Category: Efficiency

3 week meal prep

From SharePoint to slow-cooking… this blog is certainly a mishmash of topics!

I just attempted my first three-week menu-planning one-day-prep-cooking and I’ve survived! Menu-planning is a personal thing to me – even though there’s tons of plans out there, I always want to tweak them with things that our family will actually eat. But hey, I’ll throw this out there, in case you find some of the recipes and techniques helpful.

Here’s what I’ve got:

The menu

Week 1: (slightly more intensive cooking because it’s a holiday week!)

  • Sunday – shopping and prep day! Good day for takeout!
  • Monday – Slow cooker ham, mashed cauliflower, sautéed spinach
  • Tuesday – Stuffed cabbage rolls, cauliflower “rice,” rice (for kids)
  • Wednesday – pasties
  • Thursday (Thanksgiving potluck) – pretzel bites
  • Friday (Thanksgiving potluck) – pumpkin pie, Texas roadhouse rolls
  • Saturday – leftovers

Week 2: (back to work… quick dinners and slow-cooker meals!)

  • Sunday (potluck) – Arkansas green beans
  • Monday – Korean beef over cauliflower “rice” (with regular rice for kids)
  • Tuesday – Toasted sesame ginger salmon, bok choy
  • Wednesday – Slow cooker white bean soup with ham, fresh salad
  • Thursday – Slow cooker pulled pork, Hawaiian rolls, fresh salad
  • Friday – leftovers
  • Saturday – dinner with friends

Week 3: (even more slow-cooker and already-prepped meals!)

  • Sunday: Slow cooker Hawaiian style short ribs, steamed broccoli, cauliflower “rice”, rice (for kids)
  • Monday: leftovers or eat out
  • Tuesday: Slow cooker balsamic chicken with veggies, “cauliflower” rice (with regular rice for kids)
  • Wednesday: Pasties
  • Thursday: Slow cooker red lentil coconut soup
  • Friday: Slow cooker beef and tomato stew
  • Saturday: leftovers

(Extra in the freezer: Slow cooker kalua pork, several servings of broccoli)

Keep going past the jump for full shopping list and plan… as well as some tips on how to make your own menu plan.

Continue reading “3 week meal prep”

DIY Dry Erase Household Chores Checklist

I’ve long been a fan of homemade DIY whiteboards. Any picture frame or mirror or other glass surface works great as a dry-erase surface. This morning, I put together a “chore” chart in Adobe Illustrator, printed it out, slapped it in a frame that had been collecting dust in the garage, wrapped a dry-erase pen in ribbon and tied it to the back of the frame, put some nails in the wall, and now feel motivated to conquer some household grime and clutter!

My chore chart has sections for daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly chores. (Don’t judge — I realize some people do what we count as “annual” chores every month or every week!) I put a block to write in a due date and checkboxes for marking off the chores. I also included things that aren’t really “chores” but that we want to make sure get done — for example, a weekly date night and monthly dates with our children. I’m not sure if we’ll really need the “every day” box yet, but I figure for now it will be helpful to know if Steve has already done something before I do it as well.


I’ve included the Illustrator file (CS4) if you’d like to download it and modify it for your own use.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Workspace setup

I promise I will write up some more interesting design-y posts, but I took [poor] pictures of my new workspace setup yesterday and wanted to share.

First, yesterday was the first day that I used both the PC and Mac, with new mouse and Synergy, for work. Originally I had the PC off to the side of my desk and would occasionally use it to check stuff in Internet Explorer, but yesterday I finally needed to use it for some web development. So, I moved the PC in front of me, but it was blocking my external monitor. So I found something to raise the monitor:


I knew Steve’s English lit books would come in handy someday!!

So now, my desk looks something like this:


My Mac is on the laptop elevator on the left, the external monitor is on the LiteratureStand™ on the top right, and the PC sits on the desk below – not great for ergonomics, since I have to look down at the screen, but it’s not too bad if I comfortably tilt way back in my chair. You can also see my tablet with the tablet’s mouse and the Bluetooth white mouse trying to hide in the shadows. When I’m using both computers, I turn on the Bluetooth mouse and connect it with the Mac, turn Synergy on, and can use my Mac keyboard and Bluetooth mouse to work with both computers! I set up Synergy so that if I go “down” off the external monitor screen, it will jump to the top of the PC screen, so it’s very intuitive to move all around. I was very pleased with the way everything was working, although sometimes when I get too close to the top left of the PC screen, my mouse cursor jumps to the Mac screen (left) and confuses me.

As a side note, it’s very hard to make out, but to the left of the Mac and slightly behind it is the My Book Studio hard drive, parked on the corner of my desk. I have an insane amount of cables and wires going everywhere right now, which makes me itchy to try to my desk, two years after first seeing that link. Maybe I’ll make that one of Steve’s first house projects when he gets off work!

Setting up Synergy+ with Windows and Mac

Dave Seah mentioned that he uses Synergy+ to share a keyboard and mouse between his multiple computers so I thought I’d give it a try. It took me a few hours over a few days before I got it working. Here’s roughly how my process went:

  • Downloaded Synergy+ for Windows and installed on PC. Did the same for my Mac.
  • Installed qsynergy for Mac – it provides a visual interface for configuring Synergy+. Otherwise you have to set up a text configuration file and run command prompts, which intimidates me.
  • Used qsynergy to set up my Macbook Pro as the server and added a screen for my PC.
  • Opened Synergy+ on the PC and put in my Macbook Pro name as the server; the PC would be a “client” and use the Mac’s keyboard and mouse.
  • Clicked the “test” button and kept getting “can’t connect” errors – it wasn’t finding the Mac.
  • Tried putting in IP addresses instead, but still didn’t work.
  • Eventually this worked to resolve the connection problems: Changed PC name to all uppercase in qsynergy on the Mac (I had it lowercase before), and used Mac’s IP address in Synergy+ on the PC. When I dragged the mouse off the edge of the Mac screen, I could see it flickering on the PC screen.
  • Unfortunately, though, it still wasn’t really working properly; the mouse would flicker and move on the very left of the PC screen but not actually do anything or move around the screen.
  • I had the bright idea that maybe the Wacom tablet mouse was the problem. I plugged in my travel USB mouse into the Mac. It worked perfectly! The mouse moved smoothly between the Mac and PC screens.
  • But the keyboard wouldn’t work at all (I have an Apple keyboard plugged into the Mac).
  • Did some Googling. One person said qsynergy didn’t work for them, but SynergyKM did. I uninstalled qsynergy from the Mac and installed SynergyKM.
  • After a few rough starts, I figured out that to set up the configuration screen, I had to drop the “.local” from my MacBook name (e.g., corrie-macbook instead of corrie-macbook.local). Worked perfectly with the USB mouse and keyboard. Still didn’t work with Wacom tablet mouse. But I did a little happy dance nonetheless when I was able to move the cursor from my Mac screen to my PC screen and type something on the PC!
  • I found a post at Stefan Didak’s blog (of crazy computer/monitor setup fame) about how his Wacom wasn’t playing nice with Synergy (or vice versa?) and he switched to Input Director. Unfortunately for me, Input Director only works with PCs, not with Macs as well. But I did feel validated because in the comments another person was experiencing the same problems with PC/Mac/Synergy/Wacom. So it’s not just me.

So now I’m left with what to do. I love being able to share a keyboard and mouse, but I also love my Wacom (and I just sprung $60 for a replacement mouse when my scroll wheel failed on the original one). Maybe I’ll get a wireless (Bluetooth?) mouse for general use and keep the Wacom on my desk for when I need to use the pressure-sensitive pen. I’ll update this post when I finally make a decision… but knowing me, don’t expect anything really soon!

UPDATED: 7/13/2010

I ordered a Logitech Bluetooth mouse and got it installed and set up with my Mac – and indeed, it works with Synergy so that I can now go from screen to screen between my Mac and PC! It’s pretty smooth – there have been a few times where the mouse gets a little jumpy, but overall it seems to work well. The great thing is that it works on top of my Wacom tablet just fine (my cheap travel USB mouse didn’t like the reflective surface), so I don’t have to rearrange anything.

Because the Bluetooth mouse runs on batteries, I’m keeping it “off” most of the time except for when I actually need to use both computers, which hasn’t been very often. So the rest of the time, I continue to use my Wacom mouse and pen as usual.

So, I’m fully Synergy-zed and pretty happy about it.

Tracking sleep with Google Spreadsheets

I started a paper sleep log for Steven this week, but then I got kind of geeky and made a Google spreadsheet with color-coded cells to see more visually what his sleep patterns are like.

You can view the spreadsheet here: Steven’s sleep

I’ve only used Google’s spreadsheets for pretty basic stuff, so I learned two new things as I was making this:

  • How to add more columns
  • How to automatically color-code cells

To add more columns, you highlight x number of columns and then right-click in the column header grey area. A new option appears to add x columns to the right or left of your selection. This wasn’t very intuitive for me – I had to run a Google search to find out how to do this.

Automatically color-coding cells is pretty cool, though. Select all of your cells, then click the button for cell colors and you’ll see a checkbox for “Change with rules.”

When you check the box, a dialog box comes up that allows you to define rules. I used punctuation to represent different states:

  • period (.) – sleeping
  • hyphen (-) – awake in crib
  • comma (,) – crying in crib

By defining the text and background colors to be the same, the cell just ends up looking all colored, as you can see in the spreadsheet:

This makes it really easy to edit the spreadsheet and enter data. Instead of highlighting cells each time and changing the background color of the cell, you can just type the symbol and the spreadsheet automatically changes the color for you. Pretty nifty!

Other random notes about the spreadsheet:

  • I chose to let blank cells represent when Steven is awake, and used other symbols to represent feeding times (either “normal” feedings with an exclamation point (!) or “unsuccessful feedings” – lots of crying and fussing – with a slash (/).
  • After adding lots of cells to represent 15-minute increments, I merged the cells together in one row for the time headers.

Can you think of other applications for using the color code feature to track stuff?

Smart Strip

Smart StripI’m excited because I recently received my Smart Strip and plugged it in. My Smart Strip is a tan color, not the white that the product pictures show, but it works just fine!

The basic concept is that you can use the Smart Strip for one main appliance and related peripherals. Common uses would be for your computer/printer/drives/etc. or a home entertainment center. When the one main item is powered off, all the other peripherals have the power shut off to them as well, so you avoid electricity drain and save money! (The Smart Strip does include three plugs that are “always on” for things that you don’t want to be powered off — those are the red plugs.)

I first read about the Smart Strip at The Simple Dollar and finally tried to get one when we moved. Our local Office Max staff looked at me blankly when I asked about it, so I ended up ordering mine off of Amazon. Of course, a few days later, I saw them available at Ace Hardware along with other “green” products! Go figure.

More efficient moving tips

Less than seven months after our last move, we’ve moved again, this time into our own home!

We had one 17′ U-haul truck and three pickup trucks. The U-haul truck got crammed full, the other trucks just had a few things in them that were awkward (such as our bikes). We packed the trucks in 1 hour and 15 minutes and unloaded in 30 minutes; since this was an in-town move, it took about 5 minutes to go from one house to the other!

In addition to following last time’s moving tips, we did a few more things that made this move even more organized:

  • Boxed as much as we could. Last time we mostly used banker’s boxes, which are easy to stack and carry but don’t fit larger things very well. This time we used banker’s boxes and larger cardboard boxes so we were able to box up almost everything we owned. This mean less loose stuff for our helpers to deal with.
  • Printed out floor plans. I had measured the new place and measured our furniture and put together some floor plans for each room of where I thought the furniture could go. I printed these out and taped them on the doors or walls so that our helpers could see where to put the furniture. Here’s a sample of my living room floor plan:

    Sample floor plan

  • Had “jobs” for other helpers. I didn’t really plan this, but we did have some helpers that weren’t as able to lift things but were still willing to help; we also had some people who were willing to stay after everything was moved in and help. I happened to already be prepared with some things I wanted to get done, such as lining the kitchen shelves or putting together furniture. I was able to assign these to our non-moving-boxes helpers; it ended up being a huge help as being eight/nine months pregnant makes it difficult to do some of the putting-together-heavy-furniture tasks!

The past several days have been long days of unpacking and shopping. I’ve done some fun organizing projects which I’ll talk about in later posts!

Freezer shortcuts

The freezer can be a great tool for saving time in the kitchen or for saving money… or both! I like to buy in bulk and also pre-prep some foods, store it in the freezer, and pull things out when I need them. Here are some of the things I like to do:

Meat freezer tricks

  • Buy ground meat in bulk. Split it up into smaller packets, wrapped in plastic wrap or butcher paper, label, and freeze. You can use a food scale (or a postal scale, which is what I do!) to get 1/2 lb. or 1 lb. packets — all ready for a recipe!
  • Same thing works when you see any kind of bulk meat or meat on sale: Buy a lot of meat all at once, split it up into recipe-sized portions, and freeze. I do this with large fillets of salmon, for example.
  • Buy whole chickens (which are usually cheaper than individual parts). If the butcher can’t cut it up for you, it’s actually kind of fun to do it yourself! I usually de-skin and de-bone the breasts as I’m cutting up the rest of the chicken, and use a cleaver to chop up the back into smaller pieces to use for homemade chicken broth. Divide the parts into different plastic bags (or butcher paper) according to what you might usually use them for. For example, I’ll wrap the chicken breasts individually, put the wings, thighs, and legs together, and take all the excess skin, fat, bone, and chopped-up pieces of back into a big Ziploc bag for homemade chicken broth. Everything gets labeled and stored in the freezer, ready for dinner later on.
  • If you like bacon occasionally or if you like to buy bacon in bulk, try this trick: Pull out two slices of bacon at a time and roll them up together. Put the bacon rolls side-by-side in a freezer bag (it’s okay if the rolled sides touch each other) and freeze. It’s very easy to break apart the bacon rolls and pull out as much bacon as you want to have in the morning or to use it in a recipe.

Produce freezer tricks

  • Chopped green onions are a staple in my kitchen — I use them in soups, fried rice, in omelets, and more. So, instead of buying a bunch of green onions, using one or two stalks for a meal, and letting the rest rot in the fridge, I wash, dry (with a paper towel), and chop all the onions at once and throw them in a freezer bag. The frozen onions are great with cooked foods; however, they tend to look a bit wilted if you try to use them “fresh” (as a garnish or topping, for example)
  • I do the same thing with parsley and celery, which I am rarely able to use all at once. Chop them up and freeze them, and they’re great for adding to cooked foods later on!
  • We have a friend with a very productive lemon tree. I took part of an afternoon to juice the multiple bags of lemons that she gave us (an electric juicer would have been handy, but I used a normal hand-held juicer) and poured the lemon juice into ice cube trays. The lemon juice was a bit more difficult to pop out of the trays (I had to use a butter knife to encourage some of the cubes to come out), but once they did, I was able to put them all in a freezer bag. You can do this with any home-squeezed juice — lime, orange, etc. I’ve also frozen the base for blackberry limeade (blackberries and water) when I bought a ton of blackberries on sale, although in a ziplock bag, not in ice cube trays.
  • Although this isn’t produce-specific, ice cube trays work nicely for freezing small portions of homemade pesto, broth, or any sauce or liquid!

Other freezer tricks

  • I usually only need a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. When I open a new can of tomato paste, I use the can opener to open up both sides of the can. Pushing against one of the metal discs, I slide the tomato paste out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, then discard the can top/bottom. When I need tomato paste, I just eyeball the frozen chunk and use a knife to cut off the approximate amount that I need.
  • I have to admit that I don’t like the heels of loaves of bread. We used to just let them sit and collect in the cupboard until they molded. Now, I’ll tear them up into chunks and pulse them in my food processor to make fresh breadcrumbs. I store the breadcrumbs in the freezer and use them in recipes. (Actually, the freezer is a great place to temporarily store those leftover slices of bread so that you can make a big batch of breadcrumbs all at once! Just make sure that they thaw before trying to pulse in the food processor.)
  • The food processor is also a great tool for making your own shredded cheese. Buying a big block of cheese is sometimes more cost-efficient than buying pre-shredded cheese. I’ll often shred the cheese myself and then freeze portions of it in Ziploc bags which I can pull out and thaw as I need them.
  • Another cheese trick — Steve loves provolone cheese, which I’ll buy in bulk at Costco. I divide the provolone into packets of 5 slices (one for each weekday) and freeze. On Sunday, I can pull out one of my packets and thaw it in the fridge to use in Steve’s lunch sandwiches that week.
  • After making homemade chicken broth (usually about 2 qts. worth from the back pieces, leftover skin, fat, and bones of one chicken), I’ll pour two or four-cups of broth into Ziplock freezer bags, seal them up, and store in the freezer for later.
  • We have a local company that makes these wonderful fresh flour tortillas, but because there are no preservatives, they go bad faster than we can eat them. I’ve started layering the tortillas with waxed paper and freezing the stack of tortillas, which allows me to pull them out easily one at a time, defrost quickly in the microwave (15-20 seconds at high), and use for a quick quesadilla.
  • After making Chinese steamed pork buns, which we love — but can only eat so many for a few days in a row, I’ll let them cool and then freeze them in a plastic freezer bag. I can then pull out one or two at a time and microwave them to eat for a quick snack or meal.
  • Finally, when Steve and I make a huge batch of potstickers/dumplings (note to self: will have to post recipe at some point), we’ll lay them out on cookie sheets (before cooking them) and freeze them, then transfer them into a Ziplock bag for storage. We then have lunch or dinner all ready to go; I like to either boil them or fry-steam them in a skillet, which you should do straight from the freezer so that they don’t thaw and stick together.

What freezer tricks do you have up your sleeve? Please share in the comments!

Theoretical Moving Tips

Today is the day of our move, and since I’m pre-posting this, I won’t be able to tell you how it really went until we settle in. However, here are some things that we’ve tried to do to make moving a little easier for ourselves — but most importantly, for the people who are helping us. While we have implemented some of these moving tips in the past, I think that I should wait until AFTER our move to claim any usefulness or practicalities, so these remain “theoretical” for now:

  • Similar-sized boxes: We’ve packed most of our stuff into cheap cardboard file boxes or into these big plastic bins that we got from Costco. Very few items are in random-shaped boxes. This should theoretically make it very easy to load stacks of boxes up on hand trucks to move them into the truck and out into the house. (On the flip side, we have A LOT of boxes because they’re relatively small boxes compared to moving boxes that you can purchase.)
  • Well-labeled boxes: (At least, an attempt at well-labeled boxes.) We’ve labeled the top and at least one side of the file boxes with not only the contents of the box, but where the box should go — the kitchen, the living room, a bedroom, etc.
  • Signs on the doors: Conversely, we’re putting signs up in the house to label clearly which room is what. That way our helpers can quickly see “this is the office” or “this is Steve and Corrie’s room” without having to ask one of us.
  • Purging: We’ve tried to purge as we’ve packed, which will hopefully please our volunteers to know that they aren’t moving things that are going to be trashed anyway. And it means they’re moving less stuff than they could be — even if it doesn’t seem like it!
  • Total readiness: Our goal was to be completely ready for volunteers to come in and start moving. This meant that big furniture like our bed and desk would be broken down, drawers emptied, boxes stacked and labeled. Anything loose or unlabeled, our volunteers have the freedom of leaving in our apartment and we’ll deal with it later. Knowing our volunteers, they’ll be kind enough to bring it over anyway, so we’ll tell them to put everything “miscellaneous” in a corner of the living room or garage so that they don’t have to ask one of us.

Check back later to see how the reality of moving was for us!