both throwing away old, expired ones and decanting and properly storing any new purchases.

After a photometiculous inventory and reorganizing, we emerged with five (!) racks full of spices – two of the most-used near the stove, two racks of magnetic loose spices (mount pending), and one corner rack (see photo above) for the lesser-used stuff.  Badda bing!  The little jars and bags seem so much happier now that I can see them individually – and it makes prep time a thousand times quicker.

Oh yeah, also in that picture to the right?  TWO utensil caddies.  I told her I needed LOTS of utensils for the type of cooking I do, and she said that if I absolutely needed to have them, I absolutely needed to have a place to put them (up until this point I was shoving them all in one caddy, often overflowing and falling out along the way).

Next we moved on to another functional project – the “stations.”  Besides cooking, we determined that there are two auxiliary uses of our kitchen – shake-making and coffeemaking.  Both of these functions are done daily, and done require at least a few steps and devices (for the coffee, for example, we need the coffee maker, filters, coffee, mugs, and spoons).  That said, I was running all over the kitchen to make a simple cup of coffee – coffee was with baking stuff in the pantry, filters were under the sink (?), the mugs were next to the fridge, spoons in a drawer…nothing made sense.

The result of some simple cabinet-switching (and mug-donating – someone at Goodwill is going to be VERY happy with their new set of matching Christmas-themed mugs) and shelf-repurposing (yep, that’s a shower caddy corner-shelf thing from the bathroom section of The Container Store anchoring that shake station).

photo (1)photo 4

I know this might seem like small potatoes to some of you organizing gurus who came out of the womb with stacks of drawer inserts and shelving in hand.  But for people like me, who are used to just plugging along, putting stuff wherever it fits and hoping for the best – this was a revelation.  We finished the day by washing out all the cabinets with soap and water, finding lids for all pots and Tupperware, aphoto (2)nd taking a hard stance on glassware and plates (donating about half of what we had), and taking a helluva load (see photo – and this doesn’t include the TWELVE BAGS of stuff we trashed!) down to Out of the Closet (the donation transportation, incidentally, is part of her services – you don’t have to touch a thing once it’s out of your house for good).

Five and a half hours later, I had a workable kitchen – and boy, were the results immediate!  I made a very complex dinner last night with speed and finesse; I felt like I was working in a TV studio kitchen with everything within my reach and easily located.  I cannot wait for her to come back next week so we can work on Mammoth Project #2: the master bedroom (“before” photos pending).

Sure, there’s a cost involved with this type of service, and yes, I did drop a little extra cash at The Container Store last night on some storage and racks.  But the payoff in sanity and peace of mind is worth its cost multiple times over, and I am confident that once we have our entire house organized I will be a happier, more energetic, more efficient person in all parts of my life.

Have you ever hired a professional for this type of service?  What are your favorite home organizing tips?

*did I mention she’s kind of famous?  She’s a classically trained actress and has many fun and interesting stories to share while you work!  Please contact me privately for contact information and rates.

Packing Prep Made Easy

I hear from a lot of friends that one of the most stressful parts of traveling is packing for the trip.  They overpack; they forget things; they never have what they want for the weather/event; they end up throwing things into a bag and arriving with luggage full of mismatched socks, half a bathing suit, and nothing to cover up with when the nights get chilly.

Sound familiar?

Well, worry not.  I consider myself an expert packer – and not because I use fancy vacuum-sealed packing pouches, or luggage cubes, or any of the plethora of cool travel aids I DO one day plan to have.  Nope, I’m simply a prepared traveler who is gone almost every weekend of the year and needs to know how to throw together a bag quick – and with style.  So here are some of my secrets:

First, check the weather at your destination, then make a list of events you need to be prepared for throughout the trip.  Make sure you check both the weather during the day and the weather at night to see if you’ll need layers (or socks/closed toe shoes!) and make a comprehensive list of events, even the seemingly small (for example, if you’re going to a wedding, of course bring your formalwear for the reception, but don’t forget about the rehearsal dinner, morning-after brunch, or even late-night hotel party when you’ll be DYING to get out of your formalwear and into something more appropriate).  For my next weekend trip, I spend on hitting the pool, so I’ve packed a beach hat, sunscreen and bathing suit for that “event.”

Next, set a color theme.  My theme for this weekend’s travel is simple: graphic black and white.  This allows me to narrow down my shoe choices, add accessories that can cross over several different outfits, and streamline to a single purse.  Makephoto 2 sure every outfit you select fits the color theme, is appropriate for the specific event, and make sure you have at least one outfit of separates that mix and match with each other into a new outfit (this is the “backup” outfit in case your flight gets delayed or you simply aren’t feeling your original combo).

After the clothing choices are done, choose a staple shoe (this is the everyday, walking-around option) and a fancy shoe (something that can elevate the daytime outfits to nighttime status).  That’s right folks: stick to TWO pairs of shoes (plus running shoes, to be addressed later).  Be firm with your color theme and creative with accessories and this should not be a problem.

Speaking of accessories, I like to choose several mix and match pieces that can go with any of the outfits (in the case of this weekend, a few bangles, a few cuffs, and a gold chain will do) and pack ’em up in the ONE (yes, again, be firm!) purse – functional and contained in one place.  For an extra tip I stole from my best friend, wrap the pieces individually in tissue paper before tossing them in the purse, eliminating tangled chains photo 3and chipped enamel upon arrival.

Once you’ve got outfits and accessories, you’re almost done – but before you start packing anything, lay out the undergarments you need for each outfit (think of whether you need strapless or racer-back for a given outfit; if you need nude underwear for light pieces, or if you need compression or shapewear for your formal garments).  The worst thing in the world is to arrive at your destination white with white pants and nothing to wear underneath but floral briefs.  Make like a Boy Scout and be prepared – for anything!

Finally, whether you choose the traditional fold or trendy roll method, pack your clothes from the end of the trip backward – for this weekend, for example, I am packing my “Monday” clothes on the bottom, topped by Sunday, then Saturday on top – this way I can unpack in the order I am actually wearing the clothes, eliminating rifling through my bag and wrinkling everything looking for a certain piece.  Accessories go right on top and ta-da – you’re packed!

But remember when I mentioned my running shoes above?  Yep, they don’t go in the bag – and there’s several reasons for that.  First of all, I like to wear my (cutest!) gym clothing when I travel, mostly because it’s comfortable, but also because I then know I have my gym outfit for the weekend, I don’t have to pack stinky gym shoes in a nice clean bag, and I don’t have to carry the bulk of sports bras, pants, tanks, jackets and shoes throughout the trip – I’m already wearing them!  Just remember to bring a dirty clothes bag and close-tie shoe bag for after you wear the stuff at your destination; they have to get back somehow.

One final note – toiletries.  The best way to do it is to keep a pre-packed bag of all your travel-size toiletries ready to go – this way you are never left wondering if you have an essential item, and you can toss it in before the day you leave for a no-stress departure.  It takes some effort to maintain the travel-size stuff (when you run out of toothpaste at your destination, you have to make a note to replace it when you get home before your next trip!), but it will save you lots of time and worry.

What are your “insider” travel tips?  Are you a particular packer – or a last-minute loader?