Lightening the Load–Or Cleaning Out My Purse

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Sometimes I refer to myself as a bag lady…as in I leave the house with a handful of bags.  Always.  On school days, I leave with my purse, lunch bag, and work bag–and generally some sort of other bag full of things I am carting to and fro.  My daughter has her backpack and lunch bag and on occasion a bag of other stuff she needs to bring to school.  I swear, it feels like we are going on a long trip every time we leave the house!

And the most troublesome bag of all sometimes is my purse.  Since I became a mom, I have waffled back and forth between large bags and small bags.  I used to carry cute and whimsical purses that I could change on a whim because they only held a few items.  At one point in my life I only carried a man’s wallet in my back pocket.  But, with kids and age comes more stuff.  After trying multiple types and sizes of purses and a variety of ways to organize the things that go inside, I am still in search of a system that really works for me.  To that end, after frustration with things being lost in the depths of a bag I really, really wanted to love, I purchased a purse in a similar style, but with a shorter body and more structured bottom.  This step alone helped me stop wasting time fishing around for things.

But, I knew it wasn’t enough.  There was just too much in there!  Not only was it hard to keep clean and organized, but it was getting heavy.  I certainly don’t need added back pain because I have too much junk crammed into my purse.  So, one Sunday evening, I decided to treat my purse to some of my Top 7 step Organizing Tips

Here is a before picture of the purse contents…

This may look organized, but sometimes it's what is beneath the surface that is a hot mess.

This may look organized, but sometimes it’s what is beneath the surface that is a hot mess.

1)  PURGE!  I went through everything and got rid of anything that was trash or didn’t actually belong in my purse.  It’s amazing how many things just get thrown into your purse because it is convenient.  My wallet got the most attention.  Man that little guy was stuffed to the gills!  Some of it was taken out and some moved to my ARC planner.

2) Think about where you will reach for things.  I looked at everything that I wanted to put back in the bag and really thought about where I go to look for said item.  Then I decided what would go into each compartment of the purse and gave everything a specific home.

Empty purse...  Where should everything go?

Empty purse… Where should everything go?

3) Use storage containers that make sense and fit your space.  I keep a small make-up bag of the extra stuff that can float around your purse and cause problems–lip balm, mini sewing kit, mini lint roller, dental floss, etc.  I added a few items to this bag that needed a better home.  I also ditched the little file folder I had been using to hold coupons (white with black details in the picture above).  It was just more added bulk that I didn’t need.  Instead, I added them to my ARC planner in one of the plastic sleeve thingies.  One thing that has made a huge difference for me over the years is adding a small metal clip to my keys which then fits nicely on the metal ring on my purse (I always buy purses with one of these for that reason).  If I always clip the keys to the ring, I will never lose them (which I do about 95% of the time and then kick myself when I don’t.)

5)  Make it visually appealing for you.  Pick a cute purse you will not get tired of quickly (But make sure it is also functional.  Sometimes those two things do not go hand in hand) and add items inside that make you smile.  The make up bag I use has a cute print, the wallet is a perky color, and I like the cover of my ARC planner (though I may pick out a new one someday just for fun).

7)  Realize you will probably make changes.  I know that this purse clean out will definitely help lessen the frustration when looking for items in my purse, but I also know in a few months I may reassess and make changes.  I am totally ok with that–because that is why I did the purse clean out in the first place.  What I was doing wasn’t working the way I needed it to and changes were necessary if I wanted to stop going GRRRR! every time I searched for something in my purse.

TaDa!  Here is my purse with all the contents back in place.  I have very happily been finding things over the last week, and I only think I’ve gone GRRR once or twice.

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Everything now has a dedicated pocket in which to reside.

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It’s amazing! It will actually close when it’s not stuffed to the gills!

 

Frozen Cupcakes!

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Huzzah!  We have survived and can wait another year before we have a friend birthday party!  It is always so much fun planning and having a party-but it is a bit stressful too.  Even though we picked a low key activity this year–watching a movie–making sure we had everything ready took planning.  The part my daughter loves the most is putting up the decorations and making cupcake creations.  This year, the theme was Frozen and we already had our thank you bags ready to go.  All the decorations and food were bought–and the night before we were ready to transform the house into a Frozen wonderland.

For this post, though, we are going to focus on one of my daughter’s favorite things.  Cake decorating.  She loves watching Cake Boss on Netflix and every week we load up Nerdy Nummies on YouTube (if your kids are into cake decorating, check out Rosanna Pansino’s channel.)

For her friends party, we always make homemade cupcakes.  This year, we decided to get fancy with the decorations.  They included printable Frozen picks, sparkly snow-like sprinkles, homemade butter cream frosting, blue chocolate pearls, and homemade chocolate snowflakes.  The night before the party, we baked the cupcakes.  We decided on blue cake and white frosting.  We took a white cake mix and added some blue food coloring.  We made 12 regular size cupcakes and about 16 mini cupcakes out of one box.  I found fun blue with white polka dot cupcake liners at Michael’s for $1.

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Decorating supplies…

Then, we made our chocolate snowflakes.  I also picked up some plastic squeeze bottles and chocolate melts (in light blue and white with sparkles) from the baking aisle at Michael’s.  We learned from Nerdy Nummies how to make chocolate decorations.  Print out the shape you want.  Tape down the paper to a flat surface (we used flat, flexi cutting boards).  Then tape wax paper on top.  Melt chocolate melts in a microwavable squeeze bottle (you’ll need more than you think) and then draw the shape using the bottle over the wax paper.  It sounds very simple, but this part was the biggest pain–mostly because one of our squeeze bottles was defective.  The chocolate kept squeezing out the size of the bottle instead of the tip (You will not see white snowflakes, because that was the problem bottle).  Grrrr.  But, we finally had some workable snowflakes from the blue bottle.  We popped them in the freezer to wait until morning.  The snowflakes were a bit fragile, but if handled carefully, they won’t break.  (And even if one of the little arms did break off, we could just put it back in place by pressing it into the frosting).

Our chocolate snowflake supplies.

Our chocolate snowflake supplies.

The next morning shortly before her party, we started decorating.  I’ve never made my own frosting, but I knew from past experience that trying to pipe the frosting that comes in the plastic can from the store baking aisle doesn’t work well.  It gets too warm from your hands and doesn’t really hold it’s shape.  So, to be safe, I bought a box of butter cream frosting mix from Michael’s with a 40% off coupon and prayed it wouldn’t let me down.  (Next time I think I’ll just try and make it from scratch).  Luckily, it made just enough to cover all our cupcakes.  We already had a set of Wilton tips and piping bags from some earlier cake decorating fun and just used the tip that looks sort of like a star.

Frosting supplies.

Frosting supplies.

Once the frosting was piped, we sprinkled clear sprinkles on top of the big and mini cupcakes.  Then, we added chocolate snowflakes and Frozen pics to the tops of the big ones.  And, the mini ones were treated to some blue pearls.  They turned out pretty cute!  And, the best part is the kiddo had fun making them.

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Elsa cupcakes.  The one with the pearls was for the birthday girl.  She LOVES Elsa.

Elsa cupcakes. The one with the pearls was for the birthday girl. She LOVES Elsa.

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Kiddo decorated these all by herself!

More Cupcakes!

More Cupcakes!

Lots of craft posts lately.  More organizing posts to come!  I already have one ready to write on the fascinating topic of cleaning out your purse…

April Fools Fun–”Cupcakes”

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I saw this idea on Pinterest, and when my daughter asked what we were doing for April Fools day, I knew this was perfect.  As I’ve said in previous posts, my daughter is a cake decorating fanatic.  All you need to do is search Pinterst or Google and type in “April fools cupcake” and you will see a wide variety of options for this fun dinner item.

The cupcakes themselves are mini-meatloaves topped with mashed potato frosting.  The original picture I found had the potatoes dyed pink and purple–but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that.  So, we had plain old white “frosting.”  Kiddo was really surprised and thought it was a fun joke.  The only problem is that now, whenever I make meatloaf, I was told we need to make them the “fancy” way.  But she said not to worry, she will do the piping for me.

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One of the fancy “cupcakes.”

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I did have to transfer the meat loafs to new paper liners after they baked, because there was a pool of drippings in each cup. Next time I will just do them in the tins without liners.

 

Frozen Birthday Party Thank You Bags!

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My kiddo turns 6 this week, and we have been steadily working on all things birthday (well at least I have) for a little while.  I’ve tried to schedule everything out over about a 2 week time frame so I don’t lose my mind.  Plus, it’s not like I don’t have other things to do than plan a kid’s birthday party.  This year, the theme is Frozen.  It’s the thing right now, and my daughter is obsessed!  So, we are having friends over for a Frozen themed birthday party.  My daughter is also obsessed with baking and cake decorating–so we are doing our own.  Homemade and decorated cupcakes will be made later this week–and I will probably share a post on those next weekend.

This weekend, we worked on Thank You bags for her friends who attend the party.  My daughter LOVES Elsa, one of the sisters from the movie (in case you don’t have kids and/or live under a rock).  I found a lovely picture on Pinterest about making bags that look like Elsa’s dress.  So, about a month ago we hit up the craft supply store when everything was on sale, and the supplies have been waiting for us to have time to get them made.  Here is a picture of our inspiration piece.  I apologize to the original poster–there was not a link back from Pinterest.  (If you happen to stumble upon this and you made these super cute bags, let me know, and I will provide a proper link).

 

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We couldn’t find a package of just blue bags, but we did find some white ones and some great rolls of glittery blue stuff!  I grabbed my trusty glue gun (and had plenty of glue sticks on hand this time) and went to work.

 

These are the supplies we started out with.  Small canvas bags, spools of glittery blue, and felt snowflakes.

These are the supplies we started out with. Small canvas bags, spools of glittery blue, and felt snowflakes.

 

I went for a much simpler look than the inspiration photo.  I took two layers of the blue sparkly tulle and one strip of the blue sparkle ribbon and hot glued them to the tops of the bags.  I did not gather them or make pleats of any kind–mainly because I was going for what would be easiest.  I also decided to move the decoration to the tops of the bags, because I think the kids will be able to use them a little better without fear of tearing off the tulle.  To make them a little “cooler,” (see what I did there) I added the felt snowflakes as a detail near one of the straps on the front of the bag.  I also made a boy friendly version as we have a few gentlemen attending our party with just a large snowflake in the middle.  I am pretty pleased with how these turned out.  And, they only took about 1/2 an hour to make start to finish–including stuffing them with goodies.

The finished "Elsa" bag.  Simple, but fun.

The finished “Elsa” bag. Simple, but fun.

Kiddo stuffed the bags with a few goodies.  We put in small snack bags of snowman shaped marshmallows, a deck of cards (Go Fish, Crazy Eights, or OldMaid), and some cake shaped pull-apart erasers.  While I know some people think gift bags are a little overkill for kids parties, I like to think of them more as Thank You bags.  We will also be adding a little “thank you” message to each bag later in the week, which I will post here as soon as we have one done!

The finished bags and their goodies.

The finished bags and their goodies.

This was a fun project, and it really helps us look forward to the party next week!

Creativity Unleashed link party!

Pinterest Project–Egg Wreath!

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I was looking all over the place for something fun to put on our bathroom door for Easter.  Our guest bathroom that my daughter and I use for everyday gets lots of attention at the holidays, because we see it quite a bit.  I realized for the Easter season, we didn’t really have a fun door hanger like we did for the other holidays.  I checked out my usual suspects, Hobby Lobby and Michaels and couldn’t find anything I wanted–and to be fair nothing was on sale yet so the cheap side of me said “no.”  Instead, I planned to use a sort of cute place mat until I found something I liked.  Seriously, I did.  It was held up by a ribbon safety pinned to the back and LOADS of green painter tape.

Not terribly, but not great either.

Not terrible, but not great either.

I was surfing Pinterest one night and ran across the idea of taking cheap plastic eggs and some plastic basket grass and turning it into something super cute. Of course I can’t find the original posting I saw and my pin didn’t save properly, but here are a few of the tutorials I used and their wreaths.

Wreath Example 1

Here are some of the ones I found...

Here are some of the ones I found…

I was grabbing some Kleenex to take to work from a local discount grocery store (allergy season, ugh!) and stumbled upon 18 ct plastic mini eggs for $1 and cute sparkly plastic bows, 2 for $1.  I grabbed 4 packages of eggs and blue bows and completely forgot Easter grass.  Instead, I bought some from Michaels at more than I should have spent–$1.50 per bag.  Kiddo thought it would be cool if the grass was more than one color, so we took pink, purple, and green and mixed them together.  The total amount I spent was $10.50 pre taxes.  You will also need quite a few glue sticks.  Mine were on hand (not figured into the cost), but I used every last one of the 10 or so mini sticks I had hanging around (more on that later).

I am going to warn anyone who wants to take on this project that it will take you longer than you anticipate (I figured 30 min tops).  It took a little more than an hour to make my two wreaths.

Step 1: (after buying supplies) Make a back for your wreath.  I read you needed a sturdy piece of cardboard to glue the eggs to, and luckily we still had this box hanging around from months ago in the garage waiting to be broken down for recycling.  It was so sturdy that it took quite a while for my super (Pampered Chef) kitchen scissors to cut through the cardboard (regular scissors would not have worked).  I recommend using an blade knife if you have one to save time.  With mini eggs, I knew my wreath needed to be small, which fit fine for the bathroom door.  As a template for my circles, I used a large dinner plate and a bowl.  This size turned out perfect.  I wish I would have measured more the inches around the circle.  One of mine turned out a little narrower at the top than the bottom, but once all the stuff got on it, you can’t even tell.

The box and my circle tools.

The box and my circle tools.

Step 2:  Glue on the eggs using hot glue.  You will need an inside and outside row of eggs for the base of the wreath.  Affix them so the wide ends touch.  I tried to line them up in pairs to begin with, and it just didn’t work.  I needed fewer eggs on the inside circle than on the outside, so I just did my outside circle first and my inside circle second.  I’ve seen where people do blocks of color together (all the pink eggs in a row next to all the yellow eggs in a row).  I wanted it to look more random, so I did a repeating pattern on the outside circle and for the inside just tried to make sure colors weren’t right opposite each other.  As far as how much glue, I put a small amount on the back of the egg and stuck it down.  If I had more glue sticks on hand, I would have gone heavier with the glue.  We’ll see how well everything holds over time.

Step 3:  Round 1 of Easter grass.  I took a hand full of each color grass and mixed them together on the floor (unless you feel like vacuuming when you are done, I recommend doing this on a table or a sweepable floor surface).  Then I took a little bit, rolled it into a ball in my hand, squired a little glue in between the “bums,” then shove in your Easter grass.  Some tutorials recommend using a pencil with unused eraser to do so–which will probably save your hands if you use the actual “HOT” glue.  I use the “cool” hot glue, but it still hurts like the dickens if you get it on your finger tips.  When the middles are done, do the same around the edges.  Then trim off any hairy bits you don’t like.  Some of the inspiration photos have much longer grass left on them than I do–pick what you think looks best.

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In progress pictures.  After Steps 1-3.

In progress pictures. After Steps 1-3.

Step 4:  Add the next layer of eggs.  Take single eggs and put them all cattywampus on the space in between the egg ends.  This gives a bit of depth to you wreath.  Add grass to any places that look like they have major gaps.  (The grass adding sections is what took the most time!).  Trim as needed.  Then, add your bow!  I am not a great bow maker, so I tend to find ones I like and buy them.  Luckily, they had these cute plastic bows on the cheap that worked perfectly!  Here is the final product!  You can also attach a hanger to the back if you need it.  My wreath just fit on the command hook that hangs out here for other seasonal decor.

All done!  Fits great on the bathroom door.

All done! Fits great on the bathroom door.

Wreath #2!  We’re not done yet!  It was my intention to make an exact copy of this wreath for my mom as a surprise, but, I needed way more eggs than I realized for the first one.  I had a hand full of mini eggs, tons of grass, an extra bow, a wreath cut out ready and waiting, and a limited glue supply.  Now what?  I took a bunch of the grass and started gluing it in great tufts to the cutout.  After filling in some blank spaces, I trimmed it down.  Then, I added the bow and 1 of each of the mini eggs around the form.  I think it turned out much better than I anticipated, and I hope my mom likes it!  If you end up with extra supplies at the end of your wreath making project–here’s a way to put them to good use.

Wreath #2!

Wreath #2!

Step # 5:  VACUUM!  Seriously consider doing this somewhere other than carpet.  The static electricity made grass stick to our clothes and hands, so even the big pieces were a pain to clean up.

I am so glad these turned out well!  I wouldn’t say I had “fun” making them, but it was a fun challenge to tackle with a great end result.

p.s.  Random tip.  If you are almost finished with a project (say with 3 mini eggs to glue to a wreath), and your last glue stick is so far in the machine that you need another to push it through, but you’re completely out…don’t freak.  Take a pencil and put it eraser end into the glue gun.  Use it to push the glue out.  But, be careful.  It heats up the eraser and metal doohicky that holds the eraser on and covers them in glue.  This is only in case of emergency.  :)

Are there any cute DIY holiday projects you have tackled this year?  Any Pinterest wins to brag about?

Creativity Unleashed link party!

2014 Goals Update

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Hello Everyone!

It is now March, and I thought it was high time I wrote about my progress on my 2014 goals.  One of the ways I hope to keep up on my goals this year is to do semi-frequent evaluations.  I had hoped to do this once a month, but I chose other fun stuff to blog about instead.  So, without further ado, here is how I am doing on my 2014 goals!  In case you missed the first post and are interested, you can read it here, or just look at my goals sheet below.

My 2014 Goals List!

My 2014 Goals List!

1)  Family–  Don’t plan or overschedule.  This is a tough one for me.  I looked at our March and April calendars, and every weekend, we have something going on both days.  To be fair, it is birthday season in my house (my mom’s, daughter’s, and my birthday all fall within about a week of each other) and we have tons of stuff planned.  And, there is Easter.  Plus, I have a few work commitments that cropped up and took a bit of my weekend time.  But, overall, the things we have planned fit in with our goals.  More family and friend time with focus on FUN!  Traditions–we are continuing our Friday night movie/pizza night.  We’ve even started sampling from the wide variety of pizza joints in our area which has been pretty fun.  And, I am definitely trying to be more present–which goes hand in hand with one of my personal goals of less technology.  But, it is difficult sometimes to not feel rushed and to not get frustrated when things don’t go the way I think they should–though I think I am improving a little.  Hopefully things will get calmer with time.

2)  Personal–  Just say “no” to technology.  You can read about my desire and plan to go “Hands Free”, but to give more of an update it is going ok.  There are times when I definitely need reminding to step away from the distractions, but there are also times when I forget to check in with the technology that seems to drive our lives these days.  I know I haven’t frantically looked for my phone multiple times a day like I used to, because it is no longer glued to my hand at all times–which I consider a win.  I have also realized that the more down time I have, the more I want to pick up the phone or sit in front of the computer just to see what’s happening.  So, I just need to do a better job of filling my time with meaningful pursuits.  And, I have continued reading for both work and for fun.  And, listening to audiobooks during my commute everyday has been a great way to get in extra reading that I may not have time for at night.  Sometimes I do have to remind myself that the books can be just as big of a distraction as the electronics–so everything in moderation.  I did also take another free online course–but I wasn’t as happy with it as the last one.  I just felt rushed through the whole thing and like it was more of a chore than a fun learning experience, so I think I’ll wait until summer to try my next one.  And, I am happy to say that I finally went to visit my friend who only lives a few hours away.  I told her one of my goals was to see her in person this year, and I did!  And, it was so amazing.  Our little girls had a good time together and it was wonderful to reconnect on a level you can only really do in person.  And, I have the next mommy date planned with my local gal pals for a jewelry making class.  Thank you to Groupon and Living Social for providing opportunities for us to do something fun on the cheap.

3)  Writing.  My writing goals have been a bit hit or miss.  My professional writing has been on hold as some other professional items have come into play and while I wait for some ideas to come to fruition before I can write about them.  I also wanted to have the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo edited by April 1st.  I’m slowly getting there.  I have about 50 more pages to go on the first edit.  And, then I’ll need to do edit number 2.  We’ll see how far I get.  As for journaling, I have done a pretty good job with the journal I keep for my daughter, but I decided to drop the photo a day and one sentence journals.  It was just an added something I wasn’t really enjoying and felt more like work than play.  Maybe down the road I will try and pick it up again.  I think the photo a day thing this summer would actually be pretty fun.  Maybe kiddo and I can each take a photo a day of our summer vacation and compile an album at the end of the summer.  And, finally my blog!  I have posted faithfully every week (except for last week when I was on vacation visiting my pal) and plan to keep it up for as long as I have ideas.

4)  Organization–  I am going back and revisiting some past projects.  I’ve written about a few of those changes recently, and I plan to write about a few more as time goes by, because this organization thing is always a work in progress.  I am trying my best to maintain my organized areas and stick to our routines, and some days it is easier to do so than others.  Part of being “hands free” is to know when keeping things neat and organized needs to take a back seat to your family and friends–so there have been more times lately when the vacuuming doesn’t get done on schedule or the nightly pickup doesn’t happen for a few days.  So far no one has really noticed but me, and to be honest, it hasn’t bugged me as much as I thought it would.  My philosophy right now is that it will get done when it gets done.  Most of our main routines are still in place, and everything else can wait a day or two if needed.  I am still trying to tackle one larger project each month.  In January I tackled some unruly kitchen cabinets, in February we added some new storage to our living room, and I’ll hopefully have more news about March soon.

5)  Health–  This is my biggest problem area.  I have really struggled with this in the last few years.  I know what I need to do to be healthier, but my mind and body seem to rebel whenever I get the idea that changes need made.  Pretty much everything on my health list went out the window–either before or after I wrote my goals.  But, I am determined to be a healthier me.  I know this is important for my long term health and for my family.  I want to be the wife and mother my family deserves and needs–and that means taking the time to be healthier.  I hope to post some progress in this area soon!  I have a new way to track this goal and once I have had some time getting used to it, I’ll post an update.

6)  Professional–again not really interesting to anyone but me, but I am super excited about some changes and opportunities on the horizon.

And that’s about it.  I’m pretty much where I expected to be at this time of the year.  I knew there would be some goals I would be rocking and some that would have dropped off due to my over ambition–and some I really need to get after.  Hopefully when I post another update in a few months, I will have even more positive news on how I am doing with my goals and how they are influencing my life!

Kiddo Storage for a Grown up Space

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One of the things I write about frequently here , I think, is how our organization needs change over time and how that in turn changes the way we organize things in our home.  I would say the biggest area of change on a regular basis has to do with kiddo related items.  Sometimes the changes occur because she is growing up, and sometimes things happen because of changes we make in the house.  We actually made this switch a few weeks ago, but I am already completely in love with it.

One of the biggest changes occurred in our main living spaces.  We have a “living” room that you see as you enter through our front door and a “family” room a few steps down from there that is off of the entrance we use most–the garage.  Our house is not tiny, but it is also not spacious.  We do not have a playroom and not all of my daughter’s toys fit in her room–from a space stand point and a usage stand point as well.  Some toys are just used more often in our living spaces.  At one time, we had the items corralled in some slide out drawers, cubbies, and baskets that were semi hidden behind furniture in the living room.  This is what some of the storage looked like before…

Our kids game basket.  It's located in our living room sort of tucked away but still easy to access.

A basket of kids games–tucked to the far side of the couch.

Small drawer system for Lego pieces and a large bin to hold all of the vehicles and creations.  One black bin holds Lego instruction books and the other holds puzzles.  These are in our living room and easy to access during play time.

Above–these items were under a sofa table on the wall just near the front door.  The black boxes held Lego instruction books and puzzles.  The long box held already assembled Lego items and Below–the little drawers held Legos sorted by color/type.IMG_5289

Not too pretty, but not terrible.  Then, two things happened.  1)  We decided to retire the couch we’d had in two different apartments and that had lived in our family room.  We had restuffed it twice (yep you read that right) and it was on its lumpy last legs.  Plus, it didn’t really fit our family room space well (look for a post on our quick and easy family room turnaround soon).  The hubs suggested that a love seat would fit best in the space to go along with our recliner.  I said we should try the love seat from our living room set in the family room for a while just to see how we liked it (I’m a visual learner).  And, it has been there ever since.  The absence of the love seat in the living room gave us some more freedom with the arrangement of other furniture items in the living room.  I decided to move our sofa table to the wall where the love seat had been located because it looked a little bare and just rounded out the room nicely.  2)  The second thing that happened was Christmas–my daughter received some wonderful gifts that she wants to use quite a bit, but they added to the pile in the living room.

We were left with this…

This is what visitors to our house saw when they walked in the front door.  (the door is on a wall to the right of this one.)

This is what visitors to our house saw when they walked in the front door. (The door is on a wall to the right of this one.)

Not pretty at all.  Just a sad little pile on a very gray wall.  In my head I knew exactly what would be great in this space–a buffet, or credenza, or some sort of low storage option.  I wanted something that would hide the clutter, be easy for my daughter to access, and that didn’t break the bank.  I scoured a local furniture store’s website–but after an in person trip, I was disappointed.  Everything that might work had a $500+ price tag.  I contemplated using Craig’s list for the first time, and I missed out on 2 great pieces that had already been snatched up.  I looked online to see what else was out there that I could possibly ship or buy in some other retail store.  (And, sadly, we do not have an Ikea in driving distance!).  I was even willing to refinish a piece of furniture if need be, but I couldn’t find any viable options.  Finally, we made another trip to the furniture store to pick up some DVD storage items and look at desks…when we stumbled upon a piece that was pretty close to perfect.  It was even on sale.  It was  a little more than I wanted to spend, but not too much beyond my budget, so we snapped it up.  We had to assemble the thing, which helped with the cost.  It took me about 3 hours!, but I think it is well worth it.  Here is the after…

Voila!

Voila!

We rearranged some items on the wall to fit better with this piece, and my husband found the pretty metal leaf item on clearance at Target (it blends well with two other metal leaf wall item in this room).  This piece of furniture was pretty great, because it has both doors and drawers–and the panels in the doors can be changed out for glass sometime down the road if we’d like.  I went with the solid wood fronts, since the whole point was to hide the clutter.  Now all of my daughter’s things fit nicely in this one space and we no longer look like we’re having a yard sale in our living room.  Here’s a peek inside.

All our kiddo board games.

All our kiddo board games.

All the Lego instruction manuals and sorted bins fit in here.  The white bin is the hospital--for creations in need of repair.  And, creationary should not normally be stored on its side--everything falls out of the spaces, but a little press and seal cling wrap did the trick.

All the Lego instruction manuals and sorted bins fit in here. The white bin is the hospital–for creations in need of repair. And, creationary should not normally be stored on its side–everything falls out of the spaces, but a little press and seal cling wrap did the trick.

The two bottom drawers hold already built Legos and the top is home to puzzles, rainbow loom, lite brite, etc.

The two bottom drawers hold already built Legos and the top is home to puzzles, rainbow loom, lite brite, etc.

I LOVE this space now.  Our living room feels like a grown up space, but it is kid friendly as well. And, we know that this piece of furniture can transform into other things down the road as our needs change–a true sideboard, a tv stand, etc.  I am very, very happy when I walk in this room now.  Plus, we now have a little more surface space to spread out some of our decor items.  One concern my husband did have after we bought it is that the cabinet is more of a black wood color and the rest of our furniture is cherry.  But, we sort of have that same blending repeated throughout our house (family room, guest room/mom’s office, master bedroom), and I think since it is on a separate wall it works just fine.

Have you ever spent months searching for the right “something” for your home?  Where did you finally find it?

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Kitchen Helpers

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Meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking take up a pretty serious chunk of time every week.  To make things a little less hectic and a little more enjoyable, I have a few helpers around the kitchen that keep everything running smoothly and to take up less time.

First, I do meal plan.  I try to plan at least 2 weeks at a time (and this dictates my grocery list).  Read more about that process here.  But, I also try and post those meal plans in the kitchen so I know what’s coming up each day and can make sure everything is ready when I get home from work to rock and roll.  I found I have saved at least 1/2 an hour each night by prepping ahead of time.  I used to have a fridge sticker with days of the week from the Martha Steward line at Staples to post our meal plan, but over time, it got to looking a little gunky and I decided to retire it in favor of something a little prettier.  I took a free printable from online and adjusted it to fit my needs.  Then, I put it inside a frame and attached a dry erase marker at the top with a velcro dot.  This little guy is on a very narrow piece of wall next to our pantry.  I like it’s placement because it cuts down on the fridge clutter and is right next to where a bunch of our meal supplies already live.  Now, I can keep track of our meals for two weeks in style!  I also love that I can erase things and move them around, because if your life is anything like mine, sometimes we have to alter plans.  I already know we have all the ingredients for everything on our chart, so making adjustments is no big deal.

Sorry for the glare!

Sorry for the glare!

There are also some very awesome products that help the cooking process go much smoother in our house.  I’ve used each of these for over a year and LOVE them!  I used to prep vegetables for our dorm in college, and I learned very early on that I am not really a big fan of cutting certain ones.  So, I was super excited to discover these two sweet items.

1)  Frozen Chopped Onions.  You don’t have to have fresh onions on hand OR have to chop them into tiny pieces.  Need I say more?

There are other brands out there that are just as good, and we pick up whatever the grocery store we are visiting happens to keep in stock.

2)  Already Minced Garlic in a Squeeze Bottle.  I LOVE this stuff, because I use garlic a ton in my recipes.  I love that I can just grab and go with out having to have fresh garlic or a garlic press (which I have never owned) on hand.

This is the brand I use, but I am sure others are just as good. I know this company also offers an organic version if that suits your needs better.

Is there anything you use to make meal planning and prep easier around your house?

Attempting to Live Hands Free

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One of my life goals has been to be more present.  I want to be able to experience my life and not just rush through from one activity to another without every really feeling joy–and I don’t want my daughter to live that way either.  But, sometimes it is really, really hard not to be that way in today’s world.  There is a constant pressure to be and do everything, whether it is extra curricular activities, volunteer or work commitments, keeping a clean home at all times, etc.  There is a lot of pressure to be SUPER mom.  And, I freely admit that is pressure I put on myself without really realizing it.  My whole life I have been a perfectionist–even as a little kid.  There are definitely advantages to wanting things, all things, done well all of the time, but there are also huge drawbacks.  The pressure to be everything to everyone all of the time takes its toll.  And, the end result is that you are so focused on what is to come that you don’t really enjoy what is presently happening, and then you regret being there but at the same time missing out on parts of life you will never get back.

I stumbled upon some articles written by Rachel Macy Stafford about being a Hands Free Mama and how she came to realize her life needed a transformation–to be more present with her daughters.  At the bottom of the article they mentioned she had a book coming out in early 2014.  Hands Free Mama:  A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters.  The title spoke to me on so many levels.  I immediately jumped on my public library website and put myself on the hold list.  When the book came up as ready to pick up, I was excited to see what she had to say.  I expected most of the book to be about how technology is taking over our lives and ruining our personal relationships, but I was happy to find out I was wrong.

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Sometimes it feels like our phones, tablets, etc. are ruling our lives and causing a disconnect when face to face with friends, family, or colleagues.  Other people feel this way–if two commercials I saw almost back to back show us anything about lives in America.  A man is trying to give his wife a diamond necklace and she won’t get off her phone–in fact everyone around them is on their phone instead of interacting with the people in front of them.  It takes him opening the jewelry box under her nose for her to acknowledge him.  The other commercial showed three people getting into a car, eyes glued to their phones, not communicating–until the driver (not on his phone) revs the engine and knocks them out of their stupor long enough to decide where to eat for lunch.  But, should it require diamond necklaces and fancy car engines to make us realize we need to disengage from the device and interact with the world around us?  Of course not.

Hands Free Mama is a little bit about how technology affects our relationships, but also so much more.  It is really about how we can spread ourselves too thin and end up focusing on the things we feel we “need” to do instead of the people in our lives that we love.  Stafford came to this realization while jogging and the weight of her life slammed into her knocking her to the ground.  She realized her girls were growing up, and she was missing it.  Her focus was on so many places at once that she wasn’t focusing on the relationships in her life the way she should…the way she wanted.  So, she set out on a journey to eliminate the distractions from her life so she could spend more time on what really mattered to her.  The chapters in her book read like a reminder board of how to begin your journey to live hands free.  Each starts with a main title like Acknowledge the Cost of Your Distraction, have a one word subtitle like Serenity or Clarity, and a quote related to the topic at hand.

If you really want to know what each of them are, I highly suggest you get your hands on this book.  It is a fast paced read that will really make you stop and think.

I found this little plaque at Gordman's and thought it was so appropriate for this blog post!

I found this little plaque at Gordman’s pre-Valentine’s day and thought it was so appropriate for this blog post!

My biggest takeaways from this book have been not just been simple acts like not looking at my phone as often, but more about a shift of mind.  I found that many of the items Stafford wrote about also pop up in Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project book.  And, both books spoke to me in similar ways.  Here are my top ten takeaways from Hands Free Mama…

1)  Acknowledge the cost of your distraction.  What is the cost of your distracted life?  What are you missing out on by focusing more on your electronics or to-do list than the people you love most.  Are you missing a valuable conversation, experience, or connection with your child or spouse?

2)  Identify your distractions.  This was something that came up at the beginning of the book–and about half way through.  I thought going back to this part way through her process was brilliant, because what you think is or isn’t a distraction in the beginning could be completely off base.

My identified distractions:  professional commitments outside of my normal job; the  need to check all of my emails and social media accounts very, very frequently; reading (this is a tough one, because it is a huge part of who I am, but I know it can be a distraction in a bad way at times); and finally my to-do lists.  I still very much like my to-do lists and daily/weekly/monthly schedules, but I am approaching them in a much healthier way–more on that later.

3)  Make purposeful connections with people.  When you are en route somewhere, waiting for an appointment, waiting for your food to arrive at a restaurant or a movie to begin, put down the device and take that opportunity to connect with the people around you.  (We went to breakfast with my dad last week, and I didn’t look at my phone once during the entire meal.  That little accomplishment made me happy, but at the same time a little sad that I considered it an accomplishment).

4)  Engage in household tasks together.  I got in the habit of doing household chores before my daughter woke up or after my daughter was asleep.  I thought it would be easier and we could spend more time together. And, not surprisingly, I have been failing miserably in getting my swing day/weekend cleaning goals done (deep clean kitchen, clean tub/shower, etc.).  I am too tired or busy trying to get something else done while she is asleep that many times it just gets shoved out of the way.  Instead of trying to do it all on my own without her seeing (or worse yet while she is zoned out in front of a show), I need to involve my daughter in the process.  She is old enough to help now with pretty much everything–AND she wants to!  Getting her involved in cooking dinner, prepping lunches, cleaning up the house–doing it together–gives us time and connection we wouldn’t have otherwise.  And, it sets her on the way to learn skills she will need as a fully functional adult.

5)  Start family traditions and a daily hands free ritual.    We have long done a Friday night pizza and movie night, but there were times I fell asleep during the movie or spent the time surfing Pinterest instead of really engaging in the show with my daughter.  Since reading the book, I have actively experienced the movie with her–we cuddle up on the couch under a blanket or two and talk about what we think will happen next.  Our daily hands free ritual has also been around for a few years, but I am much more consistent with it now.  As my daughter winds down for bed, we read a book, and then I crawl into bed with her and give her a cuddle or rub her back as we listen to the “sleep” cd her dad made her.  I have not missed one night time cuddle in two weeks–which might be a record.  I always had some pressing issue calling me away like dirty dishes or an email I just had to respond to at that moment that seemed more important.  What I realized (and really already knew) is that the traditions and rituals are precious.  I am so grateful that she still wants to cuddle with me; sometime in the not too distant future, she won’t.  I want to take every advantage of it and a million other moments while I can and really be present so we can both enjoy and appreciate them.

6)  Without fail, give proper goodbyes and enthusiastic hellos (this was also mentioned by Rubin).  Be sure to give affection to your loved ones when you greet each other after an absence (no matter how short) or when you are bidding each other farewell (every single time).

7)  Identify your roadblocks to living hands free.  For me, not getting enough sleep is a major factor.  When I am tired, I am much more likely to respond crabbily to stress or difficult attitudes.  I also know that I get flustered easily when things don’t go as I had mentally planned them out in my head so we stay on schedule.  These are things I need to address by making sure I get to sleep on time and letting go of some of the regimented scheduler syndrome.  If we are a few minutes late, it’s better than arriving cranky and blowing any chance of enjoying what we are doing.

8)  Envision your future relationships.  What you do now will dictate how your future relationships will be.  Do you want to be connected to your children or your spouse twenty years from now?  If so, you need to start building that foundation now.

9)  Let go of perfection.  So, maybe you don’t get your makeup done before taking your daughter to her Saturday morning class.  Did anyone care or even notice?  Nope.  This goes for your personal self as well as your environment.  By no means am I saying you should live like a slob, but if the bathroom doesn’t get cleaned on bathroom day or the day after, the world will continue to rotate on its axis.  AND, don’t force your perfectionist attitude on your kids.  Allow them to fail.  Praise their attempts and not giving up attitude.  This shows our kids perseverance is more important than perfection–something that will suit them better in the long run.

10)  Don’t beat yourself up for what happened in the past of minor slips here and there.  You can’t undo the past, but you can make a conscious choice to be different in the future.  And, every once in a while, you will become distracted.  Acknowledge that it happened, examined why it happened, and move on.  These feelings of guilt or remorse–and the need to be perfectly hands free–can also distract you from what matters most.

Funny, and very true. Have you ever walked into a room and completely forgotten why you entered because something in there distracted you? Do you ever feel like relationships in your life are this way too? Chances are you are living at least a semi-distracted life.

In addition to some of the practices mentioned above, in the last few weeks I have taken the following steps to live less distracted:

I plug my phone into one of the two chargers in our house and leave it there.  I try really hard to only check it twice a night–once right when I get home and once right after my daughter goes to bed.  I have also tried very hard to keep the phone in my purse when we are out and about as a or with family or friends and when it’s just the hubby and me.  Instead, I have focused on the people around me.  Really looked at and listened to them.  The “I love you more than my phone” sign could seem a bit silly, but it is also so true.  By making sure my phone is not a distraction, I am telling my family I love them more than whatever is going on in the cyber-verse.

I silenced the email alert on my phone.  (Duh!)  I didn’t even realize that whenever I heard that little chime, I reacted like Pavlov’s dog until Stafford mentioned it.  With a little reflection, I became aware that I would automatically reach for my phone to check and see if some important email had come through on one of my several non work accounts whenever my email alert would sound.  Usually, nothing earth shattering was needing my attention, but I kept checking it anyway.  Without the alert, I have almost forgotten to check those accounts during the day.

I have loosed up on some of the cleaning “rules” and routines.  If something isn’t done on its scheduled day, I don’t stress about it.  I know it will get done soon.  Putting off vacuuming for a couple of days won’t hurt anyone.

I am trying really hard not to be so rushed in everything I do.  I don’t want to feel rushed or rush my daughter all of the time.  This will probably be my biggest hurdle.  The first step will be to not over schedule ourselves.  Still working on that, but I know it is a problem and know it will be a work in progress–much like this whole process will be.

I think the biggest thing is just being aware.  Knowing that you are living a distracted (or semi-distracted life) and realizing you have the capacity to change that type of existence, starting now, is incredibly powerful.  If I want to be more present…then I need to take steps to be more present.  If I don’t want to continue feeling like life is flying by and that I am missing the joy in the little AND the big moments in my life, then I have to take charge and make the pledge to live a hands free, less distracted life.

Has anyone else read this book?  Does anyone else feel like they live their life somewhat distracted from what really matters to them?

Kitchen Cabinet Organization Makeover

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One thing I have learned about organization is that it is never really “done.”  You can spend some time figuring out what you think is a great system for organizing an area of your home or your life, and it works great for a period of time–until it doesn’t.  Or, maybe parts of your plan still work really well, but something is throwing a wrench in the works, and you need to re-evaluate.  Or, your kids get a little older and needs change.  Whatever the cause, I have learned that even when a project feels “done,” it may not stay that way forever.

This became very apparent when I took some time to think about why I was frustrated about the state of my kitchen cabinets.  I took a chunk of time over a year ago to go through and purge, rearrange, and organized my kitchen.  I set up an organization system in my pantry that is still working pretty well today, though I did make a little adjustment by moving some of my daughter’s things to a rolling cart in the kitchen.  But, my kitchen cupboards were giving me a bit of grief.  Specifically two cupboards in particular– one the bottom row and one on the top.

The bottom cabinet is a very oddly shaped and somewhat difficult to use cabinet.  It has a standard sized door, but the depth of cupboard actually reaches back a significant distance (my arm doesn’t reach the back wall-even if I stick my head inside).  This means that there is a ton of storage in here, but not all of it is easily accessible.  Our pots and pans are stored in the drawer under our stove, and this cabinet was home to some electric cooking appliances we used all the time like our crock pot and George Foreman grill and others we didn’t use frequently like our stand mixer and a waffle iron.  I also stored our glass bakeware in here among other things.  Giant pain in the neck and sometimes hands when trying to maneuver things out of and into this cabinet.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

The top cabinet houses mostly cooking related items like spices and mixing bowls, but it is also home to many of our medicines and first aid items (I read keeping them in a steamy bathroom can cause issues with potency, and it is very convenient for us to have them on this floor of our house).  But this cabinet didn’t really function the way it should either.  There were items in here that didn’t make sense, I had trouble getting to things I did use all of the time, and it looked like a big old mess.

Whole lot of randomness going on in here.

Whole lot of randomness going on in here.  Do you see the things toppling over?  Ugh!

What to do?  I followed most of my Top 7 Organizing Tips without even realizing it–which shows why they are my top 7!  I pulled everything out of the cabinets in question.  I purged a little more and evaluated what was left behind.  What did I use all of the time?  What needed to be easily accessible?  How can I make the most out of the space I have in front of me?  After some reflection, I realized I needed to throw another cabinet into the mix.  We had one cabinet on the lower level that I had decided to use as a kiddo cabinet.  I learned about this practice from Jen over at I Heart Organizing.  By making a dedicated space for my daughter’s items, she could get her own cups, plates, bowls, etc.  I didn’t want to lose that option for her, but I also knew the cabinet wasn’t living up to its potential.  So, I pulled everything out of that cabinet too.

The now former kiddo cabinet...

The now former kiddo cabinet…  And other random stuff.

I had a blank slate of 3 empty cabinets (and one very cluttered floor).  Now came the chance to put everything back in a very thoughtful way so that I didn’t end up with jumbles and frustration once again.  From what I have read and what I have personally experienced, what I needed to do was choose a specific “job” for each cabinet space.  For example, my upper cabinet was now only going to hold only cooking related items (and our two small medicine baskets).  I also wanted to make it easy to use the items in this cupboard–meaning I wanted to be able to pull out items I used all of the time without having everything else fall over.  Some of the more awkward items needed corralled with baskets.  We happened to make a Target run while I was working on this project, and I picked up a few items to help.  The white and teal baskets came from the home section of the store, and what looks like a shorter version of a magazine holder (these are my new favorite organizing tool!) and the chalkboard tags came from the Dollar Spot.  The baskets may not exactly match each other (which doesn’t really bother me, because every color has its own purpose), and I think the similar labels give everything a cohesiveness.

This is my favorite!  Love the baskets and labels!!

This is my favorite! Love the baskets and labels!!  I even moved some of my frequent cooking items like quick oats and bread crumbs from a bin in the pantry to here for easier access.

The kiddo cabinet items were moved over to a very deep drawer right next to the cabinet where her items used to live.  Everything fits in here nicely except two of her larger, segmented plates (which were moved to to the new large “storage cabinet”).  As she is now older and uses more of our regular “breakable” dishes, we didn’t need as many plastic ones as before and could downsize on the space dedicated to her things.  The former kiddo cabinet is now home to my “cooking essentials”–the things I use daily or weekly–crock pot, grill, and baking dishes.  This has worked so much easier.  I can reach all of them without fear of things falling or having to sort through other stuff to get to them.

The kiddo drawer...

The kiddo drawer…

Cooking essentials cabinet...

Cooking essentials cabinet…

Finally, the looooonnnngggg  cabinet has become a “storage” cabinet.  It houses things that we use semi-occasionally like the stand mixer, water kettle, vases, plastic pitchers, etc.  Items used a bit more frequently are at the front, the not so much but use them enough to not purge ones are at the back.  This is a much better use of this space–and I was actually able to fit more in here.  It still looks messy, but everything has a dedicated space, and being pretty isn’t really necessary here.

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We have lived with the new cabinet arrangement for about a month now, and I am really happy with the way everything is working so far.  We’ve had a few times where kiddo and I go to her former cabinet looking for a cup, but that has been the only hiccup and it is getting less and less all the time.  I am so glad I took the time to make our kitchen work better.  It has definitely helped with frustration during meal time prep and when putting items away.  All in all a couple of hours over winter break well spent.

Are there areas of your house that just aren’t working for you?  What have you done to make them less frustrating?

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