Memorial Day Picnic Planning
May 17, 2018
Everything You Need for Your Memorial Day Picnic
Memorial Day is a time to commemorate those who have died while serving our country. Originating in the aftermath of the Civil War, the holiday has gone through many transformations over the last century and, like other holidays, holds different meanings for different people. Picnics and barbeques are one way that modern people tend to observe Memorial Day, making it a great time to gather with friends and family.
Here are some great products to make your holiday a memorable, enjoyable, and delicious one.
Cooking and Food Prep
A well-equipped barbeque makes grilling more efficient. This 20-piece, stainless steel barbecue set has every utensil you might need for large-scale grilling and includes a hard case to keep it all together.
Barbecuing is a fine art and knowing when the food is cooked to the right temperature is an acquired skill that takes time to master. A dedicated grill thermometer takes some of the guesswork out of cooking and guarantees your food is cooked to perfection, provided you don’t flake and wander off into the pool or get carried away with the drinks. This one has convenient, built-in side hooks and is dishwasher safe for easy cleanup.
A stainless steel grill tray adds plenty of cooking surface for vegetables and other foods, while providing raised edges and drainage holes for grease to run off. Its 18.25 x 12-inch profile provides plenty of cooking surface for your home-grilled delicacies.
Skewers are that darned item you always seem to forget. Buy this lot of a hundred and have some for your next picnic. Store them in a safe place so you can remember them next time around. When they’re empty, you’re left with a convenient squeeze bottle for barbeque sauce or condiments.
Keep your charcoal dry and free from debris for more efficient burning with this 12-pound capacity charcoal container. It doubles as a pet food storage container, so you might need more than one.
Careful planning of your holiday picnic will save you a lot of stress on the big day, while enabling you, the host, to have more time and energy to spend with your friends and family. Having the right amount of dishes, silverware, and adequate food storage containers is vital to a stress-free, smooth-rolling Memorial Day party.
Mesh food covers are a handy product you most likely have never heard of. Nothing is more of an appetite suppressant than flies and other insects on the potato salad. Well, there are other things, but we don’t need to go there. This set of three covers (15, 13.75 and 12 inches in diameter) keep flies and mosquitoes out and food accessible and appetizing. The really fabulous bonus is that you can collapse them flat for easy storage. For larger or multiple food quantities, you can’t go wrong with these larger, 17-inch food tents.
Condiment squeeze-bottles reduce silverware usage and make for easy cleanup. Choose from mustard (yellow), ketchup (red), or clear (great for dressings) for easy identification of your chosen condiment or sauce.
A standup cooler means easy access to beverages, plus convenient folding storage for when the party’s over. A convenient drain plug makes it easy to dry out before storing or transporting.
For “bring-your-own” parties, this beer (or pop) carrier safely transports cans or bottles and folds flat when empty for easy storage.
Roasted corn is always a treat at a barbeque, and these pronged corn holders make eating corn easier. Tailgaters might enjoy the football-themed corn holders.
A variety of serving trays keep food accessible at your outdoor feast. Plastic, wood, glass and even wicker servers are available to suit your taste and budget. These diner-style plastic baskets are great for outdoor use, and you don’t have to worry about them getting broken.
Serving relishes, salt and pepper and other condiments is easier done when you corral them in a server. This copper condiment caddy makes a great table accent while providing four partitioned holders for your sauces, ketchup and other food accompaniments.
Nothing is worse than a billowing table cloth during a blustery outdoor party. These attractive table weights ensure your picnic doesn’t end up on the ground. The novelty weights are attractive silver castings of the kind of bugs you might actually want near your food.
Storing your food and keeping it fresh is another picnic priority. How about combining your serving and food storage needs into single products for efficiency and less cleanup? Glass storage containers are great and some models are even oven safe, which saves on dishes. The TrueSeal brand have tight-fitting, spill-proof lids, which is great for outdoor events. If breakage is a concern, plastic containers might be a better choice. A variety of options and styles are included, including some vacuum-seal models, which are great when you want to prepare food in advance. Don’t forget some bag clips as they keep chips and other bagged foods fresh and prevent spillage when packing up.
Seating is the thing that seems to get most overlooked at picnics and parties. If we don’t normally have 20 people in our homes, it’s understandable. Always have extra seating with this inexpensive, collapsible picnic table. The built-in seats are smartly designed and the components disassemble and fold into a convenient travel case for on-the-go picnics.
Camping chairs are great for sitting around the fire and can be folded and packed when eating at a park. The brightly-colored folding chair has onboard drink storage, plus a handy side shelf for storing plates and other items. A deluxe chair has adjustable legs for uneven terrain and extra padding for comfort. Both of these chairs are also great for tailgating parties, afternoons spent at the beach and other outings.
Be ready for the unexpected May showers with a canopy. Shelter Logic makes a variety of colors and designs and they’re super-easy to assemble and break down. They start at about 110 dollars which is well worth the price in keeping you and your guests dry, should the weather take an unexpected turn. This is a small investment you’re likely to be thankful for at some point in your picnicking future.
Have we missed anything? Feel free to comment and let us know how you plan your Memorial Day picnic. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!
Organizing and Managing Papers
May 11, 2018
Drowning in paper? Here’s how to manage and organize your piles.
Paper is the number one clutter element in a lot of homes. The average household receives a barrage of paper on a daily basis in the form of bills, ads, newspapers and magazines. The possibility of drowning in paper is real unless it is dealt with in a vigilant and consistent manner.
I’m personally a visual person, an artist, and things buried in deep files tend to get forgotten. I like my important items close at hand. If I had more wall space, a single-layer, frontal file system consisting of wall collages would work for me. Unfortunately, my work and personal life are too complicated for that to happen, plus I have a small home. Keeping things close at hand make flat spaces, such as desks, problem zones. Everything I want close at hand can quickly become a jumbled pile.
Here are some things that I’ve found to be useful for managing my papers as I combat my idiosyncratic, “visual” organizing tendencies.
Go Digital Where You Can
As much as I despise it for taking up space, I have an unhealthy emotional attachment to paper. It feels tangible, real. It’s proof of something. Proof when the bank screws up. Proof of a purchase. Something I can hold, touch, copy, or send to someone. It’s real, whereas, anything digital might disappear the next time my computer blows up (this has happened several times in my life and, unfortunately backup drives too). Paper, by comparison, will be there, unless, of course, there is a fire or other catastrophe. Digital catastrophes are common, right? More on this later.
Despite my aversion to digital archiving, I made a decision about paper clutter, and finally made the leap and started paying most of my bills online. After a lot of resistance and discomfort, I found that it forced me to be more organized. I now regularly download my statements and organize them into digital files, assign payment dates and names, and schedule regular backups. In the past, they might make it to a paper folder, a burning bin, or get lost in one of the to-file piles in my house.
Paying bills online reduces a third of paper clutter in your home provided you also request digital-only statements. Yes, there is the fear of online breaches and hacking. Many of us have already been the victim of such things. However, that is one of those conditions of the modern world that, really, is hard to avoid. Our data is online whether we save paper copies and write checks or not. The world is moving to digital and there is hardly anything we can do to stop it.
The second thing I did to manage paper was to invest in a paper shredder and routinely shred all junk mail on a daily basis. It’s important to keep up on it whether it’s by shredding on a daily or a weekly schedule. This includes fliers, ads, solicitations for donations and any other undesirable mail. Do you regularly get solicitations? Ask them to remove you from their mailing list. This means less junk in your mailbox.
One of my other problems is magazines and other literature. Some, I never get around to reading. My solution: Don’t read it? Stop subscribing. If you haven’t read it after three months, donate it to the library. If you are certain you want to read it, or if it’s something to refer back to (such as woodworking how-tos or DIY magazines), invest in inexpensive magazine holders. You can still keep them accessible, but they will be organized (by date, title, or some scheme of your choosing) and more attractive than piles of magazines scattered about. Alternately, for the more visual person, you can purchase open magazine wall racks (similar to the ones they have in doctors’ offices). These give you easy, frontal visual access and when they get overstuffed, you can make that donation/toss decision. If they have value and you don’t want them, you can dump them on eBay or Facebook Marketplace (see our post about cashing in on your clutter). If you don’t care about value, most local libraries have donation days, and, of course there is always Goodwill.
Alternately, if you live in the country, use them for a bonfire and you can get rid of a lot of clutter in a single s’more feast or weenie roast. I try to do it once a year.
Receipts stir the same kind of “attachment” issues for me as bank documents. They offer a kind of “proof” should something go wrong with your device, service, or other purchase. However, how long do you really need to keep them? What do you really need them for? If they’re for deductions, some tax software programs offer an app so you can store images (taken with your phone) right in the database. Once scanned, you can properly destroy the paper receipt. Remember to properly back up your files and, of course, you will have to decide whether or not to use a cloud storage service. My personal preference, given my lack of trust in the security of the digital universe, is to make my own backups on my own USB drives. You can even automate it with backup software.
I mentioned earlier about the problems with storage/hard drive failures. I’ve personally had no problems whatsoever with USB drives failing and you can now get lots of storage for a little money. The biggest problem for me is losing them, due to their diminutive size. Solution? A dedicated USB drawer and labels. Easy-peasy. Just remember to keep it there, or keep it plugged into your computer for your frequent, scheduled backups. “Frequent” is the key here. And if you are really compulsive like me, you can back up twice to two different sticks.
For school work or general home office needs, one might want a small floor-style filing cabinet, but for people like me who just want quick access, a desktop file organizer is more convenient. It was a compromise to single-layer collage-style “wallcovering” filing, but it’s a lot more attractive.
A filing system helps keep things accessible. Everyone is different when it comes to organizing. How big are your needs? What kind of language do you use to remember things? Are you an acronym person, or a proper name person, first name or last name? If you’re really visual, color coding files might make more sense than alphabetizing them. Maybe for your needs, a few general categories will be sufficient—i.e. banking, appointments, receipts, tax-related. If you want single-level, quick access, alphabetizing might be the best filing system for you.
I repurposed this inexpensive 31-day bill filing system to manage my most-needed papers using my own labeling system. It’s attractive, made of eco-friendly bamboo, and includes a storage drawer underneath for stamps, pens, Post-Its, and other office supplies. The 17-inch length is substantial and requires a clear, flat place to use. It works great on a desk, shelf, or wherever you need it.
This vertical wood organizer suits smaller filing needs, whether it’s a mail-in, mail-out system, or you want to use it for printing paper. It has a small profile at 12.75 W x 9.5 H x 9.25 D inches, so you can stash it anywhere.
Stacking paper organizers can be customized to suit your needs, or added to later on, should your requirements change. File storage boxes come in a range of sizes and styles, including clear plastic and more decorative, fabric-covered models to match your décor. It’s okay, after all, to integrate decorating into your organizing projects.
For the super-busy visual person with lots to organize, this large file organizer keeps everything you need right in front of you. Just add appropriate labels for a fool-proof system.
For the minimalists, however, traditional filing cabinets will be a better option, as they come in multiple sizes and provide a clean appearance in your home office.
Car Paper Clutter
Cars are one of the places paper can accumulate, whether it’s store and ATM receipts, parking permits, or other items. Visor organizers are a way to keep parking cards, park permits and other essentials close at hand. Just flip the visor down for easy access. They come in a variety of styles to fit your needs.
Cars come with gloveboxes for a reason. Feel free to use them. If you have trouble closing the compartment cover, there’s a problem. Open the latch and investigate! Receipts can easily be stored in an inexpensive, accordion-type file and emptied in the appropriate indoor location (or shredded) on a regular basis. I pick Saturday. Whatever day you choose, make it regular, as maintenance is the key to staying organized.
You can start the paper sorting process right in your car by keeping a trash receptacle handy. There are a variety of over-the-seat styles to suit your needs. Some even have drink, Kleenex, media and other pockets to store miscellaneous travel items.
Photos and Memorabilia
Display a few and organize the rest into boxes or albums. Photos are one of those things that can really consume your walls and accumulate around your house. It IS fun to have a display of people, places and things you love. Why not have a big corkboard and rotate? There are also strip and string-type temporary displays that are also great for notes, receipts, or things that require your immediate attention. Find tons of bulletin boards and other organizers for displaying and managing memos, notes, and miscellany here:
Incidentally, photos are another paper item you might consider putting in albums or digitizing for computer or web use. Digitized photos take up less space and are more easily shared using digital means like social media. Also check out our blog post on photo archiving.
If you have questions about organizing your papers, feel free to contact us on Facebook or write Harriet Schecter (Ask Our Organizer) for free professional advice about your organizing projects. Harriet is one of the pioneers of professional organizing and has authored several books on the topic. Plus she’s really nice! She is also a product expert and has written about every kind of organizing product you can imagine.
How to Store Produce Part 1
May 1, 2018
Reduce produce spoilage with proper food storage–here’s how…
As summer approaches, I’ve got food on the brain… more specifically, farm-fresh food, Michigan-grown food, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and everything not so available during the winter months. This happens to me each spring, actually, and I tend to get charged, overzealous even, about vegetables, which means I buy too much and devote long weekend days marathon-chopping what I overbought. Then I’m left trying to figure out how to best preserve my abundance of gorgeous vegetables. Fortunately, we can both learn from my mistakes.
Know your Refrigerator
Your refrigerator has cold, less cold, and coldest spots. Get to know them, and establish where your various foods should best be stored.
Crisper drawers are best used for produce and some even include moisture settings, which prolong the life of your food by preventing it from dehydrating. For more information on proper humidity settings, here’s a great guide on Kitchn.com. Use high humidity settings for leafy greens and ethylene-sensitive foods (see more below). Use low-humidity settings for high-ethylene foods such as apples and pears. Leaving the vent open (reducing the humidity) helps gases escape.
The lower shelf is usually the coldest spot in your refrigerator, making it the best place to store meats (if you are a carnivore). Also eggs should be stored here (as opposed to that neat custom place the manufacturer might have built into your door).
The top shelf usually has the most consistent temperature, so dairy products and things that need to be eaten quickly are best stored there. Leftovers, which will likely have less usable life, store best in the back of the shelves, although don’t forget they are there.
Temperature-wise, the door is the least consistent, as it receives a blast of room temperature every time you open it. While many refrigerator doors are now designed to store milk cartons, this is not necessarily the best location.
To Vent or Not to Vent
The above is a basic guide for food venting, but reading a bit more about ethylene gas will give you even more understanding about the role of humidity in food storage. No vented drawers? Try using vented food storage containers and, of course, you may find using both drawers and vented containers to be useful in your soon-to-be optimized refrigerator. Don’t fret if this all seems complicated, because I’m including a couple of simple tips to get you started, and a couple of good resource links for those of you who want to know even more about produce storage.
Ethylene Gas-Producing Foods
Some vegetables and fruits produce ethylene gases, which accelerate the ripening speed of certain other produce (or cause premature spoilage). Try to isolate your ethylene gas-producing produce from your ethylene-sensitive produce to keep food fresh.
If you’ve ever noticed your lettuce spotting or your cucumbers and broccoli going yellow, this is likely due to ethylene gases. The topic of ethylene gas and how it ripens produce can be a broad and complicated one, but in general, here are a few tips:
- Keep lettuce and other leafy foods away from fruits (especially bananas, peaches, and apples.
- Isolate your ethylene-producing ripe foods from other high ethylene foods to prolong life.
- If you can’t remember which foods are which, make yourself a cheat sheet and hang it on the refrigerator. Paper memories are an acceptable way to cheat in everyday life.
- Avocados (Ripe)
- Bananas (Ripe)
- Green Onions
- Honeydew Melons
- Kiwis (Ripe)
- Passion Fruits
- Tomatoes (Ripe)
- Green beans
- Honeydew Melon
- Leafy Greens
- Summer Squash
Note that some foods have low ethylene transmission until they become ripe, and the degree of gas production varies from food to food. Most produce emits at least a little ethylene as it ripens. The list of foods that don’t release any ethylene is actually very short but includes: sweet peppers, onions, corn, artichoke and garlic. Our lists above are, by no means, comprehensive. For a more detailed table of ethylene-producing-and-sensitive foods, check out the My Kitchen Garden website, as it is quite comprehensive, with lots of great information about food storage.
If the whole issue of ethylene gas overwhelms you, try simply keeping your fruits and vegetables in separate drawers as a very basic produce-longevity plan.
Some vegetables lose their flavor if stored in the refrigerator, including tomatoes, potatoes and onions (plus other foods can absorb onion smell if stored together). Store these vegetables in a cool, dry place, but feel free to set your tomatoes in the sun if they need ripening.
Most unripe fruits are best stored on the counter. Once they get ripe, however, you will want to eat, cook, freeze, can, or otherwise use them. Note that, sometimes, at the point of ripeness, refrigeration may be appropriate to preserve them a bit. Be aware also that banana skins will turn brown when refrigerated but are still good to eat.
Bananas, by the way, are best stored suspended to prevent bruising. Bananas hangers come in a variety of styles to suit your taste and décor. Multi-tiered, hanging fruit baskets are another space-efficient way to store fruit and some non or pre-refrigerated vegetables, such as avocados.
Separate onions from potatoes because they both release moisture that tends to accelerate spoilage. Also, do not refrigerate them unless you have sliced or partially used them.
Conversely, storing potatoes with apples can reduce sprouting, which is a good thing, unless you aim to plant them.
Storage Containers and Frig Bins
Storage containers for food range from sealed glass containers, to open, vented refrigerator bins, to vented plastic produce containers, to plastic bags. Which do you need for your food?
After many spills that took hours of cleaning up, I decided that the best way to organize my refrigerator was with clear plastic refrigerator bins. Along with corralling fruits, vegetables, condiments and other foods, when accidents happen, I just pull out the container and rinse it in the sink (as opposed to cleaning three shelves of tamari mess from the tipped bottle incident). Frig bins are probably the best investment I’ve ever made for food storage. Clear fridge bins are great for visibility, but frosted plastic bins with handles make access to your food quick and easy.
Vented food storage containers are a step up in food storage when it comes to freshness. The Progressive food storage containers include two-way vents, ribbed bottoms for moisture control, and removable drip trays for water removal. The hard lid is designed for easy stacking which makes efficient use of your refrigerator real estate. A couple of different sizes are available.
Dedicated food storage products such as the cheese slice container and bacon holder help to keep your food organized and separated. Larger food bins geared towards standard packaging sizes of food products (such as snacks) make it really easy to instantly locate your food. If you’re like me, I find that if everything has a designated place, I’m much more likely to follow some rules and keep things organized. Maintaining organization is often the hardest part of organizing our lives, so why not make it easier?
Our refrigerator storage product page will, most likely, get your creative juices flowing for your future refrigerator organization/spring cleaning project. Below are some useful links to some of my favorite products for produce storage and organizing. Be sure to check back to our blog for Part II of Produce Storage, which will include tips for freezing produce. You might even want to subscribe to our blog for email notifications.
Vented Produce Storage Products
- Berry Keeper
- Lettuce Keeper
- Large Produce Keeper
- Medium Produce Keeper
- OXO Produce Keeper
- Produce Bags
- Collapsible Colander
- Collapsible Sink Colander
- Large 6.5 Quart Colander
- ExtraLife Produce Saver
- Produce Bin with Handle
- Vegetable Bin with Handle
- Plastic Food Containers
- Canning Supplies
- Glass Food Storage
- Compost Pail