Starting 2013 With a Bang – 5 Tools to Help You Succeed

This is already shaping up to be a great year. My jobby job, our house, my husband’s and my relationship, the kids, our business… Everything is really starting to come together, and I am loving it!  :)  The past year has been intensely challenging, with the biggest lessons for me involving balance and organization. There is just so much to be done!! I have often found myself forgetting things on my to-do lists, not responding quickly enough to clients and not meeting deadlines, missing out on time with my husband and kids, and generally feeling overwhelmed. Not a good way to run a business or a life. So, while my never-ending search for the “perfect” tools/system/apps to keep my life organized continues, I have picked up a few tricks along that way that may help YOU this year…

Evernote

Yes, I know everyone has heard of (and probably uses) Evernote, but I seriously don’t know how I would live without it anymore! If you don’t have it, you need to get it. And yes, I mean “need”. Any little piece of information I come across – a website, a picture I take, a voice note or scribbled sketch or scanned-in receipt – is sent off to Evernote and put in its proper folder, where it is instantly synced to the cloud and available wherever I have internet access. It’s like a portable brain! I am still working on my ideal file structure, but what I have right now is an Inbox (which syncs with Zendone, coming up next), a “Reference” folder for general storage, and a handful of synced folders that I share with various people. I did attempt a GTD setup at one point, but Zendone handles that aspect of things quite nicely.Image

Zendone

I have been flirting with this nifty little utility for awhile now. Essentially, it is a “personal productivity app” that integrates with Evernote and facilitates the implementation of the GTD methodology. That all sounds very complex, but it’s really not! In practical terms, what it does is allow me to throw everything willy-nilly into Evernote, and then easily break it down into relevant folders, projects and actions. It syncs with Google Calendar, too! The one thing that has kept me from using it religiously (which I should be) is the lack of a mobile app. However, I am thrilled to report that their iPhone app is now available, with Android following shortly! Image

Plan to Eat

I love this site. It is a menu planner, recipe box and grocery list all in one – and it syncs with Google Calendar, too!! :D I add in recipes from anywhere (I usually import from a URL). I add the recipes to my planner, and then go to the grocery list, where I can remove or add things as I look over my pantry inventory – and then print out the list or just check things off on my phone. It has taken making dinner from a stressful and frustrating chore to something approaching enjoyable – and significantly decreased our grocery budget, to boot! 

plan-to-eat-screenshot

Google Calendar

This one needs no link. If you don’t have a Google account, get one now. They are free, and you get all sorts of goodies (like this calendar) also free. You can create as many calendars on your account as you like (school, blog, birthdays, etc.), add users (so grandma can see the kids’ school schedule), publish it for the world to see (or not), and import any calendar with an iCal feed (like Plan to Eat). So simple, yet so necessary… ;)

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Mvelopes

Oh, budgeting happiness! I started using Mint some time ago, and was never quite happy with what they provided… Mvelopes lets you add accounts, create a budget, track all your spending, and – most importantly for me – see how much I will have to spend in the future! I set my budget and funding for each category, and divvy the money I currently have between my envelopes. At any point, from a computer or my phone, I can tell how much money I have left in each (or envelope) and plan for the remainder of the month. I know at all times how much I currently have, what will be coming out, and how much leeway I have. Using Mvelopes has made a substantial difference in our budget, and rather than tapping into savings each month, we are putting money back in. An essential tool!

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… If you have used any of these tools and found them useful (or didn’t), I’d love to hear about your experiences! I’m sure there are many tools out there I haven’t come across, as well, and I’m always game to try something new… Happy (slightly belated) New Year, and here’s to an organized, successful and prosperous one!  :)

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Filed under Android, Budgeting, Business, Domesticity, Geekiness, GTD, Meal Planning, Organization, Tech reviews, Time Management

A soup to feed them all – Crockpot Bean and Bacon Soup

Jars of Crockpot Bean and Bacon Soup

Home-canned Bean and Bacon Soup

The world has officially ended. All of my children AND my husband like the crockpot Bean and Bacon Soup I just made. I am shocked speechless… But not for long. ;)

Seriously though, I found this recipe in a moment of desperation and modified it ever-so-slightly to make the perfect, easy meal (and then some)! For the original recipe, click on the link above. Here is my modified version of the recipe, and instructions for canning it:

Bean with Bacon Soup 

Just like Campbell’s used to make, except not from a can.

  • 3 cans navy beans, rinsed and drained or 1 lb dried beans, quick soaked and drained (see instructions)
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon (preferably uncured)
  • 2 carrots, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 of a small can (approx 2 tbsp) tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste (I just use Johnny’s seasoning salt)
  1. If using dried beans, pre-soak them. For the quick soak method, place the beans in a pot with about 9 cups of water (enough to cover them approximately double with water). Bring to a boil, cover, and let soak for an hour.
  2. In a large skillet or saute pan, fry the bacon on both sides until most of the fat is rendered, but not crispy.
  3. Remove the bacon from the pot, leaving the rendered grease behind.  Add the carrots, celery, and onion.  Cook over medium heat, stirring to get up all the bacon-y goodness, until the vegetables are softened, 5-7 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat and add the drained beans. Stir well to mix everything, then dump your veggie/bean mix in the crockpot.
  5. Add the broth, water, and bay leaves.  Cover and cook according to your available time – I set on High for about 2 hours, then turned to low for another 3 hours.
  6. Chop the bacon finely.  Add chopped bacon and tomato paste to the soup.  Cover again and cook on low for at least another 20 minutes.
  7. Use an immersion blender to half-puree the soup, leaving some whole beans and chunks intact – or , if you don’t have an immersion blender, remove about 2 cups of the soup, puree in a blender, and stir back into the pot. Season with a little salt and pepper or Johnny’s Seasoning Salt to taste.
  8. Serve, freeze or can!!

To can the soup

This recipe made enough for lunch for 2 people plus 2 quarts of canned soup. Can in pint jars for individual servings, or if you have fewer leftovers!

  1. Starting with clean, sterilized jars, fill them with HOT water and set aside for a few minutes.
  2. Place the lids and rings in a pan with some water and bring to a boil, then turn the water off (this sterilizes the lids).
  3. Fill the jars with soup, leaving at least 1/2″ of room at the top.
  4. Wipe off the rims of the jars with a damp cloth, making sure they are completely clean.
  5. Place the lids on the jars and gently hand-tighten the rings (don’t crank them down).
  6. Listen for the happy little “ping” that tells you the jars have sealed! Or, after the jars have cooled for 12 to 24 hours, you can tell they are sealed if:
    1. The lid dips down in the center
    2. You can press down on the center of the lid and it doesn’t give
    3. You tap on the lid with a spoon and it makes a high-pitched ringing sound
  7. If the jar(s) didn’t seal, you can either re-process the soup (try to can it again), freeze, or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Food that is properly canned will last safely for approximately 1 year. I suggest you label the jar with food name and date, just to be on the safe side.  :)

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Filed under Domesticity, Recipes

Blog, Business and Task Planning

It should be no surprise to anyone by now that I am NOT an inherently organized or efficient person. However, I do have oodles of energy and enthusiasm! … Most of the time.  ;)

A couple months back, I started on the “SHE Cardfile System” (more about that in my very next post), and set myself a weekly schedule that included blog posts. Obviously, that’s done me a whole lot of good… So I’m going to take it to the next level: CONSTANT VISUAL REMINDERS!!

I don’t have an office space at home, just a small corner of our bedroom. So, in an effort to find something compact and potentially portable (I do a lot of my thinking and organizing on my Android), I stumbled across Productive Flourishing - specifically, their Free Planners section. OH MY GOODNESS!! This is exactly what I need!!! The entire system is sheer genius, and while I’m not one to buy things, I just may have to buy this. Or reproduce it in a form that is uniquely me (with all those oodles of free time I have).

… So, in the spirit of actually managing the time I have and posting on a regular basis, I start by sharing that lovely site. Typical posting days on this blog, however, will be Saturdays. My husband, however, devotes his time to creating totally awesome content – and you can visit his postings on my Tumblr blog. :-)

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Filed under Business, Organization

Easy DIY Liquid Laundry Soap

I have been making my own laundry soap for years now, and I found a link to a “how-to” blog (complete with pictures) that walks you through the whole process! It’s super easy, super cheap, and somehow deeply satisfying. LOL

http://survivingandthrivingonpennies.blogspot.com/2012/01/diy-liquid-laundry-soap.html

Enjoy!!

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Filed under Domesticity, Recipes, Sustainability

Blog planning

… Alright. I stand by my earlier renaming of the blog, though I have actually just gone ahead and created a Tumblr blog! Our life is crazy and chaotic and jumbled, and in an attempt to create some sort of organization, I now have a Master Plan. Or at least the beginnings of one. ;)

So. Switching name back to Amorphous Eclectic, and this will be my “Mommy Blog”! Topics I am going to focus on here include book reviews, parenting, home organization/decoration, food, and other assorted domestic-y stuff. The Tumblr blog will be my random personal blog.

For bento stuff and *just* food, check out Brizi’s Not-Quite-Bento blog.

For health, nutrition and herbal stuff, try Whole Healing (coming soon!).

Self-publishing, entrepreneurial, web design, marketing, and other business-y stuff, visit Sage & Scribe (also coming soon!).

General sustainability (financial, environmental and otherwise), household management, resources and general hope/inspiration can be found at Back To Hope.

And last but CERTAINLY not least is Old Ways – where you will find a collection of my writings as well as my husband’s (a shaman, teacher and author) and other contributors.

… This plan is evolving a bit, so don’t panic if you see yet more changes coming down the pipeline – and please feel free to suggest content! I will be posting several times weekly (at least once a week per site), and there are lots and lots of goodies in the works.

In the meantime, check out Virtual Coffee for some fantastic, free computer wallpapers like these ones:

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Filed under Back to Hope, Book Reviews, Domesticity, Gardening, Health, Herbs, Recipes, Sustainability, Tea