A Word About My Reviews

With all the fuss currently going on about reviews, I thought I should put this out there. When I say I like something and I’m talking about it here. I’m talking about things that I have either personally purchased or received as a gift (as in birthday or Christmas or anniversary gift) from a well-meaning family member or friend. I do not have the following to interest PR people and if I did, well, I would disclose what I had received and from whom with the review that I did. Because, to quote many people, that’s how I roll.

You might note the blogging with integrity badge on my blog now. I think I always have, but it’s a good idea to just put it out there. I’ve signed the pledge. I agree, totally, with what it says, and I think it’s appropriate to have on the blog. If I’m going to change the way I do something, I’ll say so because I am honest and I want people to know where I’m coming from with this stuff.

At this time, I don’t do giveaways because, frankly, the logistics of that enterprise overwhelm me. I’m perfectly happy being a small-time blogger who just talks about things that I love because I love them.

Oh, and speaking of things I love? I LOVE my car/truck/whatever the heck you want to call it. My son refers to it as the “big car.”

Not too long after Katie was born, we had to take Sam to the vet for her senior wellness exam. After strapping children into car seats, we realized there wasn’t actually a spot for Sam in the truck. She ended up riding there and back in the footwell under/beside my feet. She let us all know that this was not an acceptable arrangement and she did not believe she would be back in that truck again until we did something about the accommodations (imagine a combination snarl-growl, with a slight flounce and then two days unable to move because her arthritic parts hurt so much).

I began hunting in earnest. I’m specifically anti-minivan, so that cut a number of contenders right out. We also understood that we needed space not only to accommodate two dogs, but also, potentially, one set of older parents (his), plus the two car seats. I was also opposed to driving something that looked like a bus.

As you can imagine, this limited our choices — A LOT.

We settled on a Saturn Outlook. I rented one from one of our local rental places, and drove it for the weekend. I determined that it was the right vehicle. We started looking. Not two weeks later, we found one.

Having driven it for a bit now, I’m convinced that it’s the right vehicle. Two weeks ago we had to take both dogs to the vet at the same time. Logistically, this is a bit of a nightmare, but it worked out just fine.

I know there are risks to the whole GM product situation, but I’m convinced that there will be parts if we need them and I’m married to a car guy. It’ll be all right and I’m a happy woman with plenty of room to transport my kids and my dogs without destruction to any of them.

Menu Planning for the Time Challenged

I don’t know how anyone else’s household runs, but mine is on equal parts planning and chaos. P and I are time challenged at the best of times and down right run off our feet at the worst. The one chore that has caused the most difficulties over fifteen years of marriage is meal planning/cooking. P tends to be the one to cook dinner. I know, I’m home all day and it should be me, but for whatever reasons we fell into this pattern years ago and have never shifted out of it. At any rate, menu planning has always meant hours sitting with cookbooks, the weekly grocery circulars, and pounds of attitude to figure out what we might want to eat, what we can afford to eat, and what we have recipes for that won’t take all day.

We’ve tried menu planning services before and have not been happy with them. Most have a set five day menu that you can’t customize or make adjustments to. But the “new kid” on the block has changed that and we are converts. This amazing “new kid” is Relish!. They can also be found on Twitter: @relishrelish.

People who know P know that he is a skeptic’s skeptic. To convince him to give this a try took every ounce of persuasive muscle I have plus Babytoolkit’s review (one of the only bloggers he trusts) to convince him to try a three month subscription.

Obviously, we started this experiment with low expectations and it took me a bit to sort out how the system works and how to make it work best for us, but we did and we love it. To the point that, P asked for a year’s subscription to the service for his birthday, which he received.

What do we like?

The weekly menu comes out on Thursday, the same day as the grocery circulars for our preferred grocery store. P likes to do the shopping on Friday, so this coordinates well with his schedule.

The menu has fifteen options on it. There are usually a few chicken, a few beef, a couple of pork and seafood, as well as several vegetarian options. They also have a dessert of the week. So far, we’ve been able to find menu options that appeal to us every week.

The recipes are easy to follow. This is a huge thing with P. He gets very irritated with certain cookbook authors who call for ingredients and then forget to include them in the actual recipe. The instructions are logical and he can follow them without requiring interpretation.

The cooking times are mostly accurate. I’ve found them to be completely accurate. Phil is a slower cook, so he needs to add time to the prep time estimates, but otherwise he finds them to be accurate, which is another big thing with him.

The recipes do not require every pot in the kitchen or hours of our time. A lot of the time, we can do it all in one to two pots with one or two knives and a cutting board. Most recipes cook and serve in a reasonable amount of time for a busy family trying to eat by the dinner hour (30 to 45 minutes; some do have additional marinating times, but this is noted in the cook times).

The recipes are scalable and we can choose how many recipes we want to use in a week. We’re a leftover type family, so we like having meals we can serve twice during the week. This works out really well with Relish! because we can choose two or three recipes for the week, get a shopping list based on those recipes, and with additions for breakfast and lunch, go shopping.

The shopping list is well organized. The shopping list is organized in two ways: 1) by category and 2) by recipe. So, for example, you will find all the meats for the week together and all the baking goods required together. There is also a list for the items that you might already have, so you can run through that and circle what you need. The genius bit, though, is that each item on the buy list has a letter by it that is keyed to a recipe. So, if you want to make the main item but the side doesn’t work for your family, you can quickly find the items that are for the side and eliminate them.

Many recipes include sides. This has always been one of our biggest problems. We’re great with figuring out the entree, but sides stump us every time. Relish! Solves that problem by providing sides with many of their recipes. Admittedly, we don’t use all of the sides, or even many of them, but they help jump start us when we get stuck, so it ends up working out regardless.

While your subscription is running, you have access to the backlist of recipes from every week since you became a member. This is invaluable when you hit that one week where you just don’t find any of the recipes appealing, or there’s an amazing special on roast, but there isn’t a roast on this week’s menu list.

They also include myriad extras that are just great. Right now there are picnic menus, camping menus, and so forth. They also have dinner and a movie menus that are intriguing, though I think the representation of real kid movies is a bit thin right now.

Also included in the monthly subscription rate are “freezer meals.” These are five recipes that you can make and store in the freezer for times when cooking from start to finish seems like a really bad idea (say, like when your daughter is having major surgery, for example). These recipes vary from marinating foods that then need cooking to breakfasts to completely cooked meals that simply need cooking to be eaten.

What don’t we like?

There are a few things that could stand some improvement or that we’d love to see that relish can’t do, though I understand some of these are in the works.

We can’t add in family favorites that aren’t part of Relish!’s recipe. However, this is an application that’s coming. We’re very much looking forward to this.

The dessert recipes are sometimes a little strange and sometimes rely a bit too much on convenience foods. Now, anyone who knows me and reads this is going, this is hardly fair, and it’s true my baking standards are super, super high, so it would have been really surprising to find them able to meet that part. That said, this is the one thing we don’t experiment with as much, relying instead on tried and true adjunctmom favorites instead. Though, I will say the Chocolate Valencia Pie was out of this world good.

It doesn’t really offer the option of telling them food issues or preferences. So, for example, someone keeping Kosher might find this website more challenging to deal with. My personal dislike of olives has to be worked around. For some this would be a deal breaker, but for me it’s something I can work with. It’s not a true negative, but it means there are friends I cannot recommend them to because I know their dietary issues are far more challenging than mine.

And really? That’s it. Basically, we’re super happy with the service and strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for ways to simplify their lives and free up time for things other than grocery shopping and cooking.

They’re coming out with an iPhone app for this service that I’m eager to see, but so far it hasn’t appeared yet.

We Lost A Good One

Dom DeLuise passed last night at 6p PST. Everyone is talking about the movies he made and the comedy he did, and you know, that’s great. He was a fantastic comedian. He always made people laugh and I’m glad that’s such a huge part of his legacy, but you know what? I really never watched his movies. I really didn’t enjoy the comedy so much. But I loved that man and I have referred to him as “Uncle Dom” for years because he taught me the most important secrets of my life:

The secret to truly stupendous meat sauce; the secret to soul satisfying Chicken Marsala; and, how to survive when you literally have no money to live on. He taught me how to make gnocchi that taste good and a pasta with broccoli that made me the envy of everyone in the building when I would bring it to work. I have eaten what I consider to be the only edible carbonara based on his recipe.

When I was pregnant, P would make me a sausage bread that nearly made me cry — thanks to Uncle Dom.

He was a culinary savant. You wouldn’t expect him to be able to do what he did with food, and yet, he did. He used his Mamma’s recipes, and his sisters’ and his friends. He borrowed/stole recipes from everyone and presented them in three cookbooks.

Eat This … It’ll Make You Feel Better. This is the original and the classic. It’s also out of print, which is a horrible shame. Here you’ll find literally dozens of recipes that are his family’s favorites and that will quickly become yours. I feel like I’ve lost a family member. The wonderful thing is that his children and his wife are fully aware of how much they’re loved because it’s in every page of this book. There are stains throughout this book from the many years I’ve been cooking from it. I bought this book when I was eighteen years old and I still cook from it today.

Eat This, Too. In all honesty, I don’t use this one as much. I like it, but it doesn’t quite do it for me the way the first one did. I found it so comforting to have even if I don’t use it.

Eat This, Again! I don’t own this one and, in fact, didn’t know it existed. It’s apparently a re-release of the first book based on the amazon reviews. As far as I’m concerned, that’s good news. It makes the book that I adore a bit more accessible for those who weren’t fortunate enough to find it the first time around.

All in all, we’ve lost an amazing talent in so many realms. Here’s hoping, for Dom’s sake, that there’s pasta and wine and good sausage in heaven and that Dom’s mother met him with a big old plate of his favorite dishes.

Review Wednesday

What probably surprises people is that it’s taken me this long to get around to a favorite books post. This one, though, is pretty much dictated by the short man. He has decided preferences in his bedtime reading, so without further ado, Ben’s favorite books (plus, one for Katie).

1. The I Love You Book by Todd Parr. We love this book because it affirms that we love Ben just the way he is, no matter what that way is. We like the gentle rhythm of the statements and Ben loves Parr’s work. He’s been a fan since The Family Book which he can practically recite, but this is the new favorite.

2. I Took The Moon For A Walk by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay. We’ve been reading this one since Ben was a baby. We picked it up from Chinaberry Books (and if you don’t know them, then go here without delay and check them out. I rarely miss when I buy books from them. This one is a sweet, gentle story of a young boy who dreams of making friends with the moon and going for a walk.

3. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. If you need a link for this one, then you haven’t been reading much children’s literature in the last decade. Some folks object to this one as it does make it seem like the little nut brown hare is always outdone by the big nut brown hare, but you know what, I’m about convinced that kids don’t hear things the way we do. At any rate, it’s a good story about the unconditional love a parent feels for a child.

4. The Amazing Machines: A Truckload of Fun by Tony Mitton. This is a collection of books that each focus on a specific type of machine. Ben is big into rockets, boats, trucks, and racing cars, so these books are right up his alley. He likes the rhymes and the fact that the last page of each book has a bunch of specific items that need to be identified from the vehicle under discussion. These are a great addition to his collection and much loved.

5. The Spot books by Eric Hill. Again, these probably don’t need a URL as they’re fairly well known. He loves these books because a) they feature dogs and b) he can predict based on the pictures what is happening in the story. He has a number of them including the baby sister book which really helped make the transition to being a big brother much easier. He almost always wants to take a Spot book to his room during quiet time and he can be heard “reading” them to his “friends.”

And, as mentioned, one for Katie:

Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman. We read this one to Katie every night before bed. It’s her Time For Bed and Prayer for a Child bundled into one book. She currently adores the illustrations. They are full of so many different things and at almost five months she likes to see all the different animals on the “Words Written on a Wall” page best of all. We like to read it. Granted, we both have a bit of difficulty with the proximate rhyme in one spot (fifteen/been — works if you’re British, not so much if you live in the south), but otherwise these are the kinds of wishes that we want for our daughter and we expect this will be her most favorite book the way that Parr’s books are for Ben. There’s a mix of wonder and reality in the blessings that Gaiman calls down for the blueberry girl and that mix is precisely what I think little girls need more than the prince charmings and the unrealistic views that other “for girls” stories offer.

Edited to add: This was supposed to be finished yesterday, but I was felled by a migraine, so it’s truly review Wednesday on Thursday this week.

Day 2: My Favorite Parenting Blogs

Day 2 of the challenge feeds into my usual Wednesday post as I usually do review/list posts on Wednesday. I think Darren does a nice job of explaining why lists are so popular for blog posts, so make sure you click the link at the bottom and read his thoughts on the subject!

Today, I thought I’d identify my favorite parenting blogs. Some of them are strictly about the act of parenting itself and some are more about the logistics of parenting — as in, what stuff do you need or how do you find materials and so forth. So, my favorites:

Cool Mom Picks. This is an outstanding website that provides a minimum of three reviews a day of new products that could be useful to parents or kids or both. Recent reviews covered things like Chocolate covered Matzo for Passover, an Etsy shop selling cute barrettes, and cool boys clothes. It was through them that I found the Sara Bear basket that I reviewed here a couple of months ago, the camera that my husband used to take my profile picture, and my son’s shoes.

Pioneer Woman. Ree Drummond’s blog. This blog covers a variety of different topics from decorating to cooking to photography to homeschooling. She’s been my inspiration to try homeschooling my children and her recipes are to die for. Not everyone can live on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, but everyone can benefit from her ideas about how to approach life and her sense of humor. She’s a good reality check for me when I think I’m in over my head on just about anything.

Parent Hacks This site has saved my life more times than I can count. Some of the great ideas that I seemingly come up with out of thin air that impress my husband so much? Come from here. I am always amazed at the endless creativity that people exercise and exhibit when it comes to doing things with kids. Some of these are ingenious and clever, some are just plain common sense, and some are really wacky, but all are useful. Features a good google search to help you find out how to do just about anything you can think of.

Motherhood Later . . . Than Sooner. This is a really cool blog for those of us who came to motherhood after the age of 35. Sometimes it can be a bit, um, overwhelming to realize that everyone around you is getting ready to graduate their kids while you’re still changing diapers. These women can relate and they share their experiences and feelings on the subject. There are a range of voices here so one is sure to resonate.

A Little Pregnant. This started as a blog of a woman’s experiences pursuing fertility treatments. It has become both an advocacy blog for infertile women and a parenting blog for a woman with two adorable children. It gives me a lot of hope to read this and realize that everyone has challenges to overcome on their way to becoming parents and it gives lots of interesting ideas about parenting and validation over the voices in our heads that tell us we have to be more permissive because it was harder for us to have children.

Baby Toolkit. This is my other favorite product recommendation blog. The authors combine product recommendations with advocacy for key parenting issues (BPA-free, for one). It is from them that we got the idea for Ben’s tent. We also finally decided to try Relish because of them. The key difference between Baby Toolkit and Cool Mom Picks, I think, is that Baby Tool Kit focuses on a lower price point in most cases. I really appreciate that aspect of their reviews. I also really appreciate the follow through. A product that they really liked had some issues and they pursued it as well as documented it for the reader, so that we all could see how the company in question responded to their concerns. A very honest and upfront blog that is really helpful for readers.

So, that’s it. My favorite parenting blogs. Hope you find something useful and if you have a favorite I didn’t mention, please feel free to leave a link in the comments. I’d love to see some more useful blogs!

Darren’s challenge post

Out with the . . .

well, maybe not out with much of anything, but we’re trying some new things here in adjunctmom land. We’ve agreed that Ben is not likely to be attending VPK due in no large part to the fact that the programs seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate and we just aren’t committed enough to the project to drive him hither, thither and yon to get him into something that I have giant misgivings about in the first place. So, we’ve started working with him at home on what we’ve identified as basic skills he would need to survive kindergarten in the event that he has matured enough to attend kindergarten in the fall of 2010. See, Ben’s birthday is precisely two days before the cut off. At that close, we can decide to hold him a year and let him start in 2011 or we may decide to skip the regular school thing entirely and homeschool him instead.

There’s been a great deal of debate in this house about which skills he actually needs and how we foster those skills. Where we’ve ended up is adopting two sets of materials that we use interchangeably and that we try to work with four days a week-ish. This has been a no activity sheets week for no reason I can discern other than he feels the need to “invent” this week, so invent is what he’s doing. He created a slide and a magic show in his bedroom (using an old body pillow that he adopted right before I gave it to the dog). What we’ve been doing at this point is leaving him wanting more. We do roughly four sheets each time and he’s always asking to do more of them. Anyway, for this year, what we’ve adopted is a combination of the Core Knowledge program and the Kumon workbooks.

These are ideal for Ben as they give him different activities to try each day and they help him learn new skills by relying on the ones that he already has. For instance, he has excellent descriptive skills (okay, if he were actually in my class, he’d earn a C, but he’s three, so he gets a pass here). To learn some basic science, they give him pictures and he describes, for example, the senses that are being used in the scene that he’s observing.

Right now he’s using these items:
1. What Your Preschooler Needs to Know. This is a great book full of short read alouds that he really enjoys. It’s helpful for me because, well, I don’t know remember the words to half the songs we used to sing when we were kids and they’re all right here.
2. What Your Preschooler Needs to Know Activity Book for 3-4 year olds.The activities here are sometimes a little young for him and sometimes a little too advanced for him, but overall, he really enjoys doing them and he’s increased his confidence about ten-fold by using this book. Two months ago he consistently mixed up red and yellow to the point I was starting to wonder if he was color blind. Nope, he was just confused.
3. My First Book of Tracing. He loves this. He likes having clearly defined paths to follow that he draws in and that creates shapes and he’s learning how to use a pencil. One of his most cherished dreams so far. He thinks pens and pencils are SO MUCH BETTER than crayons and he’s desperate to learn how they work. So far, he’s doing great with this, in fact, he’s almost finished this book, so he has two more that start him with the shapes of letters and numbers.
4. My First Book of Cutting. Again, he loves the idea of scissors and this is helping him learn how to actually manipulate them and use them. His lines aren’t so straight right now, but he’s definitely getting the idea and getting more confident with it each time we pull out a project sheet for him to do. We limit these to once or twice a week.

In addition, we bought seeds from Seeds of Change for Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomatoes and for marigolds. We planted them about two weeks ago and we’re now nurturing our little seedlings as we wait for them to get hardy enough for transplanting. He has five tomato plants and six marigold plants. We’ve already decided that we’re going to plant all the marigolds in one big pot that lives in my rose garden. We’re thinking that we’re going to try putting the tomatoes in three different locations to see what kind of results we get. He loves checking his garden each day to see how its doing and the responsibility for the care of it will fall to him once they’re over this fragile stage.

So yeah, it’s an odd sort of homeschool experiment, but we’re trying it to see how it goes. Will be reporting on this as well as other things during the coming weeks.

Two Kitchen Tools My Family Cannot Live Without

Apparently, I’m in list making mode this week. Ah well, it could be worse :).

We aren’t a huge family, but we are a family that loves food. Good food. Preferably homemade food, most of the time. The thing is that we don’t generally have the time to cook it all. So, we rely on two kitchen tools to make it possible to be both well-fed and not lose our time.

1. Cuisinart Convection Bread Maker. I have had a bread machine of some stripe or another since shortly after I got married. P and I both prefer homemade bread, but nothing can induce me to ravage my wrists by kneading bread. I relied, for a long time, on the Publix Bakery for my bread (grocery store in the South, for those unfamiliar with it). Their prices, though, have been going up and up and up, and I was convinced that I should try a bread machine again. This was a present and it works like a dream. My bread bakes. The paddle is never baked into the bread, and overall I have a great experience with not a great deal of effort. We make a minimum of two loaves per week. It’s noisy, so it usually doesn’t get used except during quiet time (hah) or after the kids are in bed as we don’t mind the noise from it as much as Ben does. I use The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook for my recipes. The whole wheat recipes tend to be clunkers, but most of her white bread recipes are outstanding.

2. Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 Slow Cooker. We had a different slow cooker until it blew up recently. We bought this one because we like the fact that we can use different sized crocks for different applications. We’ve made beef stew and a soup in this one, so far, and have been really pleased by the way things turn out. Exactly as they’re supposed to, which is kind of the point of a slow cooker. It doesn’t seem to cook hot or burn things, and that’s what I want in my slow cooker. The fact that we still have the one we received when we got married tells me that this one will be around for awhile. It is available in black and stainless, but we couldn’t find one and I wasn’t about to pay the shipping charges to get one here. We use a couple of different slow cooker cookbooks:
Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook. I really like Beth Hensperger. Her flavor profiles fit with the things that I prefer and the recipes generally work without much tinkering. We’re almost always happy with the food that we get as a result of using her recipes.
Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker. I admit this one doesn’t get as much use these days. Being married to a man nicknamed “Captain Red Meat” limits the number of times that he’s willing to eat vegetarian fare. I try, though, and that counts for something.

Best Baby Products for a Work at Home Mom

I’ll tackle the toddler/preschooler next week, but this week, Katie is on my mind and what makes for the best set up to be able to care for her and complete the work I need to do. Among the things we do is keep a pack-n-play in my office. We have it there so she can sleep while I work and later play while I work. I’m a big believer in some amount of independent play starting at a young age. I love playing with my kids, don’t get me wrong, but I feel that if I play too much with them, they don’t develop their imaginations and they don’t learn how to deal with the “I’m bored” factor.

The things, however, that I would not live without are:

1. Sara Bear Diaper Caddy. This thing is really pretty and that makes me happy, but it is also super-functional. It allows me to just carry the diapers and needed accessories to where Katie is currently hanging out without having to race across the house with her to her changing area in her room. This seems almost inconsequential, but I had no idea how much it would improve our quality of life. I bought it because it was pretty and I didn’t need to buy much for Katie. We considered it a non-necessity, but now I don’t believe that it is.

2. Ergo Baby Carrier. I had a Bjorn with Ben. It still looks like new. Seriously. I hated the thing and it never seemed to work right for me. The Ergo is outstanding in every way. It makes it so easy to take Katie and go out with Ben to play in the yard. The positioning of the carrier is so much better and the infant insert makes it easier for me to work with her and keep her comfortable. The carriers are well-designed and well thought out and they work well for a busy mom who wants to have her young child with her but also have her hands free to play with the older child (or grade a few papers). We’ve even determined that she can be fed in the carrier. I am bottle feeding, but it still works for her and is relatively easy to accomplish.

3. TinyLove Tropical Isle Playmat. We had one of these for Ben and he loved it. His was borrowed and so returned when we were done with it. We bought one for Katie and this has been a great investment. It not only helps us with keeping her occupied, but is a major source of enjoyment for her.

They Say it’s Revolutionary

and I have to say that I agree. The iPhone/iPod touch will change your life when you give in and get one. Today, though, more than the technology aspect of it, I want to talk about a couple of apps that are truly wonderful and life-changing. I’ve already noted that my two favorite programs for my laptop are also available on the iPhone. Evernote and Remember the Milk. Those two alone can revolutionize the way you live from day to day if you’re a busy parent with a thriving adjunct career (or really, I suspect any career). There are a couple of other apps, though, that work supremely well for the life that I live and for the busy parent/academic/blogger.

1. GroceryIQ. This app is exactly what it suggests a grocery list maker. The great thing is that I almost always have my Touch in my pocket, so when I realize I’m running low on something, it takes me seconds to add it to the list. The best part is that I can then email a completed list to my husband and HE can do the shopping. It allows me to identify precise brands and gives him the confidence that he can’t “screw up” the shopping.

2. Stanza. This is a reader. And damn, it is nearly perfect. I can turn anything I need to read into a PDF, load it into Stanza, and then read it when I’m on the go. Whether I’m riding in the car, waiting in a doctor’s office, or feeding Katie late at night, I can read and keep up with what’s going on in literature. Don’t get me wrong. I still love books, but e-books are wonderful if you’re trying to declutter or gain space. I can save them on a external drive, and grab them when I need them.

3. mGifts. This is a gift organizing app that allows you to identify a budget, persons that you’re shopping for, and gifts that you want to buy. It saved my bacon over the winter holidays and I really don’t ever want to be without it.

4. When Katie was small, I found and loved Baby log. There is no link for it as the author doesn’t have a stand alone website. But during those early days when you can’t keep track of anything, this app really helps keep you organized.

Of course, I also have the facebook, twitterific, and wordpress app/utilities on my Touch. This way I can work on my stuff when I want to without feeling too panicked.

ETA: I’m having a huge issue with my HTML coding tonight. The URLs for the programs listed are:
Evernote: http://www.evernote.com
Remember the Milk: http://www.rememberthemilk.com
GroceryIQ: http://www.groceryiq.com
Stanza: http://www.lexcycle.com
mGifts: http://www.msevensoftware.com/mSeven_Software/mgifts.html

Technology/Review Wednesday

Today, I want to talk about to do lists. Most everyone keeps lists of various kinds and it’s important to find the best method for keeping those lists. I’ve been low-tech for years. I used to use a journal write the list in the journal and away I’d go. This worked well when I was teaching in person and seemed effective the first year or so that I was teaching online. And then Ben was old enough to make off with my lists and suddenly it didn’t seem like such a good idea as before.

I needed something smaller, more portable, and less attractive to a small guy. It also needed to be self-contained. I wouldn’t have to find a pen in order to be able to use it. I have hunted and looked and I’ve tried it all. Kathy Peel has something she calls a Daily Hit List. The form is available here. While the form kind of works, it doesn’t work super well for me because it involves paper and pen and that’s just not what I need.

I’ve tried Anxiety and that was kind of useful when combined with a written to do list. The problem there was that it doesn’t migrate to my handheld device and without the list there, it’s ultimately useless.

I’ve also tried a number of “To Do” apps for the Touch. My main objection to most of those was the fact that they did not sync with my laptop. If I can’t access to dos on my laptop then it’s just not working for me when I have to work.

I had tried Remember The Milk in the past but found it difficult to manage because it also didn’t migrate to my handheld and didn’t have a desktop application to allow me to check it without going to the website. However, recently I discovered that they had made some improvements to the product and it now has the features that I wanted before. So, my solution is Remember the Milk.

What I like about it is the fact that I can send it messages from just about anywhere and it will synchronize across multiple platforms to allow me access to my to dos from where ever I happen to be. It has a clean interface, allows me to put things on the list that happen periodically and makes sure those items appear when they’re needed. It has really simplified that part of my life and allows me to brain dump so I don’t have to remember all the minutia of my day. One of the drawbacks is that to fully utilize its functionality I have to pay for a premium account. I’m really not complaining about that. This is still not my ideal solution, but it works well enough.

My main objection to Remember the Milk is the fact that it simply refuses to sync the To Do list to my calendar To Do list on my laptop. It theoretically is supposed to be able to, but to date I have not been able to persuade it to actually do it. I’m certain it would do it with gCal, but I much prefer iCal so . . .

Ideally, I would have liked to use Evernote for this purpose because it would have centralized my stuff more thoroughly, but at this time Evernote does not allow for addition to formatted lists via the handheld platform. This element is crucial when I’m out or when I’m just not able to use my laptop. For example, when I’m feeding Katie, I can add to my lists because the handheld is *right there* and can be used onehanded whereas the laptop basically requires two handed operation. Thus, until Evernote adds that level of functionality, I will be using two programs to accomplish what I need from them.

My To Do list at this point draws from Kathy Peel in that I divide my lists into categories, which is helpful if I’m in a particular location and need to work on To Dos that are location specific. RTM also allows me to have all the items appear on one list for the day which is helpful when I’m simply trying to work my way through my list.

Overall, if you haven’t tried Remember the Milk, or you tried it but weren’t impressed, I’d say give it another try. It works particularly well for someone who works online and has an extremely active day.