I have some ideas for where this blog could go, but I’m torn between it being something personal, that is, purely for my benefit, more of a diary or something thematic. While I think many of the ideas I explore for my own benefit can be tied into a common theme, it’s not quite the same as an actually focused-topic blog.

That said, one of the skills I want to work on in my life is actually an issue of diffused attention so I think I would like to have this blog go in a certain direction. When I originally registered the domain many years ago, I was thinking that I would be able to do something about efficiency – this was back in the days when Gina still ran Lifehacker, Get Rich Slowly was new (and J.D. was not retired) and I’m sure all sorts of opportunities and connections I could have made had I tried to get involved while I saw my chance.

Anyway, my point specifically is that my hope is to make this blog about action, not rumination. It’s not at all about what I could have done before now. Or even what I could do now. I have a few projects I want to work on and want to develop systems to enact – and complete – them.

This isn’t a complete departure from my previous idea of a theme, but what I am hoping to do is enable the blog to be support for me learning new things – whether broad, like how to accomplish goals and appreciate my achievements (meta-goal), or specific, like learning coding or home remodeling or getting a new job. Teaching, or at the very least, summarizing, is one of the best ways to learn (à la the Feynman technique) so my hope is to be able to compile and distill insights that I gain about how to do specific things and what I learn about how to learn, and live, better.

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Lightning Tip: Kill your alarm

image courtesy of H is for Home

For years I battled with my alarm clock, hearing the grating beeping trying to drag me from the comfy darkness and have to do things like get dressed, eat something, go somewhere. Ugh.

Little did I know how simple the solution was.

I started using my cellphone as my alarm clock when we moved and for the first time could set the alarm to a different noise. I set it to a  mellow chime and, lo and behold, it wakes me up, but doesn’t shock me out of sleep.

Not having that adrenaline rush waking me up has made my mornings so much more pleasant and – as long as I’m not trying to push it with the hours of sleep I need – makes me want to get up instead of pressing snooze again and again.

Kind of a “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar situation”. Why we think we need to beat ourselves into submission with a violent, screeching alarm and taste of panic in our mouths in the morning just to drag ourselves out of bed, I’m not sure, but I can definitely say this has made my mornings much better and more efficient without the perpetu-snooze.

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Taking Stock in… Stock

We eat a lot of vegetables – and don’t have a compost bin – so that means we have a ton of vegetable “trash” (which I have paid however much per lb at the grocery for).

image courtesy of testpatern

For years, one thing that we have done is keep a “broth bag” in the freezer. Many or most vegetable scraps go in here: onion peels, parsley stems, carrot peelings, rosemary stems, fennel fronds, etc. and animal products such as eggshells, chicken/beef/lamb/ham bones can also be added. I currently use two 1-gallon zipper bags (freezer burn is not a concern) and when those get full, everything gets thrown in a large pot, water poured on top, a couple bay leaves and a shake of peppercorns added and it simmers for hours. I definitely recommend doing this on a chilly day because it definitely warms and steams up the house – although it is a delicious smell!

There are some veggies I don’t recommend – cabbage cores or leaves, broccoli, brussel sprouts, eggplant or herbs that might not fit with the other flavors you have included like cilantro.

After the stock has simmered enough, we let it cool a bit and strain it through our colander into a container. Usually I just put it in the fridge and we use it in all kinds of dishes for a little extra pizazz or for soups French Onion Soup is a personal favorite). You can, however, freeze it – either in a container (being sure to leave a little room for it to expand) or ice cube trays for easy measuring.

Summary of benefits:

  • Save money by maximizing use of your groceries
  • Save waste by using the scraps to the fullest before disposing (if you do all-veggie broth, you can definitely put the post-stock slurry in the compost heap if you have one!)
  • Bonus food by making broth from “trash”
  • If it’s cold, you can consider this some extra heating and humidity :)

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4 reasons to love the library

One thing that I think many people don’t take sufficient advantage of is their public library. When moving from San Francisco to Chicago I’ve had some bumps in the road with adapting to the local library, but I still love it. In both places, we’ve been about a 10 minute walk from a library – in SF, the Main Library and in Chicago a regional branch.

image courtesy of Enokson

  1. Placing holds online is awesome! Pretty much any public library these days has an online database where you can search all the materials in the library system. You can browse stuff you’d like to check out, enter your account info and set the item to be delivered to whichever library is most convenient to you and then pick them up at your convenience. Cost: $0. Extra work over buying books on Amazon: Marginal, and none if the delivery guy misses you and you have to go pick up your package.
  2. They have movies! I don’t think people realize, the library has TONS of DVDs (and VHSs if you’re old school) – and not just documentaries and PBS series – they have all the blockbusters, usually a great array of cool foreign films, hit TV series (we watched the entire Sopranos series from the library), classics (I’m a huge fan of the Critereon Collection). Combine this with and well… Cost: $0, Extra work over Netflix: Only pick-up from the library instead of delivery to your door.
  3. They have music! Again, it’s not just opera and classical, the library has all kinds of popular music. Not to promote anything illegal, but just sayin’ Exact Audio Copy is awesome and works great on CDs that might be scratched from a lot of handling.
  4. Books are awesome! Seriously. Reading is amazing. I can tear through fiction but I’m trying to teach myself to get better at reading non-fiction too. I’m not sure what my problem is because even the type of non-fiction that’s written to read like a novel doesn’t usually grab me (though I was enthralled by Mad in America and found it incredibly readable). – unless it’s a business book (a lot of which are awful – I thought Up the Organization was amazing and the concepts are timeless (even if the talk about the “girls in the steno pool” isn’t)). There are so many amazing books in the world – currently we have 12 items out – three novels for me, some amazing photo books, a couple books for A, some art books, and a movie.

And 4 surprise special bonus reasons!

The library in Chicago also has museum passes that you can check out for free admission to certain museums, which I find pretty amazing, especially given the quality of the museums here (the collection at the Art Institute of Chicago kind of blew my mind).

image courtesy of ConanTheLibrarian

Both Chicago and San Francisco libraries offer free WiFi which is nice – though I’ve gotta say that if you’re going to camp out and do work, I’d personally prefer home where I can be comfy or a cafe so I can sip some coffee while I go, whereas libraries don’t like food or drink in the building. I actually set up for a day at the Chicago library just after I moved and was trying to work but didn’t have internet yet – it didn’t work that great though because I needed to talk on the phone which is also not cool to do at the library, so I kept having to go down to the lobby and outside.

If you’re into eBooks (including for the Kindle) or audio books (total white noise for me), you can check these out from the library too – by downloading them online.

The long and the short of it is the library is an amazing resource that is available to you at no cost (or you’re paying for it through taxes anyway so it’s wasteful not to use it).

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In the Beginning…

I have had this idea for a blog for quite some time – at least before I registered the domain in January ’08. Now, nearly three six years later, I am finally breaking ground.

image courtesy of KayVee.INC

Something I have heard repeated again and again – both in my personal and business life – is the need to do more with less. This is something that I have found myself to be quite good at; putting the pieces together to maximize the space, finding most efficient way to get something done, fitting the Tempest in the Teapot.

Let me say, I do realize that this is not the traditional usage of the expression tempest in a teapot, but I think my concept is equally valid. We all seem to have “tempests” these days we need to contain – and only “teapots” to store them.

My goal with this blog is to help share what I have learned about how to do that in various parts of life (personal, social, mental, financial and professional) and hopefully, teach myself more and hone my skills in the process. I expect this to be somewhat similar to “lifehacks” but with less of the focus on gadgetry like Lifehacker has and a more general explanation of ways I personally see to make work and life more efficient.

Thank you for reading.

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