it’s all in the planning, and yet…

Successful people know how to do this. They keep lists. Whether or not they actually get to them doesn’t much matter; they’re still successful. The simple act of adding items to a list relieves stress. The burden of remembering all there is to do is diminished the moment the item is accounted for. One less thing to worry about. And yet…


The lists become meaningless. I’m obsessed right now with getting things done. It’s a January thing. I have a scrapbook room of clutter that needs to be organized. Christmas ornaments have been tucked away, wrapping papers stowed. A batch of sweet pecan squares baked and handed off. Check. All this, with the hope of getting to more to-dos.

pecan squares quote

What I want to do:

Watch more movies of substance–movies that people call films. Films that make me feel. That’s what I want to do this year. I want to wake up when other people go to work, pull out my notebook, and press play. I want to study film appreciation in my jammies.

Baking. I’ve never been much of a baker, and when you’re hoping to lose a good twenty pounds isn’t the time to start, and yet… I can’t help but want to bake love into the lives of the people around me. This worries me. Because really, what I want to do is to be ready. I have a very real need right now to nest. I want to make trays of lasagna, not a bite eaten, just made fresh, then filed away. Yesterday, I made four batches of cauliflower puree, to defrost during the week, and sneak into pasta sauce, into mac ‘n’ cheese, into deviled eggs.

pecan squares smoochieI’ve just reorganized all my cookbooks and am eager to start trying new recipes, having more people over, playing more board games, trying more grapes.

I want to spend the week doing nothing but cleaning and organizing. Every closet, every drawer. Ridding myself of oils we don’t use, dressings untouched, jars of pickles, and abandoned jams. Why do I want so much to have everything in its place? Already, I’m thinking of summer–how nice it would be to take a gardening tool bag and fill it with a summer set of flatware, beehive glasses, coordinating plates and napkins, all tucked away at the ready.

I wonder if my need to have everything in its place, all planned and at the to-do, is my way of crossing things off, so I can get to what really needs to get done. It’s my way of liberating. Of throat clearing. It’s how I get to what matters. Having a stocked pantry, with white chips separate from the mini ones, from the 70% cocoa ones, from the mint ones. Yellow cake mix, just in case. Real lemon extract. A spice drawer, each spice labeled, and each spice there. Even mace.

be mineI realize, of course, that if I ever needed something, I could, in fact, go out and get it. But there’s a comfort in knowing everything I need for anything I may want at any time is there, at the ready. It’s the feeling that nothing will get in my way. That if I want to make buttermilk pancakes for my family on a Sunday morning, I can. Even if it means adding a tablespoon of lemon juice to milk, as a substitute for the buttermilk. There’s just something very calming about knowing that something’s there. And yet, I’m not a hoarder, not even a little.

I was thinking today, as I was putting pots and pans away, that someone asked me recently what I would do if I was single in New York. What would I do with my time? And just for a moment I thought, “I’d take the time to polish my all-clad. I’d practice recipes to the point where I’d no longer need them, and I’d bring the bartender at my local watering hole a goodie bag. Often.” I’d rid myself of excess and keep only the things that comforted me: truffle oil, thick white wrapping paper, good personalized stationery, vanilla bean paste, my cookbooks (every last one), micro cotton bath towels, lemon verbena soaps in my drawers, good bed sheets, a well-stocked pantry with high-quality spices, big latte bowls, and an excellent espresso machine. In the meanwhile, all that’s on my to-do list tomorrow is to get my ass on the elliptical machine.
4 YEARS AGO: Privacy, Even I Like Some, Note To (Her)Self, Things I Never Understood About High School
5 YEARS AGO: False Positive



  1. Stephanie – You need to post your SWEET PECAN SQUARES recipe!! My eyes did a double take on that one :)

    P.S. I am with you on the well-stocked pantry. I almost have an unhealthy obsession with having tons of ingredients for those “just in case” moments..

  2. Hey Stephanie! Longtime reader, sometime commenter. Re your to-do lists & getting organized… The BEST book/system for people who want to maximize that making lists & crossing things off feeling is Getting Things Done by David Allen. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s all about getting things off of your mind and onto a list, and then it’s a system for actually doing the things on your lists. It’s like $10 on Amazon and will change your life. But maybe you are already using it. If so, ignore. Happy 2010!

  3. This post is so yummy. The food, the towels and lemon soap…everything.

    Anything lemon is appealing to me lately. I don’t know what it is. I recently started adding Lemon Essential Oils to Neutrogena’s Sesame body oil(fragrance free) and spraying on my entire body after a shower/bath. The response is wonderful and it smells so clean and uplifting.

  4. I had to start being a meticulous list taker when the babies were small – about 1, 3, and 5 actually – play dates, pre-school, dentist, vaccinations, zoo, library, ballet and karate…it was my only salvation.

    I do love my lists…every day at work I jot down that ‘if I turn around I’ll forget it but it is critically important’ detail that really makes a difference. At the end of the day, I’ve got a record, complete with phone numbers, of those I’ve touched or reached out to, and a running tally of the endless things that need to be done when you work in a small non-profit.

    I also have my home lists – Saturdays that seem to fly by so quickly I can’t even hold on to the Sat…so before I rest I check off my list: gym, grocery store, massage, book store, maybe movie, laundry. I find, even though it may sound tedious, that the practice of making and maintaining lists does exactly what you say…reduces stress. If I’m not racking my brain trying to remember that one damned thing I forgot, I’m able to focus more on what must be done.

  5. In terms of stocking up, I think I’m actually the opposite. I like to only buy what I need, I think I find it comforting to know that nothing is going to waste. I wonder what this says about us? I guess I could do with more preparedness actually

  6. Crap, I thought I was done with the holiday baking and then I saw those pictures! Those look soooo good. Going to try them this week and start my New Year’s resolution of not eating so many sweets NEXT week.



  7. Stephanie – You may want to check out the Checklist Manifesto. I was featured in the NY Times. It’s a scientific look at Checklists.

  8. Oh, I SOOO recognized myself in that post! I find, that when I am really on a roll like you have described, that deep, deep down I am procrastinating something that I don’t want to face. Ring true?

  9. Off topic — as a writer, I would like to see pics of Stephanie’s home office or where she writes. (And where she does her crafts ;)

    1. Jennifer,

      Look throughout her site, especially the archives or her flickr account on the right hand side.. Stephanie has tons of pictures and they include where she does her crafts and where she does her writing :)

  10. It makes sense. I just heard this morning: “The secret of concentration is elimination.” – Dr. Howard Hendricks

  11. A NYC friend:"Every culture has its own spice. Jalapeño in Mexico. Wasabi in Japan.." Other friend:"What about New York?" NYC guy:"Mace"

  12. Thanks, Sarah…I think I am going to purchase this :o) I adore lists, and “To Do’s”. Love the whole idea of checking things off…it makes me feel acconplished!

    Stephanie, can we have your recipe for those pecan bars? They are gorgoeus to look at, and I bet even better to eat!

  13. I am somewhat of a pack-rat and collector. So, I use what I have as storage and look at almost everything I own as clutter collectors instead of just taking up space. So an ice bucket holds rolled up towels in my guest bath. An antique teapot holds bath salts, the creamer holds q-tips and the sugar bowl cotton balls. I keep my wrapping paper in old wine boxes, paint brushes upright in crystal vases, remote controls in vintage cigar boxes, CDs in wicker baskets, I use biscuit, tea and cookie tins in drawers to organize and separate things and in the bathroom on shelves to keep manicure implements, files, etc. I love your organization/pantry posts and wish you’d post pictures!

  14. I’m all for multi-tasking but it’s a sad day if you can’t brush your teeth or take a shower without doing housework at the same time.

  15. Oh, I hear you. I have offset spatulas, 3 boxes of different kinds of sugars, a frosting piping set – but do I bake? Have I done any kind of sweet baking since moving into my apartment a year and a half ago? Absolutely not. But I buy those things because I fancy myself a baker, and would love to pretend that one of these days I’ll get around to baking some cupcakes.

  16. Since you brought up games, you should order the card game Dutch Blitz. Its on Amazon for like $8. Don’t be intimidated by the directions. It is very fun!

  17. Can’t believe I’m about to admit this, but I stock up on canned meats.

  18. Just did some major organizing to my computer. It feels so good to organize things.

  19. I had one of those days the day before I went on vacation. I should've been doing other things but organizing felt so good! :D

  20. Completely off topic….Thank you for getting your blog on kindle! My ’employer’ decided that internet was off limits starting the first of the year, which meant blogs were only read between 4 and 6 am in the morning! So, thanks, mucho :)

  21. I used to be a dedicated reader of your blog- then life got in the way. So glad I came back :)

    I have been going through the same (sometime spastic) need to organize, but for me it’s with photos. Somehow I believe that if all of my photos are in order and accounted for then my life will subsequently be in order and I can start my year off right. Often times I realize though that when I go into my organizing rampages I’m simply trying to avoid doing something else that is far more important. Oh well, at least I’ll be able to find those random pictures from last year on a moments notice :)

  22. It’s funny how all of my “married with children” friends believe they would have an excess of free time if they were single, but the truth is, time still escapes from you just as quickly.
    Granted, I have time to bake when I feel like it, and I wake up and go for a run most mornings, but the rest of the time I still feel stretched for time. My kitchen is still a mess, my all-clad is still unpolished and I definitely go too long between washing my sheets. I know, gasp.
    I think it really just depends on your personality type. I happen to be the kind of person who likes to feel busy regardless, so I fill my time with more responsibilities, say yes more often than I should, and at the end of the day I’m happy to shrug my shoulders if not everything gets done.
    It’s just a different kind of busy than my “married with children” friends.

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