Since I started this site over a year ago, I have been doing things here and there to clean out the clutter in our home. While we were on vacation we rented a house that was nice, clean, and had only the necessities. Coming back to our own home I realized how far we still really have to go. So now it is time to get serious.

I am going to do a series of posts on organizing, called Operation Home Organization. If I haven’t done one in a while, I am going to ask you to keep me on task. Please also let me know if there are any specific areas that you’d like to see me cover and maybe we could tackle them together.

Let me start by saying I am far from an organizational expert. I really struggle with keeping things for our family neat and organized. If you are a beginner like me, I am hoping that recording my experiences will be helpful for you. I will also be including some photos that might inspire you.

Between work, a husband, and two small children I don’t have as much time as I would like to devote to this project. The tasks I will be doing will be quick and hopefully can fit in with your busy schedule. I also do not have a ton of money to devote to it, so the fixes I come up with should be rather inexpensive.

Room #1 – The Kitchen

The first task I am going to take on is in the kitchen. In our house the kitchen is the room where you enter, where people gather whenever we have people over, and where we all sit down to eat dinner together every night . The areas where we have the biggest problems with clutter are the counters, cabinets, by the sink, drawers, the pantry, and the fridge.

Task #1 – De-cluttering the Counters

One of the problems we face is that the mail ends up getting stacked up on our kitchen counters. To address this problem, I have added a basket for mail.

Some of the other products we used to organize our counters are a spoon rest, an utensil caddy, a paper towel holder, and a couple of knife blocks.

We used to keep bananas on top of the fridge. I have moved fruit such as bananas, oranges, and apples to a bowl.

I tried to keep only the things we use everyday on the counters and put everything else away in the cabinets (we’ll worry about the clutter in there soon.)

The great thing about de-cluttering your counters is that it is such a visable thing. Because you can see the results it should encourage you to keep going to do more organizing.

In future posts in this series we will move on to some of the other problem areas in the kitchen – cabinets, by the sink, drawers, the pantry, and the fridge. Please contact me if you have ideas or products that you think I would find helpful for any of these areas.

Nathaniel Meyer is a painter from Portland, Maine. He was born in Scituate, Massachusetts and was raised in Fort Myers Beach, Florida and Corea, Maine. He received his BFA in painting in 1997 from Boston University and completed post-graduate studies at the University of Southern Maine. His work has been featured at the Bowdoin and Thomas College galleries and his illustrations have appeared in the former Casco Bay Weekly, the Portland Phoenix, and The Bollard.

Nathaniel is currently a drawing and painting teacher at a local high school. He also plays an active role in the Portland art and music scene and is the publicist for MATT MEYER AND THE GUMPTION JUNCTION.

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This painting is titled August Haze at Falmouth. It is 11″ X 14″ and was painted in plein aire at the Audobon Sanctuary in Falmouth, Maine.

Nathaniel’s paintings are available for purchase through his Etsy shop or to see more of his work please go to his website.

Preparing for a week long vacation with a pre-schooler and a toddler is anything but simple. You don’t want to bring too much stuff, but you also want to make sure they are as comfortable as possible during their stay.

Before you even leave the house you need to remember to do the dishes; take out the trash; pack a cooler with lunch, drinks, and snacks; make flip flops- turquoisesure your arrangements for pet care are all set; get cash from the bank; and ask someone to grab your mail. If you are driving and are a member of AAA, you may also want to pick up some free maps before you hit the road.

Make sure you bring all necessary documents, such as a hotel, flight or rental car confirmation; insurance cards; drivers license; keys; and your address book.

If you are going to the beach like we did, the clothes each member of your family should have are shirts, shorts, socks, pants, a hat, shoes, underwear, bathing suit, sunglasses, and pajamas.

Personal hygiene and health items on our list were a razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deodorant, hair brush, and any medications we might need like Infant Tylenol.

In case it rains, bring an umbrella and/or rain coats. You’ll need a beach bag to carry the towels, beach toys, and sunscreen you will also be bringing. Bring bug spray for eating or playing outside in the evenings.

As far as electronics go, some families are more “techie” than others. We brought our cell phone and charger, digital camera and charger, our lap top, GPS, camcorder, a portable DVD player and DVDs, our older son’s Leapster Explorer, and all different sizes of batteries.

Kid specific stuff we brought were bottles, sippy cups, a pack and play for our younger son to sleep in, a sheet for the pack and play, pacifiers, stroller, toys, books, swimming goggles and vests, diaper bag, diapers, diaper cream, wipes, booster seat for eat time, baby gate, and their favorite stuffed animal or blanket for sleep time.

Like I said, our packing list was far from simple but it did make for an enjoyable trip. There’s nothing better than fun family vacation memories!

Do you have any packing tips to add to this list? If so, please share in the comments.

Shabbat in Hebrew or the Sabbath in English is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from sunset on Friday night until Saturday night. It is a festive day free of labors of everyday life and is a time to contemplate the spiritual aspects of life and spend time with family.

Many activities are prohibited on Shabbat according to halakha (Jewish law). They are mostly activities that are creative or that exercise control over one’s environment. Activities such as planting, plowing, laundering, writing, or building.

Meredith Jacobs is author of The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat: Connect and Celebrate, Bring Your Family Together with the Friday Night Meal. Meredith wrote the book after realizing this tradition that she and her family are “supposed” to do just makes sense.

Meredith has a number of friends who aren’t Jewish who have read her book and use many of the ideas for their family dinners. She is not Orthodox, but writes from the perspective that Jewish traditions serve as wonderful parenting tools.

Karla: What are some of the special meals and rituals that are done in the home during Shabbat? 
Meredith: The Friday night meal is my favorite. Primarily because we’ve made the commitment to all be home and around the dinner table together. Although I eat most dinners during the week with my children, rarely is my husband home from work in time to join us and many of those meals are rushed because of school work or after school activities. Friday night we linger.

I begin Friday morning (or Friday afternoon, depending on my schedule) by baking homemade challah. Challah is a traditional braided loaf. On Fridays, we are supposed to serve two loaves to represent the double portion of manna that fell in the desert during the time of Moses (it was a double portion because the Hebrews were forbidden from working on the Sabbath and had to gather manna for two days.) I top mine either with honey or my “everything” challah recipe – onion, garlic, poppy seed, sesame seed, salt – like an “everything” bagel. I could easily buy challah from a grocery store, but there is something really great about making it. It connects me with generations of Jewish women who have made the bread. But even more importantly, the smell of the challah baking transforms my home – makes it feel special.

That’s the key behind the Friday night meal. We make it “holy”. A great rabbi once wrote that on Shabbat, we create a “sacred space in time” for our family. Holy or sacred can be defined as “not ordinary” and that’s what I try to do with my family’s dinners Friday night – I elevate them.

We begin the meal by lighting two white candles, the Shabbat candles. Much like the lighting of the Olympic torch signals the beginning of the games, lighting of these candles signals the beginning of the Sabbath. The mother recites a special blessing over the candles, welcoming Shabbat. Then the parents bless the children. This is my favorite blessing and one that other families can easily incorporate into a designated meal. In Hebrew, we pray that our daughters be like Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah (the Jewish Matriarchs, who were known not only for their beauty, but for their wisdom and strength) and we pray that our sons be like Ephraim and Menasheh (the sons of Joseph who are said to be the first brothers in the Bible who don’t fight with each other!) My husband and I use this time to add a special message to each child, something we noticed from the week, something we want to reinforce. It’s a moment each week that we let our children know that we love them and are proud of them (and then give them a specific reason.) My children are currently at sleep-away camp and I time a letter to reach them each Friday morning with their “shabbat blessing”.

Then the husband blesses the wife and we say a blessing “kiddush” over the wine and one over the challah and then we eat dinner.

During dinner, I try to make certain we have different conversations than we do during the rest of the week. Rather than talk about what we did at school or at work, we talk about current events or even use the weekly Torah reading to discuss topics ranging from belief in God, to drug and alcohol abuse, to Facebook (it’s amazing to follow where the discussions began and where they finish!)

The Friday night dinner is also a wonderful time to invite other families over to join you. Although I love to reserve Friday nights for my family, it’s an easy invitation to give and a great way to get to know new friends because a major part of the tradition is welcoming guests to the table.

Saturday morning includes going to synagogue. I love having this time with my community. The synagogue serves a light lunch after services and it’s a wonderful time to catch up with everyone. Honestly, we don’t go as often as we should, but whenever we do go, we love it.

Although we are not “shomer Shabbat” meaning we do not follow all of the restrictions that are put in place to “guard Shabbat” or protect it from disappearing, we try to spend Saturday together and try not to do things like answer emails or do work or even run to the mall or do errands. It’s easier said than done!

Saturday night is a beautiful ceremony called “Havdallah” where we say goodbye to Shabbat. It takes only ten minutes to do and involves saying prayers over candles, bags of spice and wine.

Karla: You have said many of your friends who aren’t Jewish have read the book and have used some of the ideas for their own families. Would you mind sharing one of those ideas with us?
Meredith: I think other families can take the core messages of Shabbat and incorporate them into their families’ routines. Set aside one day a week to focus on each other. Set aside one meal each week and sit around a table set with candles, wine, bread and a beautiful meal and simply talk to each other. Bless each other – how often are our conversations with our children messages of “Did you do your homework?” or “Hurry up, we’re running late!” How often are conversations with our husbands simply downloads of the day? Set aside a time each week to tell every member of the family you love them (especially husband and wife.) We shouldn’t assume they know. It’s important to say, it’s important to know, and it’s important for our children to hear.

In addition to being an author, Meredith is a parenting columnist for the Baltimore Jewish Times and a radio host of “Connecting Family” on WYPR-FM. She also wrote a book with her daughter that is a guided journal for mothers and daughters called Just Between Us: a no-stress, no-rules journal for girls and their moms.

You can find more information about Meredith and her books athttp://www.modernjewishmom.com.

I am. I can’t even imagine saying hi or good-bye to my best friend without giving her a hug. But there certainly have been times in my life where it has become painfully obvious that not everyone is. Once you start to hug a non-hugger it can cause some very awkward moments until that hug is over.

When our boys were babies and they had a clean diaper and milk and food in their tummies, it was always a hug that they needed to feel better. Now that they’re older and when they get hurt, after a band-aid it’s still a hug that does the trick. Whenever I hear some bad news I don’t want my husband, family member, or close friend to say anything – I just need a really long hug.

I give our boys lots of hugs and they give a lot of hugs to each other. I also love to see the boys give hugs to our dog and their friends. How come as we get older we seem to give and receive less hugs? What happens as we mature that makes some people more comfortable than others to hug?

One of my theories is that some families are huggersand others are simply not. My family is definitely a bunch of huggers but I know other families that never touch each other. So I believe many times that it may be what you have been raised with and are used to.

But if your family aren’t huggers can you become one? Most definitely. All you need to do is surround yourself with friends and/or a partner that are.

I am sure there are people reading this who are thinking they don’t want to be huggers. While that is obviously your freedom to choose, I think you should think about the health benefits of hug therapy first (and yes there is such a term as hug therapy, I didn’t just make it up.)

  • Scientific research suggests that stimulation by touch isn’t just nice, but necessary for our physical and emotional well-being.
  • Therapeutic touch is now part of nurses’ training in several large hospitals. The power of touch is used to help relieve pain, depression, and anxiety, and to help premature babies who have been deprived of touch in their incubator in order to get them to grow healthy.
  • Various scientific experiments have shown touch can make you feel better about yourself and your surroundings, and that it has a positive effect on children’s development and IQ.

Scientists are just beginning to understand the power of touch, but what we do know for sure is that a hug can’t hurt. So why not become a hugger today?

BOOK REVIEW 

Halfway to Each Other is a true story about Susan Pohlman and her family.

Susan had decided right after she and her husband of eighteen years got back from a business trip to Italy that she was going to tell him she wanted a divorce.

On the last day of their trip they fantasized about what their lives would be like if they lived there. After finding a school for their children (called the American School of Genoa although they find out later there are actually only three other Americans attending), they signed a lease on an apartment. They go home to tell their two children – a fourteen year-old daughter, Katie and an eleven-year old son, Matt – that they’re all moving to Italy.

Living in a small town in Italy, the family learns many cultural lessons together. Things such as not sleeping with their windows open because of the gypsies, wearing plastic gloves in the grocery store when you handle the produce, and that the buses aren’t free.

When they lived in California Susan and her husband were so used to their children slamming doors and picking on each other that they figured they were part of normal sibling rivalry. But once in Italy, Katie and Matt would sit playing cards quietly by themselves in the backroom for hours. The move had made their children see each other through new eyes. For the first time, they could actually relate to what the other one was going through.

Halfway to Each Other is a story about an American family who has too much stuff and an over-scheduled lifestyle leaving all the craziness behind in order to strengthen their bonds with each other. It was a beautifully written book that reaffirms everything I’ve learned about simple living over the past year.

For more information on Susan Pohlman, please see her website www.susanpholman.com.

Whether you are a frugal person trying to get a great deal or you are a celebrity trying to find something unique, vintage clothing has become increasingly popular. For many women, wearing vintage is all about the hunt to find that perfect piece.

What exactly qualifies clothing as being “vintage” rather than “antique” or “contemporary”? Generally the term is used to described any clothing made from the 1920′s through the 1970′s.

Linda S. Froiland is a wardrobe stylist and image consultant with more than twenty years experience. She has worked on studio and independent films, style shows, and has a vintage clothing business with a partner.

Karla: If you’ve never bought vintage clothing before, where should you start? How do you know which stores to go to, which pieces to purchase, and how much you should pay for them?

Linda: To get started purchasing vintage clothing, I would suggest doing some investigating on the internet. You will find information regarding pricing, what is out there selling, and it will help you develop an “eye” for what you might be looking for. Once you have a good idea of what things cost, start visiting the shops in your city or town. Pricing throughout the country can be dramatically different with the East and West Coast having higher pricing than the middle of the country. Vintage clothing stores will often specialize in a certain era, or a type of clothing such as women’s dresses, men’s suits, platform shoes, etc. As you become familiar with the various stores and the people who work there, have them keep an eye out for items that may be of interest to you.

Shopping vintage is just like shopping for new clothes off the rack. Keep in mind your budget and look for styles that are flattering on you, just as you would with new clothing. Vintage is not so sacred that you can’t alter it so it fits you perfectly. Consider what it would cost to alter an item or see if you can do the work yourself. As with anything, don’t buy something that does not fit your needs or your budget. Remember, sometimes head to toe vintage can be overdone. It’s far more interesting to mix your vintage finds with newer items. Develop a style for yourself, just as you would with new clothing.

Karla: How about shopping for vintage clothing online? Which sites do you recommend using?

Linda: Vintage shopping online is just as rewarding as shopping for anything else online. Make sure the vendor or site has been in business for awhile and that the items they are shipping are in good condition. Ebay and Esty are great places to start as they rate and monitor their sellers so you know you can trust what you get. Remember to shop only for what you are looking for and what will look good on you. If you have done your research and you have the “vintage bug”, you will know how and when to shop vintage online.

Here are some great sites to get started on:

The Frock. Authentic, certified clothing from celebrities. It’s pricey, but really fun to look at.
Dorothea’s Closet. For great vintage hats for women.
Nelda’s Vintage. Makes it easy and fun to find both men and women’s vintage clothing and accessories.
Proper Vintage. Men and women’s clothing, with great photography and descriptions.
Rusty Zipper. Very stylized and organized, so it’s fun shopping this site.

Karla: What should you do if you are interested in starting to sell vintage pieces? Are there certain designers or items that sell better than others?

Linda: So you want to sell vintage? For online selling both Esty and Ebay might be a good way to start. You can get used to the business without breaking the bank by designing and maintaining your own website. Once you know what you are doing you can create your own store, either online or freestanding.

With online stores the photography is extremely important. Learn how to style items so they are shown in the best possible way. You will want to invest in a good camera, dress forms and background sets. Choosing backgrounds in colors that flatter the garment will be important for both the look of the website and to show off the garment. When displaying either on a website or in a store, pay special attention to what attracts you to shopping and choosing an item. Is it how it’s styled with other items, the colors,or the eras that are mixed together to create a look that makes you want to buy?

If it’s a freestanding store consider being a part of a group of vendors in an antique mall. That way you don’t always have to be there to sell, leaving you time to find more inventory. Be clever about displaying the items and make sure everything is in clean and repaired condition. Otherwise it will not sell. Vintage shoppers are savvy, as they too, have educated themselves. They are looking for value and items that are in good shape.

Become an expert on a certain type of clothing such as women’s dresses from the 40′s, hats, or men’s suits. The more you know, the more information you can share with clients. Clients love stories connected to clothing. If you chose products that you are interested in yourself, your enthusiasm for the clothing will come through to your clients. You will need to know how to sew. If you don’t already know how, you will want to develop a relationship with a seamstress or tailor that you trust. Often times items will need some mending. You will also want the same type of working relationship with a dry cleaner. Learn how to remove stains and clean items yourself. If accessories such as purses and shoes are what you are looking to sell, have a great leather smith or shoe repair close at hand. Learn how to remove stains and glue trim back on to leather. Clothing sells the best when it’s in pristine condition.

Finding the items will be a large part of your day. You will want to shop garage sales, estate sales and monitor the daily newspaper for house sales that might include clothing. Eventually your clients, friends and family will start to recognize items you might like to sell as you develop your expertise or look and bring items to you. Other stores and vendors are a great place to look. Antique stores that don’t sell clothing will often end up with an item or two they can’t or don’t want to put on display. Often times if you develop relationships with other sellers you can barter if you have something they want.

Karla: Any other tips you would like to share with us regarding women’s vintage clothing?

Linda: Be a savvy shopper when buying vintage. Again, buy only the styles and colors that look good on you. Always have a budget and only buy what you know you will wear or need. Make sure shoes are comfortable. If they aren’t when you purchase them, they won’t be later on either. Do not dress head to toe vintage. No one wants to look like a museum.

Thank you so much to Linda for sharing her knowledge and experience with us. For more information or to contact her, please go to her website at www.LindaSFroiland.com.

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