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Stop Letting Perfect Get in the Way of Good

18 Jan

Tres Leches Cake

My New Year’s Eve dessert contribution: Tres Leches Cake. It was incredible, and imperfectly delicious.

Now that it’s halfway through January, and I am finally (finally!) back in to a semblance of my routine–which means I’m blogging again. I’ll admit, when you “take a break from everything” during the holidays, it can be pretty difficult to get yourself in to gear again. This past week felt like the first big push down the hill of 2011, but it’s always that initial grunt that takes the most effort (though the middle of the year valley is never easy either).

Lately, I’ve been in a bubble. Shorter days lead to me getting home when it’s dark, the cold makes me lethargic, and I feel like I waste my time away, looking at randomness on the internet. Caleb was out of town this past week as well, and I had all sorts of plans for organizing areas of our home or getting started on projects, and for the most part it just didn’t happen. I listened to Harry Potter audiobooks, read a zillion blogs, and did a lot of nothing. My sense of discipline was slowly lowering its expectations–there was a time, once, when I got up early enough to actually cook breakfast. When I worked out at the gym. And once you let one thing go, it starts to feel easier and easier to say, “I’ll do it later,” or “I really don’t feel like moving right now.”

When I think about all of the things I want to do (the things I should do), I start to feel so overwhelmed. And I realized the other day that much of it has to do with my own expectations. I came across a really interesting piece called “Going Dutch” on Slate.com that talks about the difference between Dutch women (most of whom only work part time) and American women (75% of those who work, work full time). Dutch women have shown, time and time again to be happier than American women. But it’s not just because they work less–it’s because they don’t try to be perfect:

The problem for American women…is the notion that we need to be perfect at everything we do. TV shows, advertisements, and articles from women’s magazines have formed this composite of a perfect woman who is successful at work, nurturing at home, always optimistic, and impeccably dressed. […] The ideal American woman doesn’t just putter around in the kitchen or dabble in knitting. She opens a cake shop and knits scarves for fashion shows. She appears on Oprah. She follows her dreams.

So true.

I confront this desire every day–with every blog I read, every post on Facebook, every book I read. I see things and say, “I could do that. I could make that. I can dress like that.” And yes, if I put all my energy in to doing that thing (whatever it is) perfectly, I probably come pretty close.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that I’ve started letting the desire to be perfect keep me from even trying.

Voltaire was actually the one who really said it: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I’ve heard the quote before, but it came to my mind in a much more meaningful way after reading that article (and after a conversation with a friend who was dealing with the same thing). I need to set goals that are manageable. To attempt, even if I don’t attain. To do what is good, what I can–even if it isn’t perfect. To stop letting perfect get in the way of good.

In light of that, I decided to make some (slightly late) goals for 2011. Simple ones (because I do love simple) that I can aim to accomplish, then build on as I go:

Work out twice a week

Ideally, I should be working out more than that, but right now my exercise routine consists of going up the four flights of stairs to get to the office each day. I want to start by doing something active (with a focus on exerting energy) twice a week. Yoga, walking, going to the gym, push-ups and crunches on the floor of my living room–so long as I’m doing pushing my body, it counts.

Steps to making this happen include: getting up a little earlier, planning meals ahead so that I can go straight from work to the gym, and moving my alarm so that I get up earlier.

Knit a sweater

I’ve done quite a bit of knitting and sewing, but never any actual pieces of “real” clothing (you know, as opposed to a scarf or other items that don’t require “fitting”). I won’t lie, it scares me. It means there are measurements and gauge and a much greater chance of messing up. But it’s time for me to get over it, and I’m going to start with a sweater.

Steps to making this happen include: Knitting a baby sweater (less yarn = less to undo if I have to start over), finding a sweater pattern and yarn that I like, giving myself a deadline.

Make one meal each week that I’ve never made before

I try to be creative with our menu options, but there are so many things I like to make that we do fall into a cooking routine pretty easily. There are mountains of cookbooks and so many incredible recipes floating around, so it’s time for me to start putting more of them under my cooking belt. I have tried-and-true recipes for meals that I love, but who knows what I’m missing out on because I haven’t tried a slightly different recipe for the same dish?

Steps to making this happen include: writing down new recipes that catch my eye, using Evernote to tag recipes that I’ve saved but haven’t made, giving myself enough time on the weekends to make a meal plan and do my shopping.

Wake up earlier

I know this one will be particularly challenging, but it needs to happen. I’ve gotten in the terribly bad habit of hitting the “snooze” button six too many times, then rushing to get ready for work. I want to start my mornings on a better note, with time to cook breakfast, read the Bible, and really prepare for the day. There’s a great ebook from Kat at Inspired to Action called “Maximize Your Mornings” that I’ve read before, but I’m going to actually follow through with and DO this year. Starting this week.

Steps to making this happen include: going to bed earlier, catching myself before I spend two hours on Facebook and it’s 11:30pm, moving the iPhone (my alarm) away from my bed, planning fun breakfast ideas.

For me, I hope that 2011 will be a year of good things. They may not be perfect, but they will be good.

What ideas of perfection are keeping you from attempting something good? Do you have any simple goals for the New Year?

My Favorite Kitchen Assistant

12 May

Ok, not my kitchen--I wish! This one belongs to Kelly from  Cuppielove.

No, it’s not my Kitchenaid Mixer (although I do love it so much that Caleb has spotted me petting it’s brightly colored siblings in Williams Sonoma). It’s not my salad spinner, or my Pyrex bowls, or my wooden spoons.

It’s Evernote.

Evernote

I really don’t know how I managed before Evernote and I met. It’s my menu planner, my cookbook, my recipe file, my shopping list, and my pantry inventory (and that’s just on the kitchen side of things, look for another post in the future about how I use it for other areas of life).

And the best part? Yup, it’s free.

For the record, Evernote did not pay (or even ask) me to write about how much I love them. I just do, and I want to share it with all of you!

Evernote is basically an online collection of notes that you can access from your computer or any device connects to the internet. You can capture images, text, documents, PDFs and even voice memos, then organize them however you’d like–and search them with Google-like power (it even searches for words inside pictures). Everything is backed up to their database, so you never have to worry about losing your notes.

I have a variety of different “notebooks” in Evernote: Cooking, Graphic Design, Blogging, Home Design, etc. Whenever I create a new note (whether it’s grabbing something from the web or typing it in myself), I organize it by dropping it into one of my notebooks. My cooking notebook contains three things that give my kitchen (and our meals) an amazing organizing boost:

1. Recipes

Recipe Cards

All of my favorite recipes are here. Some are from cooking blogs or food websites that I’ve highlighted and clipped with Evernote’s web clipper, some I’ve typed in from my own recipe cards, and some are even pictures that I’ve taken with my phone of cookbooks. Evernote lets you label notes with tags that make them even more searchable, so I usually classify them with words like appetizer, summer picnic, potluck, etc.

Since my computer is next to my kitchen, it’s easy to pull up a recipe and refer to it while I’m cooking–but if your computer is across the house, you can still bring recipes up on your phone, or just print it out if you don’t have it in a cookbook.

It’s also great when I’m shopping and see a great deal on something like, say, artichokes. I can open the Evernote app on my iPhone and do a search for “artichoke” to see if there are any recipes where I already have most of the ingredients, then pick up what I’m missing. Or, if I’m in the mood for a certain dish, I can look up the recipe and know exactly what to buy.

Making notes on recipes is easy too–I can record whether a dish was a hit or a miss, which potluck I brought it to, or note any changes that will make it better next time.

Check out Ward Street Bistro’s post on Organizing Recipes with Evernote for a detailed step-by-step on adding recipes to Evernote.

2. Menu Plans

Menu Planning

Making weekly menu plans is a whole ‘nother post in itself, but suffice it to say that they’re the best way to shop effectively, eat out less, and eat healthier meals. Every Sunday I make my meal plan for the week, all kept in one note in Evernote–with the current week at the top of the list. I know exactly what will be for dinner each night and can easily look at past weeks for meal ideas or to make sure I’m not repeating the same meals too frequently.

This also makes it easy to see what I need to buy for the week, leading in to…

3. Shopping List and Pantry Inventory

Evernote Shopping

Since I have my meals planned out, I can copy or type ingredients I know I’ll need into my shopping list note, which also contains a list of what’s in my fridge, pantry, and freezer. That makes it easy to see what might be hiding in my freezer or in the veggie drawer that needs to be used up and helps avoid duplicate buying. Now, I’m not totally crazy–I don’t catalog every food item that’s in my kitchen. I just add things when I think, “Oh yeah, that _____ has been in the fridge/freezer/pantry for a while, I need to use it this week!”

And that’s it–my simple system for organizing meals, making shopping easier, and using up food before it goes bad.

To start, sign up for a free Evernote account. It’s quick and easy, and while they do offer a premium membership that has a larger amount of storage + no ads, I’ve been quite happy with the free versions (and I’d consider myself a power user). Then make your own notebooks, start adding recipes and you’re well on your way to having your own amazing kitchen assistant!

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