Organize a fun game night

The holidays are over and many of us are settling in for winter — hunkering down, closing the blinds and staying warm. It’s a classic time to play some board games.

Don’t think of board games as simply a way to pass the time until you can get outdoors for recreation. With proper preparation, a “game night” party can be a lot of fun for friends and family alike. For many, it’s a unique way to spend time together and socialize.

Gaming has many benefits. It is a chance to bond as a family or group of friends; an opportunity to teach young kids how to win and lose graciously (the lessons of sportsmanship aren’t unique to organized sports); to pull people away from digital screens and yes, a chance to indulge in some serious organization.

With all of this in mind, here’s how to organize a game night for your friends, family or a combination of both. I’ll describe some equipment to buy, steps to take before guests arrive to ensure a good time, and more.

A successful game night is an organized game night. A sure way to dampen the fun is to invite five or six people over to stare at each other and ask, “So, what are we going to play?” Here’s how to ensure a fun evening for everyone.

Consider who will be attending

I typically use the term “tabletop games” instead of “board games” because there’s such a wide range of gaming experiences available, from simple card games to board games many of us grew up with like Clue and Monopoly. You’ll also find mind-bending Euro-style games and role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. When picking games to play, know your audience.

You might be excited to get Settlers of Catan to the table, but that won’t work with a Monopoly crowd. If you group is mixed, have two separate play areas so that everyone gets a chance to enjoy the type of gaming they like.

In short, ask yourself:

  • How many people can comfortably fit in your space?
  • How many people can play the games you want to play?
  • What kind of group do you want to have?

Sometimes a game just doesn’t work so it’s great to have back up games.  Have something fun that is easily learned just in case.

Share information ahead of time

It’s a good idea to share instructions or rules before your get-together, as that can cut down on time spent teaching and learning. Board Game Geek has digital rule books for countless games that you can download for free. Share them with your guests via a cloud service like Dropbox or Box.net so they can familiarize themselves with potential games, or even decide on what they’d like to play.

Get set up

If a small group is coming, the kitchen table will probably suffice. If you have a large group on the way, (Good for you!) you’ll need tables and chairs to accommodate the extra company.

I’ve used these flexible folding chairs many times and they’re great. Lightweight and comfortable, they won’t leave you sore after a few hours of use and fold neatly away when not needed. As for a table, this folding camp table has also served me well for years.

Consider Snacks

People like refreshments at parties and game night is no exception. When planning snacks, consider what can be eaten utensil-free without being too messy.

I love these drink holders. They clip onto the edge of a table and go a long way towards preventing spills. You and your guests will be constantly reaching across the table to move game pieces, grab snacks or gesticulate wildly with each dramatic move. It’s easy to overlook a bevy of beverages, so get them out of the way.

Have a schedule

As a host, take control of game night. Guests won’t appreciate an evening that ends too early or drags on too long. Here’s a good formula to follow:

  1. Start time, about 30-45 minutes. Have drinks and snacks ready to get people warmed up and ready to spend time together.
  2. Break time. A built-in and obvious break time lets people use the bathroom, get something to eat or excuse themselves.
  3. Ending time. Let people know when the evening will end, to eliminate fears of an endless night.

Set a goal for the party

This one might seem silly but it’s essential. Have goal for the evening. “To play games” is not adequate. Maybe you’ll choose something like:

  • To laugh a lot
  • To try out a new game we’ve been itching to play
  • To welcome new neighbors
  • To get to know people better and bond a little
  • To try something new and expand horizons

When you’ve selected a goal, express it in your invitation:

Saturday at my place, let’s get together to play hilarious party games! We’ll have snacks starting at 7:00 and then break open two super fun party games: Telestrations and Wits and Wagers. We’ll wrap up by 10:30. See you then!

The day of your party

It’s game night! Now that you’ve selected appropriate games, distributed rules or other pertinent information to your guests, and set up a gaming space(s), it’s finally time to play.

Have the chosen games on display for guests to view. Let people mingle, get a snack and/or a drink and settle in. Again, take control as host and announce when it’s time to start playing, as well as the chosen games and a brief description of each. Lastly, as host, play! You might be tempted to tend to the drinks, snacks, and other guest needs. That’s noble, but your guests will appreciate it more if you play with them.

Have fun and enjoy an organized game night. You might even pick up a new hobby.

How to organize holiday gift bags

Holiday gift bags are more popular now then when I was young, and unlike wrapping paper, they’re reusable. This year we received quite a few of them and I’ve been thinking about good ways to store them. Here are a few ways to store holiday gift bags to keep them in good condition for reuse.

Magazine holders are my favorite method of organizing gift bags. You can get about two dozen bags into a single magazine holder, and the write-on label makes it easy to categorize and retrieve the one you want.

You can also use a large, handled gift bag and put the smaller gift bags inside. Once folded, sort them by size or occasion. The larger bag becomes a sort of mobile filing cabinet that you can pull out at the next gift-giving occasion. It’s easy to store, simply hang it on a hook in a closet.

An expandable accordion-style file folder is another great method, provided that your bags are relatively small. Don’t expect larger bags to fit without protruding from the top of the folder.

A hanging organizer might be useful. However if hung on a door, it may prevent it from opening all the way or bang against the door whenever it’s opened or closed. It would be great if hung on a rod in a closet though.

If the bags are not suitable for re-use, you can cut them into gift tags, use them for arts-and-crafts projects, donate them to an elementary school teacher, after-school club, or toss them into the recycling bin. In any case, have fun organizing — or saying goodbye — your holiday gift bags.

Craft storage without the visual clutter

When I was organizing full-time, I regularly worked with craftspeople. Scrapbooking, textile arts, or traditional visual arts are three fields that use many bits and bobs. And all too often, the creative mind veers towards chaos, meaning an artist’s studio or scrapbookers craft room becomes a pile of pieces of projects and remainders of previous projects that can deter the artist or crafter from moving forward.

Quite often, North American houses have basements or a space over the garage for a studio or craft room, sometimes up to hundreds of square feet to spread out in and organize materials in a meaningful and logical way. But what if you don’t have all that extra space? Or what if you’re like me and you don’t want everything visible creating visual clutter?

Folding furniture might be a solution for you. As long as you have floor space to unfold and use the piece of furniture, and as long as you take the time to tidy up and fold the cabinet or desk back away again, it could be a great way to have your artist studio or craft room in the middle of your regular living space and not have to worry about visual or physical clutter.

Recently I came across what is probably a crafter’s dream storage solution: The Original Scrapbox WorkBox 3.0. When folded up, it uses less than 3 sq ft of floor space, but when opened up, it offers 9 linear feet of shelves, cubbyholes and hanging storage along with a decent sized work space.

When I first saw the video, my heart leapt in my throat and I actually said out loud “I want that!” After posting something to that effect on my Facebook wall, however, one artist friend said it looked wonderful, but with so many storage options, he knew it would devolve into chaos in five minutes. And he’s right. I’m an organized person because I’m a minimalist, and too many options create clutter for me.

If you are a detail-loving person The Original Scrapbox furniture might be a good option for you, but for the rest of us, there are less overwhelming options that can still have the same result: organized craft space with no visual clutter.

Here are just a few of them. If you have a personal favorite that isn’t on the list, tell us about it in the comments.

The minimalist vegetable garden: growing things when you have no space

I grew up vegetable gardening. We had a 25 acre property that had been in my family for decades and my mother always planted a huge garden, full of enough squash, beans, potatoes, carrots, and Swiss chard to get us through the entire winter.

As a university student and an apartment dweller, I didn’t vegetable garden at all. When I got my house in Toronto, I tried it given that I had a large backyard and prefer garden to grass, but all I ended up doing was feeding the neighbourhood raccoons.

I’ve been in Spain a decade now and other than helping out a friend in his garden plot a few towns over, I haven’t done any vegetable gardening at all. My husband loves cacti and our balconies are half full of the easy-to-care-for plants, but he’s not into anything at all edible.

Maybe it’s age, or maybe it’s looking out the bedroom window and seeing a large garden plot down below, but I’m getting the itch to do some gardening of my own. However, decorative plants are so not my thing. If I’m going to garden, I want it to be useful and productive. I want to be able to eat what I grow.

Our balconies, though, are not that conducive to vegetables. We’re on the ninth floor and face an ocean-side mountain, meaning that no matter what the weather’s like, there’s a strong breeze whipping by all day long. Plus the protected balcony is too small and already occupied by the beloved cacti, so growing any edible plants there is not really an option.

What’s a wannabe apartment gardener to do then?

I thought I’d give vertical gardening a try. While we don’t have a lot of wall space, we do have quite a lot of ceiling and railing space to hang planters. Amazon has several varieties, such as Topsy-Turvy Tomato Planters that hang from the ceiling, or any number of hanging or self-supporting vertical planters.

I’m never going to get a full vegetable garden in, not even if I opt for square-foot gardening, but I think I might just be able to scratch that itchy green thumb of mine with a few dangling tomato plants, some wall-hugging herbs and maybe a zucchini plant or two elegantly hanging off the inside of the balcony railing.

Any suggestions? Do you have postage-stamp balcony gardens? How do you satisfy your urge to cultivate?

Saying goodbye to musical instruments, part two

Last week, I shared the story of my inability to let it go of my drum set during our big basement clear out. I had succumbed to sentiment! After much deliberation, I’ve made a decision — the drum set stays — for now. There’s a deal in place, which I’ll describe in a bit.

First off, I’m going to refurbish them. They need new heads, a good tuning, some cleaning, and maybe some new hardware. (The bass pedal is older than my marriage.) Once the upgrades are done, I’m going to play a bit and see how it feels. I’ll adopt a regular practice schedule and see if I can stick to it while working off the years of rust. Perhaps my kids will express an interest. If so, I’ll provide lessons.

Now here’s the deal. If, at the end of one year, the drum set is still satisfying the definition of clutter (an item that is unused and without purpose), then away it goes. What will happen to it? There are several options for an unwanted musical instrument:

  1. Selling is the most obvious choice. These drums are very old and not worth a lot, so I’d give them to a young musician who is looking for his or her very first set. It would be nice to see them inspire a student they way they once inspired me.
  2. Donation is also an option (and I can get a tax write-off too). I’m sure a local community center, church, or school would gladly take a free drum set.

I could get real fancy and turn them into art, but that’s a bit beyond me.

Parting with sentimental clutter is never easy, but it’s something we must do eventually. Memories are more important than the things themselves and great memories are never clutter. Additionally, here’s a good opportunity to practice the concept of non-attachment. It reminds me of this little parable, the origin of which I do not know.

There was a man who kept a glass on his bedside table. He loved the glass and would look at it and think, “How lovely this glass is. When it catches the light it looks so beautiful. When it’s full of water, how lovely it appears. If I tap it with my finger, what a pretty note it plays.”

“But if I bump the table and the glass crashes on the floor, I may think, ‘Oh, of course.’ Or, I can realize the glass is already broken. Then every moment with it is precious.”

In a way, my drum set is already gone. Some day it will fall apart, or be in the dump, or reside in somebody else’s basement, or I’ll be too old or frail to play it. And that’s OK, because every moment I’ve had with it has been precious.

Saying goodbye to musical instruments

I spent this past weekend cleaning my basement and enduring a life crisis. The two are related.

As it’s the start of school vacation week here in Massachusetts, my wife and I decided to take this time to clean out the basement. I’m not referring to the pedestrian practice of knocking down cobwebs and doing a bit of sweeping. No, this was a full-on, no-prisoners/no-survivors clean. Every single item was hauled out into the yard and sorted into one of three piles:

  1. Keep
  2. Donate
  3. Trash

Once the room was empty, the industrial vacuum came out, cobwebs were swept away, floors were swept and scrubbed, and shelving was dismantled, cleaned, and relocated. Every inch was polished and prepped for the contents of the “keep” pile to be neatly re-introduced. I drove the donate pile to the local donation station and later this week a team of professionals will arrive to haul the trash pile away. That should be all three piles sorted.

Dave's drum setExcept there’s one problem. I lied. There are actually four piles. The fourth pile contains only a single item: my drum set.

I bought this set of drums with money I saved by delivering newspapers when I was 13 years old. I started playing drums when I was seven, and to say that they occupied the first 23 years of my life is an understatement. Music, specifically percussion, was my life for two decades.

In elementary school I played in the orchestra. In high school, it was band, orchestra, and jazz band. Some friends and I formed our own noisy rock band and tormented the neighbors with an endless racket. I took private lessons outside of school, and traveled to district orchestra events. I even attended music camp at our local college. Music was my social circle, my solace when times were tough, and my celebration when everything was going well. After high school I attended Berklee College of Music and gave snare drum lessons to the neighborhood kids in the summer.

Then I finished with school, moved away, and got a job. The drums came with me, but I didn’t have much time for them. A few years passed and I got married. Soon enough we had a daughter, then a son. I had more responsibility at work. I continued to give lessons for about a year but that ended. My drums sat idle in the basement — for years… many years.

Now, here we are with my drums satisfying the very definition of “clutter.”

We’ve written about parting with sentimental clutter before. I know it’s hard, and I know the strategies. I also understand that, in the end, memories are more important than things. But this feels like more to me.

Real musical ability isn’t something that every person has. At the risk of sounding like a braggart, I do. I was really good at playing drums. To me, parting with the instrument feels like I’m throwing the gift away, too, and that’s not right. I understand that, if I haven’t touched my drums within the last 15 years, I probably won’t during the next 15 years either. Yet, I can’t bring myself to say goodbye.

For now, they’re still in the limbo that is “Pile Four.” I’ve got until the end of the week to decided their true fate. Do you have any input, readers? Have I merely succumbed to the emotion of sentimental clutter? Or is there something more at work?

An organized way to bring a new gadget into use

Whenever you receive a new goodie, like a new phone or tablet, it’s an exciting time. But don’t just tear into the box! There’s an organized way to bring a new gadget into your life, and the following is advice for making that transition as smooth as possible.

Carefully open the packaging

This might sound ridiculously obvious to you or it might seem just ridiculous. “Dave, it’s the box. Who cares?” There are several reasons to care, and the first is the gadget’s future resale value. I upgrade my iPhone every two years. I always sell my current model to help pay for the new one. Having the pristine original box helps with shipping and final asking price. Also, if you aggressively tear into a box, you could affect the contents. You don’t want to scratch a screen or case before you even turn on the device. Finally, think of returns. There’s always the possibility that your new doo-dad won’t work as advertised. A UPC code, the security tags, and intact contents are essential when trying to make a return.

Take your time, keep things neat and store that box in a safe place if you might return or resell the item.

Read the manual

If you’re not going to read it, at least skim the manual. Some gadgets come with a “quick start” guide. I always review those. Yes, you probably know how this works, but maybe not. Read/skim the manual and then store it in a safe place for future reference. I also recommend making a digital copy after some time has passed and if you’re not planning to return or resell the item.

Register the item

This is the step that nearly everyone skips. I always spend a few minutes registering my products, especially pricey electronics. It will make service easier should you need it someday. Additionally, if there’s an update or other notification that owners need, like a recall, you’re more likely to receive that information if your product has been registered.

Buy an extra power cord

If your device charges up with a cable, buy an extra one. I keep one in my laptop bag at all times. You might bring an extra to work or simply keep it around for when the first one gets frayed or otherwise stops working. You might want to somehow identify it as your own. My kids love to steal iPhone cables, so I make sure we all know which is mine.

Scan the receipt

Finally, scan the receipt and store it digitally in a place you can easily retrieve it if necessary.

Dig into the product

Now that all this preparation work has been handled, take the product out of the box and use it. Transfer data from your previous gadget and set up preferences.

A straightforward seven-step process to achieve your goals

This coming weekend will mark a first for me: I’m competing in a sprint triathlon. As with any activity requiring preparation (moving, changing jobs, going away to school), there has been a great deal of planning and organizing involved to get ready for the race. When I made the decision to work toward this goal back in January, I felt like a project manager as I tried to figure out how to get to where I am today. Ultimately, I decided to use a basic, seven-step process to reach my goal.

To give you an idea of where I was before I decided to take on this project, I didn’t know how to swim. I could float around and not drown, but I didn’t know how to swim laps or do any proper strokes. I’d also never been on a racing bike, and the only bike in my garage was my two-year-old daughter’s, complete with training wheels. I couldn’t run a mile continuously and the idea of swimming, biking, and running back-to-back-to-back genuinely terrified me. I needed skills, gear, training, and confidence.

The first step in the planning process for this triathlon was the same as it is for any project: research and gather information. I read The Triathlete’s Training Bible, Triathlon Anatomy, and a couple more books. I jumped on YouTube and watched videos from races. I learned about all the equipment I’d need (swim goggles, a racing bike, fast-drying triathlon clothing, gym membership, running shoes …) and put together a rough estimate of how much it would cost and how much race expenses would be (hotel, travel, race registration). I extensively studied dietary needs for athletes. This is also the point where I saw my doctor for a physical and underwent other forms of athletic testing (anaerobic threshold, body fat and lean mass analysis, etc.) with a triathlon coach to learn as much as I could about my body.

The second step in the planning process was to evaluate the gathered information and decide if I wanted to proceed toward the goal as anticipated. In a typical project, this step might include changing the goal or moving the completion date or deciding if you need to bring in additional resources before continuing. You look at the information gathered and analyze it to see if you can achieve your goal. For me, the decision was much more personal in nature. I have a genetic disorder that makes competing in triathlons not the best idea I’ve ever had. My disability doesn’t prohibit me from doing a triathlon, but it certainly makes things more complicated. So, I had to decide if I wanted to continue knowing the risks and my limitations. I decided to continue, but I also had to agree to do everything I possibly could to reduce my risk of injury and complications.

The third step is mostly complete after the research stage, but it’s important to create an official budget for the project. No matter the project, be sure to build in a line item for unexpected expenses. Then, maybe, triple that line item. (I forgot I’d have to pay for childcare, for example.)

The fourth step is a lot of people’s favorite step: create timelines and to-do lists. This is the point where you identify what needs to get done, by whom, and when. As I previously mentioned, I needed to take lessons on how to swim and how to ride a racing bike. I had to weight train and build endurance. I also needed to overhaul my diet so I wouldn’t do damage to my body, which meant months of meal planning. I created milestones and points where I would check-in with my coach (for a work project, this would be where you check in with your client) and points to evaluate how my training was going so I could make changes, if necessary, as I progressed. Be specific during this step — swim 30 laps, pack two boxes, sort through one dresser drawer, write 1,500 words — so that it is clear to you each day when you look at your calendar exactly what you need to do.

The fifth step is the hardest and (typically) the longest: do the work every day. Once everything is in place, it’s time to get your hands dirty. This is when you crank the widgets. I joined a gym with a pool. I bought a racing bike. Some days I was up at 5:00 a.m. for swim classes. Other days it was raining or freezing or extremely hot and training was the last thing I wanted to do, but if I wanted to reach my goal I had to do it. You write the code or build the house or pack all your belongings into boxes.

The sixth step I have yet to complete on this project, but it’s my favorite step in the process: complete your goal. For me, this will be Saturday when I (hopefully) cross the finish line.

The seventh step is the final one and often the most overlooked: evaluate your performance. Once a project is finished, it is tempting to move on to the next project without taking the time to identify what went right, what didn’t, and your final expenses and time sheets. But doing so will help you in the future — the next time you move or build a website for a client or compete in a triathlon. This information will be a valuable resource to you in the future, so take the time to complete this step and help your future self. You won’t regret it.

All of these steps are intuitive, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to rush ahead to start with step four before doing steps one through three. Or be so happy to be finished with step six that you skip step seven. Do all of these steps and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals. Taking on a large project also can create anxiety, but breaking it down and going through this process will help you to see that your goal can be reached.

Organizing gardening tools

I spent the past weekend doing some serious weeding, planting, replanting, and general work in the yard. It looks great and that’s in part due to the tools I’ve organized for outdoors. It’s nothing fancy, but I thought I’d share with you the solutions I created. The following are what you can do in just a few minutes to make your gardening and yard care more efficient and organized.

The most important tool I have for use and organizing outdoors is the five-gallon bucket. My love affair with this incredible tool is well-documented. You can buy one for very little money at your local big-box home improvement store.

I improve the usefulness of my buckets with a TEHO Garden Organizer Caddy, which can be had for about 12 dollars. It fits snugly on a five-gallon bucket, so it’s not flopping around. The Garden Organizer also adds a little padding to the handle, which is nice, as well as pockets galore.

Speaking of pockets, I fill them with the tools I use most often:

  1. Shears
  2. Small handheld pruners
  3. Gloves
  4. A hat
  5. Sunscreen
  6. Spade
  7. Small weeding rake

I love that I can store my tools and tote them around with the same product. It’s quite convenient.

Some reviewers on Amazon have complained of the Garden Organizer not lining up with the handle on their buckets. That’s not been my experience, and I’ve used it on buckets I purchased at Home Depot as well as those from my local corner store.

The only complaint that I do have is that the liner pretty much negates the buckets use as a container for anything other than your tools. If you’re weeding, for example, you’ll want another receptacle for those weeds you’ve pulled. But really, the organizer is so useful otherwise, I’m willing to let that go.

If you’d rather not use a bucket, a carpenter’s belt will work fine (though hold fewer tools) or a good gardening tote.

Finally, get fun and practical with storage by filling a terra-cotta pot with builder’s sand that you’ve dampened with mineral oil. As Real Simple points out, the combination of sand and oil will prevent the tools from rusting.

Gadgets to make yard work effective and fun

One trick I learned years ago is that a fun toy, gadget, or tool can make a task I dislike more pleasant to do. My FitBit encourages me to walk, for instance. Likewise, a beautiful ledger helps me work on my family’s budget. With this in mind, I decided to tackle another chore I typically avoid: Yard work.

Yard work isn’t so bad in the spring and fall, when the weather is nice and it’s pleasant to be outdoors. But in the summer, ugh. Heat, humidity, and the ever-present, thin layer of sweat prompt me to procrastinate and then grumble the entire time I finally do it. To get past this frustration, I discovered three tools that I enjoy so much, I’m eagerly willing to push my way through the humidity and heat and do a little yard work.

An expandable hose is the first item. I’ll admit it, I thought this was a goofy gimmick. My sister sent me one of these as a Father’s Day gift. It was thoughtful, as the hose I had been using for many years had died. “Well,” I thought, “this thing looks weird but I’ll try it out.”

After one use I was a complete convert. This lightweight hose does in fact expand at an impressive rate, without sacrificing durability. It feels well-made. When you’re done, simply spray out any remaining water and watch it grow smaller and smaller. The result is lightweight and flexible enough to be stored away with ease.

The second item is The Handy Camel, which is a Chip Clip on steroids. I do a lot of planting, and I’m often hauling heavy bags of soil around. They’re awkward, floppy, and love to spill. Enter the Handy Camel. This thing does in fact behave like a Chip Clip. Just snap it over the opening of a 40-pound bag and use the handle to carry it around like a suitcase.

The third item puts an end to spilling gasoline when trying to fill your gas-powered lawn mower. The Surecan stops that mess. They’re made of sturdy plastic and the brilliant inverted design lets you fill a small-engine tank with the ease of a trigger. No more smelling like gas for the rest of the day or worse, accidentally splashing gas on hot parts of the mower.

I’m not usually one to recommend buying more stuff to stay productive, but if a tool or gadget makes a task so much more enjoyable that you actually do it and don’t hate it, I’m all for it. Simple living is about living free of distractions — and loathing an activity is certainly a distraction.

Ways to take advantage of digital photography advancements and still stay organized

Digital photography is changing the hobby of photography in interesting ways. The most obvious change is the ease with which we can fire off 300 photos in a matter of minutes. As a result, we’ve got bulging digital photo libraries that have tech companies struggling to organize for us. Additionally, The Next Web reminded me of the emerging changes that we’re still working to understand. The following are explanations of some of the changes taking place and possible solutions to issues those changes might create.

Photos as short-term memory

When I park my car in a huge public lot, I always take a shot of my parking space (“5F” for example) to help me remember where I parked. I do the same when driving a rental car, so I don’t forget which car in the lot is mine. And before driving out of the rental lot, I capture all the angles of the car to have proof of pre-existing scratches or issues that existed before I rented the car.

More recently, I took a photo of a poster advertising a walking tour that looked like fun. As with the shot in the garage, the intention wasn’t to capture a moment, it was to capture information.

Photos as file sharing

Earlier this week, I received a phone call from my wife who was at work. “Can you go into my bag and find [Paper X]? I need you to send me a photo of it.” In this situation, she needed the information on a paper she left at home, and a photo of said paper — while not ideal — was the easiest way to get her the information she needed.

Photos as shopping list

I take images of specific shopping items a lot. If I need to buy a special lightbulb or odd battery for something at home, a quick picture of that product saves me from having to lug it with me to the store.

Often times I’m out shopping with my wife when she expresses interest in something that I think will make a great gift. I’ll covertly take a photo of it to remind myself when the time comes to give her something. It’s really handy when, months later, I’m trying to remember exactly which scarf she meant.

How to manage these types of photos?

As Boris Veldhuijzen Van Zanten noted in his article on The Next Web, an ideal situation would feature apps that recognize when we’ve taken a throw-away photo or an image that’s meant for short-term memory, and act accordingly. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Until our phones get smarter about digital photo management, we must be proactive.

First, if you’re backing up your photos to a cloud service like Dropbox, Google, or Apple’s iCloud, save yourself some space and don’t back up these shots. I use an app called Camera+. It allows me to shoot photos that aren’t sent to my phone’s camera roll where they’re automatically synchronized with my remote backup. Temporary photos I take exclusively with this app.

Next, remember to delete those one-offs. This isn’t the best tip, I know, but it will save you storage space as well as those “Why did I take a picture of this?” moments in the future.

Of course, you can turn to dedicated apps to help you manage these photos. Evernote is fantastic for long-term storage and supports photo notes beautifully. Gift Planner (free, iPhone) and Gifty (Android) will let you keep track of presents you’d like to buy. Lastly, Tiny Scanner for iPhone (free) and Smart Receipts (Android) will let you “scan” legible images of receipts and more.

How to organize a beer tasting

It’s Monday and the weather is turning nice here in the northern hemisphere, so I thought it would be fun to talk about an organizing project that isn’t super serious. Specifically, if you’re someone who enjoys spending time with friends over a good beer, this post is for you. With a little preparation you can have an entertaining, informative, and laid-back beer tasting at home.

My love affair with beer started with the yellow American lagers we all know. After these traditional American beers, I ventured out to other styles. The beer that really caught my attention early on was a Bass Pale Ale. What an experience that was: sometimes beer is brown! And bitter! What else is out there?

Today I enjoy porters and stouts, IPAs and bitters, Witbier, and Scotch ale. And that’s part of the fun of beer. It’s varied yet accessible. Casual yet complex. While wine can be intimidating, beer never is. That’s part of the fun of a beer tasting, and having an organized beer tasting is easy.

What to buy

Before you run out to your favorite store to buy beer, you must know your audience. Remember, the idea here is to introduce and try novel styles, but you don’t want to make that an unpleasant experience for your guests.

If your guests typically enjoy the aforementioned traditional American lager, consider lighter styles for your tasting. A lager like Hoponius Union is a great choice. Likewise, you’ll do well with a golden ale like Ipswich Summer Ale or a Born Yesterday Pale Ale from Lagunitas. The idea is that these “crossover” beers, as they’re called, are similar to what your guests like so as not to be a total turn-off, yet different enough to be compelling and interesting.

Conversely, if you’ve got some adventuresome palates on your guest list, adjust your shopping list accordingly. Find something really special to share. Or, maybe go with a themed tasting like “Oktoberfest” or “Refreshing Summer.”

Remember, too, that you don’t want to overwhelm your guests with too many flavors. Four or five options should be all you need.

Serving

Make sure there’s plenty of room in the refrigerator. Most beer likes to be upright and stored at about 45ºF, though there are exceptions. Unless you’re serving serious beer snobs, don’t worry too much about that. Just make sure the beer is cold by serving time.

Glassware can be important, depending on how much you want to get into it. It’s believed that certain glassware can enhance the experience of drinking various styles of beer, by trapping aromas and such. If you want to go for it, go for it. You’ll add to the fun. Honestly, for most beers and the people drinking it, plain old pint glasses will do fine. If you can, avoid paper or plastic cups.

Tasting

I recommend starting with the beer with the lowest percentage of alcohol by volume and moving toward the highest. Additionally, put your hoppiest beers toward the end, as they’re typically strong in flavor and can affect your ability to enjoy more subtle and nuanced offerings earlier in the tasting.

Lastly, have some food on hand. Bread and popcorn will help “cleanse the palate” between brews. Cheese goes well with beer, so a variety of cheeses might be a good idea, too.

Getting home safely

This may be obvious, but you are inviting people to travel to your home and drink alcohol. I recommend finding designated driver(s) and rewarding them with a gift of some sort. This way everyone is safe and the people who do the shuttling are rewarded for their part.

A beer tasting can be a lot of fun and educational. Expand you horizons a bit and try something you typically wouldn’t. Learn about the styles of beer and where they’re from. Finally, understand that a “beer expert” is simply a beer drinker with an opinion.