Open Toy Storage: Easy Access and Fast Clean-up

Many people always seem to be trying to hide their kids' toys - in the basement, in kids' rooms, in dedicated playrooms.  Unfortunately that doesn't really work well in real life, at least in my family's real life.  The toys always migrate to where the adults are because the kids want to be with the adults.  So, you have to make the toys work in your space and not worry about the gaudy plastic because that is generally part of most of our lives.  I've learned to live with it.  I think the secret is to keep them corralled in corners of the room.  Kids seem to like corners of rooms - probably because they are cozy and somewhat confined yet part of the action as well. 

In our family room, I created a toy corner mainly for my 16 month old, but which kids of all ages seem to gravitate towards.  (Why do 4.5 year-olds still love playing with baby toys?)   Here is how it looked last night which is pretty typical for this part of the house. 

My kids (like all others) can make a pretty massive mass in about 5 minutes. 

Although I considered using some closed storage for this stuff, I really wanted my son is to play with the toys and 1 year olds are unlikely to dive into cabinets and toy boxes on a regular basis without some adult assistance.  But, with our solution, my son heads to this corner on his own and entertains himself for at least fifteen minutes at a time (I can make a lot of meals in about 15 minutes!). He can grab all of his own toys and see what he is looking for or, more likely, play with whatever is on top.  Let's face it, there's a reason why baskets seem to be the go-to toy storage option right now. 

I try to keep the toys organized so that all of the vehicle toys are in one basket and everything else is in the other.  This makes clean-up easier surprisingly.  I also try to rotate the toys between his room, the basement, and the car but he definitely has his favorites which never leave the family room.  Although the majority of his books are on his huge built-in bookshelves in his room, the small book basket keeps a few books handy - particularly lift-the-flap books which are his current favorite. 

Another great thing about the open basket option is that clean-up is a breeze.  I timed my clean-up tonight to see how long it takes to put everything back in relatively neat form - including putting toys back together with all or most of their pieces.  7 minutes exactly.  Seriously. 

I know everyone has great toy storage tips so check back here tomorrow for a link up party (my first!) and get some more toy storage tips!  We would love to hear everything from wrangling infant toys to corralling video game consoles.


Amped Up Fall Decor: The Mantel Revisited

Yup, back at the mantel in the family room again.  I am also working on the living room mantel as well, but the family room is where we are spending most of our time right now.  Since it's now October, I feel okay about it being fall and I am no longer morning the loss of summer every morning (only every other). 

Here it is a few days ago (read that post here) -

And here it is now with some added pumpkinification!

The beauty of this is that I had everything on hand so not a single penny was spent.  Several of the same items as in the previous version but some added pumpkins and a plant given to us by our neighbors in memory of my grandmother.  I love its rust colored metal pot.   What a beautiful memory.

The orange glass pumpkins were a gift from my mom many years ago.  I still love them.  They are so simple and pretty.  The acorn is actually a candle in a metal box.  I rarely burn real candles but I love its shape.  The little bird just keeps coming back for more!

I love this decor because it will last me through Thanksgiving but I am thinking some additional Halloween fun will invade our house in the next couple of weeks so more fun to follow. 


Mini-Bar in a Minute

I am STILL working on updating my dining room decor.  I am doing it in bits and pieces when I find inspiration or inspiring pieces.  (For about this ongoing project, see the posts here, here, here, and here.)  We have a great little cabinet that we use for liquor but which probably start its life as a radio cabinet or something like that.  It's a beautiful piece, but most people never know it's the liquor cabinet.  Maybe that's not a bad a thing!

But, as part of the dining room updating process, I decided to create a little mini-bar there for a couple of bottles of whiskey and bourbon for when someone (hubby) wants a quick evening drink.  My goal was to spend little to no money on this project so I first shopped my house for the tray (slightly tarnished which I kind of like) and the liquor bottles, but I did not have appropriate short glasses.  My kitchen glasses are a little casual for the look I was going for - slightly elegant.  So, I hit up Goodwill and found five matching cut glass double old fashioneds for total of less than $3.00 for the set.  I almost passed them up because there were only 5, but then I realized one would inevitably get broken by a flying truck, baby doll, or ball so I would just consider one of them to be a back-up!  Once the glasses took a long overdue and much needed trip through the dishwasher, they were ready to roll.

Here's the result -

I think it really works with the space, and was well worth the $3 investment!  And that vase with the lid was a great HomeGoods find for $12.99 and the fall pumpkin vase filler was $4.99 at Ross Dress for Less.

My goal is to get the dining room finished up by Thanksgiving since we're going to have a crowd of family in town for the weekend - I want it to be warm and festive.  We are so excited!


Grout Shout Out

I finally called someone to do the tile backsplash in the kitchen.  I feel like this is a cop out.  I had dreams (and nightmares) about us tackling this project ourselves but it really comes down to time.  I would like to get this done before Thanksgiving, but the hubs has a really busy month at work coming up so I just know this will linger on, and on, and on.  I don't want grout dust in my stuffing!

Where did my drive for DIY projects go?  I guess I lost it somewhere between 2 kids and working 35 hours per week in my big girl job.

How do you find good people for jobs like this?  I usually just start asking friends, people on my local parent listserve, and then I always ask my real estate agent friends (I'm lucky to have several in the biz).  So now I have a list of 3 or 4 people who I can call. 

As I have said before, my heart is set on a white subway tile backsplash (read more about that here).  Although I had considered doing a pattern of some sort behind the stove, I have now decided to just keep it clean and simple.  I'll be less likely to grow tired of it and it will always be in style and classy.  We have our awesome pot-filler back there anyway so that would cover up a portion of any detail back there anyway.  Keep it simple stupid.  (Woops, not supposed to say "stupid" anymore.)

Now I am down to choosing the grout color.  I am debating between white and gray.  I have ruled out black because I think it looks too geometric and schoolhouse somehow.  Don't ask.  It's just me.  This picture convinced me that I made the right decision on that.

Home Design Find

This question seems to be pretty widely discussed on Apartment Therapy and GardenWeb.

Here are some samples to peruse before you "vote".  I tried to find some pictures with white cabinets and black counter tops.  I'll listen but I won't necessarily do what you say!

via GardenWeb

Close-up of the above kitchen


Although the counters are not black like mine, this is a good comparison. 
Grout: Tec, Dove Gray - via GardenWeb
Close-up of the above kitchen

This is a gorgeous kitchen - love that oversized tile but I am wimp and will stick with the classic. 
via GardenWeb

So white or gray?!!  Tell me what you think.  Feel free to post links to your own subway tile but tell me the grout name.  Thanks!

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Thanks for the memories

I'm sad to say that my grandmother died in August.  It was somewhat sudden but she had all of her family with her, and she had seen a lot of family members over the summer.  She was 88 years old and lived a full and very happy life.  I wish I was half as positive as she was. 

I am very lucky to have wonderful memories of my grandmother.  That's really all I need - I don't need her things all around me to remember her.  It is nice that I received a few things that will always remind me of her, and my grandfather who died 8 years ago. 

Here are a few examples -

1.  Grandma's Needlework - My grandmother was a crafter in the truest sense.  She did every type of needlework imaginable (and unimaginable to me), and was a knitter as well.  I have a few framed pieces of hers in my house but one of my favorites is the sampler she did below which hangs at the bottom of the stairs in my kitchen where I see it every morning.  She made it to commemorate the purchase of our home in 2002 just weeks after my grandfather died.  It's classic and beautiful.  

2.  Grandpa's Favorite Chair - I always loved my grandfather's red leather chair where he read his beloved books (we have loads of those too) and I am proud to have it in my living room today.  When I sit in it now, it still reminds me of him and how I used to love to play on it and its funny footstool when I was a kid. I love watching my kids find new games to play on it now.  I know my grandparents would be very happy to just sit and watch them.

3.  Grandmother Clock - Of all of the furniture and things in my grandmother's apartment, the only thing that my brother and I both asked my mom for was this clock.  My sweet brother let me have it.  For both of us, our fondest memories of this clock are of Christmas Eve in their house in Cooperstown, NY where we occasionally spent the holidays.  This clock stood in the hall at the top of the stairs near the room where my brother and I slept as young children, and we listened to it chime while we tried so hard to go to sleep before Santa came!  It needs to be repaired although remembering how much it chimed, I might not mind that it no longer works!  Appropriately, it is currently in my living room next to Grandpa's chair.  I'm not sure if that will be its long term home but it works for now.

There were so many pieces of nice furniture left at my grandmother's apartment but we just did not have the space, and many pieces were also just not our style.  My advice to anyone faced with this dilemma is:

1)  Take only stuff that you love and would consider buying if it were in a store;
2)  If you are debating about a piece that you love because you cannot figure out where you would put it, take it because you won't have a second chance; and
3)  Remember that fond memories and love are in your heart and mind, not in physical things. 


Thrifty Gardening

I have been working on cleaning up my flower gardens over the past few weeks.  We did some mulching last weekend which really spruced things up, and we moved some lilac bushes from the back of our yard to the side (read more about that here). 

We still have some pretty significant blank spots in our planting areas near the screen porch.  I want to get a few more larger bushes or small trees to fill in the area a bit more, but I needed some perennials as well.  I decided to use some of the perennials that I already have including some beautiful irises which seem to thrive in my yard.  I spread them out so they will be on both sides of the path leading from the front yard gate and arbor into the backyard. 

I also transplanted some peonies which were not doing well in the far corner of the yard and spread them out in this area. They don't look so great now either but hopefully that will change by spring.  And we really need to do something to cover up those beautiful air conditioning units!

Fall is also the time to plant your spring bulbs.  I often forget until December but that still is not too late in Virginia fortunately.  You should also dig up and divide tulips and daffodils every few years because eventually they sort of choke themselves out with lots of small bulbs growing off the original. I usually do that in the spring after the leaves start to turn brown but I may do a little of that this fall with some daffodils that grow at the base of our huge oak tree.  If you want to expand your plant collection see if a friend or neighbor wants to swap some of their spreading perennials for yours.

This is also a great time of year to plant grass seed or sod your lawn.  We have some serious bare spots in the backyard which need some topsoil and seed.  We try to plan those types of plantings when rain is in the forecast, but usually we end up throwing the seed down when we have a few minutes. 

What fall planting projects are you working on?


Thanks for the Memories: Keepsakes and Archives

I have been thinking a lot about how I want to keep pictures and other keepsakes for our children and future generations.  If you are over 25, you probably have a pile of photographs or photo albums (or worse slides!) lying around somewhere - likely in an underused area of cabinet, basement, or attic.  I have several large boxes of photos and photo albums hanging out in my attic and another few albums taking up precious cabinet space in our living room.  I would love to get these pictures stored in a more efficient and user-friendly place.  My goal is to scan all of those pictures and make large photo albums on Shutterfly which would be easy to pull out and laugh look at.  Of course, this is a very long term goal although if we get another crazy snowy winter this year then maybe that will happen sooner than expected. 

I recently purchased a Pandigital photo scanner that I really like.  I scanned some old pictures of the house that I had laying around and it took about 10 seconds per picture.  I could easily do a huge pile while watching TV at night. Once they are scanned, I will make some albums.

As for our digital pictures, I have tried very hard to keep up to date with making photo albums on Shutterfly, particularly with pictures of the kids.  I have many years of digital files before that sitting unused on external hard drives.  At some point I'll get around to making albums out of those.

I went a little wild with making albums of pictures of Elizabeth when she was a baby.  I made them about every 4-5 months so there are several for her first 2 years of life.  Poor Alex only got one paperback album at about 4 months old.  Better than nothing, right? 

In the last couple of years I wizened up a bit and started making family albums on Shutterfly for each year.  Although most of my albums are relatively small (around 8x10), I may start making slightly larger albums in future years so I can hold more pictures, but last year's album had about 100 pages and that worked fine.  They include pictures of our vacations, family events, parties, birthdays, weddings, holidays, and just random every day pictures from our life sorted chronologically.  They really are nice and hopefully will be a great and lasting memory for many generations - long after the digital files are lost!

We also have a few Shutterfly albums for special occasions, like my brother's wedding, and a wonderful book of family pictures which my cousin made for our family reunion last year.  My brother and his wife received all of the digital files of their photographer's pictures so we were able to make our own albums using those pictures and other pictures we had.  

I was not very creative when it came to baby books for my kids.  I think scrapbooks are amazing and it looks like so much fun but I just do not have time (or space) to make a good effort.  So, I went with pre-printed baby books.  A friend gave me a baby book by Susan Branch for Elizabeth (our oldest) which I love.  This adorable book is absolutely stuffed with pictures and keepsakes for Elizabeth.  Alex's baby book is a little slimmer (sorry Alex!) but I have made an effort to keep track of various milestones.  Whenever I let it slip, I think about Jim's totally empty baby book - he was the third child!  I am a little behind on Alex's right now but plan to mark a few things down after I finish this post!  I like it because it is spiral bound so it's easier to turn the pages.  It includes a few pockets for things as well.

My favorite recent keepsake find is a birthday book which you fill in for your child's birthday, including a short interview.  My daughter loved doing her 4th birthday interview.  The book chronicles your child's life  through 18 years old so it has more longevity.  This would make a great first birthday gift.  Hopefully filling in the kids' birthday books will become a family birthday tradition!

How do you store memories of your life? 


Up, Up & Away!

The kids and I just spent a great weekend at the Adirondack Balloon Festival in Glens Falls, NY which is a few miles from where I grew up.  If you have never been to a hot air balloon festival, it is definitely a worthwhile experience.  This one boasts 90+ balloons and unpredictable weather!  The balloons only went up two of the five potential launch times while we were there.  It must be incredibly disappointing to be a balloonist and to be constantly checking the wind and cloud cover but I guess that is probably part of the fun for them!

Sunday morning (at 6:30 a.m.!) we saw these beautiful sights -

Ok, maybe the alien is not exactly beautiful but it is so cool, and surprisingly, the alien balloon was my daughter's favorite!  I am resisting the urge to blow up poster size prints of some my pictures!!
Here are a few from the Thursday launch where they ended up all over my parents' neighborhood! 
Check out those fall colors!  Arlington had record-breaking temperatures in the upper 90s on Thursday and Friday last week so we are not seeing ANY fall color yet.  At this rate, we will be raking on Christmas Eve. 

Hope you had some fall fun this weekend!


Canine Craziness: The digger!

We love our dog, Angus, but he definitely has some not so great habits.  Attacking our door every time someone rings the bell or delivers a package is one, and digging in my flower beds is another.  We have yet to figure out a solution for the door habit (any suggestions?), but I have found a relatively easy solution for the digging.  Fortunately, Angus really only likes to dig in loose soil near the house so there are relatively few places he can do that.  The rest is pretty much rock hard clay.  Although the interim solution was to throw large plastic toys in his way, it was not the best looking.

Here is Angus' current favorite digging location -

I filled in the holes with potting soil, and then covered the dirt with some pieces of plastic coated inexpensive fencing that I bought at my local hardware store. Sorry I forgot to take some how to pictures but I just cut the fence and put small sections over the affected areas.  Then, covered it with mulch.

I need another bag or two of mulch to really cover it up.  It was the end of a mulching day so I could not make myself go buy 2 more bags!!

I would love to hear what others have done to stop their 4 legged friends from making a mess of their yards.


A Little Bit of Fall

As I said last week, I am not a fan of fall but mostly because it means the end of summer, my absolute favorite season.  So, I have to ease into fall decorating.  This year, I have removed the pure summer stuff - seashell themed stuff mainly.  But, I am not feeling the pure pumpkins, scarecrows, and orange yet.  I just cannot do Halloween in September - same for Christmas in November.  So, I had to find a mix that I could live with in the interim.  I started with the mantel in the family room - where we spend 90% of our time.  I'll work on the living room mantel as I come up with ideas in the next few weeks

I started with a few items from around the house.  I am working on more height on either side of the television without blocking the television.

This was close to being good but was missing a little life, and seems a bit overly balanced.  What I like most is that it doesn't scream "FALL!" and is made up mostly of things that we have around the house in our regular decor - except the pumpkin.  I really liked the red accents, including a decorative plate from REfind, and the non-traditional green-gold glass pumpkin (awesome HomeGoods find for $9.99!) which is nice and low so it doesn't block the TV.  The red pitcher was a birthday gift from a wonderful friend a few years ago - great for the sangria that I never make!  Then I added a little ceramic bird that had been gracing our dining room through the summer.

Such a minor change but I like it so much more.  As you have read and heard a million times before, odd numbers of items always look better and more natural.  It is still a work in progress (like everything in my house) but I will enjoy looking at it until I break out the real Halloween stuff.

Check out these link up parties!
Cottage and Vine
Nesting Place
Thrifty Decor Chick


Making a Dreaded Chore SOOOO Much Easier!

I bet I got your attention with that headline!  If ironing is the bane of your existence then this post is for you.  We are HORRIBLE about putting away our clean laundry quickly enough to avoid wrinkles.  As a result, we often have to do a quick run over our clothes before dashing out of the door.  Our large bulky ironing board has generally resided in our upstairs guest room but lived in one of our hall linen closets.  Since we don't spend much any time ironing sheets and other large items so the large ironing board was really overkill for us. 

So, when we came to be proud owners of a second floor laundry room (LOVE IT!), I really started thinking about how we could incorporate a wall-mounted ironing board into the mix.  I happened to mention it to my mom and she said they had taken one out of their house that we could have!  FREE!  Love that!  Parents to the rescue again.

When my parents were last in town, my dad and Jim set out to install said ironing board.  We first considered putting it in our laundry room but the electrical outlet positioning was an issue and there was not an obvious wall location.

My dad had the idea to put it behind the door in our room.  Basically invisible to anyone walking by but really convenient for us - particularly if we need to iron while we have guests in the house, since we are usually doing our ironing in less than presentable attire!

Here are some pictures of the new (to us) fancy ironing board.

It definitely needs a new cover because the elastic is pretty much gone but for free, I'm not complaining!  I love that there's a place to keep the iron inside and a spray bottle or spray starch - if I used spray starch!  Here's a similar one on Amazon.

Jim and my dad also opted to move our bathrobe hook to the wall from the door so the door could open further when the bathrobes are hanging there - the ironing board was getting in the way a bit.  Of course, they hid the holes in the door by moving the mirror up!!

In case you are wondering, there is still room to open the door and for an average size person, or a little person who sleeps down the hall, to slip through when necessary.

I can honestly say that we have done more ironing in the last 2 weeks since it was installed than we have all summer.  Hopefully our neater appearance is impressing our friends and coworkers!