Wednesday, November 18, 2009

19 Tips for Zen-Like Holiday Travel

The holiday travel daze is just around the corner! I get a little twitchy just thinking about all the packing, cleaning, sorting, planning, buying, wrapping in my near future! Here are a few family-friendly tips for creating some mellowness in your life over the next few weeks:

1. Give yourself 2-3 days to pack. Don’t wait until the night before the trip (or the morning of – you know who you are!) It always takes longer than you think. A stressed out mom and forgotten essentials are definitely not a good way to start a trip!

2. Create a packing list for each family member. You can get as fancy as an Excel spreadsheet or use a piece of notebook paper. The important thing is to get down in writing each family member’s travel needs. Think about the weather at your destination and what sorts of activities you’ll be doing. Make copies of each list for future trips. Don’t forget phone, computer, camera and game chargers!

3. Pack self-contained, complete sets of clothing for each child. You can use gallon size zip-lock bags (use a Sharpie to put the child’s name on it) or even reuse plastic grocery bags for this purpose. Older kids can help and often love the process of putting together outfits for each day of the trip. Don’t forget to include socks, undies, hair clips and any other accessories. Once you are at your destination, it’s easy to just grab each kids’ bag ‘o clothes for the day! Bonus: You can use the bags for dirty clothes on the back end of your trip.

4. Pack absolute essentials in your carry on bag or purse in case your luggage gets lost or delayed. Medications, lovies, toothbrushes, change of clothes (or at least a fresh pair of underwear!), contact lens solution, etc.

5. Don’t wrap gifts if you are flying! Pack wrapping paper or gift bags in your suitcase to wrap gifts upon arrival at your destination. There’s nothing worse than seeing a grown woman cry as the TSA guy is destroying her beautiful wrap jobs. Also, pack one suitcase with gifts to be given and you can use it on your return trip for gifts you and yours received.

6. Make copies of passports, credit cards, trip itineraries with confirmation numbers (e-tickets), drivers’ licenses and other important documents, and leave with a trusted friend or family member back home. You will thank me for this when you leave your wallet sitting on the bathroom counter at Chicago O’Hare.

7. Make arrangements for pet and house sitters well in advance. Kennels fill up around the holidays. Friends and neighbors who usually help you out might be traveling themselves. Keep a form letter about all of Fido and Fifi’s habits and needs so you can just print it out for the pet sitter each time you travel.

8. Weigh your bags at home to avoid costly surplus weight baggage charges at the airport. Remember, each traveler, no matter their age, is allowed a certain number of checked and carry on bags. Your two year old is entitled to a carry on bag and a checked bag.

9. Pick a color to coordinate your clothes for the entire trip. My trips tend to be either “brown” trips or “black” trips. It really cuts down on the shoes you need to pack and it just makes packing a lot more streamlined and, frankly, mindless.

10. Keep your toiletry bag pre-packed at all times so you don’t even have to think about what you need to take. I admit I worship at the wall of travel-size stuff at Target. You literally can get any toiletry item you really need in a travel size. You may not find your luscious, extra special eye makeup remover, but, I promise, those little Dove wipes will do in a vacation pinch! Or if you must have your special creams and stuff, stock up on the little plastic travel containers and fill them with the goods.

11. Leave your home reasonably clean. Well, OK, how about just reasonably tidy. Ahhhh. Doesn’t it feel good to come home to a clean house? Also, unplug (don’t just turn off) the “vampire” appliances throughout your house: computers, printers, microwaves, TVs, etc. These are the items that suck the electricity even when turned off. Consider it your own little carbon offset while you drive or fly across the country!

12. It took three or four years but John is now a convert to my “roll your clothes” process for packing a suitcase. I swear it seems like you can pack twice as much in a suitcase by neatly rolling your clothing rather than folding them. It also helps keep wrinkles to a bare minimum. Go ahead, try it.

13. Back up your faith in your GPS with a real map (you know that paper thing that has all the squiggly lines on it?) or MapQuest printed directions. You just never know.

14. Pack a small hostess gift from your hometown so you won’t be running around trying to find something special the last day of your trip.

15. If traveling by car, pack activities and toys in a soft bin on the seat (or between the seats if you have captain’s chairs) so kids can access items themselves. You’ll save your shoulder joints from the constant, ergonomically-incorrect reaching back!

16. Oldie but goodie: Collect a few new books, toys, games and/or DVDs for the road or plane. There’s nothing that says 10 minutes of peace and quiet for mom and dad like a new goodie. And for God’s sake, don’t forget to pack spare batteries for that Game Boy or DS or whatever it is that mesmerizes your child!

17. If you travel by plane a lot, consider investing in a second, lighter weight carseat for travel. We schlepped around a bulky, heavy-as-a-bag-of-rocks car seat until I saw the light.

18. Wear your bulkiest shoes or boots on the plane to free up space in your luggage. Yes, you’ll have to remove them for the security line but it’s better than them taking up a third of your suitcase space!

19. If you are staying with friends or family members, do a quick run through the house each day and collect all your stuff. This will ensure that you at least start each day with your belongings intact. It’ll make your last day pack up much easier as well. Bring a copy of your packing list to use as a checklist for your return packing.

The holidays can be hard enough on you and your loved ones. Travel stress, extended family issues, unrealistic expectations, excessive eating and drinking – all can take their toll. At least give yourself and your family a solid head start toward a calmer and more relaxing holiday by having a good travel plan. Ooohhhhmmmm.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fall in love with your closet

I’ve been helping clients with closets all week! I do love me a good closet re-do mainly because I know it will make a lasting, positive difference every day for the closet owner. Our closet is one of the few places in our homes we utilize, without fail, on a daily basis. It can be a source of headache-inducing chaos. Or, properly organized, our closet can be a source of relaxing calm before we charge out the door to meet the storms of our too-busy days.

Fall is a great time to organize your closet. Don’t forget to use the S.P.A.C.E. process from Julie Morgenstern: Sort, Purge, Assign a Home, Containerize, and Equalize. You won’t know you need to purge white blouses until you realize through sorting that you have eight of them! Likewise, you won’t know how much space you need for said white blouses until you have purged the ones you don’t want to keep and so on.

The other essential tip for closet organizing – this is going to sound painful but you can do it – is to remove everything from your closet before you begin your sorting process. Otherwise, you will find yourself simply flipping through hangers, taking out an item here and there, and not really making much headway in your S.P.A.C.E. process. Yes, your bedroom will look like a clothing explosion during the process but it’s really the best way to do the work necessary to get your closet in shape!

OK now, get out your calendar and make a date with your closet. Trust me, you’ll fall in love with your organized closet and wonder how you ever lived without it!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Perfectionism be gone!

It's been bugging me that I haven't found the time to post in awhile. I heard recently that you don't "find" time, you have to "make" the time to do things that are important to you. So, I'm making time here this afternoon. John and Mimi are having a super full Daddy-Daughter Day. They went out canvassing this morning, doing their part for the tight Virginia governor's race. Then to their fave pre-movie dining spot, T.G.I.Friday's. And finally, where they sit at this very moment, the 3-D, double-feature Toy Story and Toy Story 2. I'm sure Mimi is loving life. John, not so much.

I just ran across a note I had scribbled which is actually what inspired me to write this post. It reads:

Let go of perfectionism. It will stall you out. It's OK to be good enough.

Wow! I wish I could remember where I saw this so I could give proper credit; however, I am letting go of perfectionism (MUST find out who said this before I include it in a post) and sharing someone's very wise words with you.

I don't consider myself a perfectionist although I sometimes put off doing something if I can't do it "just so" right then! Perfectionism is sometimes at the root of disorganization. Counterintuitive, huh? You would think that a perfectionist would be uber-organized, right? But sometimes perfectionism manifests itself as "If I can't organize my closet perfectly, I will not organize it at all!"

Let go of the notion that you or your house or your children or your car or your office has to be perfect. It really is OK to be good enough.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ready, Set, Go!

I've got an end-of-summer decluttering buzz going on! There is something about the beginning of the school year that feels very New Years-ish to me! Here are a few easy tips to help get you going on those tasks around the house you've been putting off during these busy summer months:

1. Set a timer for 30 minutes and play beat the clock. Focus on one room, one closet or just a general swoop around the house. When the time goes off, that's it! Pat yourself on the back for accomplishing something.

2. Turn on your favorite music. It's amazing how much zippier I feel when I've got some old B-52s or No Doubt blaring throughout the house! Time really does fly when you're listening to whatever music inspires you.

3. Reward yourself. Promise yourself a bubble bath, a pedicure, a glass of wine in the hammock -- something you really love -- whenever you complete a task you've been dreading. Whether it's cleaning out a closet, a junk drawer or a filing cabinet, the prospect of a sweet reward at the end of the job will often get you to plow through.

Go on now. Have a little fun getting something done.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Life. Love. Not so much organizing!

Well, long time, no post! Our summer started out with a bang. Mimi was sick the last week of school. Turns out she had a perforated (ruptured) appendix which was taken out June 20. We were home from the hospital Friday night the 26th after a week of IV antibiotics. Oy, what a scary, stressful few weeks! All is good now. My sanity-savers, a.k.a. my parents, came up from Texas for two weeks to help out.

Child health tip of the day: You know your child best. Don't hesitate to be "that annoying, pushy parent" who insists on further action in the doctor's office or ER. We didn't and I've finally stopped beating myself up for not "catching" that Mimi was seriously ill. Kids perforate about half the time because their appendicitis doesn't always present in the classical way.

Anyhoo, now for an organizing tip for the day:

It's not too early to start sorting out school clothes to see where your kids stand in the clothing department! We've got about a month to go in our house but I'll feel better once we have Mimi's clothes sorted out to see what we are lacking. We picked out and ordered her backpack and school shoes this morning on Next, we'll go through her fall clothes from last year and see what's still wearable (at her age, not much!). Bundle up the too-small-stuff and take them to our favorite donation site, then make a list of what we need and do a little shopping.

The last weeks of summer tend to produce a frenzy of activity to get everything fun done before school starts. So make a date with your kids and their closets. Ahh, won't it be nice to cross that off your to-do list!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Underwear? Check!

The countdown 'til the last day of school has finally entered the very low single digits! I have to admit that I'm just as excited as Mimi is about the beginning of summer. Spending lazy hours at the pool and in the garden, sleeping in a little bit later, cooking on the grill, what's not to like?!

Vacation time also means, surprise, list time for me. My brother-in-law has made fun of me for years about my proclivity for making lists. I just love them and really can't function without them. Even though I use Microsoft Outlook religiously for my calendar, address book and, of course, email, the “Task” function has never lit my fire. I think I just need the added tactile buzz of putting pen or pencil to paper. And more than anything, I love to cross off a finished task!

A few months ago I made a packing spreadsheet for John. He travels quite a bit, mostly overseas. I really got tired of seeing $100 airport ties on our debit card not to mention funky, foreign underwear! And I was always sure that one day I'd get a frantic phone call summoning me to Dulles with his forgotten passport – although, to be fair, he’s never forgotten his passport. Yet. He keeps his spreadsheet in his nightstand drawer. Enabling? Yes. But it works and makes both of us happy.

Take a quiet moment with your pencil and pad (or laptop) and make a vacation packing checklist for each member of your family. There are many online list sites to help jog your memory. I really like the reasonably priced subscription-based List PlanIt ( Jennifer is a super nice mom I met on the airport shuttle in Orlando after the NAPO conference. She is a self-described "List Mama", a woman after my own heart!

With your lists in hand, you'll be so happy you didn't get down the road without Mr. Snuggles or blankee or paci. And that you, your kids or hubby don't have to run into the CVS to buy underwear!

What’s the most important thing you’ve ever left home without?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


We had a great time “car camping” at Bull Run Park last Friday. Yes, the Friday of the torrential thunderstorms. Luckily, the storms stopped as we were pulling into our campsite so we quickly put up our tent and picnic canopy. As the next wave of rain came, we were cozily ensconced under the canopy, snacking away, enjoying our friends, and keeping (relatively) dry.

Since camping season is upon us, I’ve been thinking about organizing camping gear. Especially if you’re facing a rainy set-up, you want the most essential things packed close-at-hand. You also don’t want to finally find the salt and pepper just as you are packing up to leave!

Here are a few tips for family-style gear organizing as well as a few other tips to make your camping trips fun and relaxing!

Always keep in mind when you will need something and how quickly you will need it. These two things will drive your packing and unpacking process.

Pack your “arrival” stuff last and unpack it first. This includes your tent and rain cover, picnic table tarp or canopy and a mallet. John, Jen and Tom were making fun of my mallet obsession but it’s a very important tool! Seriously. Also, keep your raingear all together in one mesh bag in case you are setting up in the rain.

Once you have your tent set up you can unload the rest of your car. Don’t worry, the kids will find plenty to do while you are unloading the car. Mimi, Thomas and Jack were fascinated with the multiple (large) puddles of water around our campsite. They floated leaves, built bridges, stomped and splashed, and generally had a big time. With nary a mention of Noggin, Gameboy or Ah, it was so ‘70s!

You’ll see that I use the large, clear Sterilite bins for most of our things. They keep things dry and bug-free!

Divvy up the unpacking chores and get all your clothes and kitchen stuff out now. It’s a good idea to create a “day bag” for each family member and pack them all in a large bin or duffle bag. Each day bag could be a backpack or just a large beach bag. Include extra outerwear (sweater, windbreaker, etc.), swimsuit, towel, sun hat, sunglasses, medications, water bottle, bug spray and other personal odds and ends. Make sure each child has their own flashlight unless you want to spend your time as the flashlight referee!

Try packing complete sets of each child’s clothing in plastic grocery bags. They can just grab a bag of clothes in the morning and get dressed. The grocery bags can then serve as dirty clothes bags in the evening. For babies or toddlers, you could use large Ziploc bags. Don’t forget your own sets of clothing! You can keep all clothing bags in one suitcase, duffle bag or large plastic bin.

All the kitchen stuff goes into one bin including cutlery, plates/bowls, mugs, pots, tablecloth/clips, pot holders, paper towels, trash bags, spices, dish scrubby, dish soap, tea, coffee, condiments, etc. Don’t put your stove fuel in here or all your stuff will smell like gas!

Next comes the cooler. Or should I say coolers. We keep a large one for food items and a smaller one for beverages.

Unless you are arriving at night, you can pack your “night stuff” first and unload it last. This would include pajamas, flashlights, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and toiletries.

Couple of pre- and post-planning ideas:

Get the whole family involved in creating check lists. It gets everyone excited and filled with anticipation about the camping trip. has a lot of great information for family camping including checklists. I will say that it’s fun to listen to your kids come up with their own checklist items!

Write down menus for each meal so you don’t forget to pack an important ingredient. If you are camping with friends, coordinate meals and food purchases.

Take notes after each trip. It seems like there is always something we wish we had brought. Like tongs to turn the sausages.

Tape a list of all the contents of your kitchen bin on the underside of the lid so you’ll remember what’s inside. I found my dishwashing liquid after Jen and I had used shampoo to wash our supper plates!

We’d like to push our camping boundaries a bit next time and hit Shenandoah National Park.

Where is your favorite camping site?

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Garage Whisperer

Oh gorgeous days! They won't last forever (or even a few weeks) so now is the time to take advantage of the relatively cool 80-something-degree days to declutter and organize your garage. Think about it -- is that where you want to be when the thermometer hits 95 degrees or so?!

It's actually pretty easy to make a big difference in a garage in a relatively short amount of time. It tends to be a catch-all for all manner of big, bulky stuff that we're not sure we really want or need anyway. Seasonal items also often end up in the garage as well as just plain, old trash!

First things first. Take a really hard look at the current contents of your garage. Using my favorite organizing method from Julie Morgenstern, S.P.A.C.E. (Sort-Purge-Assign a Home-Containerize-Equalize), begin to sort and purge items that you haven't used in a year or two. Toss, donate or recycle items as needed.

Side note: In a perfect world, you would empty your garage during this process. I hear the groans out there but, really, it's essential to clear the garage out completely before you begin putting items back in. An empty garage helps you accurately assess the usable space. And seeing the garage contents in your driveway and/or yard helps you get a very clear idea of how much stuff you are keeping. Otherwise, you might find yourself merely moving stuff around. You'll just have to trust me on this one!

Once you have sorted and purged, take a broom and sweep out the accumulated dust and dirt. Trust me on this one, it'll just make you feel better!

OK, time for assigning homes and containerizing! Take a good look at what you have left in your garage. Now look up. The ceiling and walls are valuable real estate in a garage. Anything you can get up and off the floor is going to pay dividends in "found" space. The Container Store, Home Depot and Target are all great places to find hooks, shelving and other item-specific organizing supplies. A couple of my favorite items are bike hangers and ladder hooks.

Give serious thought to creating zones in your garage, grouping like items for easy access. Sporting goods, camping supplies, yard and garden supplies, home repair and tools, and trash and recycling are probably a few of the most common zones found in garages. Again, use wall space and the ceiling to your advantage. Look around your house for containers that can be repurposed for use in the garage.

Now pat yourself on the back and drive your car into your newly organized garage! Don't forget the last letter of SPACE -- Equalize. In essence, this just means keeping your space organized through regular maintenance -- but SPACM just wasn't as memorable. When you get back from that camping trip, put your camp gear in the camp gear zone! After spending a glorious day in your garden, put all your tools in the garden zone. As Ben Franklin said, "A place for everything, everything in its place."

What's the strangest thing you've ever kept or found in your garage?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Well, Twitter-dee-dee...

OK, so I can't help thinking of Scarlett O'Hara's famous "Fiddle-dee-dee" line while I'm trying to figure out the whole Twitter thing.

I resisted it for the longest time. I really didn't want to be a Twit. Or a Twitterer. Or whatever they call themselves.

Then I signed up a few months ago and did exactly nothing with it. Then I went to the NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) conference a couple of weeks ago and felt totally out of the loop! All the Twitterers seemed to be having so much fun.

OK, back at home and trying again. I've got a few followers. I'm following a few people. We'll see if it snowballs as people keep telling me it will. Or if I discover I am not really cut out to be a Twit. Twitterer. Whatever.

Why do you Tweet?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Winnie the Pooh - Home Office Organizer

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.

A.A. Milne

As any self-respecting mom knows, A.A. Milne is the creator of Winnie the Pooh. This gentle, very Pooh Bear quote really boils organizing down to its essence. If you get something organized on the front end, your day-to-day “doing it” is not all mixed up!

The client who sent me this quote (a mom herself) mentioned in the same email that her husband absolutely loves working in his newly organized home office.

It’s amazing how putting in the hours organizing a home office can pay real dividends in the way you feel about working in that office. And doesn’t how you feel about working directly correlate to how productive you are? For most of us, our environment really does affect our workaday attitude.

Home office tip for the day:

Without getting out of your chair, you should be able to get a file folder, label it and file it in its proper drawer. Think about how you can set up your desk to create this time-saving process!

I have to confess that I also found this wonderful, antithesis-of-being-organized A.A. Milne quote:

One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.

Sound like any five year olds you know?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Best. Conference. Ever.

OK, so in my previous life in corporate America, I attended my fair share of conferences, trade shows, annual meetings, seminars and conventions. I usually came back to the office with a noticable bump in motivation and enthusiasm. Mission accomplished.

Last week I attended the annual conference of NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) for the first time. I was truly surrounded by my peeps! Lots of cool organizing products, great time management tips and tools, and unique organizing methodologies.

It helped that it was held in sunny Orlando. I knew I would be coming back to Northern Virginia's strange, strange Spring of 2009 weather. In a word: Gray and dreary. OK, three words.

Posts will be forthcoming -- keep your eyes peeled!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why do we even bother...

buying toys?

Mimi dearly loves her "skis".

Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blowin' (Kisses) in the Wind...

About seven more weeks of kindergarten and our girl will be on her way to first grade. Hard to believe. I remember last summer feeling so ambivalent about letting her ride the school bus. She really, really wanted to ride the bus with all her neighborhood friends. I was having a hard time letting go of the prenatal through right-this-minute brainwashing we all undergo regarding the safety of our spawn in a moving vehicle. So I was just supposed to put my precious on a bus driven by a stranger with no seat belts whatsoever? One day she’s in a five-point restraint and the next day she’s totally free to be bounced right out the bus window in the event of a collision?!?

I did get over it. John and I walked Mimi to the bus on the first day of school and she was literally skipping the whole 50 yards to the bus stop at the corner for her 14 minute ride to school.

Mimi started out sitting on the “passenger” side of the bus. I always stand there on the sidewalk as the bus pulls away and blow kisses and wave to her. Recently, for whatever reason, she started sitting on the “driver’s” side of the bus, a few rows back. After she gets on the bus, I cross in front of it and stand on the other side of the street so I can see her.

This morning I stood there in the rain and blew kisses to her as the bus made its left turn toward the next stop. It seemed she blew kisses more frantically than usual, craning her little neck toward me as far as it would go until she was out of sight. Or maybe it was just my imagination. The feeling that she was literally growing up and away in that big, yellow school bus. Whatever, the lump in my throat was real and I had to blink several times to hold back tears. Yes, I’m a sap.

We still walk her to the bus stop every morning. Kindergartener’s parent prerogative. I suppose we will let her walk on her own in the fall. We can watch her from the front porch and blow kisses as the bus goes by. As long as she’ll let us.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

Ah, sunshine! I can't decide if being sick during yucky, gray days is better than being sick during gorgeous, sunny days. I had to take being sick during the yucky, gray days earlier this week. I do know that it made me really appreciate feeling well and able to enjoy beautiful days.

BTW, I can't believe I'm already acclimatized to Northern Virginia weather. I'd still be wearing sweaters (and truth be told, maybe even a coat!) in Austin on days like yesterday - a heretofore "chilly" 68 degrees! Instead, I was shucking off my jean jacket and going around in my short-sleeved shirt with my car windows down. I never noticed how many beds of tulips there are around Vienna. Nice.

John rode his bike to work today. That's a sure sign he's got the spring fever bug, too. And Mimi is so happy to be going coatless the last day or two. I'm relishing these precious few weeks between having to bundle your kids up and having to coat them in sunscreen on a daily basis. I think it's the easiest getting-the-kids-out-the-door time of the year!

Tomorrow looks like another winner, weather-wise. I think I'll spend a bit of my day out in the backyard doing a little shed decluttering.

If you have a patio, deck or shed that needs a little spring TLC, why don't you turn on some tunes, put on your hat and gloves, set a timer for 30 minutes and see what you can get done!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring Break Quick Tip

Trying to get out the door. We've insanely decided at the last minute to head down to Charles City County on the Cheasapeake, and then on to Williamsburg tomorrow.

I leave you with a "Bright Idea" I discovered in the January 2009 issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

"Amanda Catalanotto, a mom and professional organizer, uses what she calls a "transfer basket" to gather everything that needs to go out the door the next day -- library books, bills to mail, schoolwork. The basket is hauled into the car every morning and is brought back into the house when errands are done. 'The transfer basket has changed my life,' she says."

I love it!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Expired Medicine Be Gone!

My sister, Amy, did her every year or two bathroom closet declutter/clean up this weekend.

(Oh, how I would love to have a closet in my bathroom to declutter and keep clean. But that's another posting.)

She took out three kitchen-size garbage bags full of old make-up, toiletries and medicines. When you have lean, mean bathroom storage areas such as myself, you are forced to do this task much more frequently lest you be unable to actually get into the bathroom! Our house was built in 1964 and has the "master" bathroom to prove it.

My friend Emily, children's photographer extraordinaire, ( suggested a post on what to do with expired medications. She has one husband, two adorable girls and the same 1964 house we do, so she's interested in keeping that master bathroom as uncluttered as possible.

The Washington Times had a good article last year (excerpted here) about the whys and hows to properly dispose of expired medications, over-the-counter and prescription alike.

Expired medicine around the house can lead to multiple problems including the potential for drug abuse (experimenting teens in the house anyone?), health issues (old meds don't work as well, if at all, as fresh meds) and environmental concerns (water supply and landfill contamination issues).

The FDA recommends cleaning out medicine cabinets at least once a year, checking for expiration dates and throwing away all expired medications. They recommend first taking the medicine out of its original container which can then be thrown away with regular household trash or recycled.

Recently established government guidelines for getting rid of the medicines themselves include mixing the medicine with undesirable substances like coffee grinds or clean cat box litter. Liquid medications can also be mixed with these items, rendering them unusable.

After concocting this lovely mixture, simply seal it in an impermeable, non-descript container like a Ziploc bag or empty can before throwing it away with the household trash. This will keep the medicine from seeping into the environment.

Whatever you do, don't flush medications down the toilet, as I once did! Some medications can actually release chemicals into the sewage system, which then could eventually get back to humans via our drinking water. It's not known how these minute traces of pharmaceuticals might affect us, however, rest assured the EPA is "aggressively pursing research on occurrence and fate and transport of pharmaceuticals in various water sources, possible health effects in humans and aquatic life, and the effectiveness of water treatment technologies."

So, there now. Go clean out your medicine cabinet. While you're at it, toss that hip-in-2002 green eye-shadow and three-year old mascara! Not to mention rusty bobby pins (you just never get around to doing that chic chignon you always imagine will complete your LBD ensemble), that stinky body cleanser you got in the dollar bin at Target and any other items you haven't touched or used in a year.

Ahhh, doesn't that feel better?

Friday, March 27, 2009

So much kid's artwork, so little space...

We love our kid's artwork. We get some crazy, visceral attachment from the moment we see her first scribbles. We ooh and aah over the construction paper farmer with the button eyes. We coo at the color wheels. The golf-ball-rolled-in-white-paint-and-rolled-on-black-construction-paper creation. The pre-school version of Rorschach tests that almost invariably look like butterflies. The too-adorable-for-words feather and glitter and cotton ball thingy.

You know what I'm talking about.

Now. What to do with all of it. Before it consumes your kitchen table, the walls. The very essence of your home.

Here are a few ideas.

My friend Emily has a friend who ingeniously put corkboard into large, inexpensive frames and rotates her childrens' special pieces through. Adds instant pizazz and importance and makes the kids feel great!

Tack one of those metal-trimmed strips of corkboard (they are about an inch tall) across a free expanse of wall in your kitchen, the child's room or playroom. Buy some fun thumbtacks and create your own gallery. I found some really cute flower and dot thumbtacks at -- a package of 30 is only $2.99. They also have ladybugs.

Take photos of your child holding their artwork and place the pics into a photo album. Don't forget to include the date in the caption. Make it fun for the kids by having them decorate the album. If you are a scrapbooker, or just more ambitious than me, check out my friend Lisa Emerson's Creative Memory website to see many digital scrapbooking options. (

Create virtual albums using one of the many photo websites available. I really like Picasa. I've also used Snapfish. And Shutterfly is popular. I'm not a Mac user but Apple iPhoto is supposed to be a great tool. You can upload photos of each piece of art into an album and send to all the equally adoring grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

There are portfolios made expressly to store art projects by grade. These are usually oversized to accommodate even the largest poster-sized versions of the ubiquitous "My Family" projects! I've tried without success to find one of these online. Post a comment with a link if you find one!

For a simple, retro solution, create a "clothes line" out of string or ribbon strung across a window or empty wall space. Use fun clothes pins to showcase prized art. I got some really cute miniature clothes pins embellished with little painted ladybugs at Michael's.

There was an article in the Washington Post yesterday about Ali Wentworth's home. She is an actor who lives in Georgetown with her husband, George Stephanopolous, and their two young daughters. She has a bulletin board that runs the length of their kitchen wall that displays the girls' artwork. She bought it online from a school supply company. The largest I found was a 4' x 8' bulletin board at You could hang two or more of these side-by-side to create the same effect. I also stumbled upon the world o' borders at There are literally hundreds of different border designs -- one is sure to please your Picasso.

I'd especially suggest the digitizing of artwork if you have a hard time actually getting rid of items after they've been properly showcased for a period of time. I'm pretty sentimental but I have an easy enough time disposing of (most of) Mimi's voluminous amounts of art. I just make sure I do it while she's at school. And I've learned the hard way to stuff things under the piles of newspaper in the recycling bins so she can't see them.

I'd love to hear some of your ideas for showing off children's artwork -- and how you get rid of it!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Aquarium Industrial Complex

John and Mimi have been busily creating a fishy wonderland in Mimi's room with the addition of a 10-gallon aquarium. Yes, this after the tragic demise of the hermies (at my hands) a few weeks ago. Mimi tells me every time they get back from PetSmart, "Mommy, I just can't even go look at the hermit crabs. It just makes me too sad."

We lost one fish within 24 hours (I swear it wasn't me!) but since then, we've been pet-death-free. Lots of partial water changes, adjustments to the water temperature, equipment changes (our first heater had a meltdown, literally), fretting over ammonia levels, researching tropical fish websites, debating live plants v. plastic plants, etc. This aquarium business is highly complex stuff!

The one time I went with Mimi and John to PetSmart I casually mentioned that I might like one of the cool "Mystery Snails". That's what they call them. Really. So the next time they went (I'm telling you there are a lot of trips to PetSmart to get a tank going) they brought me back a beautiful black Mystery Snail which I named "Madame X". Yes, all of our aquarium buddies have names. The better to mourn them upon their inevitable expiration. Well, to the grown ups in the house anyway. To Mimi, it's just common sense to name your pets.

The last time father and daughter ventured to PetSmart, they bought a little frog (Felix) and another beautiful Mystery Snail with a golden shell. With five-year old logic, Mimi promptly named her "Madame Y".

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Organized enough?

I was thinking this morning about how you know when you are organized enough. My house definitely wouldn't fall into the minimalist, pristine category that I think a lot of people envision when they think of being organized. John is fond of saying "physician, heal thyself" when I start talking my organizing talk. That's my cue to remind him that I can pretty much put my hands on whatever it is that he's searching for that day! Yes, he is one of those husbands. And, yes, I am one of those wives.

That's one of the reasons I love Kathy Waddill's book "The Organizing Sourcebook". Her approach calls for organizing with nine strategies of "reasonably organized people". I like that! You don't have to be an organizing machine to make your life a little less stressful and a lot more enjoyable.

It also occurred to me that if you are not losing

-- things

-- your temper

-- money

-- sleep

-- your mind

due to disorganization, you are probably organized enough.

Pat yourself on the back. This is Real Life -- it's not like the reality TV organizing shows (although they are a lot of fun to watch!).

If you are losing something due to disorganization, just make up your mind to take a baby step today. Go clean out a kitchen drawer. Put all those read or unread magazines and newspapers into the recycling bin. Go to your closet, pick out 10 pieces of clothing to donate to Goodwill, put them in a bag, put them in your car and drive over there. Create just one file folder labeled "Bills to Pay" and keep it on your desk.

Repeat daily.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Put a lid on it...

I'm not sure where she got it from but Mimi is always scolding John about leaving the toilet seat up in her bathroom. John always mildly replies, "Well, I think y'all should always leave the seat up for me!"

Her friend Helen was over the other day and one of the last things they did was a very special art project.

In case you can't read the sign it says "No leaving the toilet seat up." It's signed by Helen and Mimi. They've been drawing stick men forever but I thought the drawing of the toilet was pretty good!

John's response was, "Hmm, I think I'm going to work on a sign that says 'Please leave the toilet seat up.'"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Whine-O: The Reveal

OK, thanks to the nudge from my friend Emily commenting on my Whine-O post, I am now getting around to revealing my friend Darla's simple yet brilliant wine "labeling" system. I've been a little off schedule the last couple of days. My parents and my 13-year old nephew, Max, drove up from Texas and arrived on Saturday -- we've had a busy 48 hours!

So, Darla has a great wine collection that she keeps in a closet space under her stairwell. Nice size area, cool and dark. As I was whining to her the other day about John unwittingly drinking the "good stuff" (see, now I've passed the bitter stage and am simply resigned), she shared with me her wine labeling system.

It does serve a couple of other purposes in addition to keeping her husband on the straight and narrow, wine selection-wise.

Any bottle of wine given to them as a gift gets a brown rubber band around the neck. A nice reminder of the gift, it also helps to prevent any potential re-gifting embarassments! She was once on the receiving end of such a faux pas during a gathering at her house. Although she can't say that she was unhappy to see the nice bottle of champagne, ribbon and all, that she had given to her unwitting guest some time ago.

Bottles that need to sit for awhile, or are just generally really good, get a purple rubber band. You can usually find these on your bunches of broccoli. These help define "the good stuff" in the collection.

Bottles that are wine-a-licious and deserve to be shared or at least properly appreciated while drinking get a green rubber band. These could be for a romantic dinner for two, dinner gathering or to placate a whiney friend.

All other bottles are devoid of rubber bands. Michael knows that any bottle in the wine closet with no rubber band on the neck is fair game.

Brilliant, heh?

Friday, March 13, 2009


A few months ago I went to Total Wine in Fairfax and did a little wine shopping. I got several every day sipping bottles and one bottle recommended by one of the employees. It cost about $50. A pretty nice, pricey bottle at retail. When I got home, I put one of those little collars on it and wrote "John, do not drink!" We had a little laugh over that as I told him of my plan to open up this bottle when we had a special dinner during one of our too infrequent "in-house" date nights.

Sometime in the past couple of months the tag was removed (probably by Mimi - she LOVES to play with a little basket of wine charms that we keep in the wine cabinet, we find them everywhere).

Last week I noticed we only had a bottle or two of wine in the cabinet. I quickly took a look and, sure enough, the "special" bottle of wine was gone! OK, maybe livid is a little too strong a word to describe my reaction but let's just say that John was lucky he was out of town. By the time he got back, I was simply bitter. When I asked him about it he just said, "Don't worry, I'll buy you another bottle."

It wasn't the fact that he drank the wine that got to me. My little tag had disappeared and I couldn't really expect him to remember exactly which bottle I had stashed away for our little future romantic evening.

No, it was the thought of him obliviously drinking that really nice bottle of wine downstairs in our basement one night, in his pajamas, watching Battlestar Galactica and eating popcorn that sent me over the edge!

Come back tomorrow and read about a husband-proof wine labeling system designed by my friend Darla. A little tease: it involves rubber bands. I'm going to implement it immediately.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

We don't want to label our children. But let's label everything else.

Ah, the wisdom in the words of fellow DC-area professional organizer C. Lee Cawley. One of her playroom organizing projects was featured in today's Washington Post. You can read about it here:

I worked with a mom recently on just such a project. As a member of the interestingly-named "Sandwich Generation", she not only runs a busy household and the schedule of her active kindergartener, she also manages much of her father's day-to-day paperwork, bill-paying and other needs while he lives in a nearby assisted living facility.

Below you'll see a few before and after pictures of her basement project. It's a lovely space with a large open area divided into three distinct-use areas: "grown up" den, playroom and TV area for games. However, as the parents of many little boys and girls will tell you, the Legos, Bionicles, Power Rangers, Transformers, et. al. can easily consume a play space rendering it just not that much fun! We spent time in the room using my favorite organizing method, S.P.A.C.E., from the Julie Morgenstern book "Organizing from the Inside Out". BTW, you can use this method to organize ANYTHING, from your wallet to your entire house.

Sort: Sorted through all of the toys and set them in piles by category. This is the most time-consuming, onerous, but necessary, part of any organizing project. I think I've used the quote before "The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time!" Take a deep breath, pick something up and start a pile! Post-it note pads are your best friend in this endeavor. As you create a sorting category (dolls, Spider Man, blocks, puzzles, books, dress-up, games, etc.) make a "sign" for it on a Post-it note so you can keep track of what categories you've got going on.

Purge: Purged. This mom did a great job setting aside toys for an upcoming rummage sale at her son's school. She also created a box for giving away items to younger cousins. Finally, some things really did need to go into the trash. And that's where they went!

Assign a Home: OK, now where's all this stuff going to go?! She had some good storage pieces already i.e. a large shelf unit with several nooks for baskets, a bookshelf and a nice chest with some drawers and shelves. Once we saw what we had, and figured out what she needed, she went to Target and bought one of my favorite pieces, the Whitmor Kids' 12-Bin Organizer. It comes in the primary colors you see below and also in a palette of pastels that any little girl with a pink and purple passion would love! Handy woman that she is, she put it together in about 20 minutes. Her son also had a train table with two oversized drawers underneath that could be pulled out. He was kind of over trains right now so she brilliantly repurposed those drawers for Legos. Which leads us to:

Containerize: Once we had all our "containers" we set to work putting the categorized toys into their proper place. A container can be anything from a clear basket to an old peanut butter jar used for storing marbles. We labeled baskets and other containers with their contents. For younger children you can "label" with photographs or let them draw pictures of what's contained in each area. She also set up a bin labeled "Toys for Later" that was placed in her storage area. These were toys that were received as gifts and just not quite age-appropriate yet.

Equalize: This really just means keeping things in order on a day-to-day basis. Her son was thrilled with his "new" playroom and is very motivated to keeping it organized. Even at five, he can see the advantage of being able to find exactly the Bionicle or Leggo he's looking for very easily!

Best of all, my client says that she gets a real sense of peace when she walks down into the basement now.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Never read a book through merely because you have begun it…

I love books. John loves books. Mimi loves books. We love to read. However, we don’t like to get rid of books. I have actually turned the corner on my need to keep every book that I’ve ever read – a bit of an exaggeration, but not much!

In the past year I’ve discovered numerous ways to free up bookshelf space in our house.

But first I had to decide to let go of books.

Books that were particularly meaningful to me or that I could honestly say I might read again, or at least reference, I kept. What went out the door was mostly fiction and some once-is-definitely-enough tomes like Jerry Seinfeld’s “Letters From a Nut”, “Bridges of Madison County, “The Celestine Prophecy”. Books I bought but never read because they just didn’t sound that interesting after all. You get the picture.

Here are some ways I thinned my shelves:

1. Donated books to my local library’s annual book sale. I took several grocery bags over to the Patrick Henry branch of the Fairfax County Library system. That felt really good.

2. Donated books to my favorite, fabulous local thrift store, Unique. Yep, that’s the name of it, just “Unique”. This is the biggest, best thrift store ever! It’s the size of a grocery store and so well organized. Anyhoo, your local Goodwill will be happy to have your books.

3. Posted books on If you don’t know about Freecycle, you are missing out! It’s a nation-wide community of people who are trying to do their part to keep the flotsam and jetsam of our households from filling up landfills. It operates on the “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” principle. If you have something around your house that you don’t need or want anymore, I can assure you that there is someone in your Freecycle area (it’s organized geographically to facilitate the exchange of goods) who would LOVE to have it. You just post an “Offer”, briefly describing the item and wait to hear from other local Freecycle cohorts who would like your item. There are over 2,000 people in my Freecycle group which means a big audience for any posts. Of course, you might also find things that you want in your Freecycle postings. Go to for more information.

4. Another fantastic online service I’ve recently discovered is Paperback Swap ( It’s not just for paperback books! You simply set up a free account, post the books you want to “recycle” and wait for other “swappers” to request one of your books. Once you have sent out a requested book, you get a “credit” which can then be used to request books from among the literally millions of books posted. It has a great search function. It even creates a mailing label for you to print out to wrap the book you are sending. I’ve also taken advantage of the option to pre-purchase postage that is then printed right on the mailing label, saving me a trip to the post office (you can put the book directly into your mailbox for your mail carrier pickup). In essence, you are getting rid of books and, in exchange, getting books for the cost of postage. Check it out! BTW, my friend Darla has figured out the key to getting your books picked up quickly is to offer non-fiction. Her cookbooks have gone like wildfire!

5. Of course, one way to personalize the book thinning process is the think of a friend or family member who might enjoy one of your books and pass it along.

Now if I could just get John to lighten his book load we might be able to make some headway in organizing our bookshelves!

A few months ago I printed out the Library of Congress Classification system from Wikipedia. Yes, geeky, I know but wouldn’t it be great to be able to put your hands on a book pretty much instantly!? And it really appeals to my sense of order which is certainly NOT represented by this current photo of one of our bookshelves! Yes, I resisted the strong urge to tidy up before taking this pic.

Are you a book "keeper" or do you let them go? Why?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Captain and Lucky, we hardly knew ye...

Get out your hankies. I'm about to tell a sad tale. It looks like I'll be telling the story of how we acquired two hermit crabs, and their untimely deaths at my hands, within the very same blog posting.

About a week ago a friend kindly gave us her six year old son's two hermit crabs, with his permission. Amazingly (if you know anything about the typical life span of a pet hermit crab) they had had these two hermies since last June, so, really, going on a year. While her son really enjoyed the two crabs and learned a lot about exoskeletons, molting and other various crab habits and behaviors, the time had come where he had lost interest in them. I must say, they are a tad bit boring as pets go.

Anyhoo, Mimi was absolutely thrilled! She has always been fascinated by the hermit crab tanks at any PetSmart we've entered. One of the things I did not know about hermit crab accoutrements is that you can buy various "themed" shells for them to hang out in and move into after molting. For example, these two crabs were named Nemo and Pirate. Yes, the former was snugly ensconced in an orange and white striped, Nemo-like shell and the latter in a little black shell with a pirate painted on it.

Mimi promptly renamed them Lucky and Captain. Captain was the new Pirate and Lucky was the new Nemo. Captain is self-explanatory, Lucky requires a bit more explanation. Nemo/Lucky was probably in some stage of molting and had pretty much constantly buried himself deep into the sand of the hermit crab hotel. We got the tank home and wanted to introduce ourselves to our new pets, so we carefully dug Nemo out of the sand and I held him in my hand. He moved around a bit and so Mimi said that he was lucky to still be alive after being buried in the sand for so long! So, Lucky he became.

The next few days were crab bliss. Mimi had all her friends over to look at Lucky and Captain. We gave them a hermit crab "bath". We fed them a variety of food i.e. hermit crab flakes, pellets and powders. We changed their water and put drops of a special water conditioner to rid the tap water of apparently death-inducing (to crabs) chlorine. And I desperately tried to keep their tank at the appropriate temperature and humidity levels as prescribed by the hermit crab guru lady at

We put the tank in Mimi's bathroom so she could keep an eye on it, and we could make sure the cats couldn't get to it. I would occasionally run a hot shower for a few minutes with the door closed to boost the humidity. I also put a small space heater in there and would run it for a few minutes with the door closed to warm things up, especially after we got up in the mornings and the house was a little chilly.

And therein lies the rub. This morning, after Mimi got on the bus and as I was getting ready to go out for a client appointment, I turned on the heater for a few minutes just to knock the chill off the bathroom. I clearly recall thinking to myself "don't forget to turn the heater off before you leave." Well, I got home seven hours later. I realized as soon as I opened the bathroom door and the wall of heat hit me that those poor little crabbies were probably dead as doornails. Sure enough, there was Captain laying there, out of his shell. I dug up Lucky who, after all, wasn't so lucky. I spritzed them both with some of the special "Little Mister" spray that you use to "wake" crabs up to play. No hermie resurrection despite my frantic "come on, come on little buddies!"

The hardest part, of course, was telling Mimi. I picked her up from her science club and didn't tell her until we got home.

"Honey, Mommy has some really sad news. Captain and Lucky died. Mommy accidentally left the heater on in the bathroom all day and they got too hot."

She immediately started crying.

"I'm never going to see Captain and Lucky again? Mommy this is the saddest thing ever! What am I going to do without them!?"

She called her friend Aubrey and tearfully told her that Mommy had burned up the hermit crabs.

It really broke my heart. We snuggled up and cried a little more together.

Then she asked for some fish.

Oh, to have the grief cycle of a five year old.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Trash Bag Tango

I can always count on organizing guru Peter Walsh for great blog posting inspiration! One of his "Clutter Crew" video clips on focuses on doing a little bit every day around your house to declutter, almost painlessly!

He quotes his grandmother using the old expression "The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time!" Often we are overwhelmed with the clutter around us. We don't know where to begin. Give Peter's "Trash Bag Tango" a try and see where you are in a week or two. It's a pretty simple method to tackle the superficial clutter that can really get you down.

Take two large, lawn-size garbage bags. Mark one for trash, the other for charity/give away. Take 10 minutes and go through your house or even one room. Quickly pick up items that need to go into the garbage and put them into your trash bag. Also pick up any items that can be donated to charity or otherwise given away -- whatever you need to do to get it out of your house! -- and put those items into your donation bag.

You may or may not fill both bags in your first 10 minute session. If you don't, no problem, just put them in your garage, laundry room or some other out of the way place until the next day. When you do fill up the trash bag, put it into your garbage can. When you do fill up the donation bag, put it into your car and take it to your favorite donation location the next day.

As Peter says:

Do this every day for one week and you'll notice a difference.

Do it every day for two weeks and others will notice a difference.

Do it every day for a month and you will be on your way to getting a handle on the clutter that's been surrounding you.

Just do it!

Friday, February 27, 2009

I need to keep this for how long?!

It's tax time and that gets many people wondering just how long they need to keep important documents. I think a lot of people keep documents unnecessarily out of fear of needing them at some point in the future.

One of the NAPO-WDC chapter newsletters last year had a fantastic one page document that outlines not only how long you should keep certain documents but also the ideal place to store them and to whom copies should go.

On a related note (which you will figure out in just a minute), I recently drank the Kool-Aid and bought an iPhone. I have to say that I love, love, love it!

Part of the whole Mac-package is something called iDisk. In a nutshell, I can store documents "out there" in a public folder and direct people to it. Which is what I'm going to do right now!

Click on the link below and you will be taken to my public folder. You will see the heading "Bluebonnet Professional Organizing". Just click on the little arrow to the left of the heading and you will see two documents that you can download and print out. One is the paper Retention Schedule. Another helpful tax-time document is also there -- the Goodwill Donation Value Guide. It helps you to figure out how much to value those items you have donated throughout the year, regardless of where you donated them.

(I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this magical iDisk actually works and that you will be able to access these documents easily!)

Happy filing!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Week in Review via Kitchen Tools

I have realized today that my little kitchen utensil experiment updates are actually quite revealing! As I was going through my kitchen drawers looking at the utensils I've used this past week, lots of little insights popped up about what's been going on in our home lately.

Silicone baster brush - you know, it kind of looks like a paint brush, with the "bristles" made out of brightly colored (in my case, blue) silicone. I used this for brushing bacon fat from a pan from my oven onto the griddle for pancakes. My in-laws left yesterday and I made some apple pancakes for breakfast. My father-in-law loves bacon (the real deal, not the faux turkey bacon I keep around in our freezer). He ran out to Whole Foods and got some of the good stuff. We baked it in the oven and it left quite a bit of scrumptious bacon fat on the baking pan. I saw it sitting there on the stove next to my pancake griddle and thought, "Why the hell not?!". It really did the trick. It reminded me of the little can of bacon fat that my Nanny (my mother's mother) kept on her stove top at all times.

Meat thermometer - I used this to check the temp of the pork tenderloin I made with my favorite "rub", a recipe from Central Market in Austin that I've had for years. Cumin, chili powder, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Mmmm.

Melon ballers #1 and #2 - Mimi was helping me with a cantaloupe the other morning. We tried the fancy melon baller with the little spring action "scooper" but that was a little too hard for her five-year old hands. We then went to the plain, old scoop and she did great.

Whisk for pudding - Made a batch of instant chocolate pudding the other night and dutifully used the wire whisk it called for in the instructions.

12" long metal skewers - I cringed a little but Mimi used these to make strawberry and banana kabobs for all of us on Saturday night.

Metal steam rack for okra - I found some incredible okra at the Indian market (Aditi Spice Market on Maple Avenue) a few days ago. This being Northern Virginia, you can't really get okra at the regular supermarket. Oh they might have a little basket of some pitiful, over-priced okra but Aditi Spice had a huge basket of really nice okra. Of course, my favorite way to eat okra is to batter it and fry it up but I wanted to try something a little different. I found a recipe for steaming it. Apparently there is a trick to preventing the dreaded okra "slime". Just trim the ends and leave the pointy "tips" intact. Steam for about five to seven minutes then toss with butter, fresh lime juice, salt and cracked pepper. Deeee-licious!

String - My little pork tenderloin needed to be tied together as it was actually two small pieces.

Teeny, tiny funnels - Mimi was in one of her frequent water/liquid experimenting moods. She wanted a couple of the tiny funnels I use to fill up spice containers. She had a really good time pouring water through the funnels into little paper cups. Then she wanted to add food coloring to several small cups of water. Then she wanted to make marshmallow "kabobs" using miniature marshmallows and toothpicks and dip them into the food colored water. Lesson learned: marshmallows aren't really that absorbent. And they actually look pretty disgusting when they're wet. But Mimi claimed to love them and she had a good time with the process!

Friday, February 20, 2009

No, it's not about crop circles!

My dirty little secret as a professional organizer is that I have about a dozen boxes, admittedly nicely containerized, on a shelf in my storage room, full of photographs, empty photo albums, empty film envelopes, negatives, cute frames I've picked up here and there, and other random, related photo items.

It's been a project on my back burner for a number of years to get these photos organized. I even carted them all over to Macedonia a few years ago thinking I would use all of my free time to finally finish this massive undertaking. Well, I carted every one of the boxes back over here from Romania, untouched, a couple of years ago.

So I went to a new friend's house last night for a "crop night". More about that in a minute. Her name is Lisa Emerson and she is a Creative Memories consultant. She is a friend of a good friend. I was very interested in what, exactly, Creative Memories was all about.

A "crop night" is simply a gathering of people (usually, maybe always, women) who bring whatever photo-related project they are working on and, well, work on it! The best I can tell, the phrase "crop night" or "crop party" refers to the action of "cropping" photos to place into photo albums, scrapbooks or frames. Lisa provides delicious brownies, fruit, other snacks, drinks and maybe even an adult beverage or two!

What it did for me was force me to go to my storage room, pick up one of my photo boxes, put it in my car, take it over to Lisa's house and start the process I've been meaning to start for years. It was a fun environment and we all just happily worked away. If you wanted to join in the conversation, you could. If you wanted to quietly work and focus on your photo sorting or scrapbook pages, you could do that, too. No pressure.

John assumed, probably correctly, that "crop night" was similar to my book club: a seemingly high-brow or productive, creative endeavor cleverly disguised as an excuse to get out of the house and drink wine! I will not deny it.

I highly recommend finding a buddy or someone like Lisa (Creative Memory consultants can be found all over the country) to inject a little fun into what can seem like the lonely, arduous task of sorting through boxes and boxes of photos. Remember, you didn't take all those pictures in a day. Give yourself time to get your memories and photos in whatever order suits you: from simple, labeled shoeboxes to elaborately creative scrapbooks.

If you want to see what products Lisa offers to help organize photos and other memorabilia, go to her website at FYI, I bought the Power Sort Box. It's fantastically constructed, costs $35 and holds an amazing 2,400 photos!! I'm definitely not a scrapbooker and you don't have to be to benefit from some of the CM products.

Happy cropping!

Thursday, February 19, 2009 Comes Through Again...

...with an easy blog post topic! You can get a 20% off coupon for The Container Store on Just go to the home page, look for the Oprah's "Clean Up Your Messy House Tour" and click on "Get Your Coupon for The Container Store".

I needed an easy post because I've been busy this week with some fun, interesting jobs. And John's parents are up from Dallas for a visit. They are low maintenance and good company so I'm afraid I can't insert any nasty, negative in-law comments here!

They've had a good time visiting with Mimi and, of course, she loves visits from her Grandmom and GrandBob. It's been nice to have them walk her to the bus stop in the mornings and be here in the afternoons when she gets home from school. If you have parents who live in your neighborhood or even the same town, consider yourself lucky!

We're looking forward to a visit from my parents next month. Mimi is a lucky girl in the grandparent department!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Child's Play

Call me crazy but I love to help organize kid's spaces! It's nice to play a small part in helping a child build good habits for keeping their space organized.

The National Association of Professional Organizers has some good tips for getting started in organizing the children's areas of your home:

1. Have bins and boxes on lower shelves so that a child can put away the toys. Have the child label the bins and boxes.
2. Provide low hooks to hang up sweaters, pajamas, jackets, book bags, etc.
3. Take children with you when you go to donate unused items. This helps them learn to part with things.
4. Encourage your child/teenager to choose their outfits for the next day before they go to bed at night.

Here are a couple of other tips to help your kids out:

1. Let them draw fun pictures to label drawers and bins. For younger children, you can take photographs and place them on bins.
2. As birthdays approach, give kids the chance to thin outgrown toys. They might surprise you.

Target has a great storage organizer perfect for corralling all of those Legos, dolls, blocks, dinosaurs and other tiny parts. Simply go to and type in "Storage Organizer Natural" in the search field. The bins are bright green, red and two shades of blue. There is also a really cute option the girls would love with bins in shades of pink and lavender.

Have fun kids!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Poftă bună!

Some good friends we met in Bucharest who now live in New Jersey came for dinner and a visit on Saturday. They have two children, a nine-year old boy and a six year old girl. The girls had a great time while the boy tried his best not to show his incredible boredom by all the little kid goings on. We had a great time catching up and reminiscing about Romania. Poftă bună! Which translates loosely as "Enjoy your meal!"

It's the first time since starting my kitchen utensil dump that we've had guests for dinner and I used quite a few items.

Used my pastry blender to cut a stick of butter into a cherry crisp mix. While trying to find the correct term for this tool I found a great website for, yes, baking and pastry tools. For you bakers out there it's

By the way, my sister Amy is the baker in our family. She makes the most exquisitely hand-decorated Christmas cookies every year as well as just throwing together yummy pies, tarts, etc. throughout the rest of the year.

Used the hand crank Parmesan cheese grater (for our spaghetti).

Used one of our two ice cream scoops.

I have used so few utensils over two weeks that I've got to figure out a strategy for where to keep things I know I'll use occasionally (seasonal utensils) and decide what to do with strange utensils I've accumulated along the way. Freecycle? Thrift store?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Heart Day

Some ecstatic, some sad, some hilarious, some poignant. Enjoy these six-word love stories submitted by Washington Post readers:

40 years married. 40 more please!

My parents worry I'll never marry.

So broke; yet surrounded by love.

His most romantic words: "I'll cook."

He said he'd call. Still waiting.

E-Harmony told us both: "No Matches."

I love him. He loves her.

At least I got the dog.

Marriage -- it's harder than it looks.

Being bored with you is fun.

Craigs list. True love. Who knew?

No husband. No children. No regrets.

"You're so lucky." It's not luck.

Looking for a soulmate, finding myself.

He is more than I expected.

Maybe tomorrow I'll finally say hello.

Spooning, warm breath on my neck.

You were never that cute anyways.

Thirty years. Two kids. Still smitten.

I always run. No one left.

Shy soulmates. Final semester. Last chance.

Champagne and strawberries for one.

A wedding? No way! Prop 8.

Tread softly. A dream lies here.

And here's mine:

Worth the wait. You and kid.

What's your six-word love story?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Electric Meanderings

So in the past half hour I've had several random thoughts which include the word Electric. Here's how it all started:

Fairfax County has a free service called Electric Sundays during the winter months. You can bring your TVs, computers and peripheral electronic devices like keyboards, speakers, printers, external drives, etc. You can get more information on this event on the county's recycling website at

Then I recalled something I had read the other day about the old '70s kid show, The Electric Company. You can actually buy episodes from iTunes and there is a 2009 revival show that started last month. I loved graduating from Sesame Street to The Electric Company!

My thoughts then veered to the kick I get every time I drive down Electric Avenue here in Vienna. It's my short cut to Maple Avenue.

Which promptly, as always, planted an ear worm (you know, a song that gets stuck in your head) of the reggae song "Rock Down to Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant. FYI, I just discovered a great website called Word Spy (The Word Lover's Guide to New Words) where I learned that an ear worm is also sometimes called a sticky tune or cognitive itch. Fun site.

The thought of reggae led, finally, mercifully, to the end of my Electric musings: My favorite sushi restaurant here in Vienna, Sakana Sushi, inexplicably plays reggae music. Which is actually kind of a nice accompaniment to my bento box.

Oh no, we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue and then we'll take it higher...

Oh, damn.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Patience Rewarded

According to, the tradition of giving a specific gift on a specific anniversary dates back to the Middle Ages. When John and I were first married, we decided to follow the "traditional" wedding anniversary gift options rather than the "modern". It has been a little more difficult but a lot more interesting selecting gifts. For example, for the seventh year anniversary (our last celebration) the modern material is brass. The traditional material is copper or wool. I got John an old Afghani tea table trimmed in copper. At least that's what the guy in the antique/thrift store in downtown Vienna told me.

I've been on a quality over quantity kick regarding clothes for a while. I got rid of many, many clothes and shoes during our overseas moves. It didn't make sense to move things that I hadn't worn in a while and probably never would. Some of the last things I donated were my "work" clothes. Even though I very willingly "retired" from corporate life when we moved to Macedonia in '04, it was actually really hard to get my head around the fact that I would not need those clothes again. I finally decided that even if I did go back into the corporate world at some point, the clothes I had wouldn't be stylish or wouldn't fit, or both! If you are in closet cleaning mode, keep this in mind.

Anyhoo, back to patience being rewarded, anniversary gifts, etc. I had mentioned to John that I would like a really nice, black cashmere sweater for our seventh anniversary. You know, wool. We agreed that it would be best for me to pick it out. Although I'm not a regular (or even occasional) Neiman Marcus shopper, I figured they would have what I had in mind. I found a "superfine" cashmere sweater with a simple scoop neck. I bought it online while it was on backorder.

Yes, I bought my own anniversary gift. John and I save the romance for non-shopping-related activities. This was back in October, the month of our anniversary. I had second thoughts because it was quite expensive so I canceled the order. But by then I was on the N-M email list which I usually delete on sight. However, I sat up straight when I saw their latest subject line: 70% Off and Free Shipping, Today Only! Oh my, surely that gorgeous cashmere sweater wouldn't be included in the sale. But would I be writing a post called Patience Rewarded if it wasn't? I think not. My 70% off, "superfine" cashmere sweater that I will be wearing when I'm 70 is on its free-shipping way.

Thanks babe. I love you!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reason to read your Costco Connection

I actually find interesting articles to read on a regular basis in my monthly Costco Connection magazine. The February issue had an article called "Doing Your Home Work" which focused on getting rid of clutter. Fellow Austinite, Lori Marrero, creator of the Clutter Diet, a subscription-based website, offered some great tips I'll share here.

"Focus on small changes you can make that you can add to as new habits become more ingrained. We recommend focusing first on having good morning and evening routines, since those support you throughout your day and affect you and your family the most.

You can start with the morning "To D.E.W." list: Dishes (empty the dishwasher to be ready for the day), Eating (plan what you're going to eat later today) and Wash (take the laundry to the next stage). In the evening you can focus on the "Triple S" routine: Start the dishwasher (so the dishes are ready to put away in the morning), Straighten up (do "clutter patrol" of flat surfaces and the floor) and Set for tomorrow (gather whatever you need for the next day)."

I love the simplicity and the fun acronyms. So often, we just don't know where to start -- so we just never start! Whether you have a bit of a perfectionist streak in you, have gotten into a bad clutter situation due to difficult life circumstances or have just found yourself too busy to stop and try to gain some control of your home and schedule, give Lorie's suggestions a go. Heck, just do the "D" today and try for the "E" tomorrow and the "W" the day after that. Baby steps, my friend, baby steps!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Um, so what EXACTLY do you do??

A lot of people get a puzzled look when I tell them I'm a professional organizer. My "elevator" line is that I provide busy people and families real solutions for organizing their homes and offices so they can relax more and stress less.

Here is how the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) defines a professional organizer:

A professional organizer enhances the lives of clients by designing systems and processes using organizing principles and through transferring organizing skills. A professional organizer also educates the public on organizing solutions and the resulting benefits. Professional organizers help individuals and businesses take control of their surroundings, their time, their paper and their systems for life.

So now you know!

Quick Kitchen Utensil Update

I'm really surprised at how few utensils I've put back into the drawers since I started this project! Since I last posted about this I've used my:

Super duper lemon/lime juicer - this is an incredible tool! I think I got this two-in-one juicer at Williams-Sonoma. It's heavy-duty, cast aluminum and can squeeze every bit of juice out of your citrus leaving the rind, pulp and seeds behind.

Manual can opener - am I the only one who never got around to getting an electric can opener? My mom always had one when I was growing up but now she also uses a manual one. This particular one replaces the one that caught on fire while we were living in Skopje, Macedonia. That one was great, however, it had a rubberized handle that, apparently, was VERY flammable! I couldn't find a replacement over there so I had wrapped the now-charred handle in several layers of masking tape.

Kitchen scissors/snippers - I used these to cut up pita bread in a lame attempt to replicate the incredibly addictive Stacy's Pita Chips. John really liked them but I found that they were just no substitute for the real deal.

Apple corer - I actually use this on a regular basis. Mimi loves apples.

Stainless steel tongs - I love these spring-action tongs that lock closed for storage.

Good, old-timey "punch" can opener - I made a crock pot potato soup yesterday and decided to get sucked into Carnation's latest ad campaign to get people using evaporated milk again. I even used the fat-free version and the soup turned out great! Maybe I will start stocking canned milk in my pantry again.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Your things are not your life...

I was just looking through some articles I had clipped when I first started my venture into professional organizing. Something I read really struck me as so simple and so important (then and now) that I wanted to share it here.

The weekly Washington Post Magazine has a regular column called "Making It". It highlights a person and the business they've started, usually after a previous career working for others. The subject of a column in December of 2007 was an organizer named Marcie Lovett. Here was her advice:

Don't buy anything to get organized; you probably have enough bins in your house. Your things are not your life; they're just things. Just because somebody gave it to you doesn't mean you have to keep it. Purge children's belongings before holiday or birthday deluges, but have the children do it with you, so they learn.

So simple, so true, but sometimes so hard to really accept and internalize and act upon. These are things I often think about around my own home and have passed along to friends, family members and clients. Thanks Marcie!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Glimpse into our future...

So Mimi's school had a fundraiser Friday night called "Hollywood". Not too much info came home about this but from what we could gather it was a chance for the kids to dress up and dance to a DJ in the Hollywood-themed cafeteria.

As parents of a kindergartener and therefore first timers at this event, we weren't quite sure what to expect. Mimi wanted to dress up as (big surprise) a princess. She put on her favorite purple dress-up dress with lots of taffeta, all of her necklaces (mostly Mardi Gras beads, very colorful!), all of her bracelets, some lacy gloves and her pink sparkly shoes. Oh, and her pointy pink princess hat and a white "cape".

We walked in the door of the school and didn't really see any "costumes" that we recognized. I think we are just out of the loop on what the 'tweeners are into these days. I think we saw lots of Hannah Montanas and High School Musical "characters" but we're really not quite sure. Mimi got uncharacteristically quiet while we were waiting in line to pay -- I think she was a little puzzled at the apparent lack of costumes.

She really brightened up when she saw a friend from Daisies (that's the kindergarten version of Brownies/Girl Scouts) also dressed up as a princess. Then her friend Helen came in as a beautiful princess. That was all it took! The three little girls had a great time admiring each others' dresses and gawking at all the big kids running around like wild animals.

John picked Mimi up and took her out on the dance floor and I was kicking myself that I didn't have my camera. There they were dancing cheek-to-cheek, Mimi's pointy princess hat askew, smack in the middle of a pack of hyper 10 and 11 year old girls bouncing straight up in the air to an unfamiliar song.

My heart caught in my throat as I watched them knowing that these delicious opportunities wouldn't really last much longer. In a few years she will be one of those 10 year old girls who doesn't have the slightest interest in dancing with Daddy. Sigh.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Poop to Paper

I bet that headline caught your attention! In a nod to Green Month, here's the scoop behind the poop:

The company "Mr. Ellie Pooh" is Co-Op America's 2008 Green Business Leader Award Winner. Mr. Ellie Pooh's paper products are 100% recycled. They are made up of 75% elephant dung and 25% post consumer paper. There are no toxic chemicals used in the paper making process. Natural vegetative binding agents, along with water-souble salt dyes for coloring are used. Mr. Ellie Pooh's papers are handmade, acid free and as organic as it gets.

You can read more about one man's adventure into finding his true purpose in life here!

If you've listened to the radio, read a paper or magazine, or gone anywhere near the Internet in the past couple of weeks, you've probably figured out that February is Green Month. The Mennel family recycles to the tune of three bins every week. We have a programmable thermostat that keeps us nice and chilly in the winter, and warm and bothered in the summer. We've started using CFL light bulbs throughout the house. Our regular dry cleaner is now a "green" dry cleaner.

I also have a personal Green Goddess, my friend Darla, who has introduced me to, plastic bag dryers and low VOC paint! She is also a regular composter which is something I aspire to be. Maybe this spring. She is also really good about only using natural cleaning products. I'm not sure I can give up my Windex but I have tried one of the new "greener" Clorox products.

Reduce, reuse, recycle can also become part of your organizing routine. Whether you toss junk mail into the recycling bin on a daily basis, get rid of unwanted items in your home via your local group or favorite charity, or just put a little extra thought into your purchasing habits (do I really, really, really need this?!), you can be green and more organized!