New Year’s organizing

This popular resolution never goes out of style.

A lot of people make New Year’s resolutions to “finally get organized,” and sometimes it makes me feel smug—sorry!—about being pretty well organized the whole year round. In fact, I’m a recovering organizer; I used to color code and alphabetize everything. I still have a few labeling addictions, but I have gotten much better about the alphabetizing…

Anyway, as such an organizing addict, I thought I would share a couple of tips that have helped me over the years. They are super simple, though, so don’t expect fairy dust or anything!

  • Keep a one-touch rule. This goes for mail, e-mail, the works. You touch it once and it goes away. You either file it where it goes, recycle it, or take care of it. If you can’t take care of it right away—say, it’s a bill and you won’t have the money until Friday—keep a bill folder you can put it in until Friday. Cut down on all that paperwork before it buries you!
  • Speaking of bills, I like to schedule mine. I don’t do them all at once, but if I know I’ll be getting paid on Sunday, Tuesday, or Thursday, I will schedule payments through my bank for free a few days afterward. This saves me on time, postage, and envelopes, and it also saves me from being late on bills. I absolutely love this system.
  • I use a planner for everything—work, homeschool, deadlines, doctor appointments, you name it. This year, my secret ingredient is the Planner Pad, which I am in complete love with. I know it seems expensive, but just for the peace of mind I have knowing exactly when my novel will be due and then published, or when a stack of press releases are going to be due, or what kids will be going to the field trip all in one place, I’m happy to fork over the thirty bucks. Plus, I love them so much it’s like buying something special for me—like another person might like shoes or clothing.
  • I get my annual planner in November (sometimes sooner, if available) and fill it out in one fun afternoon. This may be a chore for others, but I love having all of my birthdays, club meetings, and classes ready to find.
  • Use totes and label them specifically. We have different totes for each holiday, but I have small totes for everything from craft supplies to old letters. These not only help keep out moisture and spiders with their lids—they also keep things organized so easily. You can even color coordinate for fun.
  • For some fun and fashionable organizational tips, check out Gala Darling’s latest blog.

The importance of creating New Year's Eve events for children

Most New Year's Eve parties and rituals are for adults and generally center around drinking alcohol and having a romantic kiss at midnight while the children are at home in bed.

Boring! Children need memories too!

Some of my favorite memories of are my brother and I celebrating New Year's Eve together when we were in elementary and middle school.

Since we were too young to go out and couldn't have alcoholic spirits, we would make frappe, using orange or green sherbet and ginger ale. Sometimes, my mom would buy us sparkling grape juice so we could toast with my Dad.

Then, we would turn on a radio station that was counting down the 100 best songs of the year.  As that played, we got ready.

We would take showers and got dressed in gag party clothes. He would wear a suit jacket with jogging pants, along with a plaid scarf and sunglasses. One year, he wore a lamp shade. Me? I would wear a lace party dress with a wool beret. LOL! Occasionally, I wore a cape (don't ask). On New Year's, my mother even let me wear makeup -- and boy did I pile it on.

Once dressed, we would take pictures together while sipping frappe and dancing to our favorite songs. Sometimes we would bet on what artist would have the top song. We still have these photo albums and my brother and I love rehashing our weird New Year's Eve parties.

My parents were very encouraging of our inanity and never made us go to bed. We'd stay up until we couldn't keep our eyelids open.

Surprisingly,  most children today don't do much for New Year's Eve and that's kind of sad to me.

I think slumber parties with grape juice, movie nights with friends, or some other wacky tradition like we made up can be a great way to build fun memories for children and pre-teens on New Year's Eve.



NYE Traditions Examined: Fortune-filled foods to kick off any New Year

You've heard of the kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve, but have you heard of eating grapes as the clock strikes 12?

Blame the Spaniards for coming up with this interesting tradition expected to bring a month of luck for every grape eaten as the New Year saunters in. I'm always scouring the internet for fresh ways to mark the a new year. Recently, I read an article about a practice in the Latino culture called "The 12 Grapes of Luck."  At midnight, as the clock chimes 12 times, people wanting to bless the incoming new year with fortune, gobble a grape with every chime, finishing off a dozen as the new year rolls in.

This reminds me of my grandmother's obsession about serving black-eyed peas every Jan. 1, allegedly to bring us luck. This is a Southern tradition mostly; my other friends don't usually know about this ritual. Since every year that we had the peas was still filled with a mix of bad and good, life and death, I'm not sure this worked at all. Still cultural traditions at the start of a year are something I cherish.

Even if they don't work, partaking of them fills one with hope and a sense of cultural kinship.

Here are some other foods that different cultures consume on New Year's Eve or New Years Day to make their lives a little bit luckier, according to Salisbury University.

  • Japanese people turn to the soba noodle for luck, trying to suck in one long noodle without having it break.
  • Brazilians consume the lucky lentil, whether in soup or rice dish form.
  • Dutch folks think eating sauerkraut will make riches rain down on them.
  • German people cut into pancakes as soon as the clock strikes midnight.



The Chinese New Year is Here!

One can ever have too many celebrations to herald the start of a brand-new year, so why not observe this weekend's celebrations for the Chinese New Year, which officially begins Monday.  Exploring ethnic New Year's festivities is a great way to immerse yourself in a new culture and make new friends.

College campuses, Chinese community associations, and businesses are places to look for calendars of local events. Events typically offer an array of Chinese cuisine, including  potstickers (Chinese dumplings), stir-fry dishes and shrimp-stuffed spring rolls.

Besides food, there are festivals featuring ethnic dancers where you can participate in Chinese folk dancing or lion dancing (not with a actual lion).

Parades with colorful costumes and music are customary. The main star of the parade, of course, will be a float or sky-high puppet of the animal symbol chosen to encapsulate the spirit of 2012 .

This year, it's the Year of the Dragon.

Some places also offer fortune-telling, so you can see what lies ahead for you over the next 12 months.

In addition to the fanfare, there are more serious ways of marking the most emphasized holiday on the Chinese calendar.  Many people choose to attend lectures on Chinese issues or partake of Chinese poetry events, operas, and theaters. Youngsters also can join in by attending library events featuring public readings of Chinese children's books.

For 5,000 years the Chinese New Year has been shrouded in mysticism, with people believing how you choose to mark the entry of the new year will bless or curse you for the future.

Easy New Year’s Resolution: Unsubscribe!

Kick all of those unread newsletters to the curb.

Is it bad that I have been relishing my new quest to unsubscribe from as many unwanted newsletters as possible with a certain devilish glee? It’s not as if I have malice in my heart as I do this; I simply want to make my life, well, simpler! If I’m not reading them anyway, and they’re getting bounced emails or unopened rates due to my indifference, why continue subscribing? Really, there is no guilt to feel here.

My method so far has been to unsubscribe to anything that only asks for money, rarely gives an action item to follow through, or anything that’s selling me something I don’t want. I think the only “goods” newsletter I kept was Uncommon Goods, and could you blame me for that? I have found that many newsletters and political lists are the ones getting chopped the most, since A. I can look up most of this news on my own, and B. the political lists give you 5% news and take-action opportunities and 95% donation requests.

You see, I am a big Internet activist, so I belong to several hundred lists. Yesterday I unsubscribed to over 120 lists; I lost count after a while. My email is already looking so much cleaner and bearable this morning; when I normally have a few hundred waiting for me, today I only had 60. By this time tomorrow, I may have even fewer! I know many other people in the same boat, and let me tell you, this feels really, really good.

Most of these newsletters are courteous enough to provide an opt-out option—albeit in fine print you need a magnifying glass in order to see, oftentimes. Some, however, don’t, and I have simply marked them as spam. I also sent them e-mails with the subject “Unsubscribe” in case that helps. Some, however, are very obnoxious.

So far, the worst has been Unilever. I don’t even know how I ended up subscribing to anything from them, but when I tried to unsubscribe, I had to fill out this stupid form indicating which newsletters I wanted and which I didn’t—all individually. Otherwise, the most annoying thing is the two or three steps—particularly the confirmation step some sites require. Most of the sites I have unsubscribed from only took seconds, though.

Go ahead and try it. Just leave five newsletters that you are sick of getting and see how much it lightens your load. You might be surprised!

Resolution Strategy: Choose A "Progress" Goal

Be honest with yourself!
Sarajean is right - it's important to make your New Year's goal an achievable one. Nothing leads to a failed resolution like a ridiculously optimistic goal that you secretly know you won't be able to achieve. (Only 12% of people ever achieve their New Year's resolutions!)
One way to make your goals doable is to focus on making progress, not on achieving your final goal. After all, you will never achieve your final goal unless you make progress towards it, right?

The first step is to choose your ultimate goal. Let's say it's to "Lose 50 pounds." First, set aside the idea of losing 50 pounds in 2012. That's a possible goal, but it isn't a very likely one. And aiming for such a difficult goal will only set you up for failure.
Now the question becomes, what do you need to do in order to lose that weight? Do you need to exercise more? Eat better? Yes to both, I'm sure! (Don't we all?) 
But what SPECIFICALLY do you want to do? "Eat better" isn't a goal. It's a vague wave of the hand. It doesn't tell you anything. What is your personal eating issue? Do you eat too much fast food? Or do you have a diet that's pretty good overall, but you need to eat more vegetables? Do you think you need to kick the carb habit?
Now we're getting somewhere! Here are three potential, realistic goals from that list:
  • Only eat fast food twice a month
  • Substitute veggies for usual afternoon snack
  • No more pasta or bread
The same thing goes for "exercise more." What would that look like? Would you be taking a walk three times a week at lunch? Going for a run every weekday morning? Actually going to that pilates or spinning class every week, instead of letting yourself flake out? 
This method works regardless of the goals you want to achieve:
Step One: Identify your final goal (get out of credit card debt, lose 50 lbs, whatever)
Step Two: What do you need to do in order to get there? (Make payments, exercise more often)
Step Three: What SPECIFICALLY do you need to do? (Pay at least $100/month, go to the gym twice a week)
The final key to making an achievable resolution is to be brutally realistic with yourself. You may pledge, starry-eyed, to pay $500/month on your credit card bills. But is that a realistic amount, for your financial situation? You may find yourself wanting to promise that you'll go for a 30-minute walk every day, knowing that three walks a week would be more realistic. 

Make a Doable New Year’s Resolution

Every year, millions of people make a New Year’s Resolution only to break it weeks (or even days) later. This year, I am happy to report that I made my New Year’s Resolution happen, and it was completed early! What was it, you might want to know. It wasn’t losing weight, or becoming debt free, or stopping some bad behavior—although I’d love to do all of these things. No, it was simply to light every candle in the house at least once (not including tea lights).

We have all of these candles that we never use, but they smell wonderful, so why not use them, right? But the real reason I made this resolution was because I knew I could do it, and after so many years of vowing to lose weight (and working hard, and starving myself, only to be disappointed), I knew I had to make a resolution that was something I couldn’t NOT do. And I did it!

You might laugh, but this boost of confidence is something that many people could use. Once you accomplish one goal, it’s easier to do more. For example, I didn’t lose all the weight I’d like this year, but I lost a little and started working out again—though I didn’t resolve to do so. I also didn’t become debt free, but I did pay off two bills, including one bothersome credit card—in the midst of a layoff and scarce year in general. Again, it wasn’t my resolution; I just believed that I could do it. This mentality is hard to keep, but if you set easy goals along with your harder ones, perhaps it will make it more doable in your mind and then in your very life.

So how about setting another completely doable resolution this year? I haven’t decided what mine will be just yet, but I am thinking of something artistic—perhaps to make something every week, whether it’s a clay sculpture with my daughter or a watercolor I’ve been meaning to do since forever. Since I usually make something with her each week already, this shouldn’t be too difficult. I was thinking about vowing to move my body somehow at least three times a week, which would also be very doable for me.

What doable resolution could you make for yourself? Set a very reasonable goal and try it. Once you accomplish it, set another!