Sunday, February 28, 2010

28 Day Organizing Challenge - The Results!

Earlier this month, I wrote about having accepted the 28 Day Organizing Challenge hosted by I'm an Organizing Junkie.  I'm proud to say that our master closet is now reorganized and I'm posting today to show you the results.

I started out the month with the following overall plan:  make the master closet an organized and attractive place. The closet will house my clothes and there will also be some space for sewing craft supplies to be stored when not in use.

Here are a few before and after pictures:


And here are a few extra "after" photos to show some of my favorite new parts:

Shoe Organization (Finally!)

Jewelry Organization

Sewing and craft supply storage area

Coats, Jackets, New Wire Shelf and Ironing Supplies

Belt and Robe Organization

And finally, here are a few challenge questions to highlight my organizining effort:

1. What was the hardest part of the challenge for you and were you able to overcome it?
Aside from a small blood donation while trying to install a new wire shelf, the hardest part of the challenge was deciding how to organize my shoes.  At the beginning of the month, all of my shoes were thrown into three large storage containers, which wasn't good for the shoes, and it wasn't an effective use of time in the morning when I needed to find shoes for work.  As you can see in the after picture, I decided on two 15-cube organizers, which allowed each pair to have a home.  Because I had about 45 pairs of shoes before I started organizing, this was my biggest area to purge.  As a self-proclaimed shoe-lover, I had to focus on which shoes I really loved and said goodbye to the rest.  You may notice that I even have some extra space for new purchases in the future!
2. Tell us what kind of changes/habits you have put into place in order for your area/room to maintain its new order?

By putting my shoes away and hanging up coats and jackets as soon as I take them off, I have found that it keeps the closet neat, and doesn't hurt organization in the rest of the house either.  I am able to use the new space as a small dressing room, which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!  Now that the space is organized, I have found that I want to keep it looking nice.  I also avoided putting too many items in the closet.  Because there is room to grown (more clothes, more shoes, etc.) the room isn't destined to be a mess later on.

3. What did you do with the “stuff” you were able to purge out of your newly organized space?

Lots of things.  First, my husband used to share the closet, so his things were the first to go.  He is now using our office closet, which was the first mini-organizing project.  Secondly, gently worn shoes and clothes have gone to the Goodwill.  And finally, there were about three large bags of trash and old shoes or clothes that were too rough for a new home.
4. What creative storage solutions were you able to introduce in order to create additional space as well as establish some limits and boundaries?

One of my favorite new places is my jewelry drawer, which uses plastic trays to separate my neckaces and bracelets and avoid tangling.  Adhesive hooks made space for hanging all of my bags and robes, which I used to just stash or throw in random places.  I also purchased a new belt organizer - I'm not sure how I went without one of these before!
5. Why do you think you should win this challenge?

Because I love my new space and it makes me smile whenever I open the door!  I feel like I put a great deal of effort into planning out what items should stay in the closet and which should be purged or moved to a more appropriate place in the house.  All of my clothes, shoes, bags and jewelry now have a place to call home and I am looking forward to keeping it that way.

Hope that you like the look of my "new" closet!  Drop me a note and let me know what you think.  I am looking forward to seeing my challenge competition and I'm hoping that I win one of the super cool organizing prizes!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - February 22, 2010

I am participating again in Menu Plan Monday, hosted by I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Last week, the menu went out the window when I realized that I had forgotten to syncronize my calendar with my menu planning.  We had planned to have dinner with friends on Saturday night and had a church function on Sunday night.  Ergo, Chicken and Rice and Steak and Ranch Potatoes will make a guest appearance on this week's menu.  We also opted for leftovers on Thursday (had to finish up those Bow Ties!) and my husband wasn't in the mood for Fish Sticks on Friday.  In other words, the menu planning was shot.  I'm hoping that this week will be a little more organized - Here's what's on our menu for this week:

Monday:  Chicken and Yellow Rice

Tuesday:  Taco Tuesday (our family tradition)

Wednesday:  Pizza Night with my Mom and Dad

Thursday:  Spaghetti

Friday:  Dinner Out with Friends

Saturday:  Steak and Ranch Potatoes

Sunday:  Chicken Parmesan

Hope that you have a great week!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Anna Karenina Read Along: Part One

I'm participating in a read along of Anna Karenina, hosted by Mari at Bookworm with a View.  This is my second read of the novel, but as I've mentioned before, I had forgotten more about the storyline than I remembered. 

I finished Part One yesterday and have answered a few discussion questions below.  Discussion questions have been based upon the Oprah's Book Club discussion of Anna Karenina, as well as a few from Mari's friend Ellen.  I am truly enjoying this book - the beautiful writing, the intersection of families and characters, love, betrayal, everything.  Tolstoy has me hooked.

Part One Synopsis:
Anna Karenina begins with the famous quote:  "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  Part One introduces the readers to the families.  First, we are introduced to the Oblonsky family, where Stiva has been unfaithful to his wife, Dolly, and is trying desperately to gain her forgiveness.  Dolly's sister Kitty is torn between two suitors - the practical and faithful Levin, who is madly in love with her, and Vronsky who is exciting and respected, but seems to think of Kitty as more of a pursuit, than marriage material.

Levin has returned to Moscow from his country home due to his love for Kitty.  He has decided, despite his shyness, to declare his love for Kitty and propose marriage.  When he does, she refuses even though she feels strongly for Lenin, partly because she feels that Vronsky would be the more exciting option.  Levin returns to his country home, devastated, and decides to throw himself into his work.

And then, Anna arrives in Moscow from St. Petersburg.  As Stiva's sister, she has come to persuade Dolly to forgive him, and reconcile the marriage.  Anna has an amazing presence.  At the train station, Vronsky is immediately drawn to her, despite the fact that Anna is already married.  Kitty meets Anna at Dolly's home, and seems to idolize her immediately, not knowing that Anna may have already stolen Vronsky's heart.

At a ball, Kitty hopes to be the center of attention, to win Vronsky's affection once and for all.  However, she is defeated when Vronsky asks Anna to dance, and Kitty sees for herself the spark between them.  The next day, Dolly tells Anna of Kitty's jealousy, and having fulfilled her purpose of reuniting Dolly and Stiva, Anna decides to return home. 

At the close of Part One, Anna learns that Vronsky has followed her back to St. Petersburg.  The reader is given a brief glimpse of the seemingly distant relationship between Anna and her husband, and is left wondering whether Anna and Vronsky will act upon their feelings for one another.

Discussion Questions from Ellen:
1. The book begins with the fallout from Oblonsky's affair. Both Dolly and Oblonsky have difficulty knowing how to proceed once the affair is in the open. Do you think that Anna's advice to Dolly to "forgive it as utterly as if it had never happened at all," is good advice?

I think that Dolly knows that she has no choice but to reconcile with Stiva, so Anna's advice is well suited.  She replies to Anna that "naturally" she must forgive as "if it had never happened at all."  In Dolly's view, "otherwise, it wouldn't be forgiveness."  Most certainly Anna is concerned for her brother, but I think that Anna genuinely feels love for her sister-in-law, and wants to see them both together.  Anna's advice, in my opinion, is only helping to facilitate something that would have happened anyway.

2. How well do you think either Vronsky or Levin know Kitty? What are the differences and similarities in their feelings towards her?

Levin knows Kitty much better than Vronsky knows her.  Levin has a strong history with her, has spent time with her family, and has fallen in love with her because of that history and their time together.  Vronsky has come to know Kitty only recently.  Vronsky's attraction seems to be one of pursuit of a well-respected girl, and attraction to her family.  Despite his kindness toward her, the story does not show that Vronsky has long-term plans to be with Kitty.
3. Is Vronsky's attraction to Anna 'love at first sight'? What is Anna's attraction to Vronsky?

Vronsky is immediately drawn to Anna, even before he is introduced to her at the train station.  His attraction is instantaneous and it seems as if there is nothing on his mind but Anna from that point forward.  Anna's attraction to Vronsky is likewise an obsession, but it does not yet feel like love.  She thinks, and dreams, of him, but in my opinion, her feelings are different than the love that he feels for her.
Oprah Discussion Questions:
1. In Chapter V, we are given background into Stiva's character—he is described as "liked by all who knew him." Does he seem likable to you? Why or why not?

To me, he seems like a typical frat boy.  Loved by all, in the right place at the right time, good family, and good money - almost untouchable.  I like him.  I don't know why I like him, and I don't like that I like him. 
Typically, I would be turned off by someone who was unfaithful to his wife.  His character has this interesting innocence, something that you can't help but cheer for. 
2. Talk about the ball and the way Tolstoy writes about the interactions between Kitty and Vronsky, and Anna and Vronsky.

At the ball, Kitty seems so young and innocent.  She is ready for her life to begin and for Vronsky to declare his love for her.  Vronsky's time with Kitty at the ball seems like it is out of obligation to her, and she feels defeated.  Anna and Vronsky are drawn to each other at the ball.  I think that Vronsky knows that he is in love, and again Anna has some type of obsession with him.  It is as if they cannot help but be together.

3. What do you learn about Anna's family life at the end of Part One that seems significant? How is that reinforced by the details the author chooses to show you about her marriage and home?

Anna's husband and his initial interaction with her at the train station seemed almost obligatory.  He seemed to be trying to get credit for being "tender" to her, instead of having wanted to be with her out of love.  Their home life seemed routine.  Her husband did the same things every day; they had the same number of people over to dinner every night.  It made me feel like Anna may be attracted to Vronsky because it is so different and uncharacteristic of the monotony of her life in St. Petersburg.

I'm looking forward to diving into Part Two...  If Anna Karenina interests you, it's not too late to catch up!  I'll be back to discuss Part Two in mid-March.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Recipe: Bow Ties Romano

I've adapted this recipe a bit since I found it on the box of Barilla Farfalle pasta.  This has become an absolute favorite at our house - so much so that I made it for Valentine's Day as a treat for my husband.

Hope that you enjoy!


Bow Ties Romano

16 oz. Farfalle (Bow Tie) pasta
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
3 Cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4 lb. prosciutto, chopped
3/4 Cup whipping cream
1 Cup frozen peas, thawed
3/4 Cup grated Romano cheese or Parmesan/Romano blend (divided)

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.  In large skillet over medium heat, melt butter.  Add mushrooms and saute for three minutes.  Add prosciutto and cook for two additional minutes, or until mushrooms are tender.  Add cream and heat until almost boiling.  Add peas and heat through.  Add prosciutto mixture, and 1/2 cup of cheese to drained pasta.  Stir to combine.  Transfer to serving dishes and top with remaining cheese.  Enjoy!

**Deli Tip**
When requesting sliced prosciutto for the recipe, ask that the deli clerk NOT place plastic wrap between the meat slices.  It makes it much easier to transfer to the cutting board and then chop!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Empty Mirror: A Viennese Mystery

The Empty Mirror:  A Viennese Mystery
by J. Sydney Jones

Product Description:
Paperback Edition
320 pages
Minotaur Books (January 2010)
Personal Copy Synopsis:  Set in Vienna in 1898, Jones's absorbing whodunit succeeds both as a mystery and as a fascinating portrait of a traditional society in ferment. When artist Gustav Klimt becomes a suspect in a series of bizarre murders, he turns for help to his lawyer friend, Karl Werthen, who joins forces with real-life pioneering criminologist Hanns Gross. Werthen and Gross follow a trail that leads through all strata of Viennese society and threatens to put them at odds with not only a trained killer but powerful members of the ruling class.

My Thoughts:   Ahhhh - I was transported back into my college classrooms, remembering why I decided to pursue a major in Political Science.  I thoroughly enjoyed the cross between history and mystery that The Empty Mirror provided.  The first 80 or so pages seemed a bit slow to me.  It had been a while since I read a mystery novel and I expected it to be a bit more action-packed, but I hung in there and was not disappointed.  Thankfully, just when I had it all figured out, the story turned and provided a welcomed surprise - a successful mystery.

I very much enjoyed Werthen's character - combinations of professional discontent, new love, and would-be sleuth allowed the story to be more than just a murder mystery. 

On a personal note, this was the first time in months that I had a few uninterrupted weekend hours to devote to a story, which made it even more enjoyable.  I would recommend An Empty Mirror to anyone with a taste for historical fiction and a desire for a good mystery.

Thanks to Swapna from S. Krishna's Books for the review and recommendation.

Other Reviews:
S. Krishna's Books

Monday, February 15, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - February 15, 2010

This is my third week participating in Menu Plan Monday, hosted by I'm an Organizing Junkie  Here's what's on our menu for this week:

Monday:  Cereal - given the option of ANYTHING that she might want for dinner, our daughter chose cereal.  Hopefully, this not a reflection of my cooking.

Tuesday:  Taco Tuesday - a family tradition

Wednesday:  Pizza Night - our weekly family get together at my parent's house

Thursday:  Spaghetti

Friday:  Fish Sticks - welcome to Lent!  Meatless Fridays have returned.

Saturday:  Grilled Chicken, Brown Rice and Peas

Sunday:  Broiled Steak, Ranch Potatoes (recipe below) and Green Beans

Hope that you have a great week!


Ranch Potatoes
2 lbs. red potatoes
3/4 Cup Ranch Dressing
1/2 shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut potatoes into quarters and place in large mixing bowl.  Add dressing and cheese to bowl and stir potatoes to coat evenly.  Place prepared potatoes in 13x9 inch baking dish.  Cook at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring half-way through.  Potatoes are done when they can easily be pierced with a fork.

Serves 6

Saturday, February 13, 2010

28 Day Organizing Challenge - The Before Pictures

I'm a new fan of I'm an Organizing Junkie and I've signed myself up for the 28 Day Organizing Challenge. My husband and I have several goals for getting the house organized this year, but the first task I have taken on is the master closet. I'm throwing embarrassment to the wind by sharing a few "before" pictures, so that you can see the mess.

Overall plan: make the master closet an organized and attractive place. The closet will house my clothes and there will also be some space for sewing craft supplies to be stored when not in use.

Back story: My husband and I have made an honest attempt at sharing the closet for the past year or so, but in order to avoid some stress in the marriage, we've decided that our clothes-space is best left separate. My husband will be assuming the office closet again.

Before Pic 1: The barely-able-to-walk-in closet. My clothes on the left, hubby's on the right and a big ole mess in the middle.

Before Pic #2: Close up of the wire cubes that seemed like a good organizing idea at the time...

Before Pick #3: My side of the closet. That's a big Rubbermaid tub full of maternity clothes. Yeah, my daughter is 4 1/2 - I'm thinking that it's time that this gets moved to the attic!
Before Pick #4: Hi. My name is Kristi and I have a shoe organization problem.

Wish me (us) luck! I already spent some time in this space last weekend and am getting excited about the finished product.
Any big organization goals that you're taking on this year?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

Here's what's on our menu for this week:

Monday: Chili
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday (a family favorite and new tradition)
Wednesday: Pizza Night (family night with my parents)
Thursday: Chicken and Broccoli skillet meal
Friday: Minestrone Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Saturday: Brushetta Chicken
Sunday: Valentine's Day! Bow Ties Romano (hubby's favorite)

Hope that you all have a great week!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Sandcastle

The Sandcastle by Iris Murdoch

Product Description:
318 pages
Chatto & Windus (Sep. 1964)
Library Copy Synopsis:
The quiet life of schoolmaster Bill Mor and his wife Nan is disturbed when a young woman, Rain Carter, arrives at the school to paint the portrait of the headmaster. Mor, hoping to enter politics, becomes aware of new desires. A complex battle develops, involving love, guilt, magic, art and political ambition. Mor's teenage children and their mother fight discreetly and ruthlessly against the invader. The Head, himself enchanted, advises Mor to seize the girl and run. The final decision rests with Rain. Can a 'great love' be purchased at too high a price?

My Thoughts:
This was the second book by Iris Murdoch that I have read and I was again impressed by the depth of her characters. I enjoyed the interesting love story that was told, and found myself torn between cheering for the institution of marriage and hoping for the opportunity to find happiness. I did not quite understand the back story for Mor's daughter Felicity and how that related to the overall novel - this seemed a bit of a distraction. Overall, I thought that the book was very good and was pleased with another Murdoch read.

On a side note... This was a book borrowed from the library, which is something that I haven't done in many years. The book was first checked out in June of 1978 - when I was two years old. I found myself wondering how many people had read that same book in the past 31 years. I'm sure that there were many that contributed to the torn and stained pages it holds, and I think that the age of the book provided a little nostalgia to the experience. I am going to work hard and try to balance my love for new books and filling my personal shelves, with taking advantage of the library and the unique experience those books have to offer.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - First Time

I'm participating in my first Menu Plan Monday, which is hosted by I'm an Organizing Junkie. This is actually something that I have been trying to do each week for the past year, in order to bring some sense of order to our busy evenings. By the time I get off of work at 5:30 and suffer a 20-30 minute commute, there is not much time for meal planning on the fly. Before I head to the grocery store on the weekend, I try to scour the pantry and freezer for available options, and then plan the week out accordingly.

Here's what's on our menu for this week:

Monday: Baked Ziti
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday (a family favorite and new tradition)
Wednesday: Pizza Night (a.k.a. my night off, and a chance for our family to spend time with my Mom, Dad, sister and her family)
Thursday: Pork Chops, Brown Rice and Green Beans
Friday: Roast with Potatoes and Carrots
Saturday: TGIFriday's Chicken Broccoli Alfredo meal
Sunday: Spaghetti

Hope that you all have a great week!