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Brown Bagging Nutrition

Decisions, decisions. Should you take your lunch to school or should you buy it? Brown-bagging is a good way to create a nutritious, inexpensive lunch. But who wants to get up earlier to pack it?

Buying lunch is much more convenient; however, it also can get expensive. And it may not always be healthy. How can you know?

Armed with some nutrition basics and a little planning know-how, you can take control of your lunchtime choices-even when you’re on the run.

Make It Your Way

If you’re a last-minute sleeper, prepack foods and store them until needed. When you’re packing your lunch, keep the environment in mind. Use reusable paper and plastic bags. Try plastic ware that can be cleaned and used again and again. Also think about buying an insulated lunch box.


Some foods lend themselves to being stored in the freezer. For example:

  • prepared sandwiches (without the “extras” such as fresh vegetables or condiments)
  • single-serving boxes of fruit juice and containers of yogurt (When frozen, these can help keep other foods in your bag cool until it’s time to eat.)
  • single-serving portions of quick breads and muffins in small plastic bags
  • leftovers from dinner, such as lasagna, soups, and burgers – if you have access to a microwave oven at lunch.

These items can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator:

  • assorted cut-up fresh veggies in plastic bags (When you pack the veggies in your lunch the next day, toss an ice cube or two in the plastic bag to keep them cool until lunch.)
  • portioned pasta, potato, or rice salad in reusable plastic ware
  • prebaked potatoes or leftover vegetable pizza – if you can get to a microwave oven (or you like to eat them cold)
  • mini-containers of condiments and salad dressings.

Many foods can come straight from the cupboard, such as:

  1. ready-to-serve soups (Several brands are now lower in salt and fat. Either bring soup in a thermos or heat it in a microwave at lunchtime.)
  2. single-serving boxes of raisins and other dried fruits
  3. portioned bags of pretzels, mini-rice cakes, breadsticks, baked tortilla chips, or other low-fat crunchies
  4. portioned bags of fig bars, vanilla wafers, gingersnaps, graham crackers, or other lower-fat cookies.

Mix and Match Sandwiches

Even a plain ole’ turkey sandwich can become a gourmet treat when you add fresh spinach and cucumbers and onions and chutney and…It’s time to get out of your sandwich rut and start cross training your palate. Mix and match the types of breads, protein foods, fruits and veggies, and condiments you use. Choose one item from both the bread and protein columns and one or more from the vegetable/fruit and condiment columns.

They Do It Their Way

With a quick zap of the microwave oven, you can have prepared macaroni and cheese, burritos, pizza, tacos, and more. They’re fast and convenient, but are these foods healthy?

Some of these meals can provide up to 60 percent of their calories from fat and more than two-thirds of your sodium requirement for the entire day. Before you put a packaged meal in your grocery basket, read the label to make sure it meets the following criteria:

  1. No more than 3 grams of fat for every 100 calories
  2. No more than 800 mg sodium
  3. No more than 100 mg cholesterol

Let Someone Else Do It Your Way

If making your own lunch is not your bag, let someone else do the work. But don’t sacrifice good nutrition for convenience.

While yesterday the phrase “fast food” typically conjured up images of grease, many convenience food stops have now expanded their menus to include additional selections for the health-conscious consumer. If you’re not sure how an item is prepared, ask. The chart above can show you how hidden extras can add up to a lot of calories and fat.

However you decide to do lunch, be sure that you put nutrition in the bag.


Guidelines for Ordering

Lower-Fat Lunches

  • Choose roast beef or the new 91 percent fat-free hamburger sandwiches over regular hamburgers. 4-ounce 91 percent fat-free hamburger = 320 calories, 10 grams fat 1 roast beef sandwich = 340 calories, 10 grams fat 4-ounce regular hamburger = 410 calories, 21 grams fat
  • If ordering regular hamburgers, ask for plain, smaller ones, and top them with your favorites among mustard, ketchup, BBQ sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. * Choose a plain grilled or BBQ chicken sandwich instead of a fried chicken sandwich. 1 grilled chicken sandwich = 289 calories, 8 grams fat

(without mayo or sauce) 1 fried chicken sandwich = 685 calories, 40 grams fat

(with mayo or sauce)

  • Request a plain cheese pizza with vegetable toppings rather than with extra fat-filled cheeses and meats. 2 slices cheese pizza = 375 calories, 10 grams fat 2 slices of double cheese = 545 calories, 25 grams fat

(with pepperoni)

  • Choose low-fat frozen yogurt instead of a shake. 1 frozen yogurt with cone = 140 calories, 5 grams fat 1 vanilla shake = 350 calories, 10 grams fat
  • Order a baked potato instead of french fries. 1 plain baked potato = 290 calories, 0 grams fat fries (equal weight) = 840 calories, 40 grams fat
  • Choose a vegetable salad. Ask for oil-based instead of cream-based dressings. Request it on the side, and use it sparingly. 1 small salad = 25 calories, 0 grams fat 2 ounces ranch dressing = 350 calories, 37 grams fat

Level-Up Your Efficiency and Budgeting With Vacuum Sealers

The kitchen is a place for innovation, patience and efficiency. It is where a household will be able to prepare its meals, store its produce for the days to come and generally ensure the health and well-being of those living in it. This may sound like more than it really is, but those who have to maintain a home understand how difficult it can be to work in the kitchen. Think about it: you have to figure out meal plans, make sure there is enough food and they are stored properly, and of course watch out for expiration dates. A lot of planning and budgeting goes into it, and new families often have to figure out how everything will pan out for the beginning.

One of the reasons why kitchen appliances, big and small, are so popular is that people need specific tools in order to create different meals. This goes doubly so for those who like to experiment in the kitchen and who love trying out new recipes and making gourmet meals at home. The other, equally significant, reason, is that there are some tools that make the budget easier to manage by means of improving storage and shelf life.

One such tool is a vacuum sealer. A plain old vacuum sealer may not look like much when you first get to know what it is, but once you actually understand how it does its job and how you can use it for so many different things, it becomes a brilliant companion in the kitchen. The way a vacuum sealer works is that, you will put your food in a special bag, and the machine will suck out all the oxygen from the inside, trapping the food, and sealing the bag shut with an airtight heat seal.

  • The first thing you have to understand is that oxygen promotes bacterial growth. In short, if food is exposed to air, it will spoil much, much faster. Since a vacuum sealer essentially removes the air from inside the bag, bacteria will not be able to grow as compared to when it is exposed to oxygen. In turn, this means that you will have to waste less food by throwing it away.
  • How many times have you bought groceries in bulk during sales, only to have to toss it in the rubbish after a few months? You will see very many vacuum sealer reviews stating how much money they have saved due to this machine, or how it made buying and storing food much more efficient.

Another rather common occurrence in the kitchen is freezer burn. Freezer burn is when the surface of the food stored in the freezer becomes dehydrated as it is exposed to the freezing, dry and cold temperature. This will greatly ruin the texture of some foods, such as broccoli. You will end up throwing that away, as freezer burned food is a bit difficult to appreciate, especially compared to fresh ingredients. That’s money wasted.


If you use a vacuum sealer on your food before storing it in the freezer, it will be protected from the cold air- and, once you bring it out for cooking, it will still look, smell and taste fresh even if it was stored for weeks. The vacuum sealer works brilliantly for veggies and meat, especially. Talking about meat, having the bag devoid of air will help the marinating process go faster. The marinade sinks quicker into the meat, greatly shortening the processes of preparation and cooking.

  1. A vacuum sealer like the foodsaver V4880, as the name would suggest, will not only save your food but save you loads of money as well. In hindsight, that was actually a clever name for a product, as it really gets the point across.
  2. Aside from food, it can also be used to pack away other items such as cloth, linen and metal objects, all of which eventually degrade when exposed to the elements. All in all, a food vacuum sealer will not only save you money from buying food, but also from having to buy tools and clothes that have gotten ruined over time.

At the end of the day, a mechanical tool should complement humans, by making tasks quicker, more efficient and have better results. A vacuum sealer is one such tool.

How Did We Live Without essential housewares? (part 2)

1930: Frozen Foods

Naturalist Clarence Birdseye was working in northern Canada when he realized that quickly frozen fish retained its flavor and texture better than fish frozen slowly. Once back in the States, he kept experimenting, bringing out a line of frozen vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish in 1930. Two years later, Good Housekeeping’s Walter H. Eddy, M.D., reported that frozen foods “offer a means of securing fresh-flavored fruits and vegetables regardless of season.” The public was slow to catch on, but when WW II’s tin shortage made cans scarce, the freezer door opened wide to commercially frozen foods.

1932: Room Air Conditioner

A fan blowing on ice was the best room cooler we had until 1902, when Willis Carrier devised a copper-coil contraption for a Brooklyn printer. His invention and its successor, the room air conditioner (the large cabinet, above, to the left of the desk), improved productivity in the workplace and made skyscrapers possible.


1933: Detergent

Cleaning clothes used to be a dirty job: Women would boil water in large tubs, mix in shavings of lye soap, scrub stains with a flour-and-water mixture, then add starch and bluing (hence the name “Blue Mondays”). Curds of soap mixed with water stuck to clothes and turned them gray. And forget about tackling tough stains. Then Procter & Gamble came up with a better sudser-upper: detergent. Dreft came first, in 1933, and Tide followed in the 1940’s.

1939: Television

“I hate TV,” Orson Welles once remarked. “I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.” He’s not the only one: Since RCA came out with its first set, a huge cabinet with a tiny picture, television has transformed and advanced our lifestyles like no other medium. Just think, countless Americans had no idea that President Franklin D. Roosevelt used a wheelchair. Now, for better or worse, we see everything–from the explosion of the Challenger to Jerry Seinfeld’s standup routines.

1940: Dishwasher

When the servants started chipping the china, Illinois socialite Josephine Cochrane washed dishes herself. She invented a hand-pumped dishwasher in the 1880%; an electric motor was added in 1913. Versions were sold primarily to restaurants and hotels until a fully automated model was developed in 1940. It was then that dishwashers began to take over after-dinner duties at home.

1944: Sunscreen

It began as a sticky, red goop concocted from petroleum by a World War II airman and future pharmacist who was looking to save the skin-literally–of his fellow servicemen in the South Pacific. Back home, he modified his formula, adding cocoa butter and jasmine, and tested it on his own bald head. Sold as Coppertone Suntan Cream, it wasn’t an instant hit; before we grasped the perils of sun exposure, we wanted to promote tanning, not prevent it. These days, no smart woman walks down the street without sunscreen.

1955: Microwave Oven

Back in 1945, a researcher at the Raytheon Corporation noticed that a candy bar melted in his pocket when he passed by a microwave power tube. He grabbed a bag of popcorn, held it in front of the device, and watched the kernels pop almost instantly. And thus we discovered that microwaves can cook. The first domestic model was the wall oven from Tappan (pictured above); Amana’s countertop Radarange appeared 12 years later, in 1967. Back then the Good Housekeeping Institute’s demonstration of the Radarange was a source of amazement to those who toured the facility. We’d zap custard cups of cake batter and watch as our guests went wide-eyed–the cupcakes rose in seconds. Today, we’re utterly dependent on the microwave for defrosting, reheating–and popping popcorn.


1959: Pantyhose

Call it a major response to the mini. It wasn’t until Twiggy and her long-legged friends started hiking up their skirts that the need for hosiery able to go the extra mile became obvious. And women everywhere said good-bye to the inconvenience and discomfort of garters and girdles.

1961: Disposable Diapers

Marion Donovan, an inventor and mother, cut up shower curtains, then added a layer of absorbent material and snap closures. Ta da!–the first disposable was born in 1951. But it took a grandfather named Vic Miles (who happened to be a Procter & Gamble engineer) to design a mass-produced disposable diaper. Enter Pampers. First sold in Peoria, IL, they didn’t play there until their price was dropped five years later from a dime to six cents each. Today, 95 percent of American babies are diapered disposably.

1977: Personal Computer

The granddaddy of today’s desktop models, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC), unveiled by the University of Pennsylvania, boasted 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighed 30 tons. Three decades later, ENIAC’s power could be contained on a postage stamp-size silicon chip in a case that could sit on a desk. When Apple, Radio Shack, and Commodore introduced personal computers in the 1970%, the Information Age was born. Letter writing, shopping malls, and checkbooks are fading fast, while e-mail, e-shopping, and e-banking are state of the art.

How Did We Live Without essential housewares? (part 1)

Is it 2000 already? How time flies when you don’t have to scrub clothes, lace up corsets, or wash diaper after diaper! Our list of the top 20 innovations of this century.


Electric Iron Imagine how tedious ironing was when it was done by beating clothes with mallets or wielding a heavy metal box filled with hot charcoal. Then came the “Hotpoint,” the first iron electrified not only at the base but also at the tip, so it could press pleats, ruffles, and around bottom.

1907: Electric Washer

Washing clothes once meant slapping them against rocks, bending over a scrub board, or cranking a hand-operated wringer. Maytag’s Pastime (below), the first mechanical washer produced in large numbers, was introduced in 1907, but it wasn’t until 1937 that Bendix Aviation unveiled a fully automated model-which rattled so much it had to be bolted to the floor. Early dryers, also developed in the 1930’s and so hot they scorched clothes; line drying won out until temperature controls were introduced after WW II.

1908: Vacuum Cleaner

Houses were dirtier in the days of brooms and carpet sweepers, which often kicked up more dust than they removed. When electric suction machines started popping up, one of the most effective was night janitor Murray Spangler’s model, with goat-bristle brushes, a motor, and a pillowcase to catch debris. His prototype became the first Hoover.



Refrigerator Guardian’s Frigerator, an electric “icebox” that became the Frigidaire, was created as an alternative to storing food in cellars, on windowsills, or in insulated boxes chilled with a block of ice. In 1921, Good Housekeeping included an electric refrigerator in a “model kitchen,” but it was decades before prices came down enough for just about everyone to take advantage of the fridge’s ability to reduce food spoilage-and trips to the category store.

1920: Sanitary Napkins

After the Romans switched from blades of grass to bulky woven fabrics, innovation in menstrual products came to a standstill until 1920’s Kotex pad. That was (and is) great, but some would argue that the Tampax tampon (1934), brainchild of Denver gynecologist Earle Haas, M.D., was the real breakthrough. As discreet as they are disposable, tampons allowed freedom of movement and overall comfort that women had never known.

1920: Radio

Radio communication began at the turn of the century, but the first licensed commercial radio station didn’t go on-air until the Roaring Twenties. Radio brought the nation together to hear a president’s fireside chats, Amos and Andy, firsthand accounts of the crash of the Hindenburg, and late-breaking weather reports. “TV gives everyone one image,” notes former presidential speechwriter and GH columnist Peggy Noonan, “but radio gives birth to a million images in a million brains.”

1921: Adhesive Bandages

Designed by a cotton buyer with an accident-prone wife, the first ready-made bandages, Band-Aid brand from Johnson & Johnson, were 2 1/2″ by 18″ strips that consumers cut to fit. Today, there are countless varieties, from sheer to Mickey Mouse to antibiotic, for all our cuts and scrapes.

1924: Paper Tissues

In the days of handkerchiefs, sneezes stayed with you, tucked soggily in your pocket, the whole day through. Thank you, Kleenex, for debuting the first disposable (and more sanitary) alternative.

1925: Blow-Dryer

When the handheld electric dryer was born, it looked remarkably like today’s: pistol-shaped, with an aluminum body, wooden handle, and two heat settings. It didn’t become a must-have item, however, until Vidal Sassoon introduced wash-and-dry haircuts in the 1960’s. Women no longer had to choose between sleeping on rollers or sitting under a bonnet hair dryer.


1927: Brassiere

“I can’t say the brassiere will ever take as great a place in history as the steamboat, but I did invent it,” boasted Caresse Crosby, a debutante (and Robert Fulton descendant) who pieced together a bra out of two handkerchiefs, pink ribbon, and a cord. It was a welcome relief from the constricting corset, which sometimes prevented the wearer from taking a deep breath. Actually, a Parisian corsetmaker had concocted a similar contraption in 1889, but it was Crosby who coined the name and sold her idea to Warner’s. Maidenform dreamed up to modern bra with “true cup support” in 1927.

The kitchen – hazardous to your health?

Knives, boiling oil, scaling water, flames, electrical sparks, chemicals that will eat through flesh …Wow! Sounds like a medieval torture chamber, doesn’t it? But it’s really a slightly exaggerated description of the hazards in the most dangerous room of your house–the kitchen. One out of 10 Americans suffers injuries in the home each year. The majority occur in the kitchen. Many of these accidents are due to our own lack of preventive actions–eliminating potential hazards.


Let’s take a look at ways to make your kitchen a safe place for food and converstion instead of a minefield of accidents waiting to happen.

It’s Electric

All those new electrical appliances have made big changes. In some older homes, the amount of electricity required in the kitchen by microwaves, toasters, blenders, and toaster oven often exceeds its wiring capabilities. One clue to this overload is a dimming of the lights when an appliance is started. A more obvious clue is fuses blowing or circuit breakers tripping when kitchen appliances are used. Discoloration or heat around outlets can also be a warning. An electrician should be consulted when these clues appear.

Another hazard is not maintaining electricasl appliances. For example, a refrigerator needs room to “breathe.” That means it requires dust-free space around it for ventilation. Toasters need to be kept clean, but never by dumping them in water. All electrical appliances need to have cords that are not worn or run under rugs, as well as secure plugs. Never wrap cords around appliances, especially those that give off heat.

And be sure electrical outlets are not overloaded. Never connect more than one heating or two motor-driven appliances to one circuit. When disconnecting an appliance plug, make sure your hands are dry and pull the plug itself, not just the cord. It’s smart to disconnect appliances when they’re not in use or when you’re leaving the house.

Using extension cords is not a good idea. An appliance cord is made to withstand the wattage of that appliance, but an extension cord may not be. Also, throw away any extension cord that does not have three prongs, and be sure outlets in your home accept three-prong plugs.

You have probably heard it’s not wise to use a knife to go fishing for your bagel when it’s stuck in the toaster. You can get quite a shock. So far stuck bagels, unplug the toaster first. While you have it unplugged, clean the crumbs out of the bottom.

Since electricity and water don’t Mix, do not position appliances near the sink. If a mixer or toaster is pushed into a sink filled with water, electrocution may quickly follow.

Cooking Concerns

Have you ever left a towel or pot holder on the stove and smelled it burning? This ia common cause of kitchen fires. So is reaching across flames and having your long sleeve ignite. Here are a few more tips about using the stove:

  1. Turn pot handles inward, but be sure they are not over another burner in use or you’re in for a burned hand.
  2. Clean beneath stove burners. Collected grease can start a fire.
  3. Keep matches in a metal container and away from children.
  4. Be sure curtains or towel cannot blow over flames.
  5. Never spray aerosol cans near an open flame.
  6. Remove stove knobs except when in use if you have toddlers in your home.
  7. Do not leave small children unsupervised in the kitchen.
  8. Have a spoon holder near the stove so spoons are not left in hot foods and burn your hand.

Sharp Knives, Spills, and Poisons

Did you ever lose control of a knife and try to “catch” it only to discover you caught the blade instead o the handle? Knives head the list of hazardous household tools. They cause more than 350,000 serious accidents yearly. Believe it or not, the first step in preventing cuts is to have your knives sharpened. Dull knives require strong pressure, and they can slip. Sharp knives go where you want them to with little pressure. If a knife starts to fall, LET IT FALL and step back. The floor can handle the damage a lot better than your hand. Don’t use knives to do jobs other than cutting. Knives are not meant to pry open lids or turn screws. Store knives in a place where all the points can face the same direction and where they cannot be reached by children.


Falls in the kitchen are usually related to spilled objects, food, and drinks on the floor. Clean up spills immediately.

Last but not least is thhe fact that under your sink is a chemistry lab full of poisonous substances. Cleaners, waxes, shoe polish, dishwasher soap, bleach, lye–the list goes on and on. If there are children in your home, these items should be locked in a cabinet children cannot open.

Some of your fondest memories will be centered around the kitchen. Take the time to be sure no nightmares will originate in your kitchen instead.

5 steps to successful juggling: a full-time job (Part 2)

3. Get help.

There are two kinds of assistance that can make your juggling more effective. One is help with child care, yardwork, bookkeeping–any task you handle yourself now that takes time and energy away from your writing. You might feel that, especially if you’re working on a novel or another long-range creative project that isn’t bringing in any immediate money, you can’t afford to pay someone else just so you can steal more writing time. But if you’re not getting it done because you’re too busy chasing a toddler or mowing the lawn, then the minimal fee you pay someone else to free you up for an hour or two a day will be well spent.

The other kind of assistance I recommend comes in the form of a class or a coach or an editor or a group that can help you improve your writing and make the time you spend at your computer more productive. You may feel that you’re juggling so many things now, the last thing you can squeeze in is another few hours a week taking a fiction-writing workshop at a community college or conferring with a writing partner. But especially if your time is limited, you want to make those few hours count-to write the best possible prose in the time you have and not spin out subpar work that will only need to be rewritten or scrapped. So the short-term investment in your writing skills now can actually save you time in the long-run.


4. Just say yes.

I’m horrified when I think of how much work I used to turn down because I thought that I didn’t have enough time, or that I wasn’t really interested in that assignment, or that they weren’t paying quite enough (or at all). I had more time and energy back then, I think, but less capacity to juggle a lot of work and more fear that I couldn’t handle it all.

  • Now, I just say yes. To almost everything. People are sometimes surprised that a much-published author is enthusiastic about spending an evening with a book group or writing a blog post for a small website, but I’ve learned that you can’t judge the benefits of projects purely on the basis of money, and having the chance to talk one-on-one with an enthusiastic reader or write something completely from the heart can be worth as much as a big payday.

I’ve also learned that I can handle a lot more time commitments than I thought I could. The more you do, I think, the more you can do, and writing faster, producing more, trying new things and taking risks all create energy rather than draining it. If you’re going to say no to something, make it the school bake sale or the lunch with the neighbor who only likes to complain. When it comes to writing opportunities, just say yes.

5. Take the long view.

You might feel so consumed with juggling every day, every hour, every minute, that you don’t think you have the time to step back and take a long view of what you’re trying to accomplish with your writing. But developing a vision of where you want to be in a year or what kind of book you’re trying to write down to how you want your cover to look and your author bio to read can help you focus what you’re doing with your precious writing time.

  • If the books you admire and want to emulate are hardcovers with a literary feel, then your preliminary efforts should be focused on enhancing the language and deepening the characters in your work, more so than on developing the kind of spine-tingling plot that defines a more commercial book.
  • On the other hand, if it’s a nice fat advance you’re after rather than the National Book Award, you should be constantly studying bestselling novelists like Dorothea Benton Frank and Harlan Coben for clues to what makes their books so widely appealing, and see how you might model that in your own work.

Then, if you want to be ready to send that manuscript to agents in a year, that means you need to produce roughly seven finished pages (or a scene or two) a week–or, more realistically, 15 weekly pages (two to three scenes) in order to finish a first draft in six months, get feedback from trusted readers, and allow yourself a few more months to revise and polish. Taking the long view can help you set realistic goals that will help keep you on track.

That way, all the effort you put into your daily juggling will get you, in the end, a finished product that makes it all worthwhile.

5 steps to successful juggling: a full-time job (Part 1)

Are you trying to juggle a day job, a family, and the writing of a book that lies close to your heart? So am I, despite having already successfully published 20 books–and that’s increasingly the reality for widely published writers as well as aspiring authors, rye got three books coming out this year–my historical novel The Possibility of You, a humor book about dogs called Rabid, and a collection of essays–and I also co-run a million-monthly-visitor website (the baby name guide Nameberry), pen monthly columns for two magazines and contribute regular features to several others. And oh, right, there’s the husband, the three kids, and the house that always seems to need something.


But making a living as a writer, stretching your creative horizons, and dealing with the realities of the tough economy and publishing atmosphere demand that you stay nimble. Few writers, no matter how successful, can afford to spend a few hours a day (or a few months a year), writing, and then take the rest of the time off to fish or tour the great bars of the world.

So how do you juggle a range of different writing projects along with the usual need to earn a stable income and care for the people you love? It doesn’t just happen on its own, I’ve found, but is definitely manageable if you follow the kinds of guidelines I’ve developed over 25 years as a professional juggler. Try these time-tested strategies, and you’ll find yourself seven steps closer to a daily life that lets you shake your moneymaker and satisfy your soul.

1. Never do the laundry.

After my first three months writing at home when my daughter was a baby, my house was clean, my child was happy, and I felt calm and organized–but I hadn’t gotten much real writing done. That’s when I made Rule No. 1 for myself.” Never do the laundry. Not during your writing hours. Do not just throw in one teensy load, do not merely switch the wet clothes to the dryer, do not simply fold these few shirts before they get wrinkled. It’s a slippery slope, and if you let laundry–or any other household chore, no matter how seemingly light–intrude on your writing time, you’ll end up with pristine clothes and a blank page.

Whether you realize it or not, part of the lure of any nonwriting project that is crying out to be done-paying your bills or balancing your checkbook, raking the garden or organizing your bookshelves–is that it’s so much easier to accomplish than typing your way through the climax of that difficult scene.

But your writing time is your writing time, and in a practical as well as a psychic sense, those hours will be most productive if you let no other tasks intrude on them.


2. Set goals by scene or passage, not by words.

Daily goal-setting is a time-honored staple of writing advice: Sit in the chair and don’t get up until you’ve written 1,000 words. Or until you have two or five or 10 pages neatly stacked on your desk.

But for me, and I bet for you, too, it’s much more effective to think in terms of scenes of your novel or memoir or screenplay, or passages of an essay or article.

Writing one complete scene each day-and by scene I mean a dramatic unit with an inciting incident, rising conflict, a climax, and an ending that includes a new question or kicker into the next scene–is an excellent goal if you have an entire morning or afternoon to devote to your fiction. If you get to write only before the rest of the house wakes up or when your baby takes a nap, you might aim to complete a scene or two every week.

The typical scene unfolds over four to eight pages, so you’ll build up pages at the same rate as if you were driving toward a word or page goal–but the extra benefit will be in the results themselves: well-thought-out scenes that make up a more cohesive first draft. Try it and see for yourself.

The Best Way To Do The Dishes

Ask Esky

Question: What’s the best way to do the dishes?

Answer: “Put on an apron,” advises home and lifestyle expert Martha Stewart. “Then organize the scene, putting like things together.

“Take a rubber scraper and scrape the dishes, carefully if you are using your nicest china. At this point, I always rinse the dishes in hot water. Then stack according to the dish. Then rinse the silverware and put it in a tub of soapy water in the sink. All glasses should be rinsed and lined up on the counter or on a tray somewhere out of your way.

“Then you must determine what can go in the dishwasher and what can’t. This is somewhat of a mystery to a lot of people. I never put knives, wood, plastic, or things with pearl handles in the dishwasher. Ever. And by wood, I mean anything that’s wooden-handles or a plate with wood on it. Also, antique plates with gold, silver, or platinum or things made out of soft clay like faience. These things never go in the dishwasher. You don’t put fine crystal in the dishwasher, either.


“Stacking the dishwasher is also an art form that eludes a lot of us for our entire lives,” says Stewart. “Just open it up and look at it.” Before you do anything, figure out where the dinner plates go and where the glasses go. Some of the upper racks move up and down to accommodate longer stems.

  • “Then you wash the delicate stuff. For this, you line everything but the drain of your sink with terry-cloth towels. While you’re washing the dishes, if you drop one or hit it on the sink, it won’t break. You have a tub filled with soapy water for your sponge, and you rinse under running water.
  • “I use dishwashing liquid and a soft, natural sponge from Williams-Sonoma. And you need nice, clean cotton dishcloths. My favorite dishcloths are the great big cotton ones called Flour Sack, also from Williams-Sonoma. They dry the best and leave no lint. Dishcloths must be 100 percent cotton or linen. Polyester won’t dry as well.

“Another thing I do is cover my counter with terry-cloth towels. I can just stand things there to dry fully right out of the sink after wiping with a dishcloth. Same with the silverware. Dry it immediately to avoid spots. All of this stuff your wife can put away the next day, because she knows where it goes and you don’t. Save the pots and pans for last.


“You must also put on really good music. And pour yourself a good glass of wine. A sauterne, maybe a Chateau d’Yquem, 1983. And it’s nice if your wife sits there and talks to you. It’s a good time to hash over the party. For me, that is sometimes the nicest part of a party, if I had a good time. If I had a bad time, guess what? The dishes get rinsed and stacked, and I go to bed.”