Dear Friends,

I wrote this guest blog for momtinilounge.com, a great web resource for busy moms everywhere. Special thanks to those wonderful friends for having me. In case you missed it there, here are some easy ways you can make your to do list more effective.  Spring is upon us, so head into the finest season with an eye on your action plan. If you check everything off that pesky list – you get to go outside and frolic! No better motivator in the world!

Cheers,

Brooke

 

Let me guess, you get about 5 uninterrupted minutes each day to accomplish tasks on your to do list. When those 5 empty minutes are upon you, do you spend 4 of those precious moments figuring out where to start? Do you stand, staring at the empty space in front of you, mentally cataloguing all of the things you have to do, only to be shocked and dismayed when all of a sudden, the moment has passed and you haven’t managed to do…anything?!

It’s ok, but no more of that please. Today, you will learn two simple tricks you can use to start maximizing every second you have free of Kids, Husband, Employees and Appointments. Promise.

It starts and ends with how you are working with your to do list. We all have one, but the way you use it makes all the difference in the world. An incomplete, inactive, non-specific to do list is actually just a piece of paper. True story. You might as well use it to clean up whatever your child just spilled…I’ll wait.

Trash the old to do list, and start over like this:

1. Your to do list must be a mental dump of everything in your brain.

Take a blank sheet of paper and put e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g cluttering up your brain onto that page. This not only ensures you won’t forget stuff, but also feels like losing ten pounds since you are no longer using your already very crowded brain to store info that can, and should, be accounted for elsewhere. Write it down, delete from brain. Think of your brain like a computer hard drive. The more data you store on your hard drive, the slower your machine is. Free up some space, and voila, your computer is quick and responsive once again – and so will you be!

2. Make sure everything you put on that list is actionable, specific, and includes all related details.

So, instead of writing this entry on your list, Get back to Friend-I-Never-See-Ever about dinner, write instead, Email Friend-I-Never-See-Ever confirming dinner on Tuesday at 8pm. This way, in minute 1 of 5 you have free, you don’t have to spend time remembering when that dinner was, if you decided you could go, when you are confirming for, blah, blah, blah. Trying to act on a to do list entry like Get back to Friend-I-Never-See-Ever about dinner, forces me to have thoughts I’ve already had, and rehash things I’ve already spent time dealing with in my brain. If my to do list instead instructs me to Email Friend-I-Never-See-Ever confirming dinner on Tuesday at 8, my brain says “Ok, can do,” and the to do list item literally gets copied and pasted into an email that looks like this:

Hey Friend-I-Never-See-Ever,

 Writing to confirm dinner on Tuesday at 8pm. See you then!

 Brooke

To Do-ne! You win! Check off dance commence!

The moral of the story is, you can make every minute count and make progress on your to do list if you give yourself a fighting chance. Prep your list properly. Look at the list. Follow your own instructions. Rinse and repeat.

Post authored by Brooke Stone. 

A pantry is a beautiful thing… or at least it can be!

I grew up in a home with several pantries, taking for granted the glory of their amazing storage capacity and easy accessibility to commonly used items. Then I moved to a dorm room, lived in hotel rooms around the country for a few years and spent the first 3 years of my married, condo-owning life without a pantry at all. Woe was me. But, you do what you have to do and work with what you’ve got, right?

After years of a pantry-free existence, when my husband and I started planning our kitchen renovation last spring, you won’t be surprised to hear a pantry was high on my list of must-haves in our new space. Since we weren’t totally gutting our existing kitchen, I found the space for my new pantry by moving the refrigerator to the opposite side of the kitchen and turning the huge under-used fridge nook into the pantry of my dreams!

Now that I had my space, I set off to make it perfect. And you can too.

Step 1: Pretty Please

As someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, I wanted to make sure that the pantry was a place that made me happy, not some dark, dingy corner I feared what I would find upon opening the door. My first idea, thank you Pinterest, was to wallpaper the inside of the pantry, to give a fun background to all of the stuff we would store in there. When that proved to be a bit pricey for what is essentially a closet, my handy husband suggested I get some paint, a heck of a lot of Frog Tape and test out my stripe-painting skills.

2 days, and not nearly as much hands on time as I thought, later … VOILA! Fun stripes for the foundation of my pretty pantry!

 

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Step 2: Accessorize

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Next step was to head to everyone’s favorite place – The Container Store! My husband and I had a blast deciding which shelving options and spice racks to get in order to make the most of the space. The Elfa shelving system is super easy to install and incredibly versatile.

 

We got the door rack which hooks right over the top and bottom of the door, no drilling required! It’s perfect for all of our spices and most used stuff. Plus, when the door is open all the way, it’s right next to the stove for convenient grabbing while cooking that gourmet meal!

 

 

 

Step 3: What Goes Where

Blog_photo 4Where each item would go, for maximum ease when cooking, was the next all important step. Since I now had this nice, bright pantry, with a great amount of storage space outfitted with racks and shelves, I set about organizing everything that belonged in the pantry onto my new racks and shelves.

Here is my pantry map, a great guide for organizing any kitchen space.

1 & 2: These racks were a little high so onto those went marinades, rubs, bullion cubes, least used spices.

3: I’m a baker so I need to make sure my baking ingredients were in easy reach. At just about eye level went baking spices and extracts (i.e. cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla).

4: In easy reach went everyday spices (i.e. parsley, rosemary, oregano, garlic powder)

5: Peppers

6: Salts (shelf above and below)

7: Olive Oil, Pam Spray & Frank’s Red Hot

8: Snacks (for easy grabbing), Brita Filters and Straws

 

We got another spice rack unit to install on the inside closet wall for additional oils, vinegars and spices…

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And here is the inside shelf-by-shelf breakdown!

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1: The top shelf ended up storing mainly extras of things and stuff we don’t need on a daily basis (i.e. pasta maker, paper towels, extra dog treats, olive oil, flour & sugar)

2: Family size storage on this shelf, since we buy the giant oatmeal container and refill our little one for easier handling in the morning, the family size box of goldfish, extra dried fruit waiting to be put into trail mix or granola, etc.

3: The tea and snack shelf: tea to the left, crackers in the middle, and the basket on the right is for any opened bag of chips or other snack item that can be problematic when left loose on a shelf.

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4: The Good Morning shelf with a separate coffee station on the left! Put some water in your mug and make your coffee right in the pantry! All the fixings are there including mugs, coffee and hot chocolate pods, flavor syrup and honey. (You DO have to walk to the fridge for milk, but hey – I never said I was perfect!)

 

Breakfast items on the right! Cereal, granola and oatmeal right at your finger tips so your sleepy self  can easily pour yourself a bowl while you wait for that coffee.

Full disclosure: I organized the entire pantry and then found the onion and potato basket sitting on the counter. This was the only shelf with some extra space. So it’s placement was an accident, but having it right there has actually been super helpful in reminding me what we have stored in there. We have actually been using the produce we have on hand before it’s ready for the trash.

 

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5: The obligatory canned goods shelf with beans, pasta, peanut butter, chicken stock, tomato products, rice and pasta. Any pantry staples you keep around the house for a last minute meal go right here.

6: The Booze, Baking and Barks shelf with the bar on the left, baking supplies in the middle, and dog treats on the right.

7: Heavy storage goes on the floor: The hubby’s homebrew and sodas go on the left; in the middle is a basket filled with any extra canned goods that didn’t fit on shelf 5 and loose sodas. On the right is the dog food for easy daily access. You can also see the reflection of the swiffer in the dog food can, right inside the door for easy cleanup!

Now before you get overwhelmed and start telling yourself that you could never get something this well organized, I will tell you that this didn’t all happen in one day. There were definitely a couple of weeks of trial and error, as we figured out the best place for things to live. It’s always best to go into a project like this knowing that the end result may take some time. It’s a constant process of figuring out the best way for things to work as you use the space in your normal day-to-day ways. The door spices and coffee station were well thought out, so they never moved, but the bar, dog treats, flour/sugar tubs and snack basket had several homes before we reached what is pictured here. And in a few months, when we have to find space for bottles and baby food, it will probably all change again!

When tackling any new space in your life, always remember that if you take the time to organize it the way that YOU want and what works best for YOU, and your family or whoever else will be using the space, you’re much more likely to keep it neat and organized.

And if opening that closet is just depressing with it’s faded white walls? Slap on a coat of yellow paint! Just because it’s a closet doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve some love.

An organized home is a happy home. And boy does this pantry make me happy!

Post authored by Beth Renoni, photos by Brian Renoni. 

Readers of Praxis, I am inviting you to get on board with World Read Aloud Day 2013. As you read these words, imagine if you couldn’t. Imagine if you had never read a book – ever. Scary. Now imagine a world where everyone can read – always. Glorious.

March 6, 2013, is World Read Aloud Day, an awareness day advocating for literacy as a human right, started by LitWorld, an amazing organization I have the true privilege of working with. Celebrate by reading aloud, giving away a book, or taking action in any way you can to “Read It Forward” on behalf of the 793 million people who cannot yet read or write. 793 MILLION – you read it right the first time.

On World Read Aloud Day, everyone can change the world by answering the Read It Forward call to action and reading aloud with loved ones or new friends. Read It Forward describes the ripple effect of positive change that happens through the simple act of bringing joy to another through the power of story.

World Read Aloud Day creates a community of people who are advocating for every child’s right to learn to read and to have access to books and technology that will make them lifelong readers. Get into it, join this community. Be this story.

Visit litworld.org/wrad to join the Read It Forward movement. Register your participation, and spread the word to friends, family and members of your network and rally more supporters around this movement! LitWorld offers free downloadable activity kits full of ideas for children, teens, families, educators, and professionals at litworld.org.

Check out my story of becoming a reader on the World Read Aloud Day blog.

In addition to this being obviously important because education and literacy is a right everyone should be afforded, World Read Aloud Day has this really cute logo.

litworldwrad13logohighres

Post written by Brooke Stone. 

In these cold winter months it’s easy to get cranky. We forget to take the time to just simply be nice. In the Starbucks line, when it is finally your turn, do you bark your order at the barista, who inevitably can’t hear you over the whirring espresso machine, only to bark it with an even more nasty edge at full belt when they ask you to please repeat your order? We all have those moments. But let’s take a minute to consider how much nicer it is to just be nice. Not only is it appreciated by the person on the receiving end, but it feels good to do, and almost always, it is a sure fire way to get the help you need in a timely manner.

This week Erin Jerozal interviewed some of our favorite customer service friends, asking them the same question: What is the secret to getting excellent customer service? Their answer: Be nice. Shocked? Check out this video to see what they said, and tomorrow, when that poor barista is sweating over her coffee grinder-deafened hearing loss, just repeat your order with a smile.

P.S. As busy NYC assistants we can certifiably say this trick works over the phone with customer service, in person and even over email.

 

Video by Erin Jerozal. 

Mary Poppins has got nothing on my bag. She might have a lamp in hers and some kind of black magic at work, but I’m pretty sure given fifteen minutes I could MacGyver my own lamp AND a handsome set of nesting tables all from the contents of my bag.

Meet My Bag

#1

 

Yes, I normally tote around a bag that looks as if it was used on the Pony Express, and yes, I could probably be subletting it out as a LES studio with a sleeping alcove, but I’ve just grown accustomed to lugging it around. The use of my bag has probably funded my chiropractor’s kid’s private school education, but I like to think of myself as an urban-free-thinking-all-inclusive-boy-scout-LMP that lives by the motto, “Be Prepared.” Over-prepared? Perhaps. But my sensible Marc Jacobs denim shoulder tote has yet to fail me.

Everything is in this bag and everything has to be. I’m all over this city doing anything at any given minute and have to have the things that help make “doing anything” possible. Though it can’t just be thrown all in there. There has to be some kind of method to the madness. I’ve organized (of course) all like things into zipper pouches. There’s one for electronics, one for office supplies, and one for sundries (love that word). Here take a look at what’s in this monster of a bag and how I keep it in line.

Meet My Electronics

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I’m MAC-centric… I blame good marketing!

My iPhone is my life line.

My charger is my savior

My MacBook is my rock.

My iPod is perfection.

I keep a microfiber cloth in there to keep my babies looking good!

And the all important USB, a must!

Meet My Office Supplies

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Post-its for quick note taking when I’ve got to remember what’s what, who goes where, and who’s who.

 Binder clips… you’d be surprised how handy these little guys are. Keeping papers and files in line, organizing electronic wires, or an emergency tailoring fix.

Rubber bands always a must.

Sharpie Marker… is there any other way to write?

 Uni-Ball Pen, because you always need a writing implement AND its the best pen EVER!

An envelope and stationary… because you’ll look like a hero when someone needs it.

Scissors… always handy. Just don’t forget to leave at home when going to the airport.

Mini-stapler… because my mini obsession is a sickness!

Super glue, a great quick fix for almost anything and its easier to carry around than Duct Tape (and less creepy).

Highlighter, it keeps you looking prepared for meetings and adds dimension to your doodles.

Stamps… because everyone asks for a stamp.

Meet My Sundries 

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A Mending Kit because sh-stuff happens.

Mints because no one likes a stinker.

Deodorant for those times you’re UNSURE.

Stain Stick… much like that mending kit.

Bacitracin and Adhesive Bandages, because an ouchy needs tending to.

 A Lighter is useful to have on hand to help set some mood lighting.

Tissues for the sniffles.

Chap Stick to keep those lips kissably soft and works as a good cuticle cream in a pinch.

A wine key… because when you need it, you’ll be happy you’ve got it.

With all due respect, take that Mary Poppins.

 

Post authored by Josh Schulteis. 

Hey 2013! Been waiting for you, thanks a million for getting here. Gone is the December rat race of buy, wrap, give, repeat, and here is the new day we have been waiting for. Much though I love the festive fun that is the holiday season, my involuntary sigh of relief on December 26 was a sign I was more than ready to move on and face the new year, with renewed energy and certainly with some resolutions in mind. Here on Praxis we have mentioned the importance of goals once or a million times, so we can’t help but get on board with the cultural phenomenon of New Year’s resolutions. So what will you resolve yourself to in 2013? Here at BSLM we will work with the concept of ease in action, we will focus in on refining the how, while clearly articulating the what. Uh….what?! Right, so….

There are things you do everyday, habits, that are helter skelter, just admit it. When you get up in the morning do you run to the coffee machine in your pajamas, only to get there and realize you are freezing (which you are every morning), thereby necessitating a trip back to the bedroom and a rummage through drawers for a sweatshirt and a return trip to the morning altar? Try leaving a sweatshirt out next to the bed and putting it on as you sprint to your one true love, ease in action friends. The what = coffee to face ASAP upon opening eyeballs, the how = warmly and without instant irritation. Now you try. Look for places in your life where you experience consistent frustration. How can you make it go away? How can you make it easier?

Erin and Josh will give us some insight on how to find ease in very common actions or situations so we can all get off to a solid start. We will get a look at what the inside of a busy NYC assistant’s purse or bag looks like, answering the often exclaimed question “How do you always have what I need?!” in photo essay form. Simply having on hand the things you need to get through your day will make all of your actions easier, trust us on this one.

We will interview a few of our favorite doormen, post office friends and other service professionals to give you an inside look on how to get exactly what you need without resorting to eye rolling, muttered expletives and yelp.com complaints. Believe us, it’s so much nicer when you can easily and collaboratively problem solve with these kind folks, they are not trying to make your life harder – promise!

These are only two examples of how to streamline your life, and find ease in everyday action – but there are so many more! How do you do it? Tell us here, or share with us in Facebook and Twitter. As our holiday lady imparts, wishing you a 2013 with easy assembly!

Post authored by Brooke Stone. 

BSLM Holiday Card 5by7 FRONT copy copyBSLM Holiday Card 5by7 BACK copy copy

As Angela told us last week, gift giving can actually be GOOD for you! Putting some thought into a gift, instead of just giving something to give something, can be truly gratifying and make your friend feel like you really care about them. (Which you do!)

So you’ve hit the streets, hunting down that perfect gift… but now what? You can’t just hand over the shopping bag sans receipt. You have to make it look spectacular! Sometimes the appearance of a gift can elevate the gift to make it seem even better than it already is. A thoughtful wrapping job is just as important for making the receiver feel like you put that extra time and effort into it.

My number one recommendation on taking gift presentation to the next level: accessorize! It’s easy enough to slap some wrapping paper around a box, but by adding some gifting accessories, you can add just the right touch of personalization.

Here is my list of the top 5 gifting accessories:

  1. Ribbon: Tie it, curl it, twist it… the world is your oyster!
  2. Stickers: Grab some cute holiday stickers to give plain wrapping paper a boost.
  3. Markers: Same concept as the stickers – maybe let your kids doodle personalized drawings onto Grandma’s gift box – she will never undo the wrapping paper more carefully!
  4. The Bonus Gift: if you have a small item to add to the outside of the box, it makes it look like they are getting 2 presents in one! For example, tuck an organic chocolate bar under the string, or tie a small Christmas ornament to the bow. Maybe the gift is some homemade hot cocoa mix – tie a small stirring spoon onto the top of the box for mixing up the perfect mug
  5. And last, but certainly not least, my personal favorite: Grandma Clara’s Homemade Bow!!!!

My grandmother was the BEST at wrapping presents. Whether it was a HUGE box, filled with progressively smaller boxes that led down, 12 individually wrapped boxes later, to a very tiny gift (think a $50 bill or a pair of earrings) or just thinking outside of the box (no pun intended!), to put a very ordinary shaped item, into a very strangely shaped package.

She always kept you on your toes and you never truly knew what you were going to find inside, no matter how many times you shook it or turned it over. (Well, except for the golf balls. Dad ALWAYS guessed right on the golf balls.)

But even more amazing about Grandma’s gifts, were the handmade bows that she would put atop each and every present. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was very distinctly Grandma Clara. And when you saw that bow, you knew the gift had been wrapped with love.

Here are the 6 simple steps on how to make Grandma Clara’s bows:

 

Supplies: Curling Ribbon (cut to be approximately 2 arms lengths long) & Scissors

Ssupplies

 

Step 1: Spread your fingers apart, with your palm facing upward. Lay the ribbon across your palm, gripping one end between your pinky and ring finger, leaving approximately 6 inches of extra ribbon hanging; the other end should run between your thumb and pointer finger.

Step1

 

Step 2: While holding onto the one end with your pinky and ring finger, run the ribbon back and forth in a figure eight pattern, with the “loops” going around your thumb and pinky finger, until there is about 6 inches of ribbon left hanging.

Step2

 

Step 3: Pinch the center of the figure eight with your free hand and remove the ribbon bundle from your hand.

Step3

 

Step 4: Tie the two loose ends in a knot around the center of the ribbon bundle so that it is tight.

Step4

 

Step 5: Spread out the ribbon “loops” to create the bow look and use your scissors to curl the loose ends. You can tie the bow on using the 2 loose ends or attach it with tape.

Step5

Happy wrapping!

Post authored by Beth Renoni.

Photographs by Brian Renoni. 

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