Viewing category ‘Tips and Tricks’


5 tips for moving your child out of the college dorm

Categories: Organization, Tips and Tricks

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It seems like it was just a few days ago that I was writing tips about how to pack for college as I was sending my first child away, and now it’s time to think about coming home? Time certainly does fly as she’s just a few weeks away from finishing her first year.

Since she’s several hours away and doesn’t have a car this year, this is going to require a little planning. Even though it hasn’t happened yet, here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

1. Know the rules and the dates of move-out - My daughter has to be out of her dorm 24 hours after her last exam and, after looking at the exam schedule I noticed her last exam is on the final day of school, so it’s not going to leave much time to pack. Also, you have to check out with the RA and there’s a room inspection, so we need to be sure to leave time to clean, too.

2. Check your own schedule - School is several hours away from home, so moving her out will mean an overnight stay for us on a weekday, so vacation time is required on my part, and I even remembered to request it early!

3. Make hotel reservations early - Plan your trip as soon as possible, I’ve discovered that the trip to move her out also coincides with the university’s graduation and the nearest hotel I could book is 45 minutes away! Even if I could have gotten a room in town, the prices were all sky high, so I imagine it pays to reserve early.

4. Ship boxes to your student ahead of time - Since she’ll be in exams, it’s not going to leave a lot of time for packing. I’ve sent boxes to her so (crosses fingers) she can pack a little at a time. If school is a long way from home, have your student ship the boxes back packed with things they can spare before school is done.

5. Bring back a little at a time - If it’s an option, bring back a little with you when you visit since move-out day may be crazy and vehicle space is limited. I’ve already brought some winter clothes of hers home, and I’m going to visit next week and I hope to bring back things like unused kitchen items, shelves and other miscellaneous items.

I hope planning ahead a little pays off, I’ll let you know how it goes!

5 tips for packing for college

Categories: Organization, Tips and Tricks


A while back, I shared my experience with college dorm shopping, and this past week, I got to put my efforts to good use when we took our daughter to begin her freshman year. The time finally arrived and we packed everything and headed south. I’m certainly glad we started gathering things when we did, I can’t imagine having to shop and pack in just a few days time.

She’s all moved in now, and I’m by no means an expert, but I did learn a few things along the way about packing for college:

1. Make a plan - Visit ahead of time, look at pictures (Flickr can be helpful) or read the school’s housing descriptions and outline an idea of which items you’ll keep in dresser drawers, closets and/or plastic storage containers. Packing like things together makes it easier to unpack and planning ahead saves time deciding what to put where.

2. Put everything in a container - Trust me, loose items do not fare well during move-in. Box up everything you can, and make sure it’s sealed well. This makes things a lot easier to get on the moving carts and this will reduce trips on the elevator. You want that. Really, you do.

3. Label all containers -Label the outside of all your containers with a name, room number and cell phone number. There are lots of people moving in at the same time. Things can get mixed up, or your loads can get separated and end up on 2 different elevator trips.

4. Allow ample time to pack the vehicle - Once you get everything together, it will look like your kid is taking the most of any college student, ever. Take comfort in the fact that someone will always have more than your kid, but you still have to get stuff in the car. I found the whole thing to be like a game of Tetris, but I did get everything in the van, it just took a lot longer than I expected.

5. Separate electronics and valuables - Often, when you arrive at school freshman year, there’s a whole army of volunteers waiting to help you unload the car. The moment you drive up, they descend and start unloading and it can be hard to know which items are in what load. Before you arrive at school, make sure you have all fragile and/or valuable items separated from the load and carry them yourself.

College is an exciting time, and a little advance planning goes a long way to get you started right.

I know many of you are more experienced than I am, what tips do you have?

Packing the Christmas decorations

Categories: Organization, Tips and Tricks

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Every year, I promise myself that I’m going to put the holiday decorations away properly.

I even plan to go out and buy things on sale for next year so I’ll be prepared.

However, I somehow talk myself out of it saying, “I’ll just take care of it next Christmas”.

But, now? This is my year.

I may have missed the sales (we’ve been out of town a couple of times), but I’m going to get a grip on storing this stuff if it’s the last thing I do.

Here’s my plan so far:

1. Get rid of worn/broken items and things we don’t actually display. We have quite a bit of Christmas decor as a result of being on a tour of homes thing (long story) several years ago. I don’t really have a need for the “all out” decorating scheme anymore, so it’s time to thin out the collection.

2. Make sure we have proper storage containers and decide what goes in each. While I don’t want to fall into the trap of buying boxes to contain junk, I do want to have what we need, and home organizing things are on sale right now.

3. Divide items into categories such as soft items (stockings, towels, tablecloths etc.), knick-knacks, garland and lights, fragile items, tree ornaments, outside decorations and kids’ personalized items.

4. Re: kids’ personalized items. A couple of years ago, I bought 3 identical plastic boxes for each of my kids. They each have a nativity set and personalized ornaments from each year, so these things go in their labeled box. They like to unpack them each year, and eventually I can present them with their box when they have homes of their own.

5. Plan for where the boxes will be stored. Most of our decorations go in the closet in the dining room, but I don’t want the boxes to outgrow the closet or anything, so I want to make sure they all fit before I pack everything.

6. Pack everything logically and carefully, even if it takes a long time.

We’ll see how I do as it’s just now underway, but I’m going to try to make sure Christmas 2012 me thanks (instead of curses) Christmas 2011 me.

Do you have any tips for storing Christmas decorations? I’m all ears.

Things to keep in your suitcase

Categories: Tips and Tricks


The holidays are upon us, and for many of us it means travel.

I travel a moderate amount for holidays and various things, and I’m notorious for waiting until the last minute to pack, which sometimes results in forgetting things I need. Like, oh say…shoes. (Yes, that happened, and I became “that woman who always wears boots” one weekend.)

I’m not really a procrastinator, and I’m not usually scatterbrained, it’s just that I usually try to wait to pack when the kids aren’t around so I can concentrate on what I’m doing, and I may or may not run out of time, and that may or may not result in arriving without things I use.

Over the years, I’ve developed my own little packing routine, and part of it includes maintaining some items that are permanent residents of my suitcase. I have other things I stock in my make-up bag such as band-aids, safety pins, etc., but these are some non-toiletry items that stay in my bag:

iPhone dock/speakers - I have a iPhone dock that folds flat, and I keep it in my suitcase at all times. It’s handy for listening to music, watching movies as well as for the white noise app I use to help me sleep in a hotel room.

Power strip - this has been invaluable for many things. I’ve used it at conferences and in the hotel room where outlets are scarce when you you have women rooming together. However, I most frequently use it on the night stand in a hotel room because there never seems to be an outlet in a convenient place for keeping your phone or computer near you.

Extra cables/cords - I keep a small make-up bag with spare cords/chargers for electronics. We’ve always got extra phone cords, camera cords, etc. and I keep them there for the times I forget (or the kids have stolen) my regular ones.

Trash bags - I keep 2-3 tall kitchen can liners in the inside pocket that I use mostly for bagging dirty clothes, but they also make a good raincoat in a pinch. I keep a stash in there because that’s one of the items I tend to forget when packing, and it drives me crazy not to have a place to put dirty clothes.

Do you have any hints to make travel easier? What are your must-haves when you go out of town?

Back to school checklist

Categories: Tips and Tricks


Back to school has snuck up on me as my older kids started last week while I was out of town.

I usually pride myself on getting supplies and routines ready ahead of time (and making futile promises that things are going to stay that way all year), but this year I’m not quite there.

So, I’ll tell you the things I usually do to get ready for back to school and you can pretend I’ve finished them.

1. Physicals and immunization records - Get the sports forms filled out early. Our school doesn’t ask for them until right before the sport begins and they act like you should have had it in 3 weeks before that.

I’ve finally learned to send those and immunization records at the beginning of each year whether or not anyone asks for them, because by the time they ask it’s with some sort of urgency on their part.

2. Backpacks and lunch boxes - Always check backpacks before school begins. Even when they look like they’re in good shape, you don’t know what lurks within.

In fact, right before I wrote this, I dumped about a 1/2 inch of dirt and scraped old, melted cough drops out of my 15 year old’s backpack.

The same goes for lunch boxes. Go check now. You know it’s possible there’s an uneaten lunch from back in May in there.

3. School supplies. This one is easy for me. I LOVE shopping for school supplies. I take a picture of my youngest child’s supply list that’s issued before summer begins. I keep it on my phone so it’s with me all the time .

Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s a few items that run out quickly (jumbo book covers, 1″ binders, red pencils), are hard to find or cost to0 much at certain stores, so I’ve learned to get these things as I see them if they’re in stock or on sale.

4. Shoes and clothes/uniforms. We’ve had one too many years where we’ve discovered the night before school starts that somebody didn’t have uniforms that fit or shoes.

I get a particular style of school uniform khakis for the boys at Target, and have learned the hard way that they only carry them for a short time, so I visit several stores frequently and buy my supply all at once when I see them.

Also, do not fall for the line, “Mom, they fiiiiit….” when they don’t want to try on clothes and shoes. Everyone tries on everything a couple of weeks before school. Period.

5. Lunch items and money - I keep a box in the pantry with single serve items for lunch boxes, etc. and the grocery usually has sales on these items for back to school, so I try to stock up.

It makes me sound efficient, but I really just dislike having to think about all that stuff. I get a load of it so I don’t have to think about it for a while.

I also put money on lunch cards because I like to start out doing it right, but I know full well it will devolve into adding it 3 bucks at a time when we forget to re-load the cards and it’s not quite payday. (What? That’s just us? Never mind, then.)

I’ve also finally learned to keep a stack of dollar bills, five and tens for the beginning of the school year because every paper that comes home from school wants to be returned to school with money. I spent many years being surprised by this Every. Year. and then I got wise.

What kinds of things do you to to get ready for the school year? Do share your ideas and inspirations because school is either here or it’s just around the corner for most of us!

Five miscellaneous travel tips

Categories: Tips and Tricks


I’m getting ready to go to San Diego for the BlogHer Conference this week, and I’m running around trying to get packed so I don’t have to do it all the night before.

OK, who am I kidding? I’ll be the one packing at 3am.

However, I do have a method to my madness, and since I travel a good bit, I’ve got my routine down and I have a few things I do/pack that make my life on the road a little easier:

1. Trash bag for dirty clothes - I always bring a trash bag for dirty clothes and I fold my dirty clothes as I go, especially if I’m flying and am gone several days, it really cuts down on the time spent trying to get it all back in the suitcase to come home the night before you leave.

2. Always have a power strip - Hotel rooms can have odd configuration of power outlets, and if you’re staying with other people, there may not be enough by the time everyone plugs in all their gadgets. I always carry a power strip (the longer cord the better), and it live in my suitcase when I’m not using it.

3. Conference bag - I have a sturdy tote bag that I take to all conferences and events. It’s large enough to hold everything I may need for an entire day, including my camera and mini-PC so I don’t look like a bag lady with several things slung across my shoulder.

I keep a set of business cards, pens, paper and and other doo-dads that I find myself transferring back and forth from my purse when I use that bag. They just live in there so they’re ready to go when I use the bag.

4. Contain cords and accessories - Since I have a lot of miscellaneous power cords and accessories, I keep a small make-up bag in my purse that houses ear phones, phone power cord, phone battery cases and screen wipes.

It’s a good way to make sure you have that stuff with you when you need it, and it disguises it from the shorter, cord-stealing iPod owners in the house.

5. Back-up phone power - I usually carry 2 charged battery cases for my iPhone, because, well…it’s an iPhone.

It may seem like overkill, but I tell ya, that compulsion saved me about a year ago when we were trapped in our neighborhood for 4 days during the Nashville flood, and we had no power.

Share some tips about your travel routine. What things have you discovered to make it simpler?

Pre-vacation checklist and a bonus cautionary tale

Categories: Organization, Tips and Tricks


\It’s travel season with vacations, conferences and more right around the corner, and it seems like everyone is off to somewhere, and there’s so much to be done before leaving the house.

Proper planning before you go is the key to piece of mind while you’re gone as well as the key to not coming home to chaos.

Sometimes, it’s hard to do everything while you’re trying to work, mange kids, do everyday tasks AND pack, but the preparation is worth it when you walk in the door on your return home and you feel like you’ve actually had a vacation rather than postponing tasks at home.

Here are a few tips to get things situated at home before you go:

1-2 weeks before departure

  • Make arrangements for pet care
  • Arrange indoor/outdoor plant care or for someone to check your house periodically
  • Get your car checked: brakes, oil, tires, windshield wipers etc.
  • Confirm that you have important documents: car insurance proof, health insurance IDs, valid driver’s license and license plate tags
  • Pay the bills
  • Reduce the amount of food you buy
  • Check your personal and business calendars to see if you need to cancel (don’t forget kids’ sports practices!) or RSVP to anything and for events occurring soon after your return
  • Confirm any reservations and make sure you have directions, keys, phone numbers etc. for your destination
  • Pick up any dry cleaning/prescriptions
  • Suspend mail and newspaper delivery, or get someone to pick them up (you can put your mail on hold online at the USPS)
  • Mow grass, do other yardwork
  • Clean the house (You’ll thank yourself when you get back. Just do it.)

Day before departure

  • Charge any items that need charging
  • Round up items needed to entertain kids en route Get cash, complete any banking arrangements
  • Fill up gas tank
  • Leave your itinerary and contact information with a relative or neighbor so you can be reached in case something goes amiss
  • Clean out the refrigerator and discard (or eat!) anything perishable.
  • Clean up yard and put away anything that could become a missile in the event of a storm (trust me)

Day of departure

  • Turn air conditioning down (but not off)
  • Empty trashcans
  • Empty dishwasher
  • Water plants
  • Clean out coffee maker after use (No, really. Trust me.)
  • Unplug most electronics to save electricity and protect from a power surge
  • Adjust shades and blinds, consider leaving lights and radio on for safety
  • Lock your doors (don’t forget the garage) and make sure you have your keys

Last, but not least? Turn off the water to clothes washer.

Yes, I know that’s standard women’s magazine advice and really, who does that, right?

We do.

Want to know why?

We had the water line to the washer burst while we were on vacation and came home to about 2 feet of water in the basement and the entire first floor saturated.

That’s why.

Do. It.

While you’re at it, consider replacing the water line to the back of the washing machine with metal braided hoses (rather than rubber or anything else) and check them often.


If you don’t, and something happens, I promise the aftermath will give a new meaning to “Ordering Disorder”!

Do you have any hints about preparing for vacation, or have you ever had a mishap at home while you were gone?

Share it with us!

Organizing kids’ sports uniforms

Categories: Decluttering, Organization, Tips and Tricks


I have 3 kids in 4 different sports, and have had more than that (sports, not kids) over the years, so we have more than our fair share of sports “stuff” around the house.  In order to keep the sports miscellania from literally being “around the house”, I’ve had to develop a system.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a life-changing system, but it works for us for the most part. I’d love to say that we just fold uniforms and put them away neatly in their rooms with the rest of their clothes, but as many of you know, it doesn’t always work that way.

When my older kids were young, if changing clothes once a day was good, changing clothes 8 times a day was better. They didn’t discriminate between play clothes, church clothes, bathing suits, costumes or soccer uniforms, all was fair game in “change your clothes roulette”, and that made for some interesting searches the night before the game, so I have a “thing” about wanting to know where the uniforms are.

The older 2 kids take care of their own uniforms for the most part, but our youngest, age 9, plays several sports and has quite a few uniform and practice things to keep in order. We use an inexpensive baker’s rack to organize all of it. The keeps things easily accessible, but the the shelves help maintain a system.

The top shelf is uniforms and associated accessories ONLY for whatever sport is in season. This shelf is “sacred”, and he knows not to get things from there unless there is a game, because he’s prone to wearing his uniforms all the time if left to his own devices.

The next shelf is cold weather clothing that’s obviously not used in summer, but he does have the occasional need for warm-up pants or a sweatshirt in a cold gym. The third shelf is a basket full of string tote bags since bags (and water bottles) seem to be disposable around here.

The bottom shelf is a round laundry basket that contains the “other” stuff for whatever sport is in season. Since soccer is getting ready to start back, it holds items such as practice clothing, spare shin guards and cleats and a ball pump. It used to be able to hold a ball, but as you can see on the right of the rack, the red bag holds his ever-growing collection of soccer balls.

We have multiple round laundry baskets, one for each sport, that we store on the top shelf of the laundry room, and we just change out the basket and uniform items on the baker’s rack with the sport season.

For example, when soccer is over, it will all go back into the soccer basket, and it gets changed out with the basketball basket, and those uniforms go on the top shelf, etc.

For us, it’s important that the baskets are different from our regular laundry baskets, so they don’t get sucked into the laundry abyss.

Even if you don’t share my driving need to know where the uniforms are at all times, how do you keep all the sports items in order?

Summer meal planning - five tips for making it easy

Categories: Cooking, Crockpot, Food, Lunches, Meal Planning, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized, side dishes, summer living


Nataly emailed me last week asking if I had any no cook recipes in my repertoire and could I pretty please share them.

My first thought was, “Well, I can pour a mean bowl of cereal!” Because who among us doesn’t try to convince our children that it was THEIR idea to have a bowl of cereal for dinner every now and then.

But I got thinking about summer schedules and the heat and how most of us want to be out enjoying the weather, not tied to our hot stoves once we get home from work. So I thought I would offer up some tips to making summer cooking easier.
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Keeping Your Young Children Warm While Playing in the Snow

Categories: Tips and Tricks


Most of us are probably in the middle of cold winter temperatures and bundling our children up so that they can go outside and play for 10.3 seconds before they have to come inside with half the snow in the yard clinging to their coats and boots.


And if you are not having cold winter temperatures can I come visit you? Please?

The upper number was the indoor temperature this morning. Why yes, I do want your sympathy.

In the spirit of 1.4 degree weather and two feet of snow I offer some tips I have learned along the way to make the experience of playing outside in the snow more enjoyable and perhaps stretch the time your children play outside to a full minute.

The problem: Snow getting into the boots or on that little area between the boots and snow pants that inevitably happens when your children are crawling around in the snow.

The fix: Plastic grocery bags, more than just for groceries.

1. Tuck the pants into the socks. I am sure you all do this already. Otherwise the pant leg rides up inside the snowpants.

Then put the plastic bag over the child’s foot and use the handles to tie it around their calf.


2. Put the boot on just like normal. The plastic bag will actually make it easier to get on.


3. Pull the snowpants down over the boots just like normal.


4. The beauty of this is that when the snowpants pull up, like they always do, the plastic bag keeps the snow from making their pant leg wet and also keeps their feet snow free.


Gee Chris, now go wash that wood floor of yours!

The problem: Gloves that slip off or sleeves that ride up exposing the wrist area of skin. Once that happens it is all over. The snow gets inside the gloves and they cry.

The fix: Behold the wonder that is tape:


I pull the coat down over the top of the gloves, like normal, and then tape the gloves securely to their coat sleeves. Making sure to cover a good wide area. I used painter’s tape in these photos, but you can also use duct tape.

Here is a photo of the tape in action. Rolling around in the snow, making snow angels, climbing snow drifts, perfectly dry warm hands.


The problem: You are going to be outside playing in the snow for an extended period of time away from the house, like sledding and need a way to warm up.

The fix: Rice socks!

Finally something to do with all those mismatched single socks. Take a child sized sock, a clean one preferably and loosely fill with rice. Not the quick cook kind, the regular long cook rice. Seal off the top of the sock with an elastic band. Now nuke the bag in your microwave for a minute until the bag is warm. Give your child the bag to keep in their pocket. Then they can use it to warm up periodically.

You could also be crafty and sew the sock shut. Or even more crafty and make a cute little pouch from fabric. These would make an adorable, and practical) party favor if you have skating or sledding party for your child.

Older children can benefit from these also as they tend to pursue outdoor activities for longer periods of time.

Throw a book of matches in their pocket too just in case you lose them in the wilderness they can have something to eat. (Just kidding. Though if you are going to be skiing of sledding or hiking anywhere that is remote you should have some sort of matches or lighter with you. Sorry that was just my paranoia peeking out for a moment.)

Alternately, you can just stay inside the house, clutching your cup of hot coffee, and admire the snow through the window. Not that I prefer that, ahem.