Resolutions, Beginnings and Ends

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Its safe to say that on many accounts 2011 was a less than stellar year. This seems to be the general consensus among most of the people I know from friends to family – finances sucked, stress sucked and health problems with close family members gave the entire year a rather dreary character. I entered 2012 without any big hurrah however, because none of those problems can I leave in the past. My aunt’s cancer isn’t going anywhere, working 16 hour days hasn’t magically made more money appear and those along with lots of other small things means that stress is probably here to stay a while longer as well. While I’d like to be an optimist, the realist in me knows that this is going to be a year of hard work, with much love and support among my family.

And so I have resigned myself to dedicating this year to work. I’ve never had an issue with work ethic, my issues are always more around finding time to play. Normally my new years resolutions have to do with making time for myself to have coffee with friends, or play cello, or do yoga. But this year I’m giving up – if I really wanted to do those things I would do them – screw being well balanced this year… I’m just going to bunker down and spend 2012 working on improving my finances, my studies and my family life.

The Resolutions:

1) By the end of the year the house will be organized

I’m loosely following the plan laid out my mysimplerlife.com for an organizational calendar. Yesterday, I took my first step towards this by roughly organizing my tupperware drawer (I couldn’t find any matching lids when it was time to put away the leftovers).

2) I will close the cabinet doors

This is one of my totally lazy tendencies – our cabinets don’t have spring hinges and so if you open them, they just stay open until you intentionally close them. It looks horrid but I’m usually going a mile a minute and don’t realize I’ve left them open until I hit my head on the corner of one 10 minutes later. It seems like a tiny little thing but makes a big impact and drives me insane.

3) The finances will be done monthly

Every year I say it and so far… hasn’t happened. I’m looking at 4 months of data entry next week so I can get taxes done because I didn’t keep up on it last year. I’ve downloaded the apps for both business and personal finance, I make like 80% of the purchases in the household and the other 20% are really predictable so I’m not sure why I can’t seem to just get myself to do the accounting as it happens and then reconcile monthly like a good little worker bee. Regardless of the reason for the failures in the past – this year I will rock the financial scene.

I feel like I should add something in there about family and education but I made a lot of progress getting both of those in good places last year and I’m happy with them both for now. I’m sure there will be little things to do along the way but for the most part I really enjoy the time and quality of time I spend with my family. And my method of studying became very organized and intentional last year – I’m hoping it can just continue this year as a followup to the relative success it provided.

UpCycled Fudge Sauce

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So I made a total of 9 different types of fudge this xmas. Its the first time I’ve ever made fudge, I tend to do things until I can do them really well. Of the 9 trays only 5 actually set up and worked, so my friends and family all received peanut butter chocolate, chocolate, pomegranate, funfetti, and orange. I was left with gloopy trays filled with oreo, chocolate peppermint, lemon and pumpkin fudge.

My first thought was that there must be a way to recover fudge that didn’t set all the way, there were actually a few articles about how to fix bad fudge – I headed in and failed miserably at this. Essentially I think the theory may work for recipes in which the last stage of the recipe is to heat to the soft-ball stage, BUT when the recipe heats first and then adds in a bunch of stuff (like marshmallow fluff) after removing the heat – its impossible to go backwards.

I poured my melty fudge into mason jars and let them sit for a couple days while I consulted my elders (Nana) on what to do to with the mess, I just couldn’t bring myself to waste THAT much sugar, chocolate, etc… Nana’s suggestion was to make ice cream toppings.

Today I attacked the chocolate peppermint while the kids napped. I adapted a recipe for syrup from the Ball website to get processing time and heated the fudge to boiling to mimic the same temp/conditions of the recipe. To get the correct consistency  for the fudge sauce I added about 3/4 cup of soymilk and very slowly heated the mixture to try to make the whole thing more smooth and allow the peppermint chunks time to melt.

I extended the processing time from 10 to more like 15min just to make sure there was time for all of the air to escape from the jars. To my good fortune the last of the jars came out of the pot JUST as the kids woke up and all of the lids popped within 30 seconds.To finish it all off I added cute little labels to the jars and packed them neatly away until I can deliver them to friends and family (there is no way we can eat 8 jars of hot fudge anytime soon). I’m going to wait on the others for now, I’m still a little unsure if I want to can them up or just use them as icing on a bunt cake or something, I’m sure I’ll come up with a practical use for them in the next couple of weeks.

The BIG Plan

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A few days ago I came across this awesome calendar on MySimplerLife.Com – its a full year worth of organizational tasks. After reading through it I’m totally psyched to work on my own modified version of this calendar/process. The biggest changes I’m going to make will be that Saturdays become DIY day – so anything which is to be made for the next weeks tasks or needs to be fixed from the last week can be addressed. Other modifications have to do with the fact that in total I can only spend like 5-10min each day on house stuff so its gotta be really quick tasks.

In preparation for my new years plan I’ve made sure the house is mostly clean. There are still a number of small problem areas – mostly spaces that just don’t work. No matter how often I clean them up they just collect stuff over and over again. My hope is that this whole organizational process will help get those areas into functional parts of our household. You can see below that while the floors may be clean the house is still kinda messy.

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Some things are seemingly simple, like the dresser tops – while others are totally insane, like the unfinished trash/broom closet. And then there’s the laundry room, I think fire may be the only solution for that one…

In the next few days I’m going to do some checking around for storage that I know is needed – like more bookshelves on craigslist and freecycle. But even without it I’m sure I can make temporary due by just labeling boxes and it might even motivate me to put more into the give away box then I otherwise would have.

 

Holiday Wrap-Up

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So the craziness of the holiday season is coming to a close, and while the tree still gets a few more days to occupy precious floor space in the living room, most of the holiday stuff has already been put away. Each year as the season approaches I swear that I’ll be more organized, that I’ll have everything purchased and wrapped ahead of time, that I won’t spend all day cooking and cleaning and that THIS year I’ll get cards mailed out. Likewise each year as I recover the house from under the piles of crumpled paper and candy bits I swear that I’m going to take the time to put things away correctly so its not quite so crazy next year. While I don’t really see any hope in sight of the pre-season activities getting any better, my post season has gone pretty well.

Wrapping supplies

My Wrapping Box

For the past few months I’ve been saving toilet paper rolls in our craft area (also known as the chair in the corner). Wasn’t sure quite what they were for yet but just felt compelled to create a little stash of them for some project that I knew would appear. As it turns out, I was saving them to store all of my wrapping ribbons. About 2 hours on Monday were spent sorting through the papers to be recycled/wrapping to be saved in an attempt to organize the wrapping. I think it worked out pretty well – and would not have taken nearly so long if there hadn’t been a toddler balloon fight in the background.

I just coiled the longer ribbons around the tubes and then secured with either a piece of tape or a rubber band (depending on the type of ribbon) and then separated the different coils by a rubber band in between to create even spacing. Then inside each of the toilet paper tubes I stuffed a bow of some sort in a complementary color. For all the shorter pieces of ribbon I created a long tube and wrapped all of them on a single tube/roll – in order to distinguish that these cannot be used for normal sized presents and are meant for tiny gifts or for bows. Nothing is quite so annoying as when you grab ribbon, have it almost all the way around your present and realize that its just a bit too short – argh!!!! The last bit of organization I attempted was taking all of the scraps of curling ribbon and making cute little curly bows out of them, one less thing in the trash and a little less work for next year.

For about 3-4 years now I’ve been using brown paper to wrap all of my xmas gifts. My hope is that a few years down the line I’ll be free of all of the printed papers and gift bags and my wrapping station can just consist of packing paper, a few boxes, tissue paper and lots of pretty ribbon.

You Must Remove the Head…

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One of my favorite business phrases comes from David Gammel, it deals with the concept that ideas live and breathe as soon as we start working on them and putting resources into them. But that they also die and unfortunately some turn into Sacred Zombie Cows!

I think its the visual as much as anything that attracts me to the phrase, regardless, the idea that projects can become half-ton, four legged,  resource sucking zombies is an important one to think about. They key ofcourse to the concept of the sacred zombie cow is the sacred part. Its not just that the project/idea is dead, that happens all the time. We start something, it fails, we move on. But then there are those few ideas that just don’t go away after they have died, instead we keep feeding them, keeping them warm, even talking to them oblivious to the fact that they are zombies.

Recently I was reminded of the zombie cow while listening to NPR discuss yet more issues that are being had with the musical, Spiderman. Now, I’m not one to keep up on entertainment news so I actually thought this musical had come run its course and already left again. As it turns out, the thing hasn’t even started and doesn’t plan to do so for weeks or months longer. Listening to the  commentary on the many plights of this musical no phrase rang more true than, “Kill the sacred zombie cow.”

A quick search reveals pages and pages articles written about the failure of this show prior to its even opening. From injuries, to bad reviews, to a new plan that involves significant changes to the cast and script, it is obvious to almost everyone that this project has been killed, many times over. The fact that this dead project continues to drain resources from its supporters, who refuse to acknowledge its death, is what makes it a perfect example of a zombie cow.

As is the case with all zombies, Sacred Zombie Cows, do eventually perish as well. The worse case scenario is when a zombie cow is so sacred that no one ever shoots it in the head and it eventually eats the brains of every person in its path. An example of this would be fossil fuel consumption. Thankfully most zombies aren’t nearly that sacred and at some point it becomes clear to all that they are dead and the proper actions are taken.

The struggle is to identify zombie cows before they have the chance to take anyone else or any other living ideas/projects with them. While this may seem simple it can be considerably more difficult than you would think.

So, Have you killed your sacred zombie cow today?

Marketing Tips to Remember

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Its ALL About Connecting

A while back Kreeer published a blog about titled “Everything You Do Should Be Tweetable!” In addition to some great information about revising the way your approach your daily tasks/work to be more accommodating to the world of social networking, the blog focuses on the single principle that all social interactions on the web are really about one thing: creating meaningful connections.

Hanging On To The Long Tail

If you’re a business person then you probably are very familiar with the concept of the long tail. If however you’re like me, then this might be a new idea but one that is very much worth checking out. In short, the idea demonstrates that there is a greater chance of conversion success by going after the HUGE number of people that are searching for less popular terms then there is by fighting tooth and nail to get a top rank on a really popular search term.

Consistency is Key

For many people that live mostly IRL (in real life) it can be difficult and even at times a pain to get online and interact with twitter, feeds, blogs and other marketing tools.  While not every person has to be on the internet every day to be effective you do need to come up with a schedule. Think of it almost like book-keeping. If you prefer to write multiple blogs on one day and publish throughout the week that’s fine. This technique doesn’t work as well for other mediums (such as twitter that require more interaction). Whatever you chose as your schedule stick to it! Nothing will drive readers and followers away faster than if you disappear for weeks at a time or bombard them with info for three days straight.

Your Voice Matters

While much of the advice you receive for social marketing revolves around publishing its important to remember that what you write/say matters too. People want to connect with other people, sure they want information and whatnot but they go to blogs for experiences, accounts and anecdotes… not just information. This is why some bloggers are wildly popular and others seem to constantly struggle to maintain readers. When a blogger sounds too much like an authority they cease to be relatable and fun, at the same time the musings of a novice are only really interesting to friends and family.

 

Personal Impact

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david and clean up crewAbout a week ago I received an update through a neighborhood listserve about the death of a neighbor. The population of what I consider my Dimond neighborhood is near 4000 residents and given the size births, deaths, comings and goings are a regular if not daily occurring. But the passing of this neighbor was more than slightly shocking to me. At most we had met only two or three times and even those conversations had been fairly brief yet in those small interactions he had made his presence a fixture of what I think of when I personify my neighborhood.

I first met David and his wife Cecilia while on a walk through the park with my kids. They were arriving at the same time we were and both were dressed in nifty, yellow, construction style vests – and carrying clean-up tools. As a new resident I had heard rumor of the volunteer clean up crew but had yet to get connected with anyone involved. With two little ones running around I find myself taking full advantage of our park system and the notion of volunteering to help keep it  clean just seemed great. I heartily introduced myself to my new neighbors and proceeded to talk with them for a bit about the Keep Dimond Clean walks and their involvement as volunteers. David summarized their involvement by stating very mater of fact that the park was just an extension of their backyard and it seemed natural that they would help contribute to keeping it nice. The pureness of David’s logic for their volunteer efforts is unarguable; if the park belongs to us then we should all help in keeping the way we want it to be.

When  I received the email about David’s death I was more than a bit taken back, both at his early passing but also at the sense of loss I felt. For someone I had, had very little interaction with my value of him as a neighbor and person was tremendous and I truly mourn his passing. This made me think about what it was that made David such a significant part of the Dimond landscape. What made his impact so much greater than just the individual actions and characteristics. Cecilia wrote a beautiful statement about her interpretation of David’s work within the neighborhood and I think it gets to the gist of this impact:

The Dimond area is a piece of a large metropolis.  Here in Dimond we are the ones who live in our community and the ones who are responsible for our community.  We make feasible decisions on growth and effectiveness of such growth.  The Fruitvale area is one of the most traveled in Oakland.  We have the 580 freeway at one end and the 880 freeway.  The DIA is effective here. My beloved David had great aspirations for this area and it is too bad for the short time he was here.  He had a vision for this community that he really wanted to achieve.  Don’t forget that I am here, and I am not quitting this community.  In his name, my name remains. Thank you to all Keep Dimond Clean volunteers.
– Cecilia Miller

Cecilia’s sentiments get to the core of why David went to the park each week and continued to “keep Dimond clean.” It had everything to do with hope, intention for growth and aspirations for a greater good in the community. These are the things that made David an impactful man, not just what he did but why he did it.

Thinking about the impact that David had on the neighborhood and those of us who live here opens the obvious question of how each of us can share in these common goals that he lived for. Ofcourse it would be wonderful if everyone joined in just one hour a week volunteering to help make their neighborhood a better place, but regardless of whether or not that is a feasible possibility for us all looks past the core of David’s impact. At the heart of the matter it was the reason behind the actions that made David and continue to make Cecilia corner stones of the neighborhood. And all of us can follow this example by setting out not just to complete a task but to remember that in everything we do there is a greater goal of shared values and community.