Sep 052013


It’s back to school week and this week we are adjusting to the new demands of our homeschool schedule. This month I will be devoting to educational topics as there are certainly a lot of organizing challenges that go along with school. But first, I wanted to briefly recap summer’s blog posts.

As with last summer, my children and I were busy traveling and participating in various camps and educational opportunities. Last summer, I had a great time with all these activities but simply found it too overwhelming to blog about any of it. This year, while I wasn’t able to keep to any predefined schedule, I did manage to blog about the interesting things we have seen. I am glad to have this as a record for our family and glad that many of you have commented that you were interested to hear about these adventures as well! I also learned on Twitter yesterday that Virginia set tourism records in 2012. It will be interesting to see if this holds for 2013 as well.

This summer was packed with various birthday and other celebrations for our family. While most of these events did not hit the blog, I shared with you the simple Father’s Day cards we sent this year. Having some simple, non-stressful homemade crafts up your sleeve is one of the best skills to develop as a mom and these cards definitely fall in that category. From the many amazing aunts and grandparents I have and have been fortunate to have, I have learned that taking time to remember all these small events–even when you are tremendously busy yourself– means so much more to the recipient than you will ever know. So, if you are one of those people who faithfully sends Facebook birthday greetings or emails or even snail-mailed cards during the holidays, and you aren’t sure if it is worth the bother, allow me on behalf of the universe to say that it has made a world of difference to someone to be remembered so kindly and thank you for your efforts!

I posted about our family room flooring project, replacing carpeting with stained-to-match hardwood flooring. Over the summer, as we did some entertaining in our home, we received several positive comments on how this project turned out. We are still allowing the floor to cure at the moment but are making grand plans for moving back in around Christmastime.

I gave a report of my first time ever visit to the homeschool convention sponsored by HEAV. I continue to benefit from so much of the advice and information I received there. I would highly recommend that any homeschooler ensure they are attending a conference like this once a year.

I also gave a report of my visit to the National Gallery of Art exhibit on Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes. While you may or may not see a connection between the arts and organizing, I find the arts a tremendous source of inspiration. I also hope that my small efforts in blogging may encourage more people to incorporate more art into their own lives. In a prior post, I wrote about our visit to The Washington Ballet’s spring performance at TheARC.


This post was favorite-d and retweeted by The Washington Ballet on Twitter and I also was enormously thrilled to receive this comment on the post by one of the young male dancers in the show.

Yesss thanks for the compliment on my Technique nd how i was a standout

I reviewed the fantastic book and pattern book companion for The Broken Circle: Yarns of the Knitting Witches by knitter and author Cheryl Potter. Ms. Potter left a kind comment for me:

Thank you for taking the time to read my book and write a review. I love hearing what readers think of The Broken Circle and the patterns that go with.

It is one of the great rewards of a blogger to receive a comment like this. Authors and prospective authors, please take note that you can earn yourself tremendous goodwill by trying to comment, Tweet, etc. with appreciation for each positive review. I continue to be enamored of the Skye’s Traveling Cloak pattern from her book. Over the Labor Day weekend, Ms. Potter had a terrific yarn sale going on in her Potluck Yarn Shop and I picked up some amazing hand-dyed yarn from her Potluck Yarn collection to make it with.

In other comment news, it was fun to get a comment thread going on my old post about topiaries. A reader commented with a question about how to read Mike and Marliss Stribbling. Mike Stribbling himself commented:

We do not have a website but if you need info on Topiary drop us a line and we will give you all the help you need within 24 hours

Behind the scenes, I connected the reader with Mike’s email address. If spam weren’t such an enormous problem, I would post it here for everyone. Mike sent me a nice note that he enjoyed my post as well. It’s always fun to see how people connect with words that you have written.

So, while we still have 16 days until summer officially ends, we, like most families, are transitioning into a fall mode at the moment. This month will give you a little peek into how school works in our house as well as share some clever education ideas from others and discuss how our routines in general are changing with the seasons. Hope you enjoy!

 Posted by on September 5, 2013 Monthly Recap Tagged with: , , , , , ,
May 312013
A chance sighting outside my kitchen window--a doe nursing her tiny fawn.  Spring is here!

A chance sighting outside my kitchen window–a doe nursing her tiny fawn. Spring is here!

It’s the end of May! Time to recap this month’s posts and share some signs of spring.

Guest blogger Christie Maruka provided style tips for wearing white this summer. I have bookmarked this list to use during my closet editing next month. The weather has finally shifted to hot after vacillating from hot to cold. I kept finding myself dressed for the wrong weather this month—the simplest of organizational problems.

Our salmon-colored azaleas are always the last of the azaleas to bloom.  Quite a show this year!

Our salmon-colored azaleas are always the last of the azaleas to bloom. Quite a show this year!

In May I made progress eliminating a lot of the small nuisances around my home. I am helping to build my cleaning and organizing routines by experimenting with different methods to find what works and what is easiest for my home.

The gorgeous pink and white peonies.

The gorgeous pink and white peonies.

May was an interesting month for planet Earth. There were two less than desirable acts of nature. The tornado in Oklahoma was beyond devastating but has triggered so much inspiring generosity. The cicada invasion locally has intensified. The cicadas are now “singing” about 12 hours of the day. “Singing” would imply a pleasant noise, which sadly this is not. Their “song” sounds more like a 10 police cars with sirens responding to a terrible highway accident miles away or a distant car alarm. Apparently the cicadas are both blind and deaf so all they are responding to is the vibrations of this cacophony. When a Baltimore-based contractor came to our house this week, he puzzlingly inquired, “What is that noise?” Apparently, there are few cicadas in Baltimore right now. It is more of a Virginia thing. Even one of our neighbors mistook the singing for an alarm going off. Fortunately, it is mostly a white noise kind of sound.

The red peony which blooms at the same time as the pink and white one creating a sort of Valentine's mix.

The red peony which blooms at the same time as the pink and white one creating a sort of Valentine’s mix.

May was also a month of celebrations. We cherished all the maternal influences in our lives and celebrated the work of The Washington Ballet changing the lives of children in southeast D.C.

Rhododendron in bloom.  The only downside of our garden is that everything blooms at the same time in early spring!  Wish we could spread this out a bit more.

Rhododendron in bloom. The only downside of our garden is that everything blooms at the same time in early spring! Wish we could spread this out a bit more.

Organizational items of note from around the web.

  • Hack Day – In an interesting counterpoint to routines, the Kickstarter blog posted about their company’s annual “Hack Day.” Hack Day is a day with “no rules” to experiment and try new things. They let employees loose to try short 24-hour projects to improve something about their workplace or entertain a particular passion. At the end of Hack Day they share all the innovative projects that have resulted. I love this idea and think it would be a great morale and creativity booster, either in a workplace or in your own home.
  • A clever article from called, “Is it normal that my toddler’s obsessed with organizing things?” caught my eye. The number of occasions my children have displayed this behavior can probably be counted on one hand. They are generally solidly in the disorganization column. However, in light of our past discussions on OCD, I thought this quote from the article was worth sharing as a helpful measure to us all on distinguishing organization from OCD:

“Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), on the other hand, is debilitating rather than empowering. Instead of using organization to gain an understanding of her world, a child with OCD uses her compulsion to keep the world — and the extreme anxiety and fear that it causes for her — at bay.”

–Penelope Leach, child psychologist, quoted in “Is it normal that my toddler’s obsessed with organizing things?”

Itea bud with cicada carcass.

Itea bud with cicada carcass.

Finally, this month, I have had a chance to think a bit more about my theme word for the year, “routine.” I have continued my diet and exercise routines and will give that progress report tomorrow. This month, my big breakthrough about routines, however, was inspired by my fitness routine. If I slack off my exercise routine for even one day, I notice a huge difference in my strength and stamina and my general well-being. I don’t think I am addicted to exercise because it still requires a huge amount of willpower on my part to even do it, but this fitness experience has taught me a couple of key lessons.

1. Many goals that are worth achieving require constant daily attention.
I also like to think of this insight as “Everything is like a muscle.” You could exercise one every 90 days for 2 days at a time, for example, but would you really gain fitness that way? 8 days of intense exercise per year is certainly better than nothing but it is hard to see how you would really make forward progress with that method. Almost every skill you can think of requires practice and mastery on a daily basis. Routine is the way we prioritize the endless list of things that we could be doing into a structure that reflects what is important to us.

2. Routine does not have to mean mindless repetition; it can be an indication of how well you know yourself. Everyone’s life becomes overwhelming at one point or another. When catastrophes happen and things get off track, it helps you keep going to have a routine that you know works for you to fall back on. For example, there were a few days this month when I had so much going on that my diet and exercise slipped. Since I know what the routine is that works for me it was easy to say to myself. “Ok, today is a new day and here is the eating and exercise plan.” There was no stress about what to do or how it would work out. I had a tested routine to get started with. The key is to personalize the routine. You can’t just adopt someone else’s plan. You have to experiment and find what works for you.

3. Routine in one area becomes motivation for routines in other areas. I am glad that the fitness routine is the one I figured out first. It has been rewarding to put energy into something that then gives me energy back. I have more stamina to tackle all the aspects of my life and now my job is to figure out how to best focus that extra energy. If you are struggling with setting routines in your own life, look for something you are already doing routinely to inspire you to take that same dedication and energy and apply it to something else.

I hope you take some time to think about your month—what went right and what went wrong and where you want to go for June. For many people, June is a huge transition month when schedules and routines have to change. Don’t let this time of year frustrate you. Identify the routines that can stay the same for you and the areas that will require flexibility and change.

On to June! As always, thanks for reading and commenting!

 Posted by on May 31, 2013 Monthly Recap Tagged with: , ,
Nov 012011

Ruly at your service! My Halloween costume this year.

In October at Ruly, we focused on the essentials of a good wardrobe. It was a fun month full of tricks and treats.


We started off with 3 strategies to stay sane during this holiday season.

Then we turned to the women’s closet, identifying classic items for professional and casual dress as well as hearing Ruly Ruth’s take on Fall 2011 Women’s Fashion Trends:

We had some great comments! From the sound of things, we are all going to be wearing a lot of turtlenecks over the next few months.

Ruth commented that my professional wardrobe choices looked a bit bland from a fashion standpoint. Truthfully, they probably are but sometimes that is the way “classic” pieces work.

diadia gave a great tip for saving money on professional blouses . . . shop in the men’s department!

“White or other color true men’s shirts make excellent shirts for me. The cost for each is usually under $30, poly, no iron. Buttons can be changed on the cuff to give a feminine dash–I use pearl or rhinestone. Also I move the cuff button to hold the shirt sleeve firm at the wrist.”

diadia also gave a comment on the casual clothing post, raising a question about a product I had never heard of before — socks or pantyhose with a separate toe for the big toe. She wanted to use them to extend the life of her summer thong sandals into the winter months. I have never attempted this but do something similar for my girls by having them wear turtlenecks and tights with their summer sundresses in the winter to extend their wardrobes. Diadia later emailed me an update, indicating that she had found the socks in question at eBay and that they are called Tabi socks. She also included a photo of her discovered look. I quite like the look and the ingenuity of the idea.

Winter sandals. Vogue's next trend?


Then we turned to the men’s closet, identifying staple items for professional and casual dress.

My son received several positive comments behind the scene for his modeling debut in a thermal shirt.  Also, Ruth received a request on her Facebook page that she consider a menswear version of her commentary on the latest fashion trends.  Men, are you interested in this?

Refashioning Men’s Dress Shirts
I so appreciate all the kind and encouraging comments on this post where I turned my husband’s cast-off dress shirts into dresses for my daughters, particularly since they came when I just confessed my failures at the bake sale on the same day. My wonderful readers taught me a lesson on etiquette here. Whenever someone has a failure, the kindest thing you can do is let them know how great they are at something else!

Fashion and Finances
We contrasted the fashion spending habits of financial guru Suze Orman and fashion blogger Maegan Tintari. Readers provided some great money-saving options for clothes shopping:

Summer commented:

“I NEVER pay full price for clothes, especially clothing for children. I shop sales and clearance like crazy! If there’s something full price I want, I wait for coupon discounts like “friends and family” promotions or those “bounce back” type coupons that clothing stores are now doing (e.g. Gymbucks, Savings Cards, etc.) I also shop for my kid’s clothes at the end of a season and just buy things big for next year. I am totally that customer that walks in and goes directly to the back of the store.”

Ruth commented:

“I’ve been so blessed with amazing friends and my sister’s mother-in-law that love to shop and splurge on their kids’ clothes that my daughter has been lacking very little!! THANKS FOR THAT!! Now on occasion I’ve been very successful in finding out-of-season clothing for especially my son at Goodwill. Especially shorts–most people don’t sell or need them in November–we do!! Goodwill was a god-send then!”


No life is perfect and there were a few bumps in the road this month.

Lessons from the Fall Festival Bake Sale
I shared my poorly organized attempt to contribute to the school bake sale and readers commiserated and shared some helpful suggestions.

Mary commented:

“I completely agree with you in that if they want Moms to contribute, then they better lovingly accept flat cupcakes with little one’s fingerprints, squiggled icing and gobs of sprinkles all over the tops of them. Plus, let’s face it, we aren’t living the lives of our grandmothers who stayed home and made goods from scratch on a regular basis. This stuff is out of our element! In closing, I praise you for your bravery and efforts but definitely think next time keep it simple and use that ‘extra’ time to play with the kids!”

Best Wishes Giuliana
My thanks to Ruth and Mary who commented and shared Giuliana Rancic’s breast cancer story with friends. Per the last public update, Giuliana’s surgery went well and based on her Twitter account, she is still going full steam ahead with her busy career! Bill Rancic has done an excellent job in his role as the supportive husband too.

In Praise of the Black Turtleneck: Remembering Steve Jobs
Life has continued on without Steve Jobs but I do find myself thinking of him from time to time and the hole in humanity that he has left behind.  I just read the beautiful eulogy his sister, Mona Simpson, wrote in The New York Times and recommend you read it too.  I love his last words.

Finally, I had a small Halloween celebration on my site yesterday with two posts about Halloween costumes. Again, many thanks for all the positive comments on the Halloween costumes! I am glad to see there are some Charlie and Lola fans out there too.

Last, I wanted to share my Halloween costume for this year. I spent so much time making costumes for everybody else that I had literally no time to make my own. I told my children weeks in advance that I would go as Amelia Bedelia– another of our favorite storybook characters. I made attempts at cobbling together a costume from a used dress on eBay (which I then forgot to bid on before the auction ended) and had plans to make Amelia’s characteristic apron but ran out of time. My girls insisted that I needed a costume for our trick or treating. So, into my closet I went and came up with the costume you see above. There was literally no expense and no sewing in this costume. The “apron” was the best trick. This is really a white blouse with ruffled sleeves worn upside down with a little clear packing tape to “hem” it. My neighbors had a great laugh when I told them how the costume came together.

It was actually quite fun dressing as the formal maid. On a quick run to the grocery store for candy, I was surprised to discover pride in wearing this outfit. I was not just a mom but a well-dressed professional for my household. I may have to remember this trick the next time I am lacking motivation in my own organizing efforts.

I hope you enjoyed the posts this month and that they have helped give you a new perspective on your own closet.

P.S. In other organizing news.

It was great fun this month reading the advice from South African “Organising Queen” Marcia Francois in her 31 days of organizing questions. Her last post in the series is especially great. Reality happens even to Organising Queens too.

Still following the Apartment Therapy 20/20 Cure posts designed to improve your home in 20 days with just 20 minutes a day. I have not been able to follow all of them to the letter due to the bustle of Halloween but am finding a lot of inspiration just from watching them.

 Posted by on November 1, 2011 Monthly Recap Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Sep 302011

This month at Ruly we have been discussing emergency preparedness in connection with National Preparedness Month.

While I didn’t get to discuss every topic and idea I had in mind and got a bit off-schedule at the end of the month (as we are enjoying visiting family), I have at least made forward progress in my emergency preparedness. I already have some ideas in mind for future posts.

Emergency preparedness is such a huge subject that no one can have it all done at once. It is a topic we should all revisit periodically to review and refresh our knowledge. I hope reading the posts this month at Ruly have helped you to do that for yourself.

In brief, this month:

We looked at three weaknesses in our current emergency preparedness efforts generally.

Ruth commented:

“Do you prepare for everything all the time? Seems a bit over the top to me…..maybe I’ll regret typing that one day!”

I gave 3 quick ways to improve your emergency preparedness:

I shared my memories of 9/11/01 in Washington.

Suze Orman reminded us that the chief financial lesson of 9/11 is that we all should remember to update our will and trust documents.

Ruly Ruth provided a great form to organize information for families, where an emergency is really any situation where parents cannot care for their children.

I showed you what it is like trying to go shopping for emergency supplies when a predictable disaster like a hurricane is just about to strike.

We also looked at two recent news stories showing how emergency drills and emergency training saves lives.

Mary commented:

“EVERYONE should become CPR and First Aid certified and recertify every couple of years. There is nothing worse than coming across someone in need and not knowing how to use those precious moments to help them. Trust me, I know from personal experience watching a young boy pass away. Because of this tragedy, I promised myself I would never be helpless to helping others again. As the old survivalists say, ‘Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.'”

We discussed the visual-spatial thinking advantage in emergency situations.

I reviewed some of the latest earthquake advice and gave some tips for organizing stuff in earthquake-prone spaces.

We also discussed the importance of planning for mental recovery after an emergency has passed.

Also, if you are new to Ruly and wondering why I didn’t discuss water and food storage, it’s because we did that last year! If you want to read last year’s emergency preparedness posts, they are below:

Finally, I wanted to share a few references to organizing in recent news stories this month.

First, a theory for organizing motivation in an article about eyebrow tweezing in The New York Times fashion column.

“When your hormones are out of whack, you want . . . order. You want everything to look clean. I think that’s because of the chaos that’s going on in your body.”

–Meredith Madron, makeup artist and eyebrow specialist, quoted in Kayleen Schaefer’s “For Shapely Brows, Put Down the Tweezers,” The New York Times, September 21, 2011.

Somewhat related to hormonal organizing, I shared a link on my Facebook page to Sandra Tsing Loh’s latest article in Atlantic Magazine about menopause. She had this great quote:

“And now that Aunt Carol’s hormonal cloud is finally wearing off, it’s not a tragedy, or an abnormality, or her going crazy—it just means she can rejoin the rest of the human race: she can be the same selfish, non-nurturing, non-bonding type of person everyone else is.”

–Sandra Tsing Loh, “The Bitch is Back,” Atlantic Magazine, October 2011.

Lorraine commented on Facebook:

“I can relate to this!!”

Is it possible to be too organized? Facebook users may think so. The recent uproar over changes to Facebook’s user interface that is supposed to organize your data to make it easier to use prompted this comment:

“This is another example of improving something until it is unusable.”

–David Jay Crispin commenting on Vince Horiuchi’s Salt Lake Tribune article, “Facebook fans express their disgust with changes,” September 21, 2011.

Hoping you had a wonderful September! Please check back next week for October’s organizing theme!

 Posted by on September 30, 2011 General, Monthly Recap Tagged with: , , ,
May 312011

Memorial Day Luminaria at Maryes Heights, Fredericksburg National Military Park

It is the last day of May and time to recap this month’s posts and reader feedback on organizing your health!

We started off the month with two Ruly Challenges. The first challenge was to get up to date on any routine medical appointments for annual physicals, dental visits or eye checkups (if you aren’t already).

Amy commented:

“High blood pressure is a silent condition, one where you don’t hear anything from your body until it’s too late…that must be monitored!  Most cancers show no symptoms until too late…keep the check ups going and don’t dismiss anything…”

A recent story on NPR also encourages young people to keep up with their regular physicals.

The second challenge was to make a goal for some small progress item to improve your health. As you may recall, mine was to exercise just 15 minutes a day. I am sad to report that my goal was largely unsuccessful and I was unable to fit even 15 minutes in most days of May! However, May has been quite busy for us. I am continuing the same goal for June and hope to do better.

I reviewed Nicholas Kardaras’ latest book, How Plato and Pythagoras Can Save Your Life.  Its central message that having a core life philosophy to follow promotes physical and mental well-being is one that has given me a lot to think about.

I offered solutions for two extremely common health concerns: getting over the common cold and preventing mosquito and tick bites.  I posted some extra links in the comments on the bug post highlighting other tips from around the web.  This year our family will also be trying a monthly commercial spraying service for mosquitos and ticks to see if it helps make our backyard more usable.

I shared with you the personal health binder solution that I use to keep track of my family’s health.  I was honored to have this link shared by the blog for the American Health Information Management Association as well as on their Twitter Account @my_PHR, which was then retweeted by @BangorBeacon and others.  I also added to this post an “Extra Credit” emergency preparedness summary page based on a comment Lou made on the caregiving post about how it is helpful to have a quick one-page list of contact information, medications, doctors, etc. I will be drawing up these one-pagers to add to each of our health binders.

We discussed how taking medication/following doctor-prescribed therapies is one of the most challenging organizational problems facing our health care system and offered solutions to help.  CNN recently posted an interesting article about the challenges of communicating honestly with your physician:

Number 10 on the list is “You don’t comply with the treatment plan” which is described as “the granddaddy” mistake and the one physicians face the most often. I also found the comments on this article fascinating. Many people took the opportunity to express how frustrated they feel with the medical system and that respect is a two-way street. Patients wanted doctors to be more on time for appointments and to listen to patient suggestions for medical treatments based on patient research or personal preferences. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done on both ends of the spectrum.

I shared with you tips for creating free medical news alerts to stay up to date on the latest medical research.

Ruth commented:

“Whenever I find relevant info. on articles at random about a condition a friend or family member has, I be sure to email that to them since the information is ubiquitous and often an odd search will yield unexpected info. that may be of extreme help to someone else–so pls. share with others what you find!”

Lou commented:

“I endorse Ruth’s idea to pass along relevant information about conditions to friends and family. Some of my best resources have come about this way. . . . I also get the Weekly Digest Bulletin from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration–esp. helpful for recall items (like the sterile alcohol pads I’d been using).”

In case anyone needs it, the link to sign up for e-mail alerts on drug, food and other recalls from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is here.

Finally, Ruly Ruth shared with us tips for organizing your life when you are the primary caregiver for someone else’s medical care as well as tips for friends and family to support the caregiver.

Lou gave some very helpful comments:

“. . . If you can, take your MEDICAL BINDER with the person’s information with you, especially medications, medical history, that way you don’t have to remember it under stress. (This was helpful to the ER personnel upon our arrival.) . . .

Designate ONE person . . . to communicate with medical personnel and s/he would convey/e-mail the information to the rest of us.

Take SNACKS and WATER with you to the hospital that you can keep handy. Sometimes it’s not that easy to get away.

BRING a MEAL to the hospital for the caregiver! It is so appreciated.”

Ruth received comments on her Facebook page also supporting the idea to bring your own snacks to the hospital in case the cafeteria is closed or you can’t leave. Also, to take a sweater in case the rooms are cold.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting this month! I have learned a lot from your feedback.

Hope all my U.S. readers had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend! We experienced a very moving luminaria event at the Fredericksburg National Battlefield put on by the National Park Service and local Boy Scout troops. Thousands of candles marked the graves of Civil War soldiers. Many of these soldiers are unknown and identified only by a number. Taps sounded every half hour.

We also discovered the PBS series, Carrier: Life Aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz. It apparently first aired in 2008 so we are a bit late in this discovery but all of the episodes are available for watching online for free. If you like reality television, you will like this series. It is a documentary about the lives of various people aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz, including information about their military roles and their personal lives. It provides an interesting peek at modern military life.

Healthwise, now that hot weather is upon us here in Virginia, we have a newfound appreciation for fruits and vegetables. This weekend we ate our weight in watermelon, cantaloupe, sweet corn and other fruits and veggies. With enough cold watermelon on hand, we can get through what promises to be a humid summer.

Please check back on Thursday when we start a new month and a new Ruly theme!

 Posted by on May 31, 2011 Monthly Recap Tagged with: ,