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

Duplo animals

At our house, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Legos. The classic construction toy is so much fun to build with and admire. Depending on your preference, you either build your kit once and store it in pristine condition like a model or you keep tearing it down to build something new.

The only downside of Lego is that they can be a pain to put away, figuratively and literally (for anyone who has had the pleasure of stepping on small Lego pieces in bare feet. Ouch!)

This year, there have been a few new innovations in Lego storage. The Container Store offers cute Lego brick and Lego head-shaped containers that you can dump the Legos into.

Also, I recently received an email from Peter and Moira Botherway, inventors in New Zealand who have created a unique Lego sorting and storage system called the Box4Blox. You can watch a short video about the product here. Basically, you dump assorted small Legos in the top and the Box4Blox will filter the collection by size into different sized trays. It is made in the USA, which is also very cool.

Of course, the best question is, “How does Lego store its Lego collection?” Lego recently sent out free DVDs to kids who are members of its Lego Club for Kids. On the DVD are several short movies about how Lego designers design and build various Lego sets at the Lego factory. I went crazy when I saw this clip where the Lego designer goes to the “element basement” to pick out exactly which blocks he needs for his project. They show how all the blocks are sorted by color and size in labeled boxes in labeled shelving units. Some people’s version of heaven would be to wander these aisles for eternity.

One other tip we have learned with Legos is that it is a good idea to wash them once in a while to get rid of greasy and sticky fingerprints, particularly for the Duplo blocks aimed at younger children. The easiest way we have found to wash the blocks is to dump them into a bathtub and fill the tub with hot water. Add a little dishwashing soap and a little bleach. Let them soak for a while then carefully drain the tub and let the Legos air dry on towels.

I did this recently for our collection and found the sight of the Legos bobbing in the water so funny that I took a few pictures.

Bobbing Legos being washed.

Struggling to get clean.

What methods do you prefer for Lego storage? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on December 31, 2011 Ruly Kids Tagged with: , ,
Dec 302011

This Christmas we did something radical . . . for us. We bought used!

I didn’t have a plan to do this. It sort of evolved when I was not enthused by the latest Barbie fashions. (I will sound like an old lady but some of those clothes are truly short and inappropriate . . and have you seen the bizarre outfits they have Ken wearing these days?) So, I went looking for some vintage Barbie clothes. The problem was, so was everyone else. The clothes were being sold for high bids on eBay and disappearing from CraigsList as fast as they could be posted. But in my search, I came across a really neat vintage Barbie closet. . . and a new idea for a gift was born.

The closet wasn’t anything “official” Barbie, just a tiny, plain wooden closet. It included hangers and a set of plastic luggage for the bargain price of $10!

Since I was yearning for vintage Barbie clothes, instead of the actual clothes, I decided to turn this gift into creative juice for my 6 year old. I bought two Barbie books used. One was by one of my favorite knitters, Nicky Epstein, about how to knit your own Barbie clothes and the other was a great scrapbook of sorts showing all the different vintage Barbies and their outfits.

The creative juice part worked! My daughter LOVED the closet. She has already traced, cut out and colored one of the hangers to make her own paper hanger (to put paper clothes on, she informed me).

She also liked the idea that we could design our own clothes for the Barbie. (FYI, designer Cynthia Rowley indicates she got her start in fashion design designing for her Barbie as a child.) “Great!” I said and expected her to tell me which pattern she wanted to make from the Barbie knitting book. “What would you like to make?”


“Pajamas? OK, great! Let’s just find some pajamas. . . .” It turns out that there is not a single pattern for pajamas! I even Googled. No one but my daughter wants to make Barbie pajamas. So, we improvised. She drew on a piece of paper her idea and brought me yarns from my yarn stash to make it from.

I made up a simple dress pattern on the fly. I didn’t replicate her idea exactly but used her yarn choices and her idea to put hearts on the jammies. Once the pajamas were finished, the second request came:

“Now she needs slippers!”

Here is our finished result! A Barbie original.

Our original design for Barbie pajamas.

We also like the fact that the closet is an organizing solution for the Barbie. My husband was complaining that he didn’t want Barbie clothes and shoes all over the place. Now we have a place to put them all. Since we are making the clothes ourselves, my daughter seems to take a little more pride and care with them too, making sure to hang up all the clothes that are not being used.

What are your favorite Barbie organizing solutions? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on December 30, 2011 Ruly Kids Tagged with: , , , ,
Dec 292011

Where to put all these new Christmas gifts?

In this resting space between Christmas and New Year’s you get a real sense of someone’s personality. Some people are still vacationing and relaxing. Others have already taken down the tree and packed it away and are currently putting down their resolutions and buying new calendars and planners for 2012. In our house, our primary concern is puzzling over where to put all those Christmas toys!! Ruly Ruth (and her King) come to our rescue with some clever solutions.

I am the most disorganized storage person on earth! Once a method is established I can somewhat follow it—but to create it is NOT my forte. Enter my amazing husband–who is the KING of spacial organization! When you have young children, toys are an essential part of childhood, and storing these on a daily basis is a talent and an art.

For a variety of ages, board games are a fabulous way to entertain children. The parts are generally for 3+ year olds, and are colorful and attractive–I love moving my Marine Monopoly tank around the board! For a 2 year old, we dumb it down to counting spaces. But storing this montage of games can be puzzling. Top shelves of hall closets are often used. My amazing husband actually built a coffee table where we remove the two ends to provide abundant storage for our multitude of games. This is not the first of its kind–there are obviously other coffee table storage methods–but this is an elegant solution.

Custom-made game storage table -- open.

Game storage table -- closed. Sleek, clean and the toys are all easy to access when needed.

We love those amazing kids’ storage solutions sold at Walmart and Target that have a wooden shell and cubbies for specially-made bins. We try to segment themed toys into each bin. So for example, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are in one, dolls in another, etc. This way in an ideal world they would pull out one bin at a time. Which is more realistic the older they get–we still have multiple bins out for Emily though. Lots of clean-up practice for both of us!

Toy cubby shelves with pull-out bins.

Another style of toy cubby and bins.

For small Lego parts–this was brilliant on my husband’s part—segmented tool boxes are ideal! TJ’s are about 4″ deep with clear plastic lids–and lots of sections for a variety of Lego sizes! Love that! He can easily see the parts, and divide them based on color, size, function–whatever works for him.

Too many toys making you climb the walls? Let the toys "climb" the walls instead!

An ingenious idea for beautiful big toys is to hang them on the wall—my husband came up with this creation for my son’s ATTE. He does need someone to help him put the hangars under the middle legs–but when not in use it looks like it’s crawling up his wall–a virtual artwork.

An idea for wall hangings, especially as kids get older, is sports equipment. In the above photo, note the baseball bat hanging below the ATTE. And one of our son’s prized airsoft guns, as well as a mini-marshmallow shooter he made at a friend’s birthday party–and for those of you that are old Ed, Edd & Edddy fans–PLANK! This way you get the things kids are passionate about literally surrounding them. I love that!

An airsoft gun cleverly mounted to the wall in a tiny space between doors.

Another ingenious use of otherwise wasted space. "Plank" mounted to the wall in a small space between windows.

The final most amazing piece I have to share in this posting is my husband’s own creation. It’s one-of-a-kind and it’s so cool!!! We had an ancient old Burton snowboard (as in a kid told RJ once when he was riding it “Dude! You boarded back in the DAY!” Yup!) And a skateboard from Walmart that TJ picked out–and RJ made a toy display shelf out of the two–designed and built it himself. The snowboard is the top shelf, a middle wooden shelf, and the skateboard makes the bottom shelf. TJ even often hangs hats off of the wheels!

Repurposed snowboard and skateboard shelves. Awesome!

These amazing creations work for us. They are easily accessible for the kids to play with, yet can be hid away for company and for quiet evenings. I praise my husband’s creativity and ingenuity on a daily basis for his efforts in creating these amazing ideas for our family.

We at Ruly would LOVE to see and hear all of your creative toy storage creations! Please share in the comments. Happy New Year everyone!

–Ruly Ruth

 Posted by on December 29, 2011 General, Ruly Ruth Tagged with:
Dec 062011

Christmas is coming! Scene from our local parade.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . . . everywhere but at our house! While I am seeing so many lights and decorations in my neighborhood as well as cute blogs showcasing elegant homes and decorations, we have yet to put out a single decoration! While the holiday cards are already rolling in, we have just started our shopping and are currently on the Type B path to Christmas.

If you are in a similar boat, take heart in the following:

1) “Christmas” in many cultures and religions starts on Christmas Day and continues for the 12 days following Christmas. On this schedule, Christmas “ends” January 6. So you can still get 30 days enjoyment out of your decorations if you start today!

2) There might be a safety advantage to starting a little later in your decorations if you are using a live tree.

“Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks.”

Focus on Fire Safety: Holiday Fire Safety, U.S. Fire Administration

3) If you missed out on Black Friday sales, you might not have missed much and some of the best shopping bargains are only coming out now! When I spot-checked prices over Thanksgiving weekend, I didn’t find any sales that I found irresistible and even found that one sneaky retailer actually increased prices by 5-20% over Black Friday weekend and has only recently lowered them back down to where they were before the holiday season.

The “holiday season” is one long marathon from Halloween to Christmas and by this stage in the game we are a little tired. We enjoy the Christmas season, however, and we actually have done some things to prepare:

1) Months ago, we booked season tickets to the ballet, including my holiday tradition with my girls, attending the Nutcracker.

2) Around Thanksgiving, we negotiated with both sides of our family regarding gift giving lists for the holiday season. You may recall that last year, we implemented “No gifts.” This year we are trying “kids only” on one side and “draw a family for a family gift” on the other. This cut our shopping time and general holiday stress by 90%.

3) We booked activities with our children for each weekend in December. Last weekend, was the Christmas parade, this weekend the Santa Train and next weekend, the Nutcracker. We are trying to be out and about enjoying the season.

However, there is still a ton left to do and the time windows for certain activities are closing fast. Keeping track of priority deadlines is required at this point. If you need a quick checklist (like I do), here are the things to concentrate on this week and to finish no later than next week:

This week:

1) To the extent possible, finish Christmas/holiday shopping or at least finish your shopping list of exactly what you plan to buy this year.

2) If you are buying anything used (books, etc.), which is a great way to save money, you probably need to place those orders this week to ensure they will ship in time for Christmas. Most used sellers use the slower “Media Mail” shipping option.

3) Take Christmas/holiday photos and order any photo reprints needed. You can save some money on your photos if you give yourself enough time to take advantage of regular shipping and non-expedited printing. Soon, photo printers will be overwhelmed with Christmas orders and you may not get your photos in time for Christmas.

4) If you are framing anything for a Christmas gift or ordering anything custom-made, get that order in now before the maker is overbooked.

No later than next week:

1) Mail any continental U.S. presents. Regular shipping deadlines are closing around next Thursday, December 15, for most retailers. After that point, you will need to pay for expedited shipping which can be expensive and many shippers won’t guarantee that even if you pay for expedited shipping that your order will arrive in time for Christmas.

2) Decide on your Christmas menu. Put in orders for any special ingredients, etc.

This month at Ruly we are going to take it easy as we proceed through to Christmas and New Years. I hope to keep the posts light and fun and point out simple ideas from others to de-stress your holiday celebrations. We will also continue our organizing efforts with a feature on one of the organizational challenges for all parents…toy storage.

For your holiday enjoyment today, I wanted to point out the following fun holiday posts:

  • Apartment Therapy: No Room for a Tree? 10 DIY Modern Holiday Alternatives – I love these clever ideas for a unique and space-saving tree, from hanging items on the wall in a tree shape to projecting a tree with light. If we didn’t have a beast of an artificial tree in the basement (that our children are begging to put up) I would love to experiment with these ideas.
  • Lego’s Online Holiday Advent Calendar – While a physical advent calendar, counting the days to Christmas, is fun, this year we are experimenting with a virtual advent calendar. Lego has a great animation that unlocks about every two days showing different Lego characters getting ready for Christmas. I set it as the homepage on my daughters’ computer and they love it. Free!

How are you coming along with your holiday preparations?  Please share in the comments.


 Posted by on December 6, 2011 Previews Tagged with: , , , ,