Friday, February 24, 2012

Craft Organization Made Easy

Disclaimer: non-knitters and non-crafters, while this blog focuses mostly on craft supplies, the ideas are pretty universal and could apply to toys, Lego's, tools, whatever. So, if you're interested, keep on reading.

I spent part of my morning sort-of helping my friend organize her crafting supplies. I say sort-of simply because I pretty much just sat there and kept her company while she sorted. I may have thrown out an idea or two but it was nothing mind blowing that she couldn't have come up with on her own. And when I say crafting supplies, I really mean massive collection of yarn plus a few other odds and ends. Not being a knitter, I had no idea that one could accumulate so much. But I suppose I have an unheard of collection of scrapbooking papers that I might use "someday," so I guess I get it.

Which brings me to the point of this particular blog. In her particular craft room, she had already purchased a fabulous Ikea shelf that I had been drooling over for two years, plus several bins that fit in the cubes. (Like I said, she didn't really need me.) We spent a couple hours sorting her yarn into groups: keep for me, keep for gifts, and donate. Because yarn is bulky and doesn't stack nicely, those lidded bins were a perfect fit for storing all that yarn. There was a bin left over for her son's various craft supplies and one for projects that are currently in progress. Plus she has a few magazine files she could use to store coloring books or scrapbook paper or patterns. She also had some super cute woven baskets she received as gifts that will look very decorative and cute holding scrap yarn. While we worked, she made a small list of extra bins she would like to purchase to store her sewing supplies. But after that two hours, what looked like an incredibly overwhelming, jumbled mess is now neatly sorted and stored in beautiful boxes.

Some of you will say, but it's still a jumbled mess - inside a box. Is the expense of those darn boxes really worth it? My answer - it depends.

It depends on what you want your space to LOOK like. Because really, it's only partially about function. The rest is aesthetics. If you are super duper creative and just can't generate ideas in a spic and span art room, this method is not, I repeat NOT, for you. Highly creative types need what I refer to as "clutter" in order to create their masterpieces. They can see a random corner of a scrapbook paper and come up with an entire design. Having to dig that out would hinder the creative process. But if you are like me, and you want to live in your house but have it look like a magazine layout, then, yes, the bins, boxes, totes, and various organizing products are absolutely worth every penny.

As many of you know, I love bookshelves. I love bins. I dislike clutter and I HATE toy boxes. I love bins on shelves for three reasons: 1. They look really pretty. 2. When you no longer need the toys, art supplies, or whatever, a bookshelf is a pretty useful piece of furniture. 3. When your child wants to play with cars, just not in the basement where the playroom is, you grab the bin and head up stairs. No digging to find enough to keep him satisfied. No full hands while you walk up and down the stairs. Easy clean up. Easy storage. My kids are also more apt to clean up when they know where things belong.

But, I am also a bargain hunter and bins can get expensive. I want things to look fabulous without the dollar sign. So, while I don't claim to be a master, I have figured out things I can re-purpose for organization.

This is what our art supplies look like. This small shelf is in the basement. The big box on the middle shelf contains all my printed pictures that haven't yet made it into a photo album. The two small boxes contain various papers, large foam sheets, sticker sheets, and coloring books. The three bins on the bottom, however, are my favorite. They are pretty heavy duty bins with cardboard on all sides, so they will continue to hold up when carried up the stairs a million times since we tend to work on crafts in the kitchen. Two of them hold all of our art supplies while the third holds extra containers.

Containers, you ask? Yes, containers. This is where the re-purposing comes into play. I have gotten into the habit of washing and saving plastic peanut butter jars, fruit containers, etc. That is what I use to store various supplies like pom pom balls, googly eyes, glitter pens, ribbon scraps, etc. So those two bins filled with art supplies actually hold containers of art supplies, thus relieving the need to dig around a modge podge of stuff to find what we need. The empty containers I don't need yet are stored in the third bin and are also available for craft projects, like the Tips and Fines jars pictured in this blog.

This shelf unit took me less than $50 (all boxes and bins were from Wal-mart, by the way) and maybe an hour of my time. Granted, my supplies were already stored in re-purposed jars and I've had the shelf for years which saved me both time and money. To me, that was $50 very well spent. The art supplies are still easily accessible and now it looks nice. You too may already have just what you need to get organized.

Happy Friday!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What's a Mud Closet?

I know, two posts in one day! What is the world coming to? But I owe you some posts and today is make-up day. Some folks follow only my Sunday treats while some only look for my cool tips and tricks. I felt it was unfair to please only one group. If you are a faithful follower who reads both, I hope you don't get bored!

A month or so ago, I saw an "I Did It!" column in Better Homes and Gardens where a mom turned her coat closet into a "mini mud room." She put in a bench and shelf. Under the bench, each kid had a bin for shoes. On the shelf, each kid had a bin for hats and gloves. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the brilliant beyond brilliant solution to our laundry room coat closet. Let me paint you a picture...

Imagine if you will a typically sized laundry room. Not one of those gigantic magazine layout laundry room / mud room / whatever room that could fit the whole family plus the dog plus a 9 foot grand piano. I'm talking about a regular, normal people's house, laundry room. The kind where the washer and dryer (and one cabinet - if you're lucky) are on one side and a blank wall on the other where the family traipses out in single file to enter the garage. That is my laundry room. However, the builders of my lovely home decided that they needed to add a second coat closet in this tiny "room." (The other, smaller coat closet is in the living room just inside the front door.)

This closet, in the laundry room, was built over the stairs to the basement. Thus, it has no floor. Well, it has a floor. Set at a 45 degree angle. Not super useful to have a closet without a usable floor. The real issue though, was the doors. Now, if you're paying attention, you should have counted two doors. The big, heavy, metal door to the garage and the closet door. That open into each other, by the way. We lived here less than a month when we dented the garage door with the handle to the closet door since they were both opened simultaneously. (I was inside getting into the closet, my husband was outside trying to come in.) But what you haven't heard about is the door separating the laundry room from the kitchen. I love that door. It closes off the sound when the machines are going and it's a nice place to stash mess when unexpected guests arrive. However, that door ALSO opens into the laundry room. So you end up with a regular sized laundry room with 3 doors that all open into the same space.

To top that off, I had this mirror with hooks thing that hung behind the door to the kitchen for the kids to hang their coats. Thus, that door never really opened all the way. So, small space. Lots of doors. Cramped, cramped, cramped.

Our "Mud Closet" After Picture
So when I saw the closet transformation in the magazine, I knew this was for us and off the closet door came! It took a little longer to complete than our typical projects mostly because of the painting and staining and the extended dry time due to our sudden onslaught of cold weather. Since it was a closet, it had not been painted so we had to paint the walls to match the laundry room. Thankfully, we had the leftover paint left by the builder. (I also painted the ceiling, because it's a closet, so why not?) We also decided to make the bench and shelf out of 2x4's and 2x6's to look like spa benches. Those were stained in the same color as the molding, also left by the builder.

After Pic of the Bench and Floor
The tricky part was dealing with the sloped floor. We discussed just painting it. Blah. We thought about putting a barrier at the base of the slope so it would become a bin. Also blah. So then we thought, make it look like the floor. That way your eye doesn't see the slope. So while, my mom and I were off getting my hair cut, my husband and father worked their magic and covered that slope with wood planks, also left by the builder. Thanks builder guy!

I have since added hooks for the kids coats, bins on the shelf for their hats/gloves/scarves, and a cool drink bucket (found on clearance at Target) to throw shoes in.

I am super excited about what we affectionately refer to as our "mud closet." The only sad part is the retirement of "the system." Our former method of shoe/hat/glove/scarf organization has now been replaced with a pretty cool bucket, some awesome bins, and another (lame) basket in the other closet for my stuff. The true test is whether or not shoes actually make it into the bucket...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Vacuum Your Fridge

It's been over a week since I have blogged. And like everything else in my tiny, little universe, I am blaming the broken fridge. For almost four days, that broken fridge was an excuse to eat out, skip bringing food for coffee hour (only because I knew my rockin' SS class would more than provide), and apparently, blog.

Last Friday, when I should have been bringing you the latest and greatest in organization or child-rearing secrets, I was moving all of our fridge contents into the freezer or ice chests while simultaneously plugging in the garage fridge (crossing my fingers that it would stay cold at night) and phoning Whirlpool as the fridge is still under warranty. That completely messed up our PJ Friday and thus, the blogging routine. Then on Monday, when I should have been sharing a fantastically delicious Sunday treat, I was instead waiting for the fridge repair guy. Sadly, there was no treat to share as the lack of a fridge means the absence of eggs. And as I am sure you know, cupcakes don't really do so well without eggs.

Thus, it is now Thursday. An odd day for me to blog, I know. And I have no amazing tips to give you. Instead, I am going to tell you what I learned from our broken fridge incident.

It is essential that you clean UNDER your fridge. All you do is pop off the vent cover, stick your shop vac attachment under there, and vacuum away! The repair guy said at least every six months, but with the amount of ice behind that secret panel in the freezer, I think we will be adding that to the weekly vacuuming chore.

Once upon a time, refrigerators were made with the coils on the back. Now, I knew that you were supposed to vacuum those coils every once in a while to keep the dust off so that the air can circulate better. Because optimum air circulation is essential for a fridge to work properly. But these days, those pesky little coils are located under the fridge on most models. They are known as fully encased systems, or something like that. According to my fridge guy, Tony, this is not great for three reasons:

1. Those coils get less air flow under your fridge.
2. More dirt, dust, crumbs, and grossness occur under your fridge.
3. Way harder to clean.

I will come clean and say that I have NEVER cleaned the coils of any refrigerator. EVER. I knew you were supposed to, but never bothered since I never experienced an issue. (When I told him Tony's advice, my sweet husband thought that vacuuming the fridge was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.) But I assure you, we will be doing so now. I can't remember all the technical stuff that Tony told me, but basically, those things get dirty and it restricts airflow. When that happens, coolant (or something) gets dumped into the mechanism located in the freezer. When that stuff freezes, it prevents airflow to the fridge part. So your freezer keeps on truckin' while the fridge gets warm and your milk goes bad. And I can't even describe the amount of ice that was completely taking over behind that little panel. It took Tony over 30 minutes to melt it with a heat gun. It then took all night to get the fridge back to the optimal cooling temperature of 35-38 degrees Fahrenheit. (We put a thermometer in the fridge to ensure it was indeed getting colder.)

But we once again have a working fridge. I hope to make some fantastic Super Bowl inspired treats for my super cool band peeps this weekend. And homemade chicken tacos and guacamole on Tuesday night tasted like the best meal we had eaten, probably ever.

So to save you the headache, my tips for preventing this in your house:

1.  Vacuum under/behind your fridge at least every six months. Or how about when you change your air filter? Or smoke detector batteries? I'm all about bulking the home maintenance stuff into the same day. Makes it easier to remember those rarely thought about chores.

2.  You know how, when you were looking for something to eat, your mom always told you, "It's not a TV. Shut the door!"? Yeah, she was right. I can attest to the drastic change in temperature after simply keeping the door open for one minute to pour a glass of milk. Since we left the thermometer in the fridge for about 24 hours to ensure it was working, we got to see the massive temperature fluctuations caused by leaving the door open. We're talking 3-5 degrees, well into the "danger zone." Then your fridge has to work harder, and that can't ever be a good thing.

3. If you think your fridge feels warmer, it probably is. We let it go for almost a week before we were convinced that it really wasn't working. Trust your instincts, people.

4. Tony advises that you obtain an extended warranty or service plan on only three appliance: your dishwasher, washing machine, and refrigerator.

We're thinking about it; how 'bout you?

Friday, January 20, 2012

We've Got Spirit, How 'Bout You?!

I am currently reading a book entitled, "How to Raise Your Spirited Child," by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. I bought this book because I assumed that my middle child was indeed 'spirited' and I needed suggestions. This is a term coined by the author in an attempt to find a positive spin for words like: headstrong, stubborn, emotional, finicky, persistent, argumentative, volatile, etc. She describes that not all 'spirited' children have all of these qualities but will definitely express several. Basically, a spirited child is a regular kid who is "more" of all those things than a typical kid.

After taking her quiz (which is not exactly scientifically based - it's a variation of an actual assessment used in the social sciences), answering for each of my three children, I discovered that I have not one but THREE spirited children. I can't say I was terribly surprised after reading her descriptions. I have friends who have very quiet, reserved children who will eat anything and it's a little bizarre to me, if I'm being honest. I am not accustomed to children who do not balk at new foods or run, yell, jump, and generally act like a human pinball machine. What was surprising is that both my husband and I fell in the Spunky range on her parent scale of spiritedness. That explains all the loudness in my house...

I LOVE that she distinguished being "spirited" from ADHD, since they are absolutely NOT the same thing. I love that it suggests accepting your children for who they were born to be instead of longing for the child you wish you had. I like that it points out that persistence = tenaciousness, which is an excellent quality in adults. That being finicky really demonstrates that your child knows what he wants. Also good. All of the qualities of the children she describes could be very useful, even if exceptionally annoying when we want/need our children to do something our way. My goal in buying this book was to learn new methods of discipline that would work with my spirited babies without damaging those qualities that make them uniquely, well, them.

And that's where we get to the parts of the book I don't like. I absolutely agree with the author in that traditional parenting advice DOES NOT WORK with spirited kids. The old adage "ignore the tantrum and they'll stop" - on the contrary. I have seen my son rage for so long that he vomited or passed out. Neither are good options, in my opinion. So when she said that a spirited child will continue and even get worse in the face of apathy, I was like, Right On Lady! She also says distraction doesn't work because spirited kids don't get distracted from what they want. Yep, too true. I live with it daily. She even cautions that their spiritedness is not an excuse for bad behavior. So far, so good. BUT the problem that I have is, so far, she's given me nothing useful. Just touchy, feely, 'embrace who they are' junk. And as much as I love them for who they are, I do want them to act appropriately. In her defense, I haven't finished the book yet. So if my opinion changes, I will be sure to let you know.

I tell you all of this, not to entice you to buy the book, but to preface my latest and greatest behavioral modification system. I got tired of waiting for this expert in parenting classes to give me something useful. It's a pretty long book and I only get to read for 30 minutes or so a day. And I needed something NOW before I ripped all my hair out or lost my voice screaming at the kids. Thus, the Tips and Fines jars were born:

It's pretty simple: the kids each have a list of 3 or 4 infractions (the ones that make me the craziest: whining, arguing, not following directions, not staying in bed, etc.) and a "fine" associated with said infraction. For example, if my oldest argues, she must pay the 'Fines' jar 25 cents. If she continues to argue after being charged the fine, the fine increases in multiples of 25 cents. (She's pretty tenacious, so we got up to a dollar fairly quickly in the beginning.) If my son commits an infraction, his penalty is 10 cents. The youngest just grabs whatever coin she sees first since she doesn't yet distinguish between them. I selected only a few behaviors to work on so that they would be able to remember them. The fines are based on the child's age (older child = larger fine.) I get fined as well. For yelling. (Side note: in almost 2 weeks, I have not had to pay the jar. Oh yeah.)

The 'Tip' jar is my attempt to balance our attention. I didn't want to only focus on the behaviors that I wanted eliminated; I also wanted to highlight the behaviors that are expected. When a child has followed directions or stayed in bed or acted in a loving manner to a sibling or eaten all his dinner - basically anything that we would like to see more often - they get what my son calls a "jewel." When the tip jar is full, we have promised to go to Orange Leaf.

As much as I would love to claim complete brilliance for this, it is all basic learning theory stuff. Like Pavlov did with his dogs. Stuff I have known since I was 20 and an undergrad in Psychology. Why it took me so long to apply it to everyday behaviors, I don't know. We used this method, a year ago and using only jewels, to get my son to stop sucking his thumb and it took one week.

So after two weeks of using this method, I am happy to report a dramatic change in my children. The 'Tips' jar had an unforseen side effect: They are working together better and holding each other accountable. They are passing out random hugs and "I love you's." They even complete chores without being asked, which earns them double tips. And my favorite example: I took the two little ones to TWO grocery stores yesterday. I was following the sales, which normally I would never, ever do. I'd rather pay more money than have to drag those two into multiple grocery stores. The first store was supposed to be a 15 minute, in-and-out, grab 6 items trip. Guess what?! It took 15 minutes. Crazy of all craziness. That has NEVER happened before. The second store was the bigger trip with the longer list and more time allotted. They were fantastic. I can't even describe it. They each held a reusable shopping bag, filling it with items as we shopped. We even got our free bakery cookie at the end of the trip instead of the beginning - with no complaining. They each got 5 jewels for this lovely behavior. So I have to say, I LOVE THE TIP JAR.

I am not ready to retire these jars, as our days are not anywhere near peaceful 100% (or even 80%) of the time. But I will say, we have had less yelling and more cooperation for almost 2 whole weeks. A good, healthy start. If you would like to implement this type of token system in your home, this method is easily modified to use what your kids value most or for when you need it most. Mine like money, so fines work for us.  But some kids don't care about money. When I implemented this last year for the thumb sucking habit, we had only one jar. My son received jewels any time I looked and he wasn't sucking his thumb and lost jewels if he was. When the jar was full, he got a new hot wheels car. For this one, I had to carry jewels in a baggie in the car and he took his jar EVERYWHERE we went since his thumb-sucking habit was worse when he was bored, like in the car. But like any successful behavior modification technique, in the beginning, you need to "notice" the desired behaviors a lot and reward them accordingly. If it takes too long to fill that jar, they will get bored and give up.

Happy parenting!

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Appearance of Clean

I debated for a long time about what to write today. Would you want my latest parenting adventure in behavior modification, a yummy sure-to-impress cupcake recipe, or the best of my secrets to a clean house? While sitting in my kitchen looking at the various piles in stages of doneness, I have opted with door #3.

While many of you may exclaim in full shock mode, "piles of stuff?! In YOUR kitchen?!" I must confess that I too, accumulate piles of c-r-a-p, crap. Now, they don't usually hang out for very long as both my husband and I are anti-clutter. We regularly walk through the house picking up stray objects on our way to some other destination. But I fully realize that some people are far more comfortable with the once a week clean sweep (pardon the pun) of the entire house. To each his own, I say. But if you are one of the people who would love to know how to keep your house clean and ready for guests at a moment's notice, read on.

I don't know if I coined the phrase "appearance of clean" or if it was passed down by my mom, but the concept is most definitely hers. I remember she once told me, if your kitchen and bathroom are clean, people will assume your house is clean. And as the master of all stay-at-home-moms, she knows everything. So even if you don't trust me, trust her. She is oh so right about this one. Most people who visit your home will not look at the floor or the dust on the blinds. But if there are dishes piled in the sink, food on the counter, or toothpaste on the mirror, that's a bit hard to ignore.

Now, I don't have a single friend who would judge me if I had toothpaste on my mirror, nor would I think any less of a friend who decided soaking the pots the night before was a better use of her time. As a matter of fact, I had a friend drop by at 9am the other day with 30 minutes notice and my only preparation was to take a quick shower. I didn't even check the other bathroom. It's possible that the kids had made a mess since the last cleaning and I assure you, she said nothing.

But like I said the other day, I am a perfectionist, which means I pride myself on being able to manage it all. I also like a clean house; it makes me feel calm and at peace with my universe. But sometimes to accomplish all this perfection, you just have to CHEAT! So here's the secret:

1. Adjust your definition of clean to really mean tidy. We all know there is a difference between a clean house and a tidy house. I have a clean house about once a week and you are exceptionally fortunate if you get to visit that day. It smells of cleaners and brand new Scentsy and everything sparkles. Every other day, I have a tidy house, or what I like to call "everyday clean." To accomplish tidy, pick up out-of-place papers and items as you walk through a room and put them away immediately. I do not recommend a catch-all basket as I have never known anyone who actually cleans it out daily.

2. Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher, hand wash those you must, and wipe out your sink after every meal. Make Lysol wipes your best friend and wipe your counters often.

3. Wipe out your bathroom sink every day. Again, Lysol wipes are AWESOME!

4. If you have children, teach them to love Lysol wipes and they will handle these tasks will glee.

Now, for the really adventurous, I have two other tips:

5. If you don't have a Scentsy warmer, get one. Or three. We have 5. (Kitchen, basement, master bath, kids' bath, and Kyle's travel warmer). If you have one and don't use it, ARE YOU NUTS?!? We use our sense of smell to help us understand our surroundings. So, if your house smells clean, it is clean. Get it?

6. Make your bed every day. Now, I know this is super controversial which is why I saved it for last. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who make their beds and those who don't. Surprisingly enough, I used to be in the latter group. If you think you don't have time to make your bed, knock it off. It takes 120 seconds AT MOST to make a bed, hospital corners and all. And I have a KING! I fully respect those who just don't care about a made bed. (But please, no excuses. Just say you don't care.) But if you don't make your bed, but also strive to have a clean-feeling house, I challenge you to make your bed every day this week before you leave the house (or before lunch). After one week, see if you don't feel better about your level of clean. It works, I promise.

And that's it! If you do those things every day, your house will look and feel clean. You will be ready for that last-minute dinner guest. And it only takes about 15-20 minutes total. Happy cleaning!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Not your typical stay-at-home-mom

I might look like your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill stay at home mom. But secretly, I'm really not. Those who are lucky enough to be part of my inner circle know that I am a perfectionist with a capital PERFECT! When I make up my mind to do something, it's go big or go home. Even when I was in school, if it wasn't an A, it may as well have been an F. Until college when I sort of joined reality just for a bit. Then I graduated and reverted back to, well myself, only cleaner and more organized.

Being this way really isn't as easy as it looks, I assure you. Sometimes it means throwing perfectly fine cupcakes in the trash or realigning vinyl letters four times because the spacing isn't just so. It can be time consuming and downright disappointing when things don't go how I imagine they should. But other things, like the tidiness of my home, the organization of my closet, and the planning of my children's wacky over-the-top ALWAYS at home birthday parties are a complete breeze due largely to the fact that I have a system.

I have a system for EVERYTHING. We even have a system for shoes, that's oh-so-creatively called "The System." I can't even imagine what it must be like to live with me, although I fantasize that my husband and children think their lives are so much better than other people's due to the streamlined efforts of the crazy lady in charge. Perhaps my husband should contribute to the blog on occasion so that you will all know the truth. I don't know that I could read them, however, as I prefer my fantasy reality. Yes, I know, that's an oxymoron.

Anyway, as I jump out in this adventure of sharing my universe on the world wide web, I do have a small confession. I'm not perfect. Shhhh! It's my most heavily guarded secret. I am learning to accept when mornings, volunteer jobs, and even cupcakes don't go as planned. I've come to realize that often, God's illumination of His plan is more like a flashlight than a flood light. I'm slowly finding a balance that will demonstrate in real time to my children that sometimes, what we least expect and never planned for can be our biggest blessing.

So whether you are an Army wife, single mom, stay at home dad, or experienced grandparent, I invite you to join me on my blog journey where I will share tips, tricks, recipes, party ideas, and sometimes detours that make it look like I am just sailing through this Army wife life. No matter where you are in life, I hope you will find something in my jumble of words that you need right now to make your life easier, more organized, or maybe just a little sweeter. Oh, how I do love cupcakes...