Thursday, April 24, 2014

small wins in getting organized digitally

I love being organized. I've even taught my kids that, as we pick up the house each night, we should triumphantly shout "We are creating ORDER!"

And so, of course, I love it when I find a tech tool that actually sticks with me to make my life more organized.

Here are four.

(Disclaimer: I'm not really reviewing any of these, just raving about them and giving you more details than you want about how I use them.)
1. Evernote
It really is like having a digital notebook. I use Evernote to ...

  • Bookmark websites
  • Collect my ideas or do brainstorming
  • Take notes on my phone at events, meetings, etc. Because I use Evernote as a place to store ideas, I actually reference these notes again in the future.
  • Keep running meeting minutes for regularly scheduled meetings I have with various clients. It's so helpful to have meeting minutes in one running document.
  • As a replacement for creating a new Word document every time I want to write something down digitally. I have so many Word documents that turned out not to be important enough to be a full-fledged document (research on a topic, proposals that never went anywhere, lists of items to do or things to remember regarding a specific project). Now I can start a note in Evernote and if I need to eventually copy/paste it into Word I can.
  • Access my files anywhere. Evernote has a desktop app that syncs with the online version so I can access with or without internet.
  • Have an automatic backup for my notes.

2. Plan to Eat 

I already talked about Plan to Eat extensively, here. To recap, I use Plan to Eat to ...

  • Keep all of my recipes. (After about 2 hours of entering in my paper-copy recipes, I've never had to do it again. All my other recipes come through the web.)
  • Not have to decide what's for dinner every night. I plan 4-7 days of dinners at a time, shop for those days, and just look up my menu when it's time to cook.
  • Make grocery lists. And by "make grocery lists" I mean sit back and watch the program automatically populate my grocery list based on my meal plan and sort the list by section in the grocery store. As long as I remember to bring my phone, I never forget my list.

Basically, meal planning is something that never stresses me out anymore.

3. Trello

Trello is a fun interface for to-do lists that has worked extremely well for the following ...

  • Ongoing to do lists. Whenever I think of something I have to get done soon, or get done eventually, I make a note in Trello. When I'm ready to think about getting something done, I open it up and choose from all the notes I've collected through the day or week. It's a great way to put nagging tasks to rest - if not by actually doing them, by at least writing them down.
  • Group planning and execution. Abe and I have shared boards in Trello for projects we are in on together (like home improvement). It's a great way to quickly pick a project, list out the dependencies, and start checking them off.

4. Pinterest

Okay, everyone knows Pinterest. But here's how I find it especially useful ...

  • Visual brainstorming. We've been doing some major redecorating lately (read: painting our walls) and it is incredibly helpful to search for specific color schemes or rooms and get hundreds of beautiful photos showing different designs and ideas. Pinterest has helped me understand and extend my taste.
  • Project-based. I don't go on Pinterest without a specific project in mind. I want to paint an accent wall in my bedroom. I need ground cover in my backyard. I want quiet time projects for Genghis during the afternoon. I need to make a poster advertising an Easter Egg hunt.

Monday, April 7, 2014

how to survive hand, foot, and mouth disease

In the last 10 days, our entire family contracted Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. It's basically Chicken Pox meets Strep Throat. You get a fever for a day or two, and then you break out in a rash that is particularly bad on your (surprise!) hands, feet, and mouth. But it's the inside of your mouth and your throat, making it nearly impossible to eat or speak.

We are all almost better. And now that I have 10 days' and 5 people's worth of experience on the subject, I thought I should write a short how-to guide for surviving this disease. Partly, I'm hoping this is helpful to other parents who may have Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease in their future, because it was hard for me to find real, practical tips for dealing with this. And partly, this is just personal therapy to put the last week behind me.

1. Adults can get this disease.

I was under some strange illusion that adults do not get Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. Not true. When caring for a child with this disease, use caution and possibly surgical gloves and a face mask.

(I'm not kidding. You do not want to catch this sickness.)

2. Foods you can and cannot eat. 

If you contract this disease, this topic may become something of an obsession to you. In general, eating and drinking will feel like swallowing broken glass. But we found that the following general principles worked well:

Principle 1: Eat things made mostly from enriched white flour
Principle 2: Avoid acidic foods like citrus and sugary foods
Principle 3: A foods' softness or crunchiness doesn't always correlate with your ability to eat it

My favorite foods were soft white bread and butter (lots of butter), pita bread, pancakes, white cheddar Cheese-Its, chicken broth, vegetable broth, and smoothies from Jamba Juice. (These actually hurt a bit, but the cold help dull the pain and it was worth it)

3. Mouth sores aren't created equal.

We found high variance in level of discomfort in eating with our children. Xena (2 yrs) was totally unfazed. She spent one day with a fever and refusing any food, and the next day was pretty much better. Genghis (3 yrs) ate only popsicles for a few days (which were too painful for me to eat). And Isis (8 mos) seemed not too fussy about bottles but didn't want anything solid.

4. Warm baths feel great on the rash. 

Really, when is a warm bath not a good idea?

5. Don't try to get anything done while you are sick.

For me, this translated into watching Amazon Prime Instant Videos for hours on end after the kids went to bed. For Abe, this translated into wiring our living room with a web cam and Raspberry Pi to test out an idea he has in the realm of life hacking and quantified self.

To each his own.

For our children, this translated into about 10 feature length films while they were feverish, followed by days and days of boredom while we, the parents, took our turn being sick. I have no advice for how to get through this. Only the encouragement that you will survive. Really. You will. And the kids probably will too.