Redefining Home Management

Monthly Archives: December 2012

For the Love of Legos!

Does someone in your house love Legos?  My son has been obsessed with them for a few years now, and of course wants more for Christmas!  I must admit they are one of my favorite toys too!  The problem is… storage!


I love the idea of all of my son’s Legos being sorted by type or color, and honestly we’ve tried that.  The problem – it only lasts a month or so and then they are all mixed together again.  Also, it seems to take too long to get everything out and clean-up between building sessions.  So, a couple of years ago I went back to the storage solution my brother had decades ago – a big Lego bag!


I tried to find one online and even checked ebay, but couldn’t find one like my brother used to have.  So I decided to make it myself, and it was not hard at all!  I recently asked Carter if he wanted to try sorting pieces by color again – using drawers, but he said… “No, I love my lego bag!”  Happy momma! my work is actually appreciated!


So, about the bag…  It is a large round piece of cloth that lays flat as a play mat when kids want to build, and then ties shut with a rope when they are done.  I find it is large enough that most of the Legos stay on the mat = in the bag = easy clean up!




Why we love the Lego Bag!

1.  All the pieces are together, where you can find whatever you want.

2.  4 or 5 kids can easily play and reach all the Legos at the same time.

3.  You can spread out the Legos to find things, but still easily pick them up when done.

4.  The set-up and clean-up is super fast and easy!


If you have a Lego fanatic on your Christmas list, or you’re just tired of looking at and picking up Legos all the time….   here is a cheap and easy solution!



– 1.5 – 2 yards of 54″- 64″ denim or other heavy material (duck cloth, canvas…)

– 2 dozen medium to large grommets

– 18 – 20 feet of heavy duty rope


Take your fabric and cut it into a circle.  You will need 54″ – 64″ width fabric to make a bag large enough for a play mat.  Note that your bag will only be as big as your fabric is wide to make it a circle.  I’m not sure how the bag would close and work if you made an oval, so avoid the standard 34″ fabrics.   If you use a half-off coupon, or wait until the fabric goes on sale at Joann’s or Hancock fabric, it should be $5-7/yd.



To easily cut the fabric in a circle…

1.) Fold the fabric in half, wrong side up

2.) Measure to the middle of your fabric.

3.)  Tie a string to a pencil that is the length of your measurement to the middle of your fabric.

4.) Hold the untied end of the string at the center of your folded fabric, pull the string tight and draw a line with the pencil to make a half circle.

5.) Cut along pencil line, and unfold fabric.


You should have a large circle of fabric.  Pin a 1 inch hem around the entire circle and sew it down.  You could turn the hem under twice or use a zigzag stitch to keep it from unraveling.  I used a zigzag stitch to maximize the size of the bag, and it has held up very well.



Once you have a finished edge, place grommets every 6-8inches.  I did not make a round hole for the grommets, but simply cut a slit in the fabric.  I used a basic grommet kit, with a hammer.  I did not buy grommet pliers, or the fancy tools you can get.  (Note:  make sure your grommets are big enough for your rope to slide easily through.)


Adding the Rope:

Note that you will want to use a strong and durable rope so it is not cut by the metal grommets.  I used durable construction type poly rope from Home Depot.  You can purchase it by the foot.  Take rope and thread it in and out of the grommets, with the bag open and flat.  You will want enough rope to have about 2 feet of rope left when the bag is fully open.  Make sure your excess rope is even and then tie the very end of the two sides of the rope together.  This will prevent the rope from getting pulled out of the grommets, and will help the rope stay evenly distributed when kids open and close the bag.



That’s all – you’re done!  Simply pull the bag closed with the rope when not in use, and spread it out again to make the play mat.  You could store the bag in a closet, a wheeled tote, or even hang it on a hook.  If you hang the bag you will need to anchor the hook in a stud – as the bag gets a bit heavy!


I’m just getting used to the step-by-step instructions.  So, if a step is unclear email me, or post a comment for me to clarify the directions.



Holiday Cooking & Baking

Does anyone else feel like holiday food can take over your house! I have to admit it is one of my favorite things about the holidays too!!!  I enjoy entertaining and making my favorite foods to share with others.  I can’t pass up the opportunity to make all those yummy, unhealthy foods I love without the guilt of eating it all myself!


But, with all of that holiday cooking and baking your kitchen can get a bit crazy! At least mine can. I used to pack all of the extra ingredients in my pantry and then be frustrated every time I needed something. Now, I don’t even try to put it all away.



Before I entertain I usually make 1-2 big shopping trips to gather all of the things I’ll need. As soon as I get those groceries home I place the non-perishables on a tray.  Here you see some of the things I have started to gather.  This way I have all of the ingredients I will need in one location – and can just pull out the tray as I begin cooking, instead of digging through my pantry.  I also don’t have to sort through all of this stuff as I cook regular weekly meals during the holiday season.



I then stash the tray in my laundry room, because it is conveniently located right next to the kitchen.  Some things will stack beside the tray and others will placed in the laundry basket for additional room.   If you don’t have a good tray, you could use a plastic tote, basket or cardboard box.  If you don’t have a closet or laundry room nearby to stash the food in, consider taking it to the basement, or the garage.




Preparing to Entertain

In preparing for the holidays, another thing I do is give the refrigerator and freezer a good cleaning.  I only have one refrigerator, and need all the space I can get when it is time to entertain.  Before I begin my holiday food shopping I take inventory of what I have, toss what is old and then give everything a quick wipe down.



Here is my refrigerator-freezer after I cleaned it and did an initial shopping trip.  You can see it is not “perfect”, but this goes back to my philosophy of order – it is not about being worthy of a magazine photo shoot.  For me, it is about knowing what I have, and being able to find it when it is time to prepare food for festivities!


Yes, taking an hour or two to clean the refrigerator and freezer doesn’t seem like something to add to the holiday craziness, but I find it helpful.  When it is time for me to do my holiday cooking, I don’t have to waste time digging in the refrigerator to see what I have, I don’t waste money on groceries I have but can’t find and when I get home from the store it is easy to fit everything in the fridge.  Even better, when I’m busy cooking for holiday guests, I can easily locate all the ingredients I need.


If you’re not entertaining in your home this holiday season, save this project for the new year!!!   Whenever you’re feeling the need to establish some order, here are the steps I take…


I start with the freezer, as I usually find a few things in the refrigerator that I toss in the freezer to save for after the holidays – cheese, meats…  From there the process for the freezer and refrigerator is about the same.  Keep in mind that if you haven’t cleaned these out in a LONG time, you’re not going to achieve a perfect final product right now.


Here are my objectives…

1.) Get rid of expired items, to make room for holiday food.

2.) Take inventory of what I have, which saves time and money.

3.) Consolidate and order to maximize my space.


The Process:

1.)  Pull out the contents.  I go shelf by shelf, because it is divided by food group already.  If your fridge isn’t divided right now, pull out everything on the shelves first and then do the door(s).


2.)  Toss anything that is old, expired, or you just know you aren’t going to use.  I clean my fridge fairly regularly and I found a moldy onion, some salad mix that was breaking down to liquid and mayo that expired in July! among other things that ended up in the trash!


3.)  Wipe down the shelves – I use my handy dandy vinegar bottle!  Sometimes a warm dishrag and Dawn is helpful for things like apple juice and milk stuck to side walls – at least that’s the stuff I find!


4.)  Sort everything by food type… dairy, veggies, meats & cheeses, fruit, beverages…  When things are categorized in your fridge it is easier to find them, and you can use the space more efficiently.


I also use plastic containers and ziplock bags to contain like items that are small, and are easily lost or in disarray.  In my meat and cheese drawer, I have block cheese and cheese sticks in a small tub, sliced cheese in one ziplock and shredded cheese in another ziplock.  This makes it easy to find when I need it and to identify if I need more when I go to the store.


As you are cleaning out the fridge and freezer also take note of what you have that might be useful in holiday cooking.  i.e. I found that I had some extra marshmallows and peanuts in the freezer, mayo (not the expired one!), feta cheese and a few other things that I probably would have bought too much of had I not cleaned out my fridge and freezer first.


Also, resist the urge to restock all of your staples as you do your holiday shopping.  I take the opportunity to use things up – like salad dressing.  If we run out of our favorite, there is still another option, and it leaves more space for the holiday groceries.

wipe down.



The top photo shows you my produce bins – the home of items I will buy last minute – they are fairly empty and clean – love!  The top two shelves (bottom left) is the start of my holiday shopping.  It shows you what it will ALL look like as I buy holiday food!  But, I still have the holiday food grouped by category so it is easy to locate when it is time to cook.


My Categories: (Top shelf down)

– Meat and cheese for entertaining, eggs

– Dairy (yogurt, sour cream…)

– Beverages, a few misc. items (broth, garlic, applesauce)

– Milk, Tea & Juice

– Meat & Cheese drawer

– Veggie Drawer

– Fruit Drawer


Greenery for the Porch

Decorating for the holidays is always a lot of fun for me.  I enjoy recreating the areas that I decorate the same every year, and adding some new things to keep it interesting.  The big challenge for me is decorating in new ways, without spending a lot more money.  It is that problem of wanting the good, fast & cheap, but knowing I just can’t have all 3!


My front porch is always a little sad at the holidays.  I’ve tried various things, with various levels of failure.  Probably the worst was the year I made beautiful ice and cranberry candle holders for the sidewalk.  They were pretty for a gathering we had, and then the ice melted and we were left with cranberries all over our front walk and smashed into the sidewalk – which left stains until spring!  Not exactly a success!


So, this year I decided to use a little “real” greenery outside, since I can’t have it inside. And, all the better – you can get it at Lowe’s for free!  They keep a box in their tree cutting area where they throw all of the branches they cut off as people buy trees.  You can come take whatever is in the box for free!  I’m sure other places that sell Christmas trees do the same thing, I’ve just always gone to Lowe’s.



This door swag is simply some greenery, and two bundles of berries I’ve had for a long time tied together with ribbon I bought to wrap gifts.  I did tie it all together with fishing line first, to make sure it would hold up to Iowa wind!



I also made these pots of greenery for either side of the door.  They were very fast, and cheap, which is why I love them even though they would never be featured in Better Homes and Gardens!


How I made them cheap:

1.)  Pulled out my pots for flowers in the summer.

2.)  Poured a bag of sand in the bottom (which I had from a landscape project) to weigh down the pots and give me something to anchor the branches.

3.)  Cut the branches and stuck them in the sand, starting with the outside of the pot and working in.

4.)  Added the 3 berry sticks to each pot – which I purchased from Hobby Lobby for $2.50 each.

5.)  Spray painted some sticks with white paint (gathered from my in-laws yard over Thanksgiving) and stuck those in as well.  I only lightly sprayed the branches to keep them looking more natural – like snow or frost.

6.) Last I added a few pine cones.  I purchased one bag for $5 at Target.



After adding a few more pieces of greenery to fill in gaps and “fussing” with it for a few minuets I had porch decor for about  $20!   I’m pretty happy with the end result!

Preparing for a Little Holiday Vacation

I’ve spent the last two weeks preparing my home, to be prepared for the holidays.  Did that make sense?!  I want my house to be clean and orderly as we enjoy the holiday season.  But holiday joy for me, is not scrubbing floors or toilets!


So I’ve  been busy getting it clean – even though Christmas is a full 3 weeks away.  Last week I spent the better part of 2 days cleaning – we’re talking deep cleaning!  I wiped down baseboards, got fingerprints off the walls, dusted the photos on the walls, got every surface in the bathrooms…  This may seem contrary to my previous posts about keeping perspective, but actually I don’t think it is.


You see, I would love to have all of these tasks completed within a few days of guests arriving, but that’s not going to happen if I’m going to have any fun – or sleep for that matter.  I’ve learned to do a deep clean in advance, and then let it go.  I won’t be dusting or vacuuming our upstairs again until January, let alone baseboards, walls…..  Now let me clarify that we have no pets, and don’t wear shoes in the house which goes along way in making this possible.  But, I’m the only cleaning lady this house has and she is taking some time off for the holidays!


I’ll still do some routine cleaning on the main floor, and clean the guest bath (aka the kids bath) another time or two – otherwise it could get scary in here!  But  if I do a good cleaning of the whole house a few weeks before, quick cleaning is sufficient from there on out.  This allows me time to enjoy cooking and pulling together the other last minute holiday details that I enjoy so much more!


A few helpful things in accomplishing this are Clorox Wipes, and a bottle of Vinegar & water.  I use vinegar and water on almost every surface – except my granite counter tops, and leather ottoman.  I don’t have to store it behind a child safe lock, it is safe for almost any surface and even cleans glass and mirrors.  For those of you that don’t like the smell, when diluted with water  – I use about 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar – it really doesn’t smell very strong, and fades quickly.  Before guests arrive, or when it is just time to spiff things up a bit for the fam… I grab my vinegar bottle and paper towels and am done in no time.


Let me say…  This post is not about encouraging you to add any deep cleaning to your “to do list”.  It is really the opposite, it is about letting go.  No one sees the dirt in your house that you do, and if they do they don’t care nearly as much as you do.  People comment on how clean my house always is.  They are comparing my highlight reel to their daily reality.  And, let me tell you I can always point out some seriously NOT clean spots in my house – like the toothpaste on bathroom cabinets, milk below the bar stools where my kids eat most of their meals, and the crazy spots in the bathroom that my 2 boys seem to “spray”!  I can always show you things that need cleaning in my house, just as you can find  them in your house.  Do a good cleaning, and let it go – take a vacation!