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Re-assess your work space all the time

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It was very disappointing when the laminate counter-tops in the kitchen begin to deteriorate on the side of the sink where it is constantly exposed to water. No matter how we try, it seems impossible to keep a cutting board next to the sink without having water seep under it and damage the surface of the counter. After a few years we decided to get it resurfaced with ceramic tile at my house.

I live in a neighborhood on the far south side of Tucson where we have a nice, friendly community. Most of my neighbors have skills that we share, such as bicycle maintenance, home improvement and car info exchange. In my opinion it is the best kind of neighborhood to live in; we engage each other's services and pass money around the community, which is good for everyone.

Long ago I needed a handyman to oversee my yard (or else face the wrath of the home-owners' association) and I found a neighbor who was doing yards nearby. He turns out to be a contractor as well, and he ended up doing the new counters in the kitchen. He has also looked at my bike from time to time, and tinkered with my appliances when they were either in need of fixing or replacement.

As the slide show that accompanies this article shows, my kitchen counters are now magnificent. Check out the photos and enjoy the beautiful job that my contractor did. We should all do periodic re-assessment of our work spaces, especially kitchens, so that our workspace is efficient, clean and organized.

If you want information on how kitchens can be organized, you start with the "givens," such as the positions of your appliances. Usually you can't change that, so you work around it. Stoves are separated from refrigerators so that the heat and cold don't mix and stress either appliance. You can't have too much counter space if you like small appliances, either. I have a "coffee corner" next to the fridge on the tail end of my kitchen counter; on it I have coffee makers and some of the paraphernalia that I need, such as mugs, creamer, sweetener and a canister of coffee. The "cooking corner" is on the other side of the stove, and it includes containers with my large collection of cooking tools, a toaster and microwave, another coffeemaker that is reserved for making hot tea, knives and the cutting boards. The position to the right of the sink seems natural for this.

On the other tail end of my counter is a large Kitchen Aid stand mixer, which is used quite often to make bread or other baked goods. Opposite to this area is an entire blank wall the length of the kitchen, and it is filled with industrial-type shelves for ingredients and implements. In the middle is a portable island that is connected to electricity to power up the other appliances that we use daily, proving that you can't give me too many counters.

In your own home, you have to prioritize, sometimes strictly, to provide yourself with a work area that gives you what you need. Things that you use less, like a heavy enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, need to be stored in some of the less-accessible areas, such as lower shelves or cabinets, while things you use the most, such as flour and sugar, need to be at eye level in easy-to-find storage containers.

I have written about quality equipment; that cast-iron Dutch oven is gorgeous but in reality I paid only about thirty dollars for it at Sam's Club in Tucson. Paying hundreds of dollars for the same item that has a famous name baked into the enamel doesn't move me; when I see what I want, I appreciate it very much if it isn't unnecessarily expensive. If you have patches of counter space between appliances, as I do, you will want to arrange your kitchen equipment to work with that, creating areas for certain activities. Placing the cutting board next to the sink is a no-brainer, but my coffee corner has migrated from place to place until I finalized it where it is now. If your kitchen has long lengths of counter space, or a large island equipped with running water, you may have quite a bit of leeway to decide what is going to work best in a given location. And always plan on working with the electrical outlets that you have, because most experts will advise you against using extra plugs and extension cords: they can cause overheating and you can even trip over an extension cord and get hurt.

And if you have not done it for whatever reason, you might pick an afternoon and take a long, hard look at your kitchen and find out of you can make major improvements in it as a work space. This is never a waste of time.

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