Jan 252015
It's been a month since Christmas.  Reflecting on our holiday memories.

It’s been a month since Christmas. Reflecting on our holiday memories.

Long time no post! Lots has been going on this month and we are nearly at the end of January! On this one month past Christmas, I wanted to take a moment to wrap up the holiday season.

Our holiday season was enormously busy as well. We had a wonderful time celebrating throughout the month but it was nice to be done with all of it. When I look at the big picture of holiday chores, it came down to eight major categories of tasks.

1. Putting Up Decorations

We put up more decorations this year than probably ever in years past. I shared with you my new front door decorations which I love. The other treat I did not share was the adorable mantel design my daughters created all on their own. I awoke from a pregnancy-induced nap to find my daughters had hung up all the stockings and created a fun toyscape. They even put up a tiny stocking for their sibling to be, which was incredibly sweet.

My daughters' impressive mantel design.

My daughters’ impressive mantel design.

We had a lot of fun with lights this year. During the dark days of December, having a variety of lights on throughout the house really cheered things up. Next to the mantel, we tried a DIY idea I had seen last year to wrap lights on upturned tomato cages to make modern “trees.” It took a little bit of work to wrap all the lights but they added a bright, modern touch to our mantel. My children came up with the idea to color some foam blocks we had with permanent markers to make “presents” for the trees.

Our tomato cage "trees" with foam block "presents."

Our tomato cage “trees” with foam block “presents.”

We added a few new handmade decorations to our tree as well.

The knitted "elf clothesline garland" by Rhonda Brewer that has been on my "to knit" list forever.

The knitted “elf clothesline garland” by Rhonda Brewer that has been on my “to knit” list forever.

Painted horse ornaments my girls made with their cousin at a Christmas-themed horse-riding event.

Painted horse ornaments my girls made with their cousin at a Christmas-themed horse-riding event.

2. Shopping/Making Gifts

This year, in addition to purchasing gifts for our children, we exchanged homemade gifts with family members. I was excited to try this for the first time but didn’t quite appreciate how much work it would end up being! My gifts included some homemade treats, knitted sheep and some portrait ornaments from my children.

A baking extravaganza!  Homemade macaroons, challah bread, cranberry orange and lemon blueberry bread.

A baking extravaganza! Homemade macaroons, challah bread, cranberry orange and lemon blueberry bread.

A flock of knitted sheep ornaments.

A flock of knitted sheep ornaments.

Portraits of family members done by my children.  They dressed up nicely in inexpensive $1 ornament frames.  I loved these!

Portraits of family members done by my children. They dressed up nicely in inexpensive $1 ornament frames. I loved these!

I had a lot to learn about sending baked goods through the mail. The first lesson was that you need to mail quickly after baking to prevent your hard work from becoming stale. We rushed to mail them one day after finishing the baking. We were in a huge rush to pack and label everything and it came out a bit rough. We tossed goodies quickly into sandwich bags and packed with shredded newspaper. If we ever did this again, I would have on hand one of each size of the U.S. postal service standard mailing boxes to estimate postage and packing requirements. (These can be picked up free at the post office.) Also, picking up a supply of colored tissue paper for nicer packing material and/or tins that exactly fit in the boxes would have been a nicer touch.

My daughter was so inspired by my knitting that she asked me to get her started on her own project. She picked it up immediately and began taking her knitting with her in the car when we had errands to run.

A new knitter!

A new knitter!

In other handmade activities, we signed my daughter up for sewing lessons at the incomparable G Street Fabrics during December. She ended up being the only child in the class and received private lessons, making an adorable drawstring bag and an assortment of pillows.

Sewing class

Sewing class

3. Family Photo Session

Since we have very young children who seem to grow by the day, we always end up delaying taking our holiday card photo until right near the holidays. It is always a full day, exhausting production getting everyone’s hair and clothes ready and taking enough pictures to capture one worthy of using for the card and individual portraits of the children. This year, I had an extra challenge trying to look attractive in my advancing pregnant state. Fortunately, I found some great YouTube videos about using contour makeup that seemed to help. I also learned the hard way that our waving iron was malfunctioning as it got too hot and burned off a lock of my hair right near the front! I tossed it out and added “new waving iron” to my Christmas list.

My pregnant holiday card look.

My pregnant holiday card look.

We learned a few years ago that you can make your family portraits look 1000 times better just by taking them outside when the light is optimal. For us, this is always just after the sun sets but it is still light out. I learned this year that this is called the “golden hour” of photography and that professionals use this trick as well. There is even a calculator that will tell you approximately when the golden hour starts based on your geographic location.

4. Organizing Used Toy Giveaway

I posted about this in detail before so I won’t repeat it here. We learned that we can lessen the stress of this activity by working on it a little throughout the year. When purging toys, we can clean them up, wrap them up and group by age and gender.


5. Sending out Holiday Cards

I learned a great tip this year about designing our holiday photo card. Every year, we have the same problem where my tall husband throws off the aspect ratio of our photos. He is always the tallest person in the photo whether he is standing or sitting down. For some reason, when I try to scale the photos down to fit on the photo card, I have to choose between cutting off his head or cropping all of us at the knees. This year, I tried numerous card formats from different stores and just kept running into the same problem. There was no way to fit in our full photo.

I was about to give up when I learned that Wal-Mart offers the option to print a completely blank photo card. I was able to design and crop my own photos using photo editing software and upload them to be printed on a blank photo card. I could also add in my own text boxes after the upload so the text was crisp and clear. Another bonus, I didn’t have to remember what holiday card formats we had used in years past and worry that we were repeating one.

6. Celebrating Christmas

On Christmas Eve, my children were very enthusiastic about making cookies for Santa. We made chocolate chip molasses cookies, which were awesome. They put out cookies and a large handful of carrots “for the reindeer.”

Treats for Santa.

Treats for Santa.

Santa was very tired and not feeling quite up to par due to a recent cold virus. Santa fell asleep and woke up just in the nick of time the next morning! Santa had just barely finished putting out the presents and filling the stockings when a small voice appeared over my shoulder.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Oh, just playing with these presents that Santa brought!”

We had been so tired from activities 1-5 that we hadn’t had time to clean up the family room, which was quite a disaster. Realizing the immense leverage I had in this situation with eager children ready to open the stockings and presents, I insisted that everyone help clean up the house before we could open the presents. It really was quite a mess and it took a couple of hours to finish.

"Mean Mommy" made everyone clean before we could open presents.

“Mean Mommy” made everyone clean before we could open presents.

I was the least popular person in the house having everyone clean on Christmas morning but I couldn’t bear the thought of adding a ton of new toys to the existing mess. When it was finally time to open presents, the children were thrilled and had plenty of clean space to play with and enjoy them.

7. Planning/Cleaning up for New Year’s Party

This year we hosted a small New Year’s party for family and a few friends. It was a great incentive to get the house cleaned up from Christmas. Yes, even though we had just done a big cleaning effort on Christmas Day our house gets trashed extremely easily with all the activity going on. So, we cleaned up again and had a wonderful evening, even making it all the way to a midnight celebration!

My daughter stopping to hug my belly as I prep for our party buffet.

My daughter stopping to hug my belly as I prep for our party buffet.

Popping bubble wrap and spraying silly string at midnight.  A little girls' delight!

Popping bubble wrap and spraying silly string at midnight. A little girls’ delight!

8. Taking Down Decorations

After all the celebrations of the past few months, it was bittersweet taking down all the decorations. On the one hand, it was sad to say goodbye to the holiday season, but on the other hand, it was nice to be able to focus again on everyday life.

I told my children I would need their help to take down the tree.

“That’s too much work!” my 6 year old informed me.

She was such a brilliant helper putting up the decorations but the thought of trying to figure out how to pack them all back into where they came from was completely overwhelming to her. Quite honestly, it seemed overwhelming to me too! I found that taking it one step at a time helped and using the basic organizing technique of trying to focus on picking out categories of things. I labeled zippered storage bags which I packed with ornaments of the same type. I also separated my ornaments into two main bins. One bin held kid-friendly ornaments that could not be easily broken and the other the fragile ornaments.

It took nearly a full two days to pack up all the mantel and Christmas tree decorations. When we were done, this is what we were left with.

The Christmas tree ornaments and mantel decorations packed nicely into 3 bins.

The Christmas tree ornaments and mantel decorations packed nicely into 3 bins.

Then it was on to the front door. We purchased a new 3-foot storage box to hold everything. (Plastic boxes are a must for basement storage.)

Down came the front door decorations into this storage box.

Down came the front door decorations into this storage box.

It is a little strange to see all the amazement of Christmas packed up so small and compact. My children are already looking forward to the time 11 short months from now when we take it all out again. As for me, I hope to work up the energy by then.

Have any organizing lessons learned from this holiday season? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on January 25, 2015 General Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Dec 312011

We made it to the end of December and the end of the holiday season!! Pat yourself on the back if you are still standing! It is time to start a new month and a new Ruly theme but first a quick recap of December’s posts, comments and organizing news.

Holiday Organizing Tips

Homemade gifts:

Ruly Business: A Look at How Charities Organized Holiday Fundraising Campaigns This Season

Time Capsule of My Own Struggles with Christmas Organizing

Toy Storage Organizing Tips

The most popular comment this month we got both online and behind the scenes was, “Where did you encounter Santa on an airplane/subway?” in response to our kids and Santa post.  This cute Santa and Mrs. Claus pair was on the Virginia Railway Express Santa Train event held each December where kids take a short train ride with Santa. The event is also held as a fundraiser for Toys for Tots and an educational opportunity about train safety from Operation Lifesaver, Inc.  (which, come to think of it, I could have profiled in my charitable strategies series).

My favorite comments, I have to say, however, reflected the stress that EVERYONE experiences during the holidays.

Kristin commented:

“My holiday projects have been thwarted by a burnt-out car headlight (really?!?), a very sick little boy (better now, thank goodness), and… oh, yeah, my JOB. *sigh*”

Ruth commented:

“Okay–so why wouldn’t everyone move across country the week before Xmas?? I think everyone should do this—ARGH!!! On Monday, the movers came with our stuff. Tuesday we worked on unpacking boxes. Wednesday we got the tree up–prelit but now decorated . . . Thursday started Xmas shopping–finishing up today–ugh! So needless to say presents being sent are all late! And we’ve been living in transient housing from the 7th to the 16th–we’re lucky to have clean laundry let alone Xmas–speaking of which the dryer’s heating element is shot–should arrive by 1/2—-UGH!!!!”

Maegan Tintari wrote on her blog . . . love Maegan

“I have a bit of work to do but hopefully plan on spending the rest of the day baking holiday treats for our family and friends & finish wrapping presents. I honestly am not sure why I have not been taking Xanax all week or downing copious amounts of merlot to deal with all this stress… but I think I will start now. It’s vacation, right?”

–Maegan Tintari, “Holiday Decorating . . . and a few updates,” . . . LoveMaegan blog, December 23, 2011

Charity Beasley wrote a very insightful post on her indietutes blog:

“Did I mention that the holidays bum me out and I feel shell shocked by the cold air and lack of sunlight? Did I mention that I want to just flap my arms around and yell shutupshutupshutup to Christmas and tell everyone to go back to bed? I’m sorry. This is not a merry season for me. This is a quiet time of year, to take naps, to reflect and evaluate. Take a breather. Rest.”

–Charity Beasley, “hush,” indietutes blog, December 21, 2011

Organizer Erin Doland also wrote a hilarious review of The Elf on the Shelf:

“I like the holidays. I really do. I enjoy spending time with my family and sharing a good meal with good conversation and watching my son in the Christmas pageant. I look forward to exchanging gifts with my nearest and dearest and trimming the tree. I’m someone who prefers her holidays to be simple and free of rats who tattle on you to Santa Claus, like The Elf on the Shelf does.”

–Erin Doland, “Unitasker Wednesday: The Elf on the Shelf,” unclutterer blog, December 14, 2011

As I was rushing about this holiday season, there were a few brief moments when I had time to stop and think for a bit. The short days and darkness of this time of year coupled with the cold, bleak landscape and thinking of memories and family sometimes made me sad. There wasn’t much time to focus on that because there was so much to do. It made me realize that perhaps all this craziness at the holiday season is sort of a form of distraction therapy for all of us. Perhaps people throughout centuries have felt a bit down at this time of year and just had to get themselves through to the solstice when the days would begin lengthening again marching toward spring. So rather than complain about all there is to do, perhaps I should be grateful for it.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, however you celebrated (or didn’t) and that this month’s posts gave you some assistance in your busy season. I am already taking my own medicine and doing some early prep for next year’s holiday season. It is a great time to buy nice ornaments and other seasonal wares on deep discount, great for cookie and ornament exchanges, or maybe your Christmas sweater for next year’s “ugly sweater” party. It is also great to print out and plan for any projects, recipes or patterns you may have seen made this year by others to try for yourself next year! (oh no! only 356 days and counting left!)

 Posted by on December 31, 2011 General Tagged with: , , , ,
Dec 312011

My holiday card tree this year. (Blurred for privacy.)

This year’s crop of holiday cards has been absolutely gorgeous and heartwarming. I sincerely appreciate everyone who took the time to create the cards, track down addresses, and pay the postage to send these beauties off.

Earlier this year, I saw a tip from Isabelle Thornton at the La Chateau des Fleurs blog to display holiday cards on a bouquet of branches. I loved it because if there is one thing we have a huge, underutilized supply of it is tree branches. The cards look great and help remind you of all the great people supporting you in your life.

I plan to keep my card tree up until after Valentine’s Day to soothe my pining for the days when everyone sent Valentine’s cards and bouquets of flowers with secret meanings, (having recently watched the great “Return to Cranford” series on PBS). The annual holiday card exchange is about as close as we come to a “real” Valentine’s exchange.

The Juggle blog at The Wall Street Journal recently posted about the pains of sending out holiday cards, which ended up generating a discussion in the comments about who should be sending these cards (Single? Married? Married with young children? Empty nester?). While some people feel that only cute small children or animals should be featured on holiday photo cards, I am firmly in the opposite camp. I would love to get a holiday card (photo or otherwise) from any of my friends and family, regardless of age, marital or parental status. I hope everyone feels so happy and proud of their respective lives that they want to be featured on a holiday photo card. Please share your vacation, your family group shot, your occupational accomplishments or even your struggles or sadness. Some of the cards that meant the most this year came from friends who I know have been through some rough times but this year are proudly smiling in their own holiday photo card. And if you don’t send your own holiday cards but like receiving them from others just make sure at some point in the year you tell that person how great that card was or how much it meant to you. You’ll be sure to stay on the “send” list.

What to do with all those holiday cards after the holidays?

Martha Stewart gives 9 different ideas here

My grandmother used to cut traditional folded cards she received in half, creating a postcard. Other times if someone just wrote on the bottom of the inside of the card, she would just cut off the bottom personalized part. She would then re-use the cards the next year either as package tags or to send out her own greetings! There are a lot of hazards to this method (what if you accidentally sent the card back to the original sender?) but I give her points for a frugal-chic solution.

What to do with the card tree after the holidays?  This is a great multi-purpose display tool.  Here, I put balloons on it and used it as a “wild” centerpiece at my daughter’s birthday party.

Nature-lovers balloon bouquet!

Do you enjoy sending and receiving holiday cards? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on December 31, 2011 General Tagged with: , ,
Dec 292010

Soon it will be time to pack away all those holiday decorations for another year. Ugh! I doubt if anyone really enjoys this step. We all know it is essential to get holiday decorations put away in a relatively organized way so that all of these treasures can be preserved for another year of use.

Recently, I came across some incredible videos at HGTV.com from organizing expert Star Hansen. The videos below have some awesome ideas for putting away your holiday decorations in a compact and organized way.

Here she uses a trunk and fabric layers to put away outdoor decorations.

Here she takes her organizing magic indoors into the typical basement:

If you still have a few days (or weeks) until you pack away the holiday décor, here are a few organizing tools you might consider adding to your arsenal.

These are the most useful boxes for packing away your Christmas treasures. They are large and fit a wide variety of objects. They have a green and red top so they are easy to identify as holiday storage bins and (my favorite!) they have a clear base so you can see what is inside without having to unpack it.

If you have a large number of breakable ball-type ornaments, a box like this is a must. Since most of our ornaments are the child-friendly non-breakable kind (i.e. plastic or stuffed animals), we just toss them in a big storage box and wrap in tissue any that happen to be fragile.

Those who insist on fresh Christmas trees each year have a storage advantage over those of us with artificial trees. At the end of the holiday season, you just pitch the tree for garbage pickup and/or recycling. If you have an artificial tree, like we do, you have to find a place to store it for the year. We used to store our large artificial Christmas tree in the cardboard box it came in. Over time the cardboard deteriorated and it was also VERY heavy to lift. One year, we picked up some tree bags at an after Christmas sale and packed away the tree in two sections. This both made a more attractive and durable storage option but more importantly, it reduced the lifting weight of the tree into two more manageable portions. The tree bags are also easier to lift than a box and you can either sling the straps over your shoulder backpack style or have two people each carry one handle.

For a little more money, you can get a rolling duffle bag for your tree, which would be great if you don’t have to lift your tree up and down stairs.  If you store your tree upright instead of disassembling it, they make a bag for that too!

A friend recently joked that the ultimate Christmas tree storage would be a trap-door in the ceiling where a fully decorated tree could be raised up at the end of the season and lowered down the next!

The Christmas Light Co. 3 Holiday Storage Reels in a Bag at amazon.com.

There are few tasks more frustrating than untangling holiday lights. This set of reels lets you roll up your lights for tangle-free, stress-free decorating next year.

Wreath Storage Bag - 25 Diameter at amazon.com.

If you have artificial wreaths to store, this clear bag is a great way to protect the wreath from dust and still be able to see the contents inside.

Now is a great time to assess your own holiday storage needs and see if you need to buy any specialized storage supplies. Many of them are on sale now. For my part, I really need a better holiday card display solution. I love all the creative ideas out there.

Umbra Petal Desktop Photo Holder at amazon.com.

This cute flower-inspired holder would be great not only for the holidays but throughout the year. It could hold birthday cards, notes, bills, reminders, etc.

This one is a bit small for my needs but I love the “mobile” aspect of it and that it looks like the Calder mobile at the National Gallery of Art. Wouldn’t something like this be fun suspended temporarily in your foyer during the holidays?

This one can be used as either a photo tree or if our photo cards ultimately stop coming as people transition to digital delivery, this could be used like a modern Christmas tree for ornaments or other decorations as well.

Have an undecorating or holiday storage question or tip? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on December 29, 2010 Storage Solutions Tagged with: , , ,