Monday, December 24, 2012

On doing the dishes.

With holiday cooking in full swing, it seems every time I turn around there's another mountain of dishes in my sink.

I wrote this country western song in 2005, but lately it's been on my mind again, so I present it to you! Here, have some doggerel on a Monday morning. Merry Christmas if that is your thing; Happy New Year if that is; enjoy your winter as the days get slowly longer. May all your dishes be done by housekeeping elves.


A Sink Full of Dishes and a Heart Full of Sorrow
(to be sung with a twang, preferably by Jeannie C. Riley)

A sink full of dishes and a heart full of sorrow,
I should wash them tonight, but I'll wait till tomorrow. 

The water is dirty and my feeet will get tired,
my sink drain smells like milk that's expired. 

A sink full of dishes and a heart full of pain,
As soon as I wash them, they're dirty again. 

My fingers get wrinkly, my resolve comes unglued
when faced with the caked-on nasty old food. 

A sink full of dishes and a heart full of woe,
I'll let the mold flourish and allow it to grow. 

The water will splash and ruin my clothes.
The kitchen is tricky. I might stub my toes.

A sink full of dishes and a heart full of sorrow,
I should wash them tonight, but I'll wait till tomorrow. (2x)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On Before and After Photos, and incidentally also pomegranates and vertical fold.

Many organizational apps exist for the iPhone - some with a focus on gamification, such as SuperBetter and UnF*** Your Habitat; some that just help you Do The Thing, such as Pocket Lists and Stylebook.

I must say, however, that the iPhone app I find the most beneficial to my organizing is the one that allows me to create Before and After photos.

A while ago, I was reading about the convenience of the vertical fold for t-shirt storage. BOOM.
It was, in fact, the before picture that motivated me to bother folding. And the vertical fold really is better than the horizontal! I have kept up with it. No backsliding. 

Similarly, I recently found out from my Smart Friend Jocelyn how to open a pomegranate without mangling the seeds, losing a lot of juice, and staining my clothing in the process. She basically advises this technique, but scoring quarters rather than fifths. I did quarters. Now, this may be one of those things that everyone else has always known how to do, but for me it was a revelation. SCORE THE SKIN! Okay, then. And once again, the photos (this time process photos, not just before and after) add a layer of satisfaction that would not have existed otherwise.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Delicious Vegetarian Proteins (not beans)

The other day, my boyfriend came into the room after talking to his mom on the phone. He told me she was starting to think about holiday cooking, and would like to know more about vegetarian proteins ... other than beans. I felt pretty prepared to comply with this request. While I love beans and find them to be both versatile and delicious, I do try to vary my protein intake. Since she had already considered beans, I used them as my protein exchange.* 

Below is what I sent her, but I would LOVE additional suggestions in the comments! Also, should I do a companion post on beans next week? Beans are so good. 


High protein, easy and delicious: Zucchini quiche made with eggs, low fat mozzarella, and parmesan.
The deal with vegetarian protein is to get a lot of it without overdosing on something else in the process. For instance, four cups of cooked kale, two baked potatoes with skin on, four tablespoons of peanut butter  - 
each of these contain as much protein as a cup of beans, but present other nutritional annoyances. Eating that much kale at once would exhaust my jaw. Two baked potatoes at once sounds like I'd need a carbs nap after, and four tablespoons of peanut butter would be half the daily recommended fat intake, right there.

Here are some protein servings I've found to be reasonable:
  • A serving of two jumbo eggs has about as much protein as a cup of beans.
  • A cup of prepared quinoa (a seed that is served like a grain) has about as much protein as a cup of beans.
  • A cup of cottage cheese has over four times as much protein as a cup of beans.
  • A serving of four ounces of tofu has about as much protein as a cup of beans.
  • A serving of six ounces of Greek yogurt has about one and a half times as much protein as a cup of beans.
Wheat-based carbs:

  • A serving of one and a half cups of spaghetti contains as much protein as a cup of beans.
  • One large plain bagel has about as much protein a cup of beans.
Cheeses: Cottage cheese aside, it is generally true that the harder the cheese, the more protein it contains. The softer the cheese is, the more protein you are trading for fat.
  • A serving of two ounces of Cheddar has about as much protein as a cup of beans.
  • It would take four ounces of Ricotta to get that much protein, but
  • only a little over an ounce of hard parmesan cheese to equal the protein in a cup of beans.
  • Cream cheese and Brie, while technically cheeses, are basically nutritionally equivalent to flavored butter. It would take an ENTIRE CUP of cream cheese to equal the protein in a cup of beans.
Fake Meats: If you'd like to go the fake meat route, I enjoy the following:
  • Three little Morningstar Farms sausage links have about as much protein as a cup of beans.
  • One Boca burger has about as much protein as a cup of beans.
  • Seitan, kind of high-maintenance to prepare, has tons of protein, too: a four ounce serving has twice as much protein as a cup of beans.
WARNING: Meaty textures without meaty protein:
Mushrooms and eggplant, while they are often served as meat substitutes, have negligible protein contents. It would take seven cups of raw mushrooms or 15 cups of cooked eggplant to approximate the protein content in a cup of beans. I eat them because they are delicious and have other nutritional benefits, but I don't pretend they are high in protein. 

I consulted the following websites' nutrition information in developing these calculations:

*Note: 
  • Beans themselves vary in protein content, from chickpeas at about 12 grams per cup to soy beans and cannellini at about 16 grams per cup. For these calculations I aimed at the middle, but all amounts are approximate.
  • For additional reference, a serving of one and a half ounces of chicken breast has about as much protein as a cup of beans.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Break down tasks into manageable chunks.

Many organizational systems advise separating large projects into parts, making each part of the project a separate to-do list task. This makes it less daunting to approach a big project, and easier to see progress while working on one. It can also help avoid scope creep. I totally do this with big projects, for instance when I have massive amounts of grading - I'll write "mark 10 papers!" on my to-do list three times (instead of writing "mark 30 papers!" once, or even writing just "mark papers!" a few times). That way I can budget three smaller and easier units of time, and each time there is an exact goal to meet.

I have realized recently, however, that I work better when I subdivide even small tasks. My employer offers a Flex Spending program for medical costs. I would like to enroll in this program. It will save me money. However, the deadline for enrollment is fast approaching and I have not yet completed the task. I had "enroll flex spending!" on my to-do list every work day for weeks, and I just never got around to it.

I realized that perhaps that task - probably about an hour's worth of work overall - was still too big for me to fit into my already-full office hours in a single day. Plus, I do not enjoy dealing with forms, so I had a built-in affinity for pushing the task off day after day. So, to combat this tendency, I broke it into component parts even though it is not a large project. I assigned each part to one day. Here are the new to-do list items I created:

  • Read emails about flex spending; plan tasks. (Done!) 
  • Call flex spending company; confirm reimbursement eligibility for specific costs. (Done!)
  • Download, print, fill out flex spending enrollment forms. (Next!) 
  • Submit flex spending forms. (And then it will be over.) 

Each of these tasks is discrete enough and small enough that it won't be a burden to fit into my workday, and while the project is spread out over more time, it will be completed by the deadline, and won't keep getting moved to the next day over and over again.

Several weeks ago when I was discussing my two-column to-do list with a Very Organized Friend, she asked if I rewrote items on my list. I was doing that with "apply flex spending!" It had become something to move from one day's list to another, rather than something to do. When that happens, it's time to divide the task.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Two Compatible Efficiency Strategies

These two strategies sound contradictory, but actually work together very well:

1. When you want to develop new habits, piggyback tasks.

2. Don't multitask.

Please consider this picture of dogs performing synchronized napping to be symbolic of grouping like tasks.  

So, say that I want to start a new habit - doing the dishes on a regular basis, reading the news every morning, applying sunscreen daily - whatever. I arrange my actual physical belongings (and my to-do list) in a way that connects the new desired habit to something I already do. I call this piggybacking. My to-do list says "wash hair and dishes!" because I want to do both those chores at basically the same frequency. If they are grouped in my mind, I'll remember to do them both more easily. I only need to remember one thing, rather than two.

When I'm just starting the new habit, this can be tougher. I recently started using the app Summly for the news, and to remind myself to use it, (this part is a little bit embarrassing) I placed the icon in FRONT of my Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest icons on my phone. That way I see it first, and read it first. Let's face it: I'm not going to forget to check Twitter. Putting Summly between me and Twitter makes it that much more likely I'll remember it too. When the Adulting Lady posted about how she needed to apply sunscreen daily, I suggested that she balance the sunscreen on top of her toothbrush, or coffee maker, or anything else that was already an innate part of her morning routine, for the same reasons.

I realize this sounds a lot like multitasking, but ladies and gentlemen, it is not. In fact, it is the avoidance of multitasking that makes piggybacking tasks so effective. I cannot do two things at once, so I need to do something with that bottle of sunscreen before I can get to my toothbrush. I might as well apply it. Over time, I won't need to precariously balance anything, because the two tasks will be linked in my mind, like washing dishes and hair. I just think of that as one task that has multiple steps, I don't try to do both at once. That would be terrible.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Testing testing one two three

This post should automatically create alerts on facebook and twitter, and should also crosspost to my brand new tumblr mirror - all through the magic of if this then that. Let's see if I set it up correctly!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beginner's Budgeting

I had always had a vague sense that I should "live within my means," but when I was a full-time grad student with four part-time jobs, that just wasn't practical. I was borrowing from my future self, taking out loans to pay for school, anticipating another freelance gig, etc. My "means" were different from month to month.

Budgeting is stressful. Here is a picture of a pomeranian falling asleep on my shoulder. 


Now my life is really different. I have one full-time job that has good job security. I now have predictable means to live within, but not much practice thinking about finances on any level.* I started reading some personal finance blogs - I especially like Get Rich Slowly - but didn't see much advice on how to set a budget, only on how to keep to one. There is an understanding, apparently, that certain percentages of income should go to various life choices, as mentioned in this Unclutterer post on budgeting, but I live in a Manhattan apartment rather than a house, don't own a car, don't eat meat and don't have cable. So perhaps my percentages are different.

I finally decided on a strategy to set my budget, but I resented every second of it. I felt I was reinventing the wheel - surely actual techniques are outlined for doing this? Could I just not find them? Was my Googling power somehow impaired? I'd be thrilled to hear how other people have handled this, or to see links to where other people have already dealt with this.

Here's what I did: I started with my annual income, after taxes. I took all my known, predictable expenses and converted them to annual costs (list follows). I subtracted the known annual costs from my known annual income. Then I divided by 12. I decided how much of that monthly income I wanted to have available, and how much I wanted to save. I declared the spendable part FREE MONEY, and I started keeping track of how/when I spent it in order to stay within my monthly budget.

Here are the categories of spending I could predict:

  1. Housing. 
  2. Recurring medical costs (prescriptions, co-pays, contact lens purchases...).
  3. Groceries and household costs. For this, I looked at last year's credit card statements and took the average. 
  4. Memberships and subscriptions, including annual charitable donations
  5. Student loan payments. 
  6. Subway, bus and commuter rail. Again, I used last year as a guide. 
  7. Dog maintenance. Cody has predictable vet visits, food and dogwalker costs, etc. 
  8. Utilities - for me, this means "phone bill." 
  9. Holiday gift-giving. Again, I looked at last year's credit card statements to predict this year. 
EVERYTHING ELSE is just a monthly expense to be noted - plane tickets, birthday presents, expensive shoes, charitable donations beyond my annual ones, restaurant costs, tips I give to delivery guys, etc. All of it. 


Note: I had to decide when to track expenditures. I use credit cards and cash; I write checks rarely; I split some costs with my boyfriend. I decided to write down the expense when I spend. That is, I record the cost when I make the purchase, or agree to split the cost, rather than when the cost actually becomes "due" to me. Boy howdy is it totally very required to be consistent about this.

Also Note: I had to decide how I wanted to treat leftovers. If I'm way under budget in grocery spending one week, does that money get added to my "free" money? Or next week's grocery budget? Or neither?  If I end the month over-budget, what happens? If I get a $20 check from an unlikely source, where does that money go? I decided:

  • If I am under budget in any predicted category, that money gets saved and does not affect my "free" money or my budget in that category. 
  • If I end the month over-budget, I begin the next month with a correspondingly lower amount of "free" money. My friends, that happened this month. 
  • If money arrives in addition to my budgeted income (credit card rewards payouts, cash gifts, honorariums, etc.), that money is "free." I can save it, spend it on fancy chocolates, whatevs. It's free. 

Also Also Note: I am going against conventional wisdom in a couple different ways here.

  • One, it is generally acknowledged that a weekly budget is much better than a monthly one. I'm not sure why, and I think the monthly budget works better for me. 
  • Two, I did not divide my "free" spending. That is, I don't have a shoe budget, a theater budget and a restaurant budget. It's all fair game within a given month. 
What I might modify: Your suggestions are very welcome! 

* I am pretty certain that most of my readers are ahead of me on this topic. I am reporting here what I'm trying out, but I am very open to suggestions. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Nothing to see here

No blog post this week. Next week, we will return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Notes on notes

I'm an English professor and sometimes I tell people I read books for a living; sometimes I tell people I talk about books for a living. While both are true to a certain extent, there is a middle step there that is essential  - essential for me, at least - to talking professionally about the books I read. Big reveal: that middle step is taking notes.

When I ask my students how they take notes, some of them have a method encouraged by their high school teachers, but most have merely an idea that they should be writing down the "big ideas." This is not what I do. The big ideas I'll remember; it's the little phrases I'll want to cite later and the fleeting ideas I have in response to the text that I need to preserve for later use. I don't really know if other people take notes the same way, or if there is some "right" way to take notes, but over the years of reading for research, I have developed a streamlined system for taking pages of reading* notes.

Apparently I have my finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist** with this topic, too, since today's New York Times has an article about a recent conference on historical methods of note taking. Excitingly, the article links to "aonline exhibition of 73 note-related artifacts from Harvard’s collections." Swoon!  

So here's my technique:

  • At the top of a page, I create an MLA-style works cited entry for the text on which I will be taking notes. 
  • As I read, I write down quotations or paraphrases of material I'd like to preserve using MLA-style in-text citation methods. I skip a line between them so each one is its own chunk. 
  • Any of my own thoughts - reactions to the text, ideas sparked by the text, other texts that this one mentions that I'd like to track down - go into brackets. I skip a line between them so each one is its own chunk. 
  • I leave the left margin entirely clear for future use and I use only one side of the paper. 
Later, when I go back and read all my notes and quotes for multiple sources associated with a project, it is easy to organize the chunks into an outline for a paper I'm writing or course I'm designing, and the citations are already all there. Generally, after I outline the project, I'll use the left margin of the notes and quotes pages to write down where each chunk should go. I might write INTRO next to a quotation and CONC next to the bracketed idea immediately following. 

This method works when handwriting or typing. And if the pages are photocopied first, they can be literally chopped up for categorizing and organizing later if I am feeling particularly hands-on. 

That's it. Citation info, quotations and paraphrases, separating my own ideas from those in the text, leaving room to organize later: that's all I need from a note-taking system. Do other people note other things? 

---


*I actually use the same basic system for conference notes, too, with the speaker's name and the talk title (and panel title if applicable) and the venue and date at top.

** Yes, the zeitgeist has a pulse. It's very robust.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Email Inbox Management

A month ago, I had thousands and thousands of emails in my gmail inbox. Some of them had been read, some of them had not. Some of them were tagged "shopping," or "events," some of them were not. Some of them were items I had meant to deal with by the next day, but then they dropped off the front page and I stopped thinking about them. Some of them were the totally useless emails that made the action items drop off the front page.

It was not a good system. It was a lot of work to deal with my inbox since I had to weed through multiple pages just to see a couple days' worth of mail. And frankly, even when I did this work, things were slipping through the cracks - important things like handbag sales and invitations to parties. This could not stand. Gmail has a lot of optional organizational features, such as tags and filters. I used tags, but not comprehensively. I also used a starring system, but again, not comprehensively, and I never archived. My inbox went back to the day I opened the gmail account.

Now, things are better. I currently have 16 items in my inbox, and a much more robust system in place for tagging, archiving and acting on incoming messages. I know that for many people, INBOX ZERO is the holy grail of email management, but that is not the case for me. I recently read the post "27 Ways to get More Sh!t Done" on Greatist. I agree with nigh unto everything in that post, but only nigh unto, because their twelfth Way to Get More Sh!t Done is, "12. Hit inbox zero. Sort every email once that inbox is open. Respond, file, draft, or delete. Keeping the inbox clean is key to staying organized and on point."

I like emails associated with the pending tasks or experiments on my horizon to stay handy in my inbox. Right now, I've got an email from the airline about my Thanksgiving travel, the purchase confirmation for an order that has not yet arrived, an emailed query to which the answer must be carefully crafted, etc. in my inbox. Some of these are things that I know will require me to act; some are merely things that might require me to act if things go wrong, but they all need to stay in the forefront of my thoughts. As soon as I take those flights, I'll archive the email from the airline.

Here's what I did to get there: 
I slogged. Over the course of several evenings, I skimmed through years' worth of inbox, replying with chagrin where appropriate, and setting many many filters that would tag things for me as much as possible. I used broad categories when possible (SHOPPING, EVENTS, SOCIAL MEDIA) and narrow categories when necessary (SPRING 2013 CONFERENCE PREP).

Then I archived by filter. A lot. And then I slogged through the unfiltered stuff some more. And filtered it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Here's what I do now: 
When I check my email now, I'm presented with a few unread emails and 10-20 emails that have been sitting in my inbox for a while. I read, tag, and/or archive the new stuff immediately. And then - this part is key - I also scan the old stuff - if it has become actionable, I act on it; if it has become archive-able I archive it. As long as I keep the inbox to one display page (30 or fewer) this is totally do-able and makes for much quicker and more efficient email use.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Often Carry (but not everyday)

As a follow-up to my everyday carry post of two weeks ago, here's the stuff I often have with me, but that I do not consider essential to leaving the home:

My items are not organized neatly enough for Things Organized Neatly
Starting at the top and moving clockwise, they are:

  • A ballpoint pen. 
  • A travel container of two spice mixes in case of culinary disappointment - Penzeys Lemon Pepper (so good) and Penzeys Galena Street Rub (also so good).
  • Travel tissues. 
  • In-ear headphones, held tidy with a binder clip. 
  • A case that used to hold contact lenses and now holds a sewing kit, earplugs, bobby pins, etc. 
  • A small vial of assorted painkillers. 
  • Pencil.

... served on a bed of notebook. The notebook used to contain merely my two-column to-do lists for two days and a lot of other paper, but since I started my new tracking systems, now contains a week's worth of to do lists, an ephemera page and my spending for the month.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Spice Rack

I alphabetize the spices on my spice rack. This will probably surprise no one. I do, however, alphabetize them in a half-assed way, which probably also surprises no one.

Here's how I do it:

I 've got the basics - sweeteners, salts and peppers - up there on the top shelf, then mixes (zatar, steak rub, etc) and then All the As, All the Bs, All the Cs, etc down through Tarragon. The bottom shelf is full of outsize things and Baking Needs.

The rack itself was made by my dad and you can see the nice carving he did along the edges. What you can't see is that the rack has pegs on either side of it for the hanging of things. That's where my candy thermometer lives, for instance.

Okay, all y'all - put me to shame: how do YOU organize YOUR spice rack?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Everyday Carry

Last week I chatted with a friend who has moved to the city recently. (Full disclosure: we were chatting about LISTS.) We discussed how her handbag is the size and general weight of Rhode Island because she is adjusting to no longer having a car full of everything she might need.

I realized that my everyday carry (phone, wallet, keys and lipgloss) has been honed over the years, such that it now can fit in the front pockets of slacks, or in a sleek fish-shaped evening bag or whatever.

Clockwise from top: wallet, lipgloss, phone, keys. 
To conserve space further, I use a cardcase as my wallet and just fold the bills in half. I use a hairtie as a keychain for compressibility and wristwrapping when appropriate. I use an incase slider case for my phone.

While this is a short list and my everyday carry is pretty tiny, I pack a ton of stuff into these items.

What's in the phone: books, maps, music, internet, games, drawing apps, reference materials, etc.

What's in the wallet: cards, cash, A BANDAID, good luck charm, receipts I need to save, train tickets.

What's on the key chain: keys (duh), membership cards, library card, good luck charm, teeny dongle.

What's in the lip gloss tube: It's just lip gloss.

This is the baseline of what I carry, and often it's really all I go out with.

However, I also carry additional things based on where I'm going and what I'm doing there. I have headphones, a sewing kit and earplugs and a pillbox full of painkillers and a hairbrush now that I am growing my hair out, and small containers of spice mixes for use in case of boring food, each of which might get added to my bag on any given day. I've also got my to do list that goes with me whenever I am attending a work event or traveling, and of course I have various work documents and tools (full disclosure part two: those tools are chalk) in my work bag.

All the extras tend to live in the zippered part of my work bag while the four items pictured above go with me wherever I go.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dog Systems

Cody is the best dog in the world, but he is not inherently well-organized. Left to his own devices, he would strew toy innards throughout the home, sleep till noon and eat all his food at once. My boyfriend Chris and I need to do all of Cody's organizing tasks for him, and this is how we do it:

Hello? Yes, this is Dog. 
Weekday Walks: Chris walks Cody in the morning because his commute requires less exact timing than mine does. We pay a dog walker to walk him in the afternoon, and I walk him right before bed, which is nice for me because it requires a certain amount of consistency in getting ready for bed at a decent hour.

Weekend Walks: Chris still generally walks Cody in the morning and I still generally walk him at bedtime on weekends, and we split the afternoons depending on weekend schedules.

Food: Cody has two meals a day. Chris feeds him breakfast after the morning walk, and on weekdays I feed him dinner as soon as I get home from work. On the weekends, he gets dinner after his afternoon walk by whoever has just walked him.

Toys: Because Cody does not clean up after himself, I try to limit his toys to three in circulation at a given time. There is generally one hard gnaw-y toy, one totally eviscerated soft toy, one still recognizable stuffed toy looking like road kill around the apartment. The recognizable toy evolves into the eviscerated one and the cycle of toy decay continues.

Vet scheduling, monthly heartworm and flea and tick prevention: Cody has his own Google calendar that Chris and I both write into. This helps us keep track of when he has had vet check-ups, who has paid the dogwalker this week, when Cody last had a bath, etc.

Nickname: Cody is also known as Sir Dogface Von Excellence.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Streamlining Systems Follow-up

Ladies and gentlemen, I feel very official writing a follow-up to last week's post. Since then, I have had not one, not two, but three (3) lengthy conversations with pals* about list streamlining and system management, all of which boil down to the need to define what you want to get out of a system, and the truism that the best system is the one you use.

These binder clips are organized rather neatly
With those dictates in mind, I have modified my own systems in a few ways.

Mostly, I needed to understand how different list items, and therefore different kinds of lists, should work for me. There are checklists I need to consult regularly and to-do lists I need to interact with regularly. There are some lists that can be discarded when I am done with them and some that I should keep handy. There are longterm goals that I can accomplish (deliver a paper at the conference next month!) and longterm goals that are ongoing (collaborate generously with colleagues!). There are also things that I don't want to list - habits I'd like to form without needing to write them down. Different systems are appropriate for different goals and activities.

I also needed to acknowledge that there are some tools I like better than others. I like Post-it notes. The square ones that are about as big as the palm of your hand. Those are the best. Also, as I've mentioned, I like two-column steno pads. They are also the best. These are the two physical tools I want to use in listing. I also use Google Calendar really heavily, and while I did not mention it in last week's post, I also use the alarm function on my phone to set regular reminders for myself.

In the last week, I have streamlined my tracking and logging systems by limiting the tools I use to the ones I already know and like, and rethinking how I categorize list items so that accomplishable goals are separate from daily reminders, etc.

Here's what I've got now (and yes, I realize that this is a list of lists).

Checklists on Post-it notes displayed vertically. Checklists are for recurring tasks that do not need to be listed and crossed off every freakin' time they occur.

  • Prepare! A checklist for bedtime on work nights. 
  • Friday Sync! A new checklist for a variety of weekly tasks organized into one session - syncing devices and calendars, preparing the week's to-do lists, meal planning, watering the plants, etc.
Steno notepads for to-do lists, logs, planning and goals. 
  • The one that travels with me - this contains not only the two-column to-do lists for the week at the front, but also a monthly spending log at the back, and now also a page folded over to differentiate it from the others labeled EPHEMERA on which I can record thoughts and ideas as they occur to me. A friend calls this a thought-catcher. When I have an idea, I don't have to worry about where it goes, but can instead just jot it down and worry about it later. One of the items on my Friday Sync! checklist is "TRANSFER EPHEMERA." 
  • The one for long-term planning - this has a page devoted to each semester (this Fall through next Fall, for now) with the columns divided into major and minor goals for that block of months. I consider a minor goal to be one I can accomplish in one or two days (submit paper abstract to journal!) while major goals may take weeks to accomplish (write paper for conference next semester!). This is at the front of the notebook. On the back page I list things I'd like to be true about me all the time. Aspirational, unrealistic things like "take one full day off from work every week." Since these continue to be aspirations, I don't want to cross them off, which is why they live in a separate list. This notebook lives on my desk and gets consulted once a week or so. 
  • The one for meal-planning - I use one column to list what I have to use this week (farm share chard! Use up cheddar!) and the other column as a shopping list for things to supplement what I've got. I don't think I addressed this last week, but this system is unchanged. This notebook lives in the kitchen. 
Digital assistants. Until I have a robot valet
  • Google Calendar. I use this a lot. Now I also sync it once a week. 
  • iPhone alarms. I use these a lot, too, for habit forming and maintaining. For things I don't want to bother listing and logging, but that I want to do regularly.


Scrapped. These systems were not working for me and thus I no longer use them. 
  • Making lists of goals on full-sized binder paper. It's just intimidating for lists. It's so big! And there are not enough columns. There should be two (2). 
  • Making an annual list. The calendar year means very little to me. My life goes Fall, January, Spring and Summer.  
  • chains.cc - checking in once a day to say whether I had or had not done a task was not motivating me to form or maintain habits. Having an alarm go off at an appropriate TIME to do them, however, is useful for me. I still think chains are a great system that works for many people! 


*Dudes,** you can comment here. There's a button for it.

** I am from California. "Dude" is a gender-neutral term.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lists referring to lists alluding to lists

I've been updating my record-keeping and listing methods - both to work with my new teaching schedule this semester and to try out some techniques and products new to me.

It's getting a little unwieldy, honestly.
Some notebooks that need to be dealt with. Severely. 
I have more than ten tracking/listing systems that I consult multiple times per week and a few more that I consult less frequently or that fall into multiple lists but use the same system (that is, I have a course outline, a series of lesson plans, an attendance chart and a grade log for each course I teach, but I use the same system for each class).

Every couple of days I pull up my Google calendar on screen and pull out my course outlines and my food lists and I use the information on those to update my two-column to-do list for the next few days. This has been my system for years and it is working for me.

Lately, however, I've also been keeping track of some daily goals using Chains (anyone here tried that?) and I've also been tracking my spending in an attempt to budget. And I also have a "Long(ish)-Term planning" list for upcoming big semester projects. And a display list of goals for the year. And a draft of what my goals might be for next year. And a "Prep" checklist for getting ready for work the next day.

Scenario: On Wednesday night I see the entry in my to-do list that says "Prep Thurs." This reminds me to consult my Prep checklist. One of the things on that list is "update chains" and when I go to that website to log my progress, one of the chains is "track spending" so if I haven't done that yet I pull out my budgeting log for the month and write down the day's purchases. And then I go back to the Chain to update it, and then go back to my Prep checklist for the night, confirm I have Done the Things and then go back to my daily to-do list and cross off "Prep Thurs." It's a lot of steps.

I am attempting to keep track of things I have DONE in a meaningful way as well as keep track of things TO DO. These are different mindsets, but there must be a good way to streamline them!

Any suggestions? I have some ideas that I'll put in the comments, but I am eager for your ideas, too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On Giving

This Friday is my birthday! Because of that, I've been thinking a lot lately about giving. How do you, personally, decide when and where to give? What organizations get your time and stuff and money and why?
Alice and the White Rabbit at the 50th Street subway stop. Wikipedia tells me this is part of
"Liliana Porter's Alice, The Way Out, a series of mosaics installed during renovations in 1994." 

Here's what and how and when I give. The regular caveats apply - this is all about me. I am not advocating or condemning any choices, just talking about the ones I've made.

Regular Donations of Clothes and Housewares: 
West Side Campaign Against Hunger.  This is a local organization that provides a food pantry, a soup kitchen, and a room full of dedicated counselors offering social services. Their food pantry has become a model for others because it allows its patrons to choose their own food - they call it the supermarket system. It's respectful and it allows people to make the choices that are right for their current situation. I donate stuff for their "shopping" table where anyone using their services can select five items to take home with their groceries. The things I donate are often unpacked onto the table, selected, and gone by the time I have filled out the donation form. Men's clothing is always especially welcome here.

Regular Donations of Time: 
Learning Ally, formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. Between semesters, I sign up for regular volunteer sessions at my local studio. At each session I am assigned a book and then go into a booth and record myself reading it aloud for two hours. Later, it gets turned into an audiobook for use by Learning Ally members. I have read little bits of an Ethics textbook, a Firefighting manual, the AKC Breed book, Dune continuation novels, and more varied things than I can even think of right now. I have also read various literature and writing textbooks useful to my actual career and a bunch of fiction that I later purchased. An acquaintance once called this the reverse of Wikipedia: instead of a general overview of a subject I look up, I get a two-hour intense read of a subject I have not chosen. It is the opposite of skimming; it is plunging. It's awesome. Also, I've gotten better at reading aloud.

Annual donations of money:
New York Public Library. I am a Friend of the Library, and dudes let me tell you, the library is a friend to me. It loans me books. It introduces me to nice people with similar interests. It invites me to events that I enjoy. It lets me use its bathroom and hang out in its air conditioning. It sets clear boundaries about how I can treat it and its belongings. It is the best.

Planned Parenthood. They need my money, and they shouldn't. I long wistfully for a year when I do not feel it necessary to donate to them.

Annual Donation of Books:
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. As I mentioned in a previous post, after our annual bookswap, we donate all the leftovers to Housing Works, a New York City organization that offers support and advocacy for people who are homeless and living with AIDS.

Irregular donations: 
I often give donations in people's names for holidays and special occasions. I have donated to the ASPCA, Doctors Without Borders, City Harvest, The American Indian College Fund, the Carl Brandon Society, and many others in honor of friends and loved ones.

Oxfam America is, I think, my favorite for this because they have a robust "symbolic gift" system that allows me to target various recipients' interests. Pay for student lunches in honor of my mom? Why, yes. Package kids' books in honor of a literacy advocate colleague? Absolutely. Etc.


Lately I've been stymied by a few issues:
1. I have a friend who has some monthly donations set up, which seems smart, but I don't actually have a good understanding of how that benefits an organization more than an annual gift might. I will read more about that and find out if it is right for me.

2. After doing some reading, I have decided that funding microlending is not the kind of giving I'd like to do. I'm not going to provide any links, since I think that's really just a personal choice.

3. The stymie-est: I browsed the City of New York Parks and Recreation website recently and couldn't find a way to just make a donation/become a member without sponsoring a bench. I am not at that level, folks. Am I just not seeing the correct link? It is a mystery.

EDIT: Mystery solved! Hannah has, in the comments, revealed the correct link, which is this. She also has good points about donating time vs. money and about how organizations plan, so you should really just read her comment below.




Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dropping the balls I juggle.

I had planned to use this blog post to talk about my everyday carry, but then I had one of those days where I just kept doing things wrong. It was slapstick-y. I was expecting to slip on a banana peel and hear a kazoo any minute. So I'm going to write about that instead.

Perhaps my body was in a tiny revolt about coming back from the extra-long weekend after Labor Day? Perhaps an oddly specific poltergeist was moving my belongings and/or neurons when I wasn't looking? Perhaps I am just not as organized and on top of things as I'd like to believe? In any event, the many minor things that went wrong today stayed minor, which is the important thing. In every case I had a contingency plan in place, so nothing got blown out of proportion, and today certainly reinforced my belief that I need those contingency plans.

Here are some of the things I did wrong today:
1. I pressed the coffee grind button when the receiving canister was not in place to catch the grounds. Grounds went everywhere. Also, coffee was already brewing and there was no need to make more. I just pressed it an unnecessary extra time. To be fancy.

2. I realized on the train that I left my textbook at home. You know, the one I assigned.

3. My bus was late. This was not technically my fault.

4. When I was about to eat lunch during my office hours, I discovered that it had gone bad. Roasted beets with feta and walnuts keep for a long time, but apparently not THAT long.

I would like to point out that I am NOT NEW to (1) making coffee, (2) teaching, or (3) packing lunch for myself.

BUT! I did the following and nothing turned out to be a very big deal:

1. I wiped off the counter (exciting) and this evening, I brewed the extra grounds from this morning. Not the freshest ever, but I'll store the extra coffee in the fridge and drink it cold on a warm morning.

2. I leave a reserve copy of the textbook at our school library. I borrowed it, scanned the essay for today using the Camscanner app on my phone and then printed it out for reference during class.

3. I allow for extra travel time. I still made it to my office door by the scheduled beginning of my office hours.

4. I had also packed myself a bag of fresh vegetables, so even though my main course went bad, I still had some stuff. And I keep a supply of nonperishable foods in one of my desk drawers. I ate fresh green beans and red bell pepper and a packet of peanuts for lunch. Not my finest meal, but it worked.

So, in one way, my day was marred by extreme forgetfulness and foolishness, and in another way, my day was improved by extremely judicious forethought. Like those That's Good! That's Bad! picture books.

Do you guys have contingency plans in place for when you forget things/do things wrong in a hilarious manner? I think I am in the market for some more contingency plans, here. Or do you, in fact, never do things wrong in a hilarious manner or otherwise?



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Storing and Prepping Produce For Maximum Deliciousness

As part of my strategy for meal plans, I process incoming produce about twice a week to make meals and snacking easier for the next few days.

When I bring home my farm share, or when I bring home produce from the grocery store, I divide it into "store" and "prep." I will usually prep about half of something and store the rest. I do this with all incoming produce so that I always have a variety of fruit and veg ready for meals and snacks - it's only the prep and storage method that varies from item to item. For instance, when my farm share gives me four bell peppers, I wash and slice two of them immediately and put the slices in snapware. I wipe off the other two bell peppers and put them in a plastic bag with a paper towel to soak up excess moisture to await their fate for a few days.


This picture shows before and after prep for carrots, green beans, cucumber, bell peppers, melon and grape tomatoes.* Notice that in the before picture, the green beans and cucumber have been stored in plastic bags with paper towels for a while already. Now they are getting prepped along with some of the incoming produce from the farm share and the grocery store. Here's how:

Bell peppers: wash, dry, slice. Store in airtight container for up to 4 days.

Carrots: peel, chop off ends, submerge in water. Return to fridge. Good for at least 5 days. Replace water if it begins to be opaque.

Cucumber: peel, chop, store in airtight container in fridge for up to 3 days.

Grape tomatoes: Wash, allow to air dry on towel. Store in open bowl in fridge up to 4 days.

Green beans: wash, snap off ends, allow to air dry. Store in airtight-ish container in fridge for up to 3 days.

Melon: Cube. Store in airtight container in fridge for  up to 3 or 4 days., depending on how ripe it was when you cubed it.

Note: I only use clear or open storage because otherwise I forget what I have. Having clear storage also allows me to see condensation build up in produce storage. Sometimes I open up a snapware container, shake the top over the sink and just put it back on. This helps keep the veg inside from getting mushy after it's prepped but before I want to use it.

*Discerning readers will be able to deduce that this picture is from a while ago since I was buying tomatoes from a store. Now it is tomato season and my farmshare is overflowing with them.






Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Hosting Swaps and Exchanges

I host an annual book swap where people bring books they do not want and leave with books they do. I also host an annual Holiday Craft exchange, where the we make as many items as there are attendees and then we all leave with a passel of tiny homemade gifts. I also sometimes host (but more often attend) clothing swaps, and an awesome couple I know has recently begun hosting an annual media swap.
This year's book swap: Detail of a photo by Lisa Aurigemma.
So what I'm saying here is that I like swaps and exchanges, I seek them out, and I have been doing so for almost a decade. Hosting a swap or craft exchange is not quite the same thing as having a party. Here are some guidelines that I have found useful in hosting these kinds of events:

1. Invite early. People will need time to plan for a swap or craft exchange. I suggest inviting people at least a few months ahead so they can (not only save the date but also) begin to cull their wardrobe, or their bookshelves, or their CD and DVD rack ahead of time. For a craft event, people may need to gather materials or they might even want to research or acquire a new skill. Then send out a reminder to rsvp about a week before the event.
The haul from last year's Holiday Craft exchange included
baked goods, candy, embroidery, hand-stamped gift tags,
laminated paper art and Perler bead art.
2. Be clear on the parameters of the event. If it is a clothing swap, do you want people to bring shoes too? What about toiletries? Is the book swap also a potluck? Is the invite list open? How do you feel about strangers attending? If it is a clothing swap, will there be gender-segregated places to try on clothes? If it is a book swap, can people bring old textbooks? How about out-of-date training manuals? How about small children? How about booze? How about dogs? Decide what you are cool with ahead of time and be specific in the invitation.

3. Include the aftermath in your event plan. Swaps generate a lot of leftovers. It helps to know what you plan to do with those leftovers and when you plan to do it. We also make a large-party dinner reservation at a nearby restaurant for the evening of the swap. I set an alarm to go off a half hour before the event endtime. When the alarm goes off, I know it is time to announce that we will soon be packing up all the books and get an official count for who's coming with us to dinner. This makes sure we stay on schedule, and generally means we get help packing up all the leftovers.

My boyfriend and I save cardboard boxes for weeks before the book swap. Even before the swap itself, we mark on the calendar the day we will donate all the leftovers to Housing Works.
---

If you host swaps or exchanges, I'd love to hear how you go about it, too!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Google Image Searches for the Discouraged or Faint of Heart

Ladies and Gentlemen, this blogging thing is fabulous. I loved reading the comments about how people handle to-do lists in a variety of ways, and for a variety of purposes, and some of you even messaged or texted me your to-do lists! At the risk of sounding creepy, I'd like for that to happen all the time.

Sometimes, even with a well-crafted to-do list, however, time and energy can get away from you. You slump there, on the sofa, wondering whether your dog secretly hates you* and whether you should just curl up and eat brown sugar out of the box.** That is when it is time to do an image search on Google of something that will lift your spirits. Here is a list of phrases that I have found to give consistently heartening results when typed into a Google Images search box:

1. goat sweater (this is my all-time favorite)
2. dogs sitting like people
3. adorable vegetables
4. implausible shoes
5. hugs (this one is really cheesy. I am just warning you.)
6. book house

EDIT: I recently googled "kittens in hats" and found this!

As far as I am concerned, the only thing wrong with this list is how short it is. What image searches do YOU find to be excellent?

* He does not.
** You should not. You will feel sick after. Trust me.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Using a Two-Column To-Do List.

Last week I wrote about a bunch of different kinds of lists. This week, I am going to explain my To-Do List System.

[A caveat, though - please do not feel that I am in any way implying that you should be doing what I do. That would be weird. Different people are different. I find, however,  that this system works for me, and I love systems so I am going to write about it here as is my blog-given right. I would love to hear about the To-Do list systems you all use too!]

I have a number of To-Do lists around my home, my office, and my various internet accounts. I have project specific lists on binder paper in folders for those projects. I have lines piled up in the "all day" section of my google calendar. I have a post-it with prep activities for the night before a work day next to my coffeemaker. I have a list of goals for the year above my desk. I have a list of goals for the Summer nearby. All of these, however, feed into the daily To-Do list that I carry with me.

Mostly fictitious example of how I handle To-Do lists.


How I handle this daily list is based partly on:

1. my deep-seated love for physically crossing things off of lists. This means I carry an actual physical paper and pencil list because that allows me to <3 cross things off of it <3 even though it is, in some ways, less convenient than a digital/virtual list would be. An added benefit is that I find the act of writing the things down with a pencil helps reinforce my memory that you know, they should actually get done. Because I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this, but unfortunately

2. I will forget to do things if they are not on lists. I put "wash hair" on my to do list. I will literally forget when I washed my hair last if I do not see it crossed off on an earlier day's list.

So, those possibly shameful facts admitted, here's how I do it.

Twice a week, Wednesday evening and Sunday evening, generally, I sit down with my calendar up on my computer screen, my lists of projects and goals next to me, a picture or list of my farm share foods, and I create my plan for the next few days.

I use a lot of exclamation points.

I use a two-column stenographer's notebook (like this one, but not actually this one because I buy in bulk) that I divide into a "work" column and a "home" column for each weekday. I have a long commute, so I include what I want to get done on the train in my "work" column. As per my earlier post regarding meal planning, I write down what I plan to eat for dinner, and what I want to pack for the next day's lunch.

Weekends (theoretically) involve no separation of work and home life, so I use one column for each day.

When list items need to happen at a specific time, I put a star next to them. I like stars. I also work out travel time ahead. If I am meeting friends for a movie downtown, I use Hopstop or Google Maps to figure out how long it will take me to get there and then put my leaving time on the To-Do list. I program my phone alarms to remind me to be where I need to be when I need to be there.

Some notes:
1. I pair congenial tasks. That is, I don't just write "wash hair," but rather "wash hair and dishes" because I need to wash my hair about as often as I need to do dishes, so why not do them at the same time?
2. I don't like calculating percentages of how much of a given project is done. That's just math pretending to be efficiency. I instead make each To-Do list item something that can be completed. SO I might have an entry such as "sort 101 essays into batches of 10" and then a few entries that each read "Mark a batch of 101 essays."
3. I'm lying about some stuff for clarity. I NEVER write "sort 101 essays into batches of 10" or "Mark a batch of 101 essays." I write things like "SORT 101" and "MARK BATCH 101." Full disclosure; etc.

EDIT: A wonderful two-part to-do list has been recently posted on UfYH - the listmaker uses one list to set a schedule of tasks to be accomplished chronologically and then and makes another list of rewards for completing tasks! This means the listmakes GETS TO CROSS OFF TWICE AS MANY THINGS.

SO! What do YOU do to keep track of things? Or are you pleasantly superior because you don't need to keep track of things at all?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

List of Lists

As you may have guessed from the blog title "Listing to the Side," I like lists. Here is a list of lists I like:

1. A list of things that have bearing, and a list of things that have no bearing, on whether you are not a grown-up for realsies. On the frequently adorable blog, Adulting.

2. A list of four good daily habits to help keep clutter at bay. On the frequently inspiring blog, Unclutterer.

3. A To Do list that reminds me of many To Do lists I have myself made. On the frequently baffling and hilariously obscene webcomic, Three Word Phrase.

4. A list of eleven fashion upgrades recommended for adult men. I agree with nine out of eleven of these! You are welcome to guess which I think are incorrect. On the frequently useful site, Primer Magazine.

5. A visual list* of Impressive Bedhead I Have Experienced:
Fun fact: In one of these pictures, there is actually a Pomeranian on my head!
 
6. Not enough for ya? Huh? Huh? Need some more lists? How about a LIST OF LISTS OF LISTS? On the frequently amazing Wikipedia, naturally.

---
* Disclaimer: Number five may actually be more of a group than a list.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Two Foods

These two recipes are both easy to make, and both pack a lot of protein. Both are vegan, and both will keep well in the refrigerator for at least a week in an airtight container.


1. Maple Dijon Tofu


(I modified this from a chicken recipe.)

1 package tofu
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 TBSP maple syrup
1 TBSP red wine vinegar

Drain tofu block. Slice into eight slabs. Press between dishtowels and under something heavy for at least a half hour. Then score both sides of each slab.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together mustard, syrup and vinegar. You can taste the mixture and decide whether or not you'd like to add salt and/or pepper at this stage, or you can wait till the end.

Dredge tofu in the mustard mixture, making sure to coat both sides. I had some extra mustard mixture so I dredged some scored scallions, too. 

Place on foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 450 for about 40 minutes, or until pleasingly brown around the edges.

Season with salt, pepper, or fresh rosemary if desired. I did not desire to season the tofu in any additional way.



2. Zucchini Salad


1 onion
1 small handful fresh parsley
3 small zucchini
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup vegetable broth (I used Penzeys)
1 can chick peas (I used Goya)
1 cup chopped walnuts
apple cider vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper

Chop the onion and parsley. Set aside in just enough apple cider vinegar to cover while you do everything else.

Prepare quinoa in broth to package instructions. Set it aside to cool.

Chop zucchini into nickel- or standard D6-sized chunks. Blanch and shock. Set aside to cool.

Drain and rinse chick peas.

Add zucchini, quinoa, chick peas and walnuts to onion mixture. Drizzle with olive oil and stir to combine.

Wait at least an hour and THEN add salt and pepper to taste, or salt and pepper individual servings. My vegetable broth and canned chick peas made this salty enough for me, and I just added some pepper.

Makes .... about five 1.5 cup servings, probably.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Judgmental Alphabet list-in-progress

He's quite an aesthete. She's friendly, but a bit of a flibbertigibbet. There are many labels like these that beg to be illustrated by Edward Gorey. In my Time Travel Alphabet Book Fantasy, Gorey says, "Gosh, Emily, what a swell idea! I've done some things like that. Would you like to come visit Elephant House while I work on illustrating this?" And then we hang out.

This alphabet is incomplete! As is the case with my list-in-progress of cultural reasons to wear red for every month of the year, I welcome suggestions to fill in the blanks.

Aesthete
Bourgeois
Curmudgeon
Dilettante
Enemy
Flibbertigibbet
Gaddabout
Hellion
Insurgent
Jokester
K
Libertine
Mensch
Nob (reader suggestion)
O
P
Q
Rake
Strumpet
Tart?
U
Villain (reader suggestion)
Wunderkind
X
Yokel
Z






Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In Which the Internet Teaches Me to Clean Things

I enjoy activities that combine laziness and science. Here are two:

1. As a commenter suggested in the amazing Unfuck Your Habitat community, mouthwash will remove coffee and tea stains from mugs as well as from teeth. I had purchased some Original Listerine because it seemed retro-fancy. Ladies and Gentlemen, it was NOT retro-fancy. I disliked the flavor to an extent that I will not describe here, and went back to Cool Mint. However, the Original was not a waste since swishing it around in a stained mug for a few seconds and then sponging it off yields a clean, unstained mug with zero scrubbing on my part.
Before and after The Mouthwash Treatment. 
2. My household inherited some lovely sterling silver from grandparents. However, we don't use these things and they became oxidized over time. I wanted them to be shiny, but I didn't want to devote any polishing or scrubbing time or effort, nor did I want to spend money on polish or wipes. Luckily, I was able to use water, aluminum foil, baking soda and sitting around, all of which I already had. The results were actually more impressive than can be noted from this before and after shot, since I had to get a weird angle on the "after" so as to not reflect in the Asparagus Server, it is now so shiny.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Red All Year list-in-progress

I am working on a list of cultural reasons to wear red every month of the year. Suggestions welcome!

January - Chinese New Year (sometimes in February)
February - St. Valentine's Day and Women's Heart Health
March - Red Nose Day, which coordinated fund raising efforts for Comic Relief, was March 18, 2011. Why not continue this tradition by wearing red and making a donation this day?
April - The Sasha has suggested wearing red to celebrate the Red Hat Society on April 25th!
May - Celebrate unions on May Day! Suggested in the comments.
June - Summer Solstice - I mean, why not?
July - With blue and white for Bastille Day or USA's Independence Day.
August -
September - I invite you to wear red to celebrate my birthday.
October -
November -
December - With green for Christmas or with green and black for Kwanzaa.

Six pairs of my red shoes. 

Alphabet Games to Aid Sleep

You know how sometimes you can't sleep at night because your mind is racing, filled with lists of things to do and things you've done? Yeah, I hate that. So I play alphabet games to keep my mind occupied with Silly Things rather than Important Things. Sometimes it's just applying a category to the alphabet: Positive adjectives! Awesome, Brilliant, Cool, Decisive ... Careers! Astronaut, Baker, Con Artist, Deep Sea Diver .... Sometimes I alternate between adjective and noun as I go through the alphabet: Aerodynamic Bog, Chipper Deviant, Eclectic Fishwife ..., but every now and then I go all out. 

I Love My Love 

I love my love with an A because he is awesome. I hate when he's anxious. His name is Aaron and he's an air traffic controller from Akron. He gave me an apple. 

I love my love with a B because she is bright. I hate when she's blameworthy. Her name is Bonnie and she's a beautician from Bangladesh. She gave me a betta. 

... etc. 

There are many variants of the "I love my love with a ..." games, most of which seem to be called The Alphabet Game. I'd love to know more about it. I guess a consultation of the Opies is in order. My introduction to this game was from Alice: 

'I see nobody on the road,' said Alice.
'I only wish I had such eyes,' the King remarked in a fretful tone. 'To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!'
All this was lost on Alice, who was still looking intently along the road, shading her eyes with one hand. 'I see somebody now!' she exclaimed at last. 'But he's coming very slowly—and what curious attitudes he goes into!' (For the messenger kept skipping up and down, and wriggling like an eel, as he came along, with his great hands spread out like fans on each side.)
'Not at all,' said the King. 'He's an Anglo-Saxon Messenger—and those are Anglo-Saxon attitudes. He only does them when he's happy. His name is Haigha.' (He pronounced it so as to rhyme with 'mayor.')
'I love my love with an H,' Alice couldn't help beginning, 'because he is Happy. I hate him with an H, because he is Hideous. I fed him with—with—with Ham-sandwiches and Hay. His name is Haigha, and he lives—'
'He lives on the Hill,' the King remarked simply, without the least idea that he was joining in the game, while Alice was still hesitating for the name of a town beginning with H. 'The other Messenger's called Hatta. I must have TWO, you know—to come and go. One to come, and one to go.' - Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, by Lewis Carroll.