Dec 122014
Our festive front door.

Our festive front door.

One of my best Black Friday finds was completely unintended. I was sent a notice about a flash sale on a front door decoration set for half price with free shipping. Total cost: $51.60. It was perfect for our home. It was a traditional, Colonial style with symmetrical matching trees in small pots, natural Williamsburg-style decorations of pinecones and berries, a door garland and even a battery operated LED wreath.

The set arrived quickly and I set to work putting it up. We generally don’t do a lot of outdoor Christmas decorations so I wasn’t exactly familiar with how this would work. I think we have all seen pictures in magazines of these beautiful garlands draped over doorways but once it arrived and I stood outside holding it in my hands, I realized that I had no idea how to do this. is this going to work exactly?

Hmmm….how is this going to work exactly?

The first thing I discovered is that the kit I ordered came with only one garland and it wasn’t going to be long enough to surround the door like advertised. Fortunately, I had one extra garland from a set I already owned that I had never quite known what to do with. All the rest in that set I use to wrap around our stair bannister but there was one left over that usually ended up unused or in random places. I lucked out and the two garlands coordinated nicely even though they are made of slightly different materials. The length was just right.

The garland is quite heavy to handle so you can’t just drape it over the door frame and expect it to stay. I knew this was going to require some hardware so I went in the basement to poke around in our tools.

First, I studded the door frame with nails about every 18 inches or so to give the garland something to prevent it from slipping off.

Studding the door frame with nails.

Studding the door frame with nails.

I laid the garland behind the nails and it sort of worked but there were parts of the garland that slipped out from behind the nails, especially along the sides of the door making the garland look loose and unkempt. My first thought was to tie the garland to the nails with some green sewing thread. This did not work at all. The thread was not nearly strong enough to handle the weight. I needed wire.

It came to me that some of the extra garbage bag twist ties we had in the kitchen might suit. So, I tied some of those around the nails.

Twist ties to secure the garland were tied around each nail.

Twist ties to secure the garland were tied around each nail.

I wish my twist ties were green and a bit longer but in general this worked great! The garland was nicely secured. I put the trees in place and started connecting all the wires together. When I got to the last tree, I had a small problem. I had a female (plug) end on my garland and only one male (prong) end coming from the remaining tree. I could either connect the tree to the outlet or the garland but not both!

Oops!  A loose end that could not be connected to anything!

Oops! A loose end that could not be connected to anything!

I went to the basement and looked at our collection of extra Christmas lights. All of them had one female end and one male end. There was no combination of lights that was going to work to get the garland and the tree connected to each other and the electrical outlet.

After all my efforts, I had managed to connect exactly one Christmas tree.

After all my efforts, I had managed to connect exactly one Christmas tree.

I texted my husband who was on his way to a company Christmas party to stop by the hardware store and bring me home a male/male extension cord that was very short.

He called me right back:

“I’m not sure male/male extension cords exist and even if they do, that would be extremely dangerous to have lying around. What if you made a mistake and plugged both ends into the same outlet!”

Electrical wiring is clearly not my strong suit.

“Are you sure you wired up the garland correctly?”

This was not the question I wanted to hear. That garland took forever to put up and I was not going to take it down. I insisted that my wiring must be right but that I would go outside to check for him. I started with the tree furthest from the outlet.

“OK, this tree has a male plug and it is connected to the garland via . . . . . another male plug,” I said with great disappointment.

“Yeah, you just need to reverse the garland and everything should connect just fine.”

So, back outside I went and took it all down and put it all back up again the other direction. And, of course, it connected perfectly.

A 5-minute call with my husband (who had no even seen what I was wiring but has a natural symbiosis with electricity) resulted in all the wiring connecting perfectly!

A 5-minute call with my husband (who had no even seen what I was wiring but has a natural symbiosis with electricity) resulted in all the wiring connecting perfectly!

Satisfied with my progress, I went inside to put up the garland on our stair railing that we also use to display the holiday cards we receive.

Staircase garland up!

Staircase garland up!

It is a great clutter prevention strategy to have a spot to put all those holiday cards that arrive.  We clothespin them to our staircase garland and they look amazing.  We admire them as we go up and down the stairs each day.

It is a great clutter prevention strategy to have a spot to put all those holiday cards that arrive. We clothespin them to our staircase garland and they look amazing. We admire them as we go up and down the stairs each day.

Lights make such a difference in lifting our spirits during the holidays. The only problem is that you have to remember to plug and unplug them every day. Fortunately, I put a technology solution to work for my staircase garland, an indoor light timer. These are a hot item at the hardware stores lately so if you see one and you want one, make sure to grab it. They are inexpensive. A pack of 2 with an indoor and outdoor light timer was about $12.

The indoor light timer, a wonderful, time-saving way to enjoy your holiday lights.

The indoor light timer, a wonderful, time-saving way to enjoy your holiday lights.

These timers come with few instructions. I’m sure most people figure them out right away but my lights were on 24-7 for two days while I sorted it out. To spare you the same problem, here are my indoor light timer instructions:

1. Plug the light timer into your outlet (or extension cord).
2. Plug the male end of your lights into the side of the timer.
3. Make sure the switch on the side of the timer is set to “timer on.”
4. There are little gray plastic pins all around the dial on the top of the timer. Pull up all the gray plastic pins during the hours when you DON’T want the lights on. I made a mistake when I first started and pulled up just the pins for the start and stop times. You have to pull up all the pins between those two hours.
5. Rotate the dial to set the timer to the current time. If your lights have not come on even though they are supposed to, you might need to rotated the dial a full turn around first until the lights come on and then set the time.

I have a new appreciation for how much work and frustration must go into every single holiday light display. As I am driving by enjoying someone else’s lights, I will wish them a silent congratulations on a job well done!

Do you have any lighting misadventures to share?

 Posted by on December 12, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Dec 092013
One of the unpredictable factors this time of year is weather.  Here, scenes from today's dangerously beautiful ice storm.

One of the unpredictable factors this time of year is weather. Here, scenes from today’s dangerously beautiful ice storm.

This holiday season I have definitely bit off more than I can chew. At the moment, I have just returned from a journey of 4,000 miles. I have a mountain of laundry, luggage to unpack, Christmas shopping to finish, thank you notes to write and, on top of it all, a tremendous chest cold and sick children to tend to. I don’t expect anybody to feel sorry for me. Most people this time of year have their own burden of stresses.

As an organizer, it has been interesting to read the different thoughts and opinions of other professional organizers on managing Christmas stress.

  • Marcia Francois advocates that people be realistic and say no frequently.
  • Marilyn Bohn accepts the stress and has the gift of providing quick, helpful tips to better cope. In her recent newsletter, she gave out a great tip about temporarily storing your regular home décor in your Christmas decoration boxes to rotate and freshen your look for the holiday season, which was brilliant.
  • Beth Dargis gives a humanistic approach and advises that it is OK to feel however you want during the holidays and to remember to be kind to others.

Christmastime is an organizational challenge by any measure. There is so much to do and so many expectations to satisfy. Eric Hoover’s article in The Washington Post complaining about people who fail to sign and write personal notes on each of their holiday cards has hit a nerve with many. (I like NPR’s response.)

At a time of year when we are invited to create a utopian world of holiday magic, it is OK for us to complain that others have failed to assist in creating that world for us? In a time of such excess and indulgence, is it OK to feel dissatisfied?


The real stress of Christmas is that mismatch of expectations. We can’t bake cookies, shop, decorate and attend holiday parties without feeling pinched for time. We can’t feel like our time on these activities was well spent when someone is there to complain that despite our efforts, we didn’t quite achieve holiday bliss.

Christmas celebration is in many ways a gambling proposition. You may be literally throwing your time and money away with nothing to show for it. But every once in a while you get it just right and that big win is addictive. Seeing our loved ones overjoyed is one of the best rewards there is!


So, it’s time to get comfortable with holiday stress. No amount of organization will make it all go away. Nothing is going to go exactly as planned. At least someone will be disappointed. But if we are lucky, at least someone will be thrilled and reenergized about life….and if we are really lucky, those people just might be us.

If you are feeling simply overwhelmed by the holidays, take a moment to identify the things that are most important to you and just focus on those. Let everything else go. Make sure you take time for yourself too, whether through rest, exercise, meditation, knitting or vegging out in front of the TV. Even a short rest can be motivating when you are super-stressed.

On the practical side, however, two priorities this week to make your holidays go a little smoother.

1) Finish any holiday shopping that has to be shipped. Shopping time is shorter this year and regular shipping deadlines are already upon us. Save yourself expedited shipping charges and make sure your gift gets there on time. I was shopping last night and was surprised to see that some estimated delivery times are already around December 23.

2) Send any photos to be printed. Some photo printing deadlines are coming up as early as tomorrow with standard shipping.

Tomorrow, I will start recounting our holiday road trip across the U.S. I hope you will find it a fun celebration of Christmas in the United States.

 Posted by on December 9, 2013 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 232011

Grocery shoppers 3 days before Christmas.

Two days until the big day and we are running on fumes!  I braved Costco yesterday for some groceries and it was packed with both shoppers and sampling stations.  We had so many samples we went home completely full!  A man hawking red velvet cake told another man, “Hey buddy, put this on a nice platter and you’ll be Martha Stewart!”  My children got a lot of nice smiles and comments from strangers.  Numerous people looked at me sympathetically (“Wow! You’ve got a lot of work to do!”) and two well-mannered teenagers (whom Santa must be extremely proud of) offered to help me put my groceries on the checkout belt.

I still have a few odds and ends to pick up but have to figure out some way to do it without my kids coming along.

At this point, our main mission is “scrubbing for Santa.”  The house needs a good clean.  We have been so busy going to activity after activity these past few weeks that the house has been neglected.  My husband begged me not to share this embarrassing fact with the world . . .

We haven’t put up our tree yet!

Although this must seem shocking and perhaps sinful to the Christmas purists, decorating has been dead last on our priority list this year.  I don’t really find this embarrassing, however, as we have been doing so many things for Christmas (parade, Santa train, Christmas photo, three Christmas ballet performances) not to mention all the shopping and mailing that we are full of the Christmas spirit.  The decorating is just “stuff.”

We still have time of course and we will haul the tree out of the basement and get it up today.  As of this moment, all we have done is decked the front hall with our staircase garland.  I do agree that decorating makes a big difference in the feel of a house.  It puts you in the holiday spirit for sure.  My children oohed and aahed as we plugged in the garland, dragged in a boom box and danced an impromptu holiday concert in the front hall!

Since I am under major stress at the moment, as I suspect many people are, I will finish off the posts today with two extremely simple and cute ideas from my 6-year old daughter.  Anyone can try these to get in the holiday spirit.

Wishing you wonderful holiday celebrations full of joy, love and bonding time with friends and family!  If you are sprinting for the finish line like I am, wishing you energy and health as well!

 Posted by on December 23, 2011 General Tagged with: ,
Dec 142011

Santa, how do you do this year after year? I could use some advice.

Our holiday frenzy is occurring at high speed lately. Last week, I gave you my priority list, which we are sticking with for the most part. We are almost finished with our shopping and hope to have the rest of our gifts in the mail by tomorrow.

We did our Christmas card shoot over the weekend, (which everyone dreads at the time but we remember fondly as time goes by). We put in our photo orders and I am putting the finishing touches on a few handmade gifts. We are using our gift spreadsheet primarily at the moment to track shipping on all the gifts we have ordered.

We are tired.

We still have not done our decorating yet and hope to get started on that this week. It is probably one of the more fun tasks of the season. Once we lose the shopping burden we hope to be able to pause a bit more to enjoy the countdown to Christmas.

At this point, we have to decide on when to cut off our own shopping. I am tempted to say we are done except for stocking stuffers but we have a big online cart we would have to jettison. It is so easy to keep adding more and more and more. I keep saying to myself, “That is enough! You don’t have to buy it all right now!”

This week my priorities are:

1) Finish all handmade items.
2) Finish any online shopping.
3) Mail all presents and cards that need mailing.
4) Decorate
5) Decide on menus.

One of the relaxing things I have been doing with my children amongst all this hubbub is to sit and read. We pulled out all the Christmas books from years past and also reserved some items from the library. When we went to pick up our reserve books, we were shocked at the emptiness of the shelves. Normally they are packed full of everyone’s requests. I mentioned this to a library and she commented that the librarians were puzzled at the lack of interest too. “Everyone must be out shopping.”

Shopping indeed. Yesterday at our local Wal-Mart I saw these signs.

It was hard to believe that so many people have used layaway plans this Christmas that there is a need to alphabetize the pick-up process by last name! Unless you also have a layaway to pick up, you may want to avoid the Wal-Mart service counter until after the 16th. And if you are still looking for the latest hot toys, you might have another shot after the 16th from people forfeiting their layaways.  A friend recently shared a heartwarming story about strangers anonymously paying off layaways for families in need.

Phew! How are you doing with your holiday preparations? Please share in the comments.

Fun holiday links:

 Posted by on December 14, 2011 General Tagged with: ,