Moving the dishes to kid-height


It seems like just the other day that I cleaned out the drawer of plastic kids’ cups and dishes, eliminating the sippy cups and mismatched lids that nobody uses anymore. Turns out I just didn’t go far enough.

Our everyday dishes and glasses live in the upper cabinets over the sink and dishwasher, convenient when I’m unloading the dishwasher. But it’s not so convenient if I want the kids to help set the table or put away some dishes, or even serve themselves a bowl of cereal. It’s time for a little rearranging so they can become more self-sufficient.


I emptied the drawer, wiped it down, and washed the baskets (seriously, where do all those crumbs come from?). Then I sorted. We still use the water bottles regularly, as well as a few plastic snack bowls. I moved the plastic cups to the new water cooler spot on the porch, and the plastic plates to the bin of picnic supplies in the basement. Hiding behind the baskets are thermoses for school lunches, Snack Traps (Little Four uses them on outings), and reusable kid cups from Sweet Tomatoes (bring your cup back and the drink is free).

Then I relocated our smaller Corelle plates (inherited from my grandmother), cereal bowls and glasses to the other basket. All of these are sturdy, kid-sized, and nothing is precious or irreplaceable if it breaks.

I think my next project had better be creating some self-serve snack stations. They’re going to need something to put on those plates.


Copycat recipe binder


Thanks, Jules, for the impetus to get this project done. In fact, after rereading your old post, I realize that my project is so similar that I don’t have much to add. A good idea is a good idea. Suffice it to say, I had an old, overstuffed accordion file for recipes, plus a stack that hadn’t been filed at all. It was a mess. I also had multiple printouts of favorite recipes, and a flurry of slips of paper with a cryptic list of ingredients but no title. I was able to decipher a few of these, but others remain a puzzle. I tossed them.


I tossed a lot–all the multiples, anything we haven’t made in the past ten years, and anything I remembered as unsuccessful. 20 minutes. Then I sorted and put them into sheet protectors in an old three-inch binder that I found in a bin in the basement. 45 minutes. There’s not a lot of room for the inevitable expansion; I’m going to have to add a second binder. Good thing I have plenty of sheet protectors left.


Somewhat jokingly, my husband asked me if I had included an index. So I sat down and typed out a spreadsheet. 15 minutes. I got mired in formatting problems in Google Docs (another 15 minutes completely wasted) and didn’t print the list, but it’s easy enough to consult when I want to. In any case, I’m looking forward to easily pulling out a plastic-encased recipe and not worrying about the spills and splatters. The time I spent on the project was minor compared to the time I’ve spent fruitlessly hunting for misplaced recipes, then Googling and printing another copy.

An unintended benefit: my husband has taken the binder upstairs as bedtime reading material. I guess he already finished the latest issue of Food & Wine.

A little spring cleaning

Feels like spring! With temperatures in the 70s this week, I was propelled to do a little work in the garage. Nothing major, but I finally gathered all the boxes we flung into the garage on Christmas Day, plus all the ones we tossed on top of the pile in the months since. I even got them all out to the curb in time for the recycling truck. Okay, there’s still one giant box from the new desk in our bedroom and a stack of styrofoam, but I plan to break that down and get it into next week’s garbage (unfortunately, it seems there is only one recycler of styrofoam in Illinois, and it’s not that close). Now the kids can find their scooters and there’s an actual path from the door to the van that isn’t strewn with crumpled wrapping paper and plastic grocery bags.

The next day I took the string of snowflake lights down from the porch and put away the basket of snow toys. I wiped down the tables and chairs and dragged the porch rug out of the basement. I even cleaned the light fixtures. A couple hours after I set the chairs at precise angles and swept all the pine needles from the concrete, half a dozen kids gathered, lounged on the porch swing, scattered pine cones, doodled with sidewalk chalk, and tossed each other’s shoes into the hedge.


I love having a front porch.

Monday Menu

Once again, I went grocery shopping without making a menu plan first. Now I just have to get creative–sometimes easier said than done. I hit a good sale on chicken and Italian sausage and there are enough leftovers from tonight’s dinner for another meal, so I have someplace to start. And just because I write down a plan, doesn’t always mean I follow it. Last Wednesday I planned to try that new spinach pesto lasagna recipe, but the day got away from me. Instead I made a simple pesto on spaghetti, which is one of our very favorite easy and fast comfort meals. (If you haven’t made your own pesto before, you’re missing out. I’ll share my version with you tomorrow.) Of course, that meant that Friday we had pasta again–this time tuna pesto on linguine. I usually try to plan more variety, but sometimes you just need to get dinner on the table. Nobody seemed to mind.

Monday: Carroty Mac and Cheese

Tuesday: Leftover Night

Wednesday: Pasta with cheese and Italian sausage (something along these lines)

Thursday: Pan-roasted chicken with Brussels sprouts and Bacon

Friday: Hummus, pita, Greek salad

Saturday: Corned beef and cabbage

Battle of the basement

Our basement is nothing to get excited about. It’s unfinished, though someone slapped up some dark paneling at some point (in the ’80s, maybe). Not long after we moved in (in reality, not long after we unpacked the last box–probably a year after moving day), my husband painted all the paneling. We laid some rugs down, stashed the noisy toys down there, and let the kids play. Unfortunately, they didn’t play down there very often, preferring to be upstairs with Mom and Dad.

Now all the kids are old enough to play unsupervised in the basement (especially when they have friends over and are reenacting Pokémon battles or shooting Nerf guns), but it’s often too messy, and the many florescent lightbulbs are always burning out. Along with the garage, the basement is always the staging area/dumping ground for all the stuff we don’t want in the rest of the house. After Christmas and clearing out the kids’ rooms, the piles had toppled into one another and all but blocked the path from one side of the basement to the other. Empty boxes, suitcases, bins and bags of outgrown toys and clothes…

Halfway through the process…I found the floor before I remembered the camera.

For me, one of the easiest motivators to get clutter out of the house is to have a deadline. Wednesday the Amvets truck was scheduled to do a pick up, so I had to have everything boxed up and on the porch by 7 a.m. (Someone calls me about once a month to ask if I have anything to donate. If I do, they send me a reminder postcard and call the day before. No loading up the van, no carting things to Goodwill. I just leave it on the porch for the truck and they leave a receipt.) Over the weekend I listed several items on Freecycle–mostly items that were generously given to us: a toy box, a toddler bed rail, multiple bags of toddler board books–and all were picked up. I found a new home for the train table, which I will deliver tomorrow.

Again, only about half of what I donated.

I filled a bin with recycling (mostly empty boxes left from Christmas), put away the luggage, sorted and stored all the hand-me-down clothing for Little Four to grow into. While I was at it, I sorted the laundry and washed a couple loads. I reduced the clutter pile to a single box of stuff that still needs sorting.

There’s that final bin, waiting patiently to be emptied. It may take a while.

I’m proud to say that there’s a large swath of floor that is completely clear. It’s an ugly concrete floor, and perhaps one of these days we’ll get around to painting it. In the meantime, I need to reconsider what is on the basement shelving. I need to find a better container for the gift wrapping supplies. I have a big stack of empty plastic Ikea bins that might be useful in organizing the stuff on those shelves. My sewing area needs some work, and there are several boxes of old photos, sheet music, and kitchen supplies that need purging. Now that I can actually get to those things without climbing over a mountain of junk, I only have one excuse left.

We need new lightbulbs.

It’s not beautiful, but there’s nothing to trip over. And the laundry bin is empty!

Spice cabinet

(This one’s for you, honey.)

The best thing about the William Morris Project is the motivation. I had planned to work on a project yesterday, but when I went to the basement to throw in a load of laundry, I discovered water on the laundry room floor, puddling under the furnace. After some investigation with a flashlight to determine where the water might be coming from, I called the HVAC repair service and they found a leak in the humidifier as well as a leak in the furnace flue. Needless to say, there went my morning and $200.

So I had no post ready for this morning, and I wasn’t exactly raring to go after I sent everyone off to school. But then I read Jules’ post about organizing her recipe files (I so need to do that), and Tiffany’s post about organizing her spice cabinet, and I decided I wasn’t going to be left behind. I raced through the shower, got a second cup of coffee, and got to work.

When we remodeled our kitchen a couple of years ago, we had this 12-inch space for a cabinet next to the stove, and decided it was too narrow to store anything useful in a standard cabinet. A pull-out spice cabinet just fit in that space, and we certainly needed storage for spices.

It seemed a perfect solution, until it was actually installed and I tried to put the spices in it. There were too many shelves, and there wasn’t enough space for the taller containers. You can’t pull the cabinet out more than halfway (this may be adjustable, but so far I can’t figure out how), so it’s hard to see and reach anything in the back. I tried several times to remove one of the shelves, but couldn’t maneuver it out of the tight space. So we’ve just tossed things in and rummaged around, and while I could usually find what I wanted, it drove my husband crazy. Crazy. I found him grating a cinnamon stick into his cappuccino the other day because he couldn’t find the ground cinnamon. For Christmas he gave me a pack of spice labels (to be fair, I love practical gifts). Subtle, no?

Step 1: Empty the cabinet. Yikes. Look at that, I needed an aerial shot.

Step 2: Remove that annoying extra shelf. No photos here, but it involved some pliers, a hammer, and divine intervention.

Step 3: Sort spices. Weed out the empty jars and stale spices; combine multiples. Label everything.

Step 4: Wipe off the shelves and put spices back in some kind of order. I put the most-used on the top shelf (garlic cellar, salts and peppers, and spices I tend to reach for several times a week). The second and third shelves have spices we don’t use as often. I grouped the baking spices together so they’re easier to reach for. In the past, I’ve attempted to alphabetize the spices, but I’ve learned that it’s silly to have cream of tartar front and center when I only use it a few times a year.


It would be nice to have all the same kind of containers, but it wouldn’t be as practical as it sounds. We use some spices in larger quantities and go through them quickly, so the large containers make sense for those. Some things just go stale if we have them in bulk, and some are too expensive to buy more than an ounce at a time. As long as everything is clearly labeled, I’m happy. I’m hoping the other cook in the house will express his joy in the form of a fabulous meal this weekend.

Paring down the periodicals

For someone who just returned from vacation, I am really tired. By 10 a.m. I could go back to bed. And yet, there’s laundry to put away, dishes in the sink, phone calls to make, blog posts to write, muddy footprints to vacuum, and that suitcase isn’t going to empty itself. So this was not the week for a big project, but instead for what I think of as “maintenance projects.” Not exactly groundbreaking reorganization or redecoration, just those things you have to do so you don’t drown in piles of stuff. And by stuff, I mean newspapers and magazines.

But first, another cup of coffee.

Since I started couponing in a semi-serious way, we now get the newspaper. We don’t read all that much of it; I would rather read it online. Here’s Wednesday’s paper scattered in the kitchen, after I’ve gone through the Dining section and all the grocery ads.

Here in the living room is the pile of unread (and some unopened) papers from the weekend. My husband gets the Sunday New York Times, which he does read, but somehow he didn’t get to it over the weekend while he was sole breadwinner AND parent-in-charge. He does most of his reading on his train commute. I keep trying to read during Mr. Nine’s karate class (assuming I don’t have Mr. Four on my lap), but the sensei is forever interrupting me with, “Now Moms and Dads, watch your children while they do x, y, z…” On the mail center next to the front door is a stack of mail waiting to be sorted. On the hall table are piles of library books, a stack of forwarded mail for the snowbird grandparents, and a basket full of random things that we empty from our pockets and pick up off the floor. And here are the magazines. I never think we get that many until I start the sorting process. To be fair, a few of these are hand-me-down magazines–we tend to exchange magazines with family and friends. And three or four of our subscriptions were completely free (my favorite kind). But free or not, they seem to pile up. And this bunch doesn’t even include the food magazines that I file somewhat regularly in the kitchen. I weeded out a bunch of old issues to recycle and a bunch to pass on, and then arranged the rest chronologically. And then I put them away in the living room, where once in a great while I read a magazine and have a cup of tea. The hall table is clear. I bagged up the mail and found a spot for it in the closet. I still need to go through the rest of the basket, but I did pull out all the magazines that had been hiding in there. And I dusted! Mail has been sorted. Now if you’ll excuse me, now that I’ve found the latest issue of Newsweek, I’m going to go read it over breakfast.


It has been a good week for organizing and completing projects. Not exactly all the projects I had planned, but I think it’s good to stay flexible. I finally got those pillow covers made for the master bedroom, and I couldn’t be happier. Credit goes to Jenn, who suggested the envelope closure so I wouldn’t have to mess with zippers or velcro.


I added some flowers, and it’s a pleasure to work and rest here in my little suite.

I also intended to get those knobs onto the closet doors, but abandoned that project in favor of overhauling the big kids’ rooms. On Saturday we had nowhere to rush off to, so we dug in and worked.

Miss Six, sorting through the contents of her bookcase.

Here’s only a fraction of what we purged from their rooms:

I removed several bags of garbage and recycling, and freecycled a Barbie camper and cruise ship that were taking up prime real estate in the bottom of Miss Six’s closet. The rooms are certainly not magazine worthy. They retain a certain amount of clutter (they call it “treasures”), and what they choose to display is not always what I would choose. But we weeded out all the toys they don’t play with anymore, the hidden candy wrappers and crumpled school papers wadded into desk drawers, the baby books and the broken crayons. Now there are dedicated drawers for craft supplies and American Girl accessories, shelves for Legos and Zoobles. The jewelry is all put away, and all the hair accessories are corralled in a cute tin pail.


Mr. Nine now has room to display his precious Lego Harry Potter sets, his cayman head keychain and his ship in a bottle.


The books are alphabetized and there is a clear surface on the dresser to display his new karate trophy.


I was able to vacuum the floors for the first time in weeks (a month?), now that there is no longer any danger of sucking up a valuable Lego piece from Diagon Alley. We washed all the sheets and dusted all the shelves. Both kids have even made an attempt since then to make their beds.


I did say “attempt.” Good enough for me, and the cat, too.

On the wall

This isn’t going to be a picture hanging tutorial. There are plenty of those around the internet, and I’m fairly certain that my eyeball method isn’t going to win any awards. I do recommend this handy tool called the Hang and Level (as seen on tv!) that my husband got me after I yelled, “I need one of those!” when I saw it on tv. That thing works great if you use it. This time I didn’t bother to get it out because I was sure this was a 10-minute project. Can’t you hear the universe laughing at me? It took me an hour and a half, but I got some pictures out from under the bed (literally) and onto the wall, so I’m calling it a win.

A few things I actually used and a whole bunch of things I rejected.

I had hoped to have all sorts of details in the master bedroom completed this week: pillow covers, closet door knobs, pictures. Alas, this is real life, and like you, I had a couple of other things to attend to. I did get as far as realizing that I don’t have enough fabric for both sides of two pillows, so I’ll have to go buy something to coordinate for the pillow backs. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be expensive. I’m still pondering whether I should attempt zippers on these pillow covers. I’d hate to ruin my nice fabric trying something I don’t really know how to do. (Clearly I’m already talking myself out of it.)

But back to what I did accomplish: the pictures. When we rearranged the furniture a few weeks ago, the original picture placement didn’t work anymore, and there was another big empty spot on the wall. I decided it was finally time to complete a project I intended to do at least a year ago. All three children wore the same Belgian lace bonnet and booties for their baptisms, and I bought a shadow box to display them, but they’ve been moved from a shelf to a bag under the bed and back and forth. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to fix the items in the box, but last time I was at Michael’s, I asked someone behind the framing counter. Turns out, all I needed was 15 minutes, a few straight pins and a little batting. No thanks to the shadow box itself:

“Oh, great! Instructions!”

“Are they written in invisible ink?”

That little velcro strip wasn’t going to help, so I just stuffed the booties loosely with batting, and then fiddled around with the placement until I was satisfied. Now I have a piece of art and not just something to store until I have grandchildren.

I also rehung the two frames I originally had next to the window, but higher to accommodate the dresser. These are just postcards of watercolors of costumes designed by the artist Leon Bakst for the Ballets Russes in the early 1900s. I studied a little Russian in college and fell in love with these paintings while taking a course on Russian culture.

On the other side of the bathroom door I hung a white porcelain Kaiser plate with a relief pattern (I love the matte finish of these Kaiser pieces) and a Van Gogh print (that I’d like to reframe–check out the top piece that’s bowed).

While I was at it, I added a few things to the upstairs hall. I’ve been meaning to hang the kids’ school portraits (seriously, why do I order these if I never put them on display?). I thought a good spot would be over the bulletin board where we display some of their current artwork and awards. I had some unused white Ikea frames that fit perfectly.

I also dragged my framed diplomas and law license that haven’t seen the light of day since they left my office in a cardboard box two days before I delivered my firstborn. I’ve read all the arguments for and against displaying one’s diplomas in the home, but my reason was purely so that my children come to realize that their mother did once go to college and earned a couple of degrees, and has some knowledge beyond laundry and cookie baking. As soon as I hung the diplomas, they were busy examining them, calculating the years between them, and inquiring whether I had met all the state Supreme Court justices whose signatures are on my license.

Next week I fully intend to get those pillow covers made. Really.

Kitchen cupboards and shower curtains

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to report on my William Morris progress! I intended to finish the details in the bedroom: make pillow covers, install closet door knobs, and hang pictures. Alas, I did none of those things (except wash the pillow fabric so it’s ready to sew). Instead, I tackled some other small jobs on my list, so I do feel as if I accomplished something.

In the kitchen, I continued to purge and tidy up several areas. I sorted through the silverware drawer and removed all the baby utensils and medicine cups and spoons. The baby stuff is in the donation bin in the basement, and the medicine cups and spoons are now in the new medicine bin above the refrigerator, right where I need them.

I did a little more purging of the drawer with the kids’ plastic dishes. Goodbye to baby plates that nobody uses, mismatched cups and lids, extra valves and straws for cups we don’t have anymore.

Finally, I got up on a stool and cleared everything out of the corner cabinet. It’s where we store our glass and ceramic baking dishes and platters, as well as bread and treats (whatever bits of chocolate or candy may be open). If we have a tin of freshly baked cookies, it lives here, too. We acquired a few new dishes over the holidays, and there were plenty of empty cookie tins and stray chocolate boxes hiding in the corners. I also found a couple pieces that we never use (a ceramic muffin tin and a stone cookie mold). I returned all the cookie tins and unused baking pieces to the basement, tossed the garbage, and found a better way to stack the baking dishes. This week’s loaf of bread is in a basket. Much tidier!


My biggest project in the past week was to fix the shower curtain in the kids’ bath. When we removed the shower doors a couple of years ago and replaced them with a curtain rod, we mounted it fairly close to the ceiling. We’ve been using an extra long shower curtain liner, but I had never added a more decorative curtain. Extra long curtains are expensive, and I had a perfectly good, though too short, white waffle weave curtain. Speaking of waffling, I went for months without deciding on some kind of fabric to extend the curtain. But last week when I picked up the special order bedroom pillow fabric from Joann’s, I passed by this new fabric (on sale!) from Lisette, and decided to grab it.

I only bought a yard, and I needed to add about 15 inches to my curtain, so I had to piece the fabric. It was a little challenging to match the pattern and I almost didn’t have enough fabric, but in the end it turned out just right. If you’re interested, I followed this tutorial I found for adding a strip of fabric to curtain panels.



Now I’m even more motivated to repaint the bathroom. The existing color (Toasted Pine Nut from Sherwin Williams) is the color we have in our kitchen, where I still love it. I used it in the bathroom as a kind of test to see if I liked the color, but since I’ve added all the turquoise accessories, it just doesn’t go. I’ve decided I prefer cool colors in the bathroom, anyway. I’m thinking a soft gray…what do you think?

Next week’s goal is finishing that bedroom. I refuse to add anything else to my to-list until I finish those things. It’s too easy to distract myself! Every time I walk into the kids’ rooms I itch to tackle their closets. Soon…