How Do You Do Everything That Needs to Be Done?

Hi Heather,

I don’t recall when I subscribed to your site, but I do recall having found your site at a time when all my children would eat for breakfast was pancakes and I knew there had to be a way to freeze them. Lifesaver! Thank you!

But, anyhow, to the point. I know you recently moved. And you work. And you blog. So, how do you find time to do the non-essential things? We’ve lived in our house for 2 and a half years and I still have half-painted trim and the register covers have still not been replaced (from the few rooms that we had painted when we first moved in). How do you do it? I’m a new stay at home mom and had all these awesome plans to get things done around here, yet I find I can’t even handle the laundry anymore. What’s your secret. Please share!!
Seriously Slacking
Heather says

Drive comes and goes, at least for me. During the divorce and after my sisters’ deaths, I really had none. I barely could do the things I absolutely had to much less the things that were beyond the bare minimum.
It’s been well over a year now since these events happened and life’s a lot different for me. For the first time in a very long time I am truly happy.  Yes, I still get irritated and annoyed with my kids, especially when I have them for long stretches of time. I’m human and parenting is a tough, but wonderful gig.
That said, to get the things that need done around here, in this hot mess of a fixer-upper, I try to make myself accountable.

What motivates you?

I can’t do X until I do Y and if it’s something very important, but off-putting I tell someone who matters about my goal. I really stink at coming up with internal motivation. Over many years, I’ve learned I can get myself to face the things I don’t want to by placing that motivation and accountability somewhere outside of myself.
My therapist and I have gone back and forth about whether or not it’s the healthiest coping skill.  That said, for me, it works and I have done so many things I never would have had the courage, energy, or motivation to do on my own.
For you, consider getting the tools to do the job, before setting your deadline. This way you remove the excuse of, but I don’t have the right paintbrush, the correct size register, drop cloth… whatever it is that would prevent you from finishing the job you want to start.
Set up a reward for once you’ve accomplished the chore. I can’t have a fancy coffee, adult beverage (eh you may see a pattern with me) or nice dinner out until I’ve done whatever I need to do. It doesn’t have to be food, it can be I won’t start that book from the library until I clean up the house. There are many kinds of little reward motivators you can find for yourself.
When the kids are involved it’s more specific: we won’t go to the park until the kids help pick up the house. We won’t start the movie until the dishes are done. And sometimes? Sometimes I have to be firm and not go to the park or turn on the movie. House didn’t get clean in time to go? Sorry, guys, them’s the breaks.
Rewards and “bribery” only work when used correctly. You can’t give in to yourself or the kids and expect anything to get accomplished.
Yes, sometimes you have to be rigid even with yourself, perhaps especially with yourself. But getting the I don’t wannas done removes the guilt from the fun things.
Over time, the successes build on themselves and a sense of pride in the task itself can develop. To get the ball rolling set the bar low, don’t say I will clean the house and paint the laundry room before I have another cup of coffee… that’ll just lead to frustration.
Today I won’t let myself take a break for lunch until I actually call the contractor about the roof. (I don’t know why I’m dreading this, he already gave me the estimate).
This weekend? I have to paint the dining room and replace the light fixture before getting a Christmas tree. (Wait, I’m rewarding myself with more work, who is in charge here? Oh… me. )
If you’re curious, I’m going with the color on the right and whatever light fixture matches. I really want to set my dining room table up so we can all sit comfortably together for meal. I miss that and really, that’s the real reward, the Christmas tree is just a nice bonus.
Tell me, Home-Eccers, what is your motivation for projects you should, but don’t want to do?
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Learn Your Refrigerator’s Zones for Optimal Food Storage

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I need help!  I like my milk very, very cold, so the temperature in my fridge is very low (38 degrees), but my produce keeps freezing.  I do keep some produce in the produce drawers, and some I put on the top shelf to see if that worked better, and the jury is still out on that one.  Some things did better and some did not.  How can I have my milk cold and my produce crisp?

Limpy Lettuce

Heather says:

38 is actually a great temperature for your refrigerator, but my theory is the cooling space of your appliance isn’t all sitting at 38F.

Get to know your refrigerator’s zones.

Your refrigerator may have very distinct zones and these zones may be much colder (or warmer) than the temperature indicated, depending on the location of the sensor. Get yourself a thermometer for your refrigerator, they are quite inexpensive -$5 on Amazon¹, significantly cheaper than a service call, no?

Over the course of a day or several days, set the thermometer in different locations in your fridge. Shut the door and allow the refrigerator to do its thing undisturbed for a couple of hours. Please don’t just pop the thermometer on a shelf, and stand there waiting for the needle to stop moving. You won’t get accurate results. The door needs to be shut long enough for the refrigerator to cycle and the temperature to return to normal. Write down the temperature of each zone and create yourself a map of your refrigerator.

How do I know where my refrigerator’s zones are?

Well, it’s going to depend a lot on the layout of your particular appliance, but generally the upper area is cooler than the bottom. In general drawers are more about either organization or humidity than temperature, unless there is a drawer at the bottom of the appliance for holding meat. This drawer may have a small vent from the freezer that keeps this portion of the refrigerator extra cold.

You may find that the temperature of your refrigerator is different from the one indicated. Adjust your refrigerator’s thermostat accordingly or simply change your storage habits. If it’s wildly different, it may be time for a service call.

Ivy, my former partner here, once wrote about How to Minimize Food Waste by Thinking Like a Kitchen Manager. It’s a great post explaining the first in first out concept and other ways to reduce the amount of food waste in a home kitchen.

Additionally know that storing produce in a refrigerator isn’t as simple as just opening the door and plunking it on a shelf. Produce is very persnickety about silly things like humidity. Aside from cooling food one of your refrigerator’s most important jobs is removing excess humidity. The slider on your refrigerator’s produce drawer is more than just a nifty little decoration, it opens and closes a vent to allow or prevent the circulation of moisture from the drawer.

The Unclutterer has an old, but highly useful guide to storing produce in a refrigerator.

Have fun getting to know your appliance.

Submit your questions to

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What Are These Tiny Bugs in My Puzzle Box?

Dear Home Ec 101,

I was putting a puzzle together with one of my kids the other day and noticed, while looking for a corner piece, some tiny little bugs moving around.

I didn’t freak out, I just want to know what they are and if there is a way I can get rid of them?

Slightly Skeeved in Slidell

Heather says

Those tiny bugs you found are insects, but they aren’t bugs. I have to clarify because some people out there like to get super picky about how we describe the creepy-crawlies we run into. Bugs are a specific order of insects. (Think back to Biology, do you remember: Did King Philip Cry Out,  “For Goodness Sakes!”) The little, hard-to-see colorless or gray insects you found are commonly known as booklice and belong to the order Psocoptera.

First of all, I want to assure you, that while a little on the icky side, pscoids like your new friends the booklice are harmless. They aren’t going to bite you, your kid, or your destroy your library. Psocids show up when the humidity is high and dine on the resulting mold.

Most commercially available insecticides won’t work on your barely visible pests, so it’s better to make your environment less hospitable to psocids in general. Who, by the way, may have non-traditional families -and I don’t mean of the taxonomic kind. Psocids can reproduce through a process called  parthenogenesis, which is a bit different than asexual reproduction. Animals that can reproduce via parthenogenesis have different sexes, but the females can reproduce without the presence of a male. I find this fascinating, which is probably just another reason why my favorite place is the nerd table.

So, I guess the question is what to do if you find psocids in your books or puzzles?

Option 1: Take off your glasses and pretend you never saw them in the first place.

Option 2: Freak out and hire an exterminator and pay a lot of money to get rid of a harmless cohabitant.

Option 3: Invest in a dehumidifier and make the living conditions less hospitable to your little squatters. The best thing about this option is that it also makes your home less of a haven for the much more bothersome dust mites.

The choice is up to you.

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Why Won’t My Gas Grill Get Hot?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

The other night I decided to grill burgers, but I couldn’t get my gas grill to get hot. It was extremely frustrating and I ended up cooking my burgers under the broiler (with a lot of spite and bitterness, I might add). There was plenty of liquid propane, I just couldn’t get the flames high even with the burners wide open.

Do you have any idea why my gas grill wouldn’t heat?

Flummoxed in Florida

Heather says:

Actually I’m quite familiar with your problem and have had several frustrating evenings cursing my gas grill, too. (Hush you charcoal grill owners, I want one of those, too -not instead of).

A gas grill -in this case I’m solely referring to liquid propane-  has a safety feature built into the gas regulator that is on the tube connecting your bottle of liquid propane to the grill itself. This safety valve will not open fully until the gas pressure has equalized between the bottle and the grill. If the burners are in the on position, gas is leaving the lines in the grill and this pressure cannot equalize.

Thankfully there is a very simple fix.

Completely shut the valve on the bottle of propane.

Turn off all of the burners. Check to make sure none of your minions have turned on the rotisserie you never use or any other accessories.  Double check to make sure they are all shut.

Ensure the lid of the grill is open.

Open the valve on the bottle of liquid propane fully.

Wait a few seconds.

Do a little dance, hum a little tune. Something. Anything, except turn on a burner. If the hose from your bottle of liquid propane is short, you really only need 10 seconds or so unless you are trying to grill when it is VERY cold. If you have several feet of hose, you need to wait a couple of minutes.

Now turn on the burner and light the grill.

It’s like magic, no?


Ok, now we move up to phase two. It’s time to check for a gas leak. -You should perform this check fairly frequently to comply with safety standards.

Turn off all burners and the valve to the propane tank, too.

Get a spray bottle and partially fill it with very soapy water. (1/3 soap dish, 2/3 water -almost like you were going to blow bubbles)

Now spray the hose connections with your soapy water.

Open the valve on the tank of liquid propane and then carefully inspect each connection. If any bubbles are forming turn off the gas and reconnect and tighten the fittings.

That should fix most problems.

Good luck!

Hurricane Season 2014

Heather says:

The official start to Hurricane Season was yesterday, June 1, 2014. Last year I had so much happen that I feel very lucky not to have to had any hurricanes even pose a threat.

This year, I’m taking stock and getting ready, not because I expect a hurricane but because emergency preparedness is an important life skill and one of the many “shoulds” I couldn’t manage last year. Last year was about making sure I got the have-tos done.

You don’t need to have a category 3 hurricane hit your home to find yourself in need of a battery at 3am. (Smoke detector seek and find is never a fun game.)

Having a houseful of sick kids is plenty of reason to break into the stash of food set aside for a big storm rather than dragging them out and infecting the rest of town. At least I find it’s better for my sanity, anyhow.

The important part is to remember to replace what you used the next time you are out. Get into the habit of checking your blackout pantry (And while we’re talking about blackout pantries, you do have a manual can opener, right? RIGHT?)

The 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season isn’t looking too active, but it doesn’t take a particularly active year to send a storm your way. Here is a quick reminder of what getting ready for a big storm looks like:

Be sure you and your family are safe should a storm make landfall. (Many of these apply to those living near fault lines or in tornado country who don’t have the benefit of prior warning.) Oh and if you’re a NYC resident, there is a pretty cool resource called Know Your Zone that has important information relevant to your location and storm preparedness.

  • Check your insurance coverage. Do you have adequate protection from both wind and water? Are they with the same or competing companies? Keep these documents in a safe, dry place and remember to bring them along if you must evacuate.
  • Have enough food and clean water for each family member to last at least 72 hours.
    • one gallon of water per person per day
    • rather than store lots of bottled water in my small home, I opt to keep an Aquapod on hand to fill.
    • 2 drops of unscented Clorox bleach purifies one quart of water.  This is a last resort if boiling is not an option.  Let any particles settle out, filter using coffee filters, paper towels or a cloth, then add the bleach, stir or shake well, and allow to sit for 30 minutes.  Your bleach must be at full strength, be sure to have a new, unopened bottle in your kit, rotate for a new one every three months.
    • food should be ready to eat or require minimal preparation. Please don’t forget to have a manual can opener on hand. You may end up the most popular person on your block.
  • Have propane or charcoal for your grill. And know how to use your grill.
    • I’ve brewed coffee using a grill in the past. My neighbors loved me for it.
    • NEVER use a grill indoors. The flames produce deadly, odorless carbon monoxide.
  • Candles, batteries, flashlights, and a crank or battery operated radio are a must.
  • Keep your gas tank filled at least half way at all times.
  • Keep an emergency cash supply on hand, as ATMs do not work without power.
  • Have an evacuation plan. Shelters are only for those in the most dire need, those who have nowhere else to go.
  • Have a plan for Fido and Fluffy as well. Most shelters do not take pets, know what you are going to do before a warning has been announced. As a pet owner this is an important responsibility that is frequently overlooked.
  • Have a well stocked first-aid kit.
    • Keep all prescription medications filled and take them with you, if you must leave.
  • If you live in a rural area, learn how to safely operate a chainsaw. This goes for you ladies, too.
    • Own one, keep it in good condition, and have gasoline on hand.
    • Have sturdy work gloves.  Keep an extra pair with your emergency kit.
  • Except for emergencies, stay put after a storm. Emergency personnel have enough to deal with: restoring utilities and rescuing those who were injured in the storm.
  • Curfews may be established. Obey all law enforcement personnel.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly.
  • Remember snakes and other wildlife may become disoriented after a storm. Watch where you step and never put your hands where you cannot see when removing storm debris.

What do you do to get ready for hurricanes? Anything at all?

Do you have any questions, I’d love to read them -now that I have my email account working again- send them to