I spent several hours today helping a client tackle her closet–purging it of stuff she no longer wears, putting what she’s keeping on nice new hangers, relocating some things and just sorting through everything.  It was hard work!  I could tell it was a challenge for her to focus on what we were doing and push through the urge to toss it aside, do something more fun–it really takes a lot of discipline to do the work required to get organized.  It’s definitely not instant gratification!  People probably wonder why, if you can recognize that an area’s disorganized, you can just deal with it and organize it yourself.  I’ve found that part of the most helpful thing I can do is just be present to hold someone to the promise of their intention to deal with their disorganization.  Just keeping someone on task and focused is half the battle!  And there are undeniable moments of being overwhelmed, to the point of wondering how the heck all this stuff can really come together–when you come across a bag of things totally unrelated to each other and that you forgot you had and don’t even know what to do with anymore, for example.  Getting organized is a process and you can’t skip steps, so you really do have to do the hard work to get the reward of a clean and organized space.  But if you plow through it and just take one thing at a time and ignore the feeling that you have to conquer everything at once, you will get there.  So, like all other things, I’m finding the same applies to starting this new business–it’s challenging and sometime overwhelming but I’m just going to take one thing at a time and enjoy the little rewards as I reach them!

Aside from actually following through on my new business idea one of the more rewarding parts of what I’ve done so far in these past few weeks is build my own website.  Among my criteria for moving forward with Cool, Calm & Collected was low start up costs.  That means I’m not paying a designer.  I’d seen from a few other websites that WordPress could be used for websites as well as blogs, and since I’d become familiar with it already and it’s free  and doesn’t require knowing HTML code, I thought I’d try it.  Having no idea what I was doing, I bought a domain, bought hosting, and proceeded trying to create something that approximated a real website.  Hour upon hour of progressing a milimeter a minute and a week later I’d created something decent.  But it took so much frustration and banging my head against the keyboard.  There were even a few moments of utter despair when I thought I would never get the damn thing to work.  But I did and I’ve even managed to tweak a few things I never thought I’d figure out and–even though it’s still very very basic–I’m proud of it.  I tackled it, used my smarts, figured it out and learned something new.

I’m getting comfortable with the idea that that’s whole this whole thang is gonna go down–figuring it out as I go along and trusting that I’ll be able to.  Case in point: today I went to Ikea to get the materials for the closet I’m helping to organize.  I’d determined we needed 250 hangers, 100 skirt hangers, and 100 small bins.  As I started to pile things into the cart, I realized that all equaled a ton of stuff.  I literally had two shopping carts full of hangers!  As I tried to push them through the rest of the store to the check out aisle by myself I got the weirdest looks.  Not that I blame people.  If I saw someone trying to push two shopping carts full of hangers around Ikea I’d wonder what the heck she was doing too.  I got a lot of “Wow, you must have a lot of clothes” comments.  There was definitely a moment when I wondered if I was crazy to think I could do this–and by this I mean both the business and the hangers.  But I persevered and bought all the hangers and somehow stuffed them into the Mini.  And there they’ll sit, looking ridiculous, until I go over to Sara’s on Monday–and we better use them all!

After spending these many months trying to figure out what the heck to do with myself–feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled by dependence on the 9-to-5 job and yet not having the risk-taking constitution to rid myself of said dependence–I finally–finally–had a lightbulb moment that actually continued to make sense after the moment passed.  (I have brilliant ideas all the time that it turns out, a few hours and some rational thought later, are not all that brilliant after all.)

So I’ve started a professional organizing company!  Duh, right?  One of those things that, as soon as it occurs to you, you wonder why on earth it hadn’t occurred to you before.  In all the thinking and self-evaluation I’d undertaken to try to figure out a more enjoyable way to earn a living, “organizing” and “planning” were always the two words I used most in response to questions of what I like to do and what I’m good at doing.  Rather than try to concoct something that utilizes those skills toward something else, I realized I could just utilize those skills for what they are, in and of themselves!  A breakthrough.

That I’ve actually followed through and taken the neccessary steps to make this a reality–registering my business with the city, building a website, letting people know about it, formulating a marketing plan–proves to me that this is something I want and can do.  I sometimes have issues with follow through, and I usually chalk it up to the notion that if I’m not compelled to follow through on something, it’s probably something I don’t really want to be doing anyway and should therefore not force myself.

Which brings me to this blog.  Despite repeated attempts throughout my life to “journal” I’ve never been able to maintain the habit because I find the process quite uncomfortable.  But that only makes me want to do it even more! I started this blog, let people know about it against my better judgment, tried it for a while, got busy and distracted and then could never get back on the bandwagon.  Plus I felt like it had no purpose.  But with this exciting new venture of mine I feel like I have a reason to blog now.  And I am inspired by my friend and new client (!!!) Sara and her blog, http://blueblinds.blogspot.com/.   We agreed that putting yourself out there, making yourself a little vulnerable and having the faith that the world into which you’re putting your good stuff will send you good stuff back, is a really good thing to do.  And she’s doing it so gracefully!  Surely I can follow her lead.

Wedding - All 230We’d just gotten married.  What a fun day.  One of the few in my life when I was completely present, not thinking about anything but what was happening right then, and I remember it vividly.  We went back to this spot for a picnic; it was nice to be there again as our normal selves and remember being there as our wedding selves.  This time it was not as hot and we wore bug spray.

After the wedding, we ate all but two (ie–approximately 50) of the leftover cupcakes.  I wrapped those two in three layers of plastic wrap and put them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer.  Chris pulled them out a few days ago so they could defrost in the fridge.  We were very excited to eat them yesterday, and they were surprisingly close to being as delicious as they were a year ago!

But sheesh, this time of year is busy.  I don’t know how we pulled off the wedding last year.  I must not have been doing my job very well!  Ah, who cares?  It was more than worth it.

Today, I went to a movie almost solely for the air conditioning.  It is hot.  Since it was 60 degrees and rainy all of June and July, we never put in our AC unit.  Ceiling fans can only get you so far.  Yesterday I went to the beach, and did this: DSC00756As neurotic as I now am about sunscreen, I missed this one spot in reapplication and am now the idiot with the one spot of sunburn.  Worse, it was over a strap, so it’s sunburn, white strip, sunburn.  Despite that it was a perfect beach day.

But I obviously couldn’t go again today and risk coming home with some other weird pattern on my skin, so I went to the movies.  I will say that when you’re used to working and then you have some days off, by yourself, with nowhere to go and nothing in particular to do, it’s kind of hard to identify what it is you actually want to do.  Maybe I want to lay around in bed all day, but then will I regret being lazy and feel like I wasted the day?  Maybe I want to plant  new flowers in the window boxes, but then will I be hot and sweaty and miserable and curse myself for not just relaxing while I have the chance?  The options are almost paralyzing in the morning.  At some point I have to just walk out of the house with the car keys and see where I end up.

I saw Julie & Julia, which I’d been wanting to see mostly out of curiosity (and a love for Meryl Streep) since I read the book.  The real Julie Powell is pretty sarcastic and snide, and Amy Adams is just so cute.  It was a very good movie, though it had a softer tone than the book–not a bad thing.  It just cracks me up to think that this woman had a movie made about her.  Crazy.

There’s a joke of which a coworker reminded me recently that goes something along the lines of how everyone makes sure to keep their cars and homes locked up in July and August, not out of fear of crime but out of fear of zucchini: everyone grows it because it’s easy to grow but then they have too much and will give it to anyone they can.  She told me this joke as I handed her two giant zucchini from our garden, which she claimed to have wanted and seemed to have been very appreciative of!

So one thing to do with all that zucchini is make zucchini bread.  Here’s the recipe I used, which is shown in the photos in the post below.  Zucchini is already pretty sweet, and of course when you finely grate it and mix it 3 cups of sugar (3 cups!!)…this is basically a sweet and slightly spicy cake-like bread with a hint of a greenish tint.  Not for any zucchini purists.  Although at this point you’re probably begging for ways to use up that zucchini without having it rubbed in your face that you are indeed eating zucchini yet again.

Adapted from Paula Deen (with uncharacteristic little use of butter)

3 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground nutmeg

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

3 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup water

2 cups grated zucchini (which is about 4-6 small-medium zucchini)

1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350.  In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar.  In a separate bowl combine oil, eggs, water, zucchini (I grated this very finely by hand, using a grater with very small holes; a coarser grate, which if course could be done much more easily in a food processor, would probably impart a more obvious zucchini flavor and texture), and lemon juice.  Mix wet ingredients into dry.  Spray two standard loaf pans with cooking spray and pour the batter in evenly.  Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

I made this in one regular and two mini loaf pans, and gave one of the mini loaves to a friend of Chris’s who happened to have stopped by and who is always very admiring of anything I bake and has the fortuitous timing to always come over when I happened to have just baked something.  Anyway, he reportedly ate the entire loaf that evening while sitting in traffic.  And it has vegetables, so it’s obviously good for you!

First, let me remind you where our vegetable garden started in May:

DSC00505And here’s how it looks now:

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Crazy. Our disbelief that the teeny seeds we dumped in the dirt would actually produce anything is now very transparent in how robustly everything is growing.  We picked bunches of beans and peas earlier in the summer, and now those are pretty much dead.  Our late blooming cucumber plant is now sprouting lots of spiky, alien looking cucumbers.  And yes, those are three stalks of corn  in the  corner (ha, corn in the corner!):

DSC00747DSC00749The carrots look impressive from the outside but their still minuscule down below.  And behind them are some pathetic peppers taking their sweet time to sprout anything.  On the other end, we’ve got our out-of-control feed-me-Seymour zucchini plant, and now four towering tomatoes:

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Also another cucumber plant trying its best to crawl away from the crazy zucchini and in the meantime growing some curly cukes (ha, curly cukes!):

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We did make a salad with some of the lettuce, and it was fine but not very flavorful.

DSC00744And of course I made zucchini bread, which looks gross when you’re making it but tasted delicious:

DSC00742DSC00743I’ll admit that it’s gratifying to watch these things grow and go into the yard and pick something and then eat it right away, especially knowing we paid about $15 for the seeds for all these plants.  But it’s also been surprisingly frustrating because we’ve only been able to harvest one thing at a time for the most part.  First the peas and beans were ready.  Then the cucumbers.  Then the zucchini.  Soon it will be the tomatoes.  Then maybe the carrots.  But not once have we been able to just make a nice salad with all our lovely vegetables in it.  Is that too much to ask?  Sheesh.  Next year I think we’re going to, first of all plant fewer seeds, and start them inside in trays earlier so we can be eating them sooner and maybe all at once.  Plus, the darn celery never did a thing, and that was one I really wanted to grow since I use it in chicken salad pretty much every week!  If someone could just figure out how to grow bacon in a home garden so I could have all the ingredients for the perfect BLT at my disposal in one convenient place, I’d forgive the indiscretions of the celery.  Ira, start working on that please.

Because I think these shoes could make me really happy

Because I think these shoes could make me really happy

Alternatively, if you know where I can find a cheaper version, let me know!

What do you know…Chris and I are apart again!  Being the only employee of his company with no kids, he was the lucky winner of an assignment in Fairfield, CT.  Too far away to drive back and forth everyday.  So he’s at the Holiday Inn.  No joke.  Now it’s my turn to be home all alone for a while, or at least weeknights for a few weeks.

Last night I tried sleeping without my earplugs.  To explain: when I moved in with Chris (three years ago?!?) we spent about two or three months where I would desperately try to fall asleep before he did and started snoring/breathing loudly in my ear, only to be woken up in the middle of the night and have to elbow or otherwise nudge him in order to roll over and temporarily cease the deafening (deafening I tell you!) racket, at which point he would not be able to fall back to sleep, probably in no small part due to guilt and self-consciousness (aren’t I so considerate?) and would go finish the night on the couch.  Terrible.  Since he refused to go to the doctor and no other solutions were effective, I started wearing earplugs.  They work wonderfully.  I recommend it to anyone.  I will happily tell you which brand is the best and will not hurt your ears.  Except sometimes I get nostalgic for being able to listen to crickets and the breeze and the birds and the rain falling softly…until I try to sleep without them and realize those sounds are annoying and disruptive to my sleep and I have to put the earplugs in at 2:30 am.  I am now a spoiled, high-maintenance sleeper.

I am also taking a break from cooking dinner.  I don’t really feel it’s worth it when it’s just me, not because I mind the effort but because a lot of the satisfaction I get out of cooking is seeing other people enjoy it/feeling the gratification and affirmation of other people liking something I made.  I just realized I may have bigger self-esteem issues that I ever realized.  Disturbing.  Anyway.  I actually like eating grilled cheese and cold cereal and scrambled eggs for dinner–it brings me back to my childhood when my mother never lifted a pan and left Ira and me to fend for ourselves like abandoned wolves left all alone in a cold and barren forest…but I digress.  Chris scoffs at eating those things for dinner–how could you even suggest it?–so I welcome the opportunity to be on my own and eat my non-dinner food as I please.  But I like reading recipes and grocery shopping and cooking too…so what do I do?  Email all my girlfriends to tell them they have an open invitation to come over for dinner anytime!  And bring their families!  Because I need someone to cook for but I have nothing special to make and no special reason to make it!

And that is how much of a dork I am: I won’t make dinner if it’s just me, but you better believe I’ll make the bed every morning.  Priorities.

We did not hire a DJ for our wedding.  We were very particular about the music we wanted played and we didn’t want a “personality” hijacking our party–since we were going to be so controlling about it, it didn’t seem worth it to pay someone.  We caught a lot of flack for this but we think it was a huge success.  Our wedding playlist is still my favorite thing to listen to!  I’ve been at a lot of weddings since where the couple goes a similar route…except they miss a few key steps.  While it’s definitely possible to skip hiring a professional DJ, you do not want to just plug your iPod into some speakers and leave it unattended.  Here are the steps we found to really work:

1. Figure out when music will be played and what type will be appropriate.  The music you want for cocktail hour is different than what you’ll want for after-dinner dancing.  Create playlists in iTunes for each section, then drag all your favorite and appropriate songs over.  (Our lists consisted of: before ceremony, processional, recessional, reception entrance, dinner, cake cutting, first dance, father-daughter dance, mother-son dance, dancing, last dance.  Some of these lists were only one or two songs long, but it makes them easier to find.)

2. Edit your lists.  You probably know how long each portion of your wedding will be and so you know how many hours of music you need.  Keep a little extra just in case the timing isn’t exactly as you expect or you want to skip a song in the moment.

3. Edit each song.  This is absolutely crucial.  We spent our entire 1 1/2 year engagement on this process.  Without this, you will have those awkward 30 second pauses between when one song fades out and the next one gets going.  This kills the mood.  To edit each song, right click on the song, select Get Info, then Options.  You’ll see little boxes for start time and stop time.

itunes

I’ll warn you, this was the most tedious project we had (even with folding the tissue paper pom-poms and cootie catcher programs).  Why?  We had to listen to the beginning and end of every single solitary song a million times and note when it started to fade in or out, change the start or stop time to match, then test it with various other songs to make sure they flowed together.  Yes, this is a pain, but it is the only way to ensure everyone at your wedding isn’t groaning about how you just plugged in your iPod and the music sucks.

4. Mix it up.  Don’t stick to all one kind of music.  Think about what your parents, peers and little cousins and nieces and newphews will enjoy, so there’s something for everyone.  (This usually means a lot of throwbacks mixed with current pop and a bunch of irrefutable classics.)  For us, this meant Boyz II Men’s I’ll Make Love to You was followed by Notorious BIG’s Hypnotize was followed by Kool & the Gang’s Get Down On It. And throw in some slow slongs every now and then.  Two slow songs to every eight to ten fast songs is a good ratio–this gives the folks who aren’t big dancers a chance to get on the floor and it gives the folks who are big dancers a much needed breather.

5.  Recruit a friend to oversee things.  We had my brother’s friend man the music.  He switched from playlist to playlist at the appropriate times, pressed play and stop, acted as emcee, and could skip or rearrange songs depending on how things were going.  As jobs go, I think it’s a pretty easy one.  We invited his girlfriend as well, put them up in the hotel as payment, and they got to hang out with my brother and enjoy the wedding (I hope!).

6. Last, but absolutely not least: DO NOT USE AN IPOD!!!  It sounds counterintuitive, but iTunes is really the key to all this, not the iPod.  An iPod is just to tricky to use when you’re under pressure like this.  And all your song editing will be lost, and that’s no good.  Instead, use your laptop.  You’ll be creating and editing your playlists on your computer anyway, and this gives you way more options and flexibility.  Borrow or rent a sound board with your speakers, plug in and go!