I don’t have a cleaning lady but…

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Rare un-messy living room moment

A couple weeks ago, I got a Facebook message from a reader and college friend who wanted to share a shortcut. Her topic was cleaning, particularly, the most hated thing to clean in all of humanity: the tub. I got to thinking about how I didn’t have a cleaning lady but if I did: she would most definitely clean the tub, all of it.

I don’t have a cleaning lady but I have always thought of myself as a neat freak. I would pile my good friends’ mixture of clean and dirty clothes in a heap in my sorority house bedroom as a not-so-subtle clue for her to clean up her things. I always liked to make my bed growing up and rarely left it a mess. I get annoyed with full garbages, dishes left in the sink and crumbs on the floor. But, somehow, my house is still pretty dirty. I secretly would like someone else to clean my house while I am at work but since that’s not really a reality, I rely on my own kind of wacky and shortcut way of cleaning.

I have tried to go to the boards on Pinterest that have all the tricks, all the little tips of keeping the whole house clean, spring cleaning, magic cleaning supplies and surprise miracle stain removers. And: it totally frickin’ overwhelms me. I can barely keep my kitchen table wiped off and my toilet unstained— you want me to keep a schedule of cleaning each day? Who has time for that?

So, in the true spirit of the name of this blog, I have given you what no Pinterest site will offer. Shortcuts to Semi-Clean and Clutter-Free. No guarantees here but it’s better than reading a blog post about how some sweet lady cleans her whole suburbian mansion with green-only products. Here, I keep it real. Shortcut real.

1. Mail and Crap: Mail baskets are just holding cells. Don’t even throw the mail in a basket. It’s a trick. Shred or rip up credit card offers, toss catalogs and magazines you won’t read and put important bills to pay in your purse or put them on the fridge so you can’t ignore them. If you MUST keep a short stack of something, place it in a box/bin/basket that is out of sight like a drawer or a bin on top of the fridge. Of course, please don’t put anything important out of sight, that’s just asking for trouble and I don’t want you to blame me for it:)

2. Bad stains: I have found the Zep cleaner that you can find at Home Depot and Lowe’s is a great cleaner for the worst marks in your kitchen and bathroom. It comes in glass, floor, bathroom and kitchen cleaners. The smell is pretty strong, so open the windows, but you will be happily surprises by how clean you can get your sinks, stovetops and toilets.

3. Dual Uses: You don’t need a cleaning spray, a floor cleaner, a glass cleaner, a furniture polish and a bathroom cleaner. Just like the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Windex or store brand glass cleaner really does it all (My jeweler even recommended it for my diamond!) For floors, just mix about a 1/2 cup of Windex or all purpose cleaner in the mop bucket with HOT water. The hotter, the better. For wood floors some lemon cleaner or lemon oil (I hate the smell of Murphy’s Oil Soap). For tile, I am not sure. I have not yet lived in a home with tile. But I am sure Windex will suit it just fine!

4. Wipes: I don’t “believe in” the pre-sprayed anti-bacterial wipes they sell for cleaning. It’s a waste of materials and a waste of money. Paper towels and old rags work just fine. Plus, I think we overuse those wipes when we have them. Or, at least, I do!

5. Kid Clutter: Apparently, I might be dead on the inside, but I have a drawer in Parker’s rooms where I put his best projects. That is the only place they go besides maybe the fridge for a little while. Everything else is thrown out. And it goes right from the backpack to the garbage. Before he can see it. And want it. And carry it around the house leaving it everywhere. Sorry, but we have enough clutter without more random construction paper hanging around!

I have also designated one part of a kitchen closet for kid stuff. At places where they can reach but can’t necessarily open every single thing. Instead of pulling a crayon out of a drawer and taking to the wall with it, they have to get out the entire activity box of art stuff. This means they have to sit at the table (ideally) to crack open the basket of fun. Makes it easier

6. Man Clutter: It’s hard to contend with the man clutter that pops up around the house. I just try to put it in one place, out of the way, the same place so that it can always be found. It’s not foolproof and my husband will tell you I move his stuff all the time, but it’s working for me at the moment.

7. Floors: Dirty floors are my pet peeve and I easily mop 3 x a week. I use a trick my mother’s good friend uses who cleans houses. After mopping, skate around on a towel to soak up the yuckies and give it a final wipe. This helps to kind of shine the floor as you mop and makes it not slippery for little ones.

8. The Tub: This came from a reader. The Mr. Clean magic eraser lives up to its name. It’s magic and its great for cleaning the shower and tub. She does it right while she is in the shower and then doesn’t have to bend in swkward positions and get cleaner all over the knees of her pants. My Mom also backs this up. I found a magic eraser in her shower this weekend. It’s pure magic (Also good for crayon and other kid-inflicted random stains that appear).

9. Warm water on leather: My leather couch can take anything. With all the kid gunk that gets on it, I often just take a hot towel and wipe it clean in all areas. it doesn’t tend to show any kind of water stain so I am pretty liberal with my wipe-down. Leaves it looking shiny and kind of new.

10. Old Wives Tricks: A wet paper towel in the fridge soaks up bad smells and a bowl of lemon water in the microwave helps get the gunky stuff off. My mother in law (who I am not referring to as an “old wife” here by any means, please) has the amazing dishwashing trick of using dishWASHER detergent on sticky pots and pans. Just let it sit and Voila! Magic!

 

 

 

12 Days: 11 Pipers Piping (Well, not really)

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11 Great Gifts on the Fly

Shortcut Girl is not just about shortcuts, she’s about making your life feel like you barely do anything and still achieve pure awesome. Here’s 11 gifts on the fly for you whether they be the “OH crap!” gift when someone else gives you one and you are caught empty-handed or for a hostess of that fabulous party you are going to.

1. Mason Jars. Get one, two, three or four and fill with treats. Candied kisses, candied nuts, candy canes, holiday M and Ms, anything that looks colorful in a jar. (For nuts: bake nuts at 350 degrees on baking sheet with spray olive oil and sprinkled sugar for about 15 minutes)

2. Pump up the jam. I have never made jam but after looking at the directions online—ding, ding! You can TOTALLY do it. And you already have the Mason Jars so it’s really a cinch.

3. Single cookie boxes. In the dollar section of Target, they sell great cookie boxes. If you need a teacher or secretary gift (just a little somethin’), you can bake your own treats or find some delectable at the bakery section of your grocery store. After all: who says no to a cookie?

4. Flavored Gloss. There are flavored lip glosses at Forever 21 (not that I shop there;) for $1.80. Get an assortment and put them in mini gift bags (Dollar Store section of Target). Great little sweet gifts!

5.Cup of Trader Joe’s. Since coffee is ever so popular, putting some of the individual one cup mixes of coffee in a nice little mug for your favorite coffee lover is a cute little gift.

6. Trees. I have a co-worker who shares a love for just the right combination of peanut butter and chocolate. The Reese’s Peanut butter trees are out folks. Tis the season. Binge on them while you can.

7. Reindeer cookies. There are very few Martha Stewart moments of my life. But last year’s reindeer cookies were one of them. Big hit at the party we went to. I do have to say they can be expensive, so be careful when you get into the grocery store and start buying reindeer garb.

8. Wine socks. Buy your favorite soft pair of socks and put them around your favorite flavor of vino. Great for a hostess gift or a good way to hide the booze you are bringing to your child’s preschool teacher. Just kiddingJ

9. Christmas mixes. Mix tapes are a thing of the past, but mix CDs still have a place in our heart, right? Make one for a friend going on a road trip for Christmas or your grandmother who has not yet discovered digital music. I highly recommend Mariah Carey on this mix. Maybe even both versions of All I Want for Christmas is You.

10. White Trash Okay, I’m a little embarrassed that my Mom made this stuff and called it White Trash. But it is pretty awesome. Chex mix, pretzels and nuts all covered with white chocolate. The best is my friends asking each Christmas, “is your Mom going to make her white trash this year?” Yes, yes she will.

11. The IOU. What we don’t give enough at Christmas is our time to people. Whether it’s a visit, a lunch, a movie or making dinner together, it’s not about the gift, it is the time too. Putting a date on the calendar for your next get together with your favorite person is just what the doctor ordered.

Shortcut professional photos: Picasa!

I have been wanting to tell everyone about photo storage and photo editing for a while. Yesterday, I threw the kids in the car after they had a long nap and brought them down to a park here close to camp. They were just setting up for their Saturday night concert put on by the Sacandaga Valley Arts Network. Anyway, save the porta potties, the backdrop was perfect and the kids were actually pretty agreeable. Celia basically just walked the whole time which explains a lot of the photos! “Parker, Parker, walk with her, okay, hold her hand– no don’t grab her, don’t pull her, just walk with her, not too fast, no, no, okay, just like that.”

I’m sharing this on the blog because I want people to know what’s out there for free photo storage and editing Many of you may already use Picasa through your google account. It really is the best out there. Picasa is different from other photosharing– when you share it with someone, they can download the photos full file to their own computer. Not the same as sending a Shutterfly or Snapfish album, they can have the whole thing!

Benefits:

1. You won’t run out of storage or can purchase more. We have all of our wedding photos and videos, other important documents saved on our google docs.

2. Photo files are saved in their original form, not just the images for making albums or ordering prints.

3. Sharing via email is easy— whole albums or single photos.

4. It’s very easy to post photos to a blog if you have one through blogger. We have ones for pictures of the kids.

5. You can order photos easily through Shutterfly right through Picasa. Since I make photobooks and calendars through Shutterfly, this is convenient.

What to do:

1. Sign up for a google account if you don’t already have one.

2. Download Picasa web albums to your Iphone.

3.Download the desktop version of Picasa on your home computer. It uploads pictures in a snap and makes it easy to create albums and organize photos (just make sure you hit the little button to “sync to web” if you want to share and see the photos through your account online).

4. Go to photos. If you get bogged down in google plus and can’t figure out where to find the web albums, just search for it on google.

Photoediting

In the Desktop version of Picasa, there are editing features. You can play with the color, make it sepia or black and white but also sharpen the image with backlight or with color saturation. The photos below were edited in about 10 seconds each, it was so easy and so fun. Actually, once I finish doing a set of photos like this, I always have this flash of quitting my job and becoming a children’s photographer. Well, maybe a second career in the future, anyway!

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Toy Story figures had to have their photoshoot too.

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Beautiful setting

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The editing really brings out the blue of Miss Celia’s eyes.

Parker squat photoshoot

Photoshoots take all faces!

Parker photoshoot

I love doing the close ups

Parker and Celia

This is one of those I know I am going to love for years to come.

Celia and Parker walking together

You get your kids walking together, instant emotion.

Parker and Celia 2

That little face on him, I can’t take it.

Parker and Celia 3

Depending on how much Celia changes by late November, I think this one has Christmas card possibilities.

Celia profile shot

This is so, so, so, so Celia.

Parker

I am not sure how I even got him to look at the camera for this one.

Parker smiling

Or this one!

All up in my grill…pan

There is no better shortcut than finding a way to get the taste of grilled chicken or burgers when you are bereft of an actual grill (or you barely know how to light one). I never knew how much of the Grill Life I was missing until my Mom got me the best cast iron grill pan a girl could want. (I do realize other people have had them for a long time!)

Yummy stuff I grill in my grill pan:

Zucchini
Yellow squash
Asparagus
Peppers
Tomatoes, like for this recipe
Steak
Fish (tuna is the best!)
Chicken
Sandwiches, but mostly grilled cheese
French toast
Naan/ Flatbread
Bacon
Sausage
Hot dogs
Burgers

The grill pan is easy, quick and even a cinch to clean (don’t scrub it, it needs to stay oiled and seasoned) I can’t even tell you how much I use it and how much more varied my meal planning is because I can do it in the grill pan.

Easy Grill Pan Chicken

I grilled chicken for a salad for dinner and then some chicken salad for lunch the next day (remember this recipe?) last weekend with my friend, Arlene (one of my most reliable posters on Shortcut Girl). She loved the chicken so I wanted to share the marinade that we use pretty often that always seems to be a hit.

I could not find the exact kind but something like this is what we use- we usually do it overnight.

Clean and cut chicken as desired

Marinade overnight

Turn grill pan on high and put a tablespoon of olive oil on pan

Sear chicken on one side for 2-3 minutes.

Turn and sear other side for 3-5 minutes.

Turn down chicken to medium to cook through OR put in 250 degree oven to cook through

Don’t overcook!

We cut it into strips to put on top of salad and then cut up the rest the for curry chicken salad. It was so good!

well priced grill pans can be found at TJ Maxx, Homegoods, etc. Don’t cheap out on one, make sure it’s cast iron- its so worth it!

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Beauty Tip Tuesday: The Shaving Cream Scam

In this post, my good friend “SF”weighs in on smooth legs, rip off beauty products and more. Thanks SF for this last minute favor!

Hi everyone, it’s me again- SF. You know, the Shortcut Friend who brought you the cheeseball and deviled strawberries? Well, I’m quite comfortable contributing to the foodie side of this blog, but the beauty tip side? Seriously? I feel like the living version of an oxymoron right now, but here goes:

Are you overwhelmed by the skin/hair care aisles wherever you shop? Do you spend far too long in an dazed, eyes-glazed over trance when faced with so many bottles of lotions, creams, gels, washes, toners, scrubs, cleanses….? Do you gasp in horror when looking at your receipt and realize your short shopping list of personal care items costs more than your groceries for the week? Are you expecting me to solve all these dilemmas for you forever? Sorry. No can do. However, I do have one little tip that allows me to skip right over one section of those evil aisles and save a few bucks while I’m at it so this is what I will share with you.

Despite what the commercials tell you, you do not need those fancy little bottles and canisters of shaving creams/gels! There, I said it. And this is coming from a former die-hard Skintimate user. One day, mid-shave of course, my Skintimate spit, sputtered, and ran out. Okay, there were many days that it ran out- those things never last long! But there was one day that I was smarter. Instead of using soap, body wash or shampoo as a quick replacement (which I’m guessing many of you might use regularly instead of shaving products already), I used hair conditioner. I loved that it was thick, moisturizing and didn’t suds up, but still rinsed off easily and didn’t clog the razor. Also, my legs had never been smoother! Since that time, I ditched my Skintimate and never looked back. Instead, I now buy large, pump-style bottles of inexpensive conditioner (currently I’m using Aussie Miraculously Smooth). It’s cheap, convenient, lasts forever, and makes my legs feel so, so good!

Now, it’s entirely possible that I’m not the genius I think I am and many of you have already discovered this. But if not, you really need to give it try. Your legs, and anyone who touches them, will surely thank you for it!

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Shortcut Girl’s Toolbox: July

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I’ve decided to do a monthly post with my favorite Shortcut Products. You know, the things I buy to get me out of a bind. Random stuff I obsess over because they give me that “shortcut high.” Products that just say, “this thing will save you time and besides that, it’s just cool, okay?” Shortcut Girl’s Toolbox.

Here are five things I have been into a lot lately. And no, no one is paying me to blog about them, but if you know someone who will, please alert me and I will shamelessly promote their products for cash. Just kidding. Kind of.

Cleaning Shortcut: Johnson and Johnson Hand and Face Wipes

There are some products that once you discover them, you just can’t do without them. (Makes me think of the movie Old School: “Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!”) That’s how this product was for me. Upon a first encounter, I thought Johnson’s hand and face wipes were just another wipe made in a small package to scam mothers far and wide. However, once you use a pack, you just can’t get over the mmmmmm baby lotion smell and the clean and soft feeling on your hands. This is great for what we call a “camp bath” at my house. It’s a busy night and the little one needs a clean up but there’s not time to fill the tub for a full scrub down. These are the best! The cloth is soft and thick and smells so, so good. Leaves the babe smelling like they were bathed and scrubbed clean. Shortcut Clean. As a baby’s butt.

Starbucks Shortcut: Tazo Passion Iced Tea

I don’t know if you know, I don’t tell a lotta people, but, I AM a certified Starbuck’s barista. I never really got a certificate, but I am convinced it was just lost in the mail. A relic of my barista days is my obsession with their Tazo Passion Iced Tea. It’s a great alternative to iced coffee and is so, so, so yummy. I like it with lemon and a couple splenda. Delish. And I hate the word delish but for some reason, I think the word is meant for drinks like this.

Since I am spending my summer far, far away from a Starbuck’s, making the passion tea at home is a Godsend. My husband brought home the big brewing bags sold in a box at the grocery store and I was thrilled. Passion tea for me all summer long!

Little tip: Although the directions say to use boiling water, you can make the passion tea like you would sun tea, as pictured. Oh, and I leave the bag in until the pitcher is all drunk up. The more passion, the better!

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View On Black (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seasoning Shortcut: Tastefully Simple’s Garlic Garlic Seasoning

I am one lazy girl. I HATE peeling, slicing and chopping garlic. It’s my kitchen nemesis. I don’t care if you give me a garlic press or tell me all the fancy ways they cut it on the Food Network, I detest it. With Tastefully Simple’s Garlic Garlic, my garlic-under-your-fingernails-ew-that’s gross-they-stink days are over. As long as I have Garlic Garlic on hand, just a couple shakes and the chopped garlic your recipe called for is good to go.

Garlic Garlic dip is to die for too, but I don’t recommend it for date night. You end up with what I call a “garlic hangover”— that pungent, slightly offensive taste in your mouth when you wake the next morning. “What…. did I ….eat?”

Also from Tastefully Simple are Onion Onion, Bacon Bacon, Sardine Sardine and Anchovy Anchovy. (Okay, so I’m just kidding about those last two.)

Salad Shortcut: Garlic Dusted Slivered Almonds

I find it funny that I am including two things here that involve garlic. These almonds are the best thing EVER. I love them on a salad with feta or goat cheese. Mmmmm. They are also great on their own too. But, a warning. It’s not glamorous to eat a handful of slivered almonds, you just look like you are a little bit of a piggie. I don’t doubt they would go splendidly in a green bean or asparagus dish as well– either roasted or grilled. They’ve just never really lasted that long in my kitchen for me to find out.

Sugar Free Drink Shortcut: Mio

Okay, so my husband got me started on these and now I can’t stop. I am a Crystal Light drinker from way back. I mean, I could consume it by the gallon in the summer time. So, would I like a sugar free additive for my bottle or glass of water that comes in fun flavors? YES PLEASE! My favorite flavor is Fruit Punch and my husband’s is Orange Tangerine. It’s a great calorie and sugar free addition to a mixed beverage made with club soda or Sprite. Deeee-lightful.