The magical wonders of baskets and trays

I am slowly but steadily working this house toward a state of organized splendor. If you dropped by today, you would not be aware of progress – but it’s happening, people! It is happening!

Ignoring the messes that need attention, I have been focused on what I call the magical wonders of baskets and trays. Critical to any home organization effort is the humble basket and its companion, the tray. My beloved Pottery Barn sells a wide selection of gorgeous baskets and trays – although I buy the Target knock-offs. We have them all over this house and they help us in many ways.

First up, the trays:

Trays are a great way to de-clutter surfaces where things collect that get daily use – there’s no point in “putting them away” only to pull them right back out.

bathroom counter

side table in family room

My next example is not pretty – and to point out the obvious, none of these pictures are “styled” because who are we kidding!?! Most of us drop junk on the kitchen counter that sits for days. Rather than having it strewn all over, I like to have a junk tray:

things that need attention

My friend Kristina’s junk tray literally never looks messier than say one receipt and a spare key. It kills me. The woman is Judo Master of Organization.

books and photo cards in the front entry

OK, moving on to baskets! We generally don’t wear shoes in our house, so I keep shoe baskets in the garage and in the laundry room for all of the kids’ shoes and the ones I wear most often – super convenient as we head out the door! Here are some other ways we are using baskets…

a “to do” basket on my desk

our collection of liquers for coffee

magazines on the coffee table

junk that lives on the kitchen desk

leftover wine for cooking and kitchen utensils

a basket to hide our coffee making supplies

sugar for my sweetie

keurig supplies in the cabinet

I’ve been showing you close-ups of baskets which is probably less reinforcing than seeing them in context. This next picture really captures the magical wonders of baskets:

all nice and neat – and hiding this…

who would want to look at this?!?


hidden in plain sight

reading material by the sofa and my comfy chair

a basket under our coffee table serves as a favorite kitty cat napping spot

There is one down side to baskets – and it’s a big one. They hide stuff. No, really. You can easily forget what’s in there. This junk basket sat out in our kitchen for a year before I decided to hide it in the laundry room – and then it got worse!

the dangers of junk baskets

Let this be a cautionary tale! USE YOUR BASKETS WISELY. The key to great organization is really not “storage” but “processes” meaning it’s only organized if you work at keeping it organized. every. single. day. which is not the fun part of being organized. (Yes, there is a fun part of being organized!) More to come…


Summer Camp

This past weekend, the kids and I took a road trip with our friends for the open house of a summer camp the kids may attend this coming summer. Leah loves camp, so she was over the moon! I always loved camp, so frankly, I was pretty over the moon myself and wishing there was one week just for mommies to come swim in the creek, zip line and ride horses… Oh well.

My hope is that we’ll find a camp that will be a special part of the kids’ summer memories for many years to come!

This amazing waterfall is in the middle of the camp.

The “big kid” cabins were exactly what you’d expect…

I was pleased to see the camp embraces “traditions”. Haha!

The kids’ chief complaint is that they would all [3] be separated!

I wasn’t thinking of sending Michael yet but the “little kids” cabins were so adorable that he and I both began to re-think! The cabins were like the best of a tree-fort and tree-house!

Plus, they gave Michael candy.

Leah is excited about trail riding!

The kids have a Bible study every morning and a mini-worship time at the end of the day.

Michael was all fired up to go until this morning when he said to me: “I forgot to ask if they had alligator-proofed that river! I don’t think they have so I don’t want to go.”

Maybe next year!?!

This month in the yard: January

I’ve abandoned my series “This month in the yard” since late Fall because it’s an ugly time of year here in The Cove. It’s cold and wet and GRAY and all the trees are bare. Bryan teases me because every Winter I talk about moving and every Spring I run around saying, Isn’t it amaaaaaaazing to live here!?! It’s so beauuuuuutiful!!!

The only color in the yard right now is the Nandina that sit in front of the dining room window. They’re small and not really the most beautiful shrubs in terms of shape, but the color compensates.

After the debacle of last year’s Southern Living inspired Kimmy’s Landscaping Plan, I learned valuable lessons, as follows:

  1. It’s way harder than it looks. Estimate the time and expense and then multiply by 3 gazillion.
  2. Those sweeping flowerbeds in Southern Living include more flowers than you could buy if you raided the entire stock of your local garden center. I planted so many flowers and my flowerbeds still looked pawltry – truly pathetic.
  3. It’s alarming how fast Cana Lillies grow and spread. Gardener beware! I have got to move mine this Spring for fear they will eat the front entry!
  4. Simple is good.
  5. The easiest flowers to grow are Lantana.

This Fall, I was driving slowly past a house in the neighborhood with gorgeous landscaping and noticed something: they had very little variety and most of it was evergreen shrubbery. They had layers of Cleyera (common green shrub), Loropetulum (purple shurb) and Nandina (orange/red/green shrub). It looked beautiful. It looks beautiful all year long. No special care required other than occasional pruning. Over-achievers might fertilize. That’s it.

So, if I muster the energy to do anything to our flowerbeds this Spring – and I am sure I will in my exuberance for Spring – I will add Loropetulum and Nandina. I might plant Lantana because the flowers grow quickly and stay colorful all summer. That’s it. We have plenty of regular ol’ green shrubs as background.

‘Purple Diamond®’ Loropetalum - Combining colorful flowers and foliage with controlled growth, Purple Diamond® is a gem. Unlike some other loropetalums that can swallow your house, this one grows 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. Showy pink flowers appear in spring and sometimes summer. Deep, rich purple foliage holds its color all season.  Evergreen.

Firehouse Dwarf Nandina  evergreen, red fall color  This dwarf variety holds that red fire engine color all Winter. It has a compact mounding form with bright green Spring foliage.  prune, selectively cut the stalks and stagger the heights of each cane instead of cutting them all off to the same height.  - resistant to deer, drought, heat & humidity, pollution, rabbits, seashore, slope, and wind

Lantana hot gorgeous orange!


Finest coffee in town…

There’s a Chinese restaurant here in The Cove whose tagline is “Voted Best Buffet in The Cove” which is hilarious because it is the only buffet in The Cove! Well, I found an even bolder claim while driving out in the country a couple weeks ago. I passed through a little community that had nothing more than a couple junk shops on both sides of the road and a small gas station that may be abandoned but at least has not been updated since the Eisenhower administration. I love the big sign on top of this business: FINEST COFFEE IN TOWN.

Yes, I’d like a venti, skinny, no foam, soy, pumpkin spice latte, please.

Homemade Tortellini Soup in 15-Minutes

Sunday night, Bryan looked up from some ball game on TV and said, “Hey, what’s for dinner?” And I said, “Hmmmm… what IS for dinner?” It’s practically an existential question in our house. I really do like to cook, but I do not like to ‘meal plan’ or grocery shop which presents challenges at dinner time.

Bryan said he wanted soup. I knew we had fresh tortellini so I googled “tortellini soup recipes” and read through 3-4, all of which required ingredients we didn’t have on hand. I needed to get creative with what we had in the pantry and I’d gotten some ideas from the recipes I saw… I didn’t have any cream, but I did have Cream of Chicken Soup, etc.

This tortellini soup that was so good that we ate it all up – and I made another pot the very next night! Warm soup on a cold night is hard to beat! It’s really flavorful and creamy without being heavy.

You are going to have to trust me. Here’s how you make it…

Homemade Tortellini Soup in 15-Minutes

  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 box chicken broth
  • 1/2 jar of tomato basil pasta sauce
  • 10 oz. fresh cheese tortellini

Whisk first four ingredients together in a soup pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, add tortellini, lower temperature to medium for a low boil and cook for 9-10 minutes. Makes 4 big bowls.

You cannot mess this up.

I do think it matters that I used a good tomato basil sauce. The basil and other herbs added great flavor to the broth. I used half of a 20 oz. pack of Buitoni Three Cheese Tortellini and threw away the package before deciding to take a picture, so here’s what to look for in the refrigerated pasta section of your store…

BUITONI®  Three Cheese Tortellini


My brother Steve came over the second night I made this soup. He’s a very good cook and balked at my recipe. Soup in 15 minutes? With what? He rolled his eyes…

In a “Hey Mikey! He likes it!” moment, Steve tasted it and had to admit it’s really good!

The Psychology of Learning – or – Why Freddie is so bad

My bachelors degree was in Psychology – one of those degrees you can’t use without going on to get a graduate degree and a professional certification. Who knew?!? I just wanted to know why people are so… odd!?! (Ha!) I’ve joked that although I have never been paid to use my degree professionally, I have used it every day. I know you know what I mean! A few classes stand out in my mind and one of them is The Psychology of Learning. My little lab rat, Wilbur, helped me learn how responsive he (and we all) are to intermittent reinforcement – meaning we’re all most likely to act a certain way when it sometimes get us what we want. Ah, the sweet pursuit of reward…

Sometimes Freddie gets what he wants.

We really have tried to teach Freddie to keep is feet on the ground, but he has a bad habit of jumping on people if he thinks they maybe might want to love on him!!!!!

Julia and Sherri looooooove Freddie!! Here they are baby-talking to him, “Ooooh Freddie! Freddie! Freddie!”

Paw-Paw and Michael

I think my dad is really enjoying living up here. It’s a big transition to leave Auburn after 40 years, but the grandkids keep him busy and that helps! Dad comes over every morning around 6:55 to help me get the kids ready for school.

Here’s Paw-Paw helping a sleepy boy finish his homework before breakfast…

If you have been around Michael in recent months, then you know he has been rather fixated on tortoises. He’s spent countless hours researching tortoises and can go into enormous details about various species of tortoises. We have all become unwitting ‘experts’ in the distinctions among Galapagos, African spurred tortoise (also known as the Sulcata), Hermann’s, Russian, red-footed, Sonoran Desert and gopher tortoises and, of course, the spur-thighed or Greek tortoise. I thought Michael was familiar with every tortoise until I read through a more comprehensive list on Wikipedia and I now know we may be hearing about tortoise research for years to come! Who knew there were so many?!?

In the mean time, Michael has convinced his Paw-Paw to get a pet tortoise! (Sucka!!!) They are leaning toward a Russian tortoise, although the Greek and red-footed tortoises would also make a fine pet. Just ask Michael. They plan to get this tortoise on May 20th since that’s the mid-point between Nana and Paw-Paw’s birthdays and it would be their present from Michael… which Paw-Paw is paying for. Lucky Nana!!!

Michael and I go to the pet store every few days to buy crickets for his lizard, Emmitt. Last night, the manager let Michael hold their baby Russian tortoise.

I had to admit, he is really cute.


Everyone is talking about Boko Haram, ISIS and the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris. It’s enough to make you lose hope in humanity and become really cynical. Sometimes I have to remind myself that most people really do live at peace with one another.

photo credit

photo credit

The pictures from this week’s Paris Unity Rally are beautiful. World leaders and anonymous citizens stood together in a ratio of 1 million to 1 against the attackers. Did you realize that? That 3.7 million people marched in peace in Paris?

 photo credit

On one side, we see the bloodshed of a very small army of people consumed with hatred and anger – and on the other side, we see millions walking arm in arm in peace and unity. Which is more compelling?

Humans have fought down tyranny and brutality throughout history: Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin, Khmer Rouge, the Rwandan genocide… Their agendas of violence ultimately fell because pervasive evil is not sustainable among those created in the image of God. Humans are inherently drawn to kindness, forgiveness, grace, compassion, happiness, peace… and love.

Love wins.

I need to be brave enough to show love to people consumed with hatred and anger. I feel emboldened by the good example set by the Parisians – everyone – this week. So good. All good.


We had a great time Saturday night at the hockey game! Thanks to Leah, we all got to sit in an ice suite and watch the game with a bunch of friends from The Cove. It was so much fun!

The girls were recognized for raising the most money for our neonatal ICU in a fundraiser last summer. A series of fundraisers are held each year in memory of our sweet friend Ann Catherine’s twin sister Melissa. (AC is on the far left and she raised most of the money by a long shot, but the whole team was rewarded for their contribution.)

photo credit

AC is only 9 years old, but she is so composed speaking in front of thousands of people. When asked why the fundraiser is important, she said, “It gives babies like me a fighting chance at life.”

photo credit

The girls got to participate in some silly games on the ice during intermission. Leah and our neighbor Laney won the wagon race!


Project 2 – The Refrigerator

It was time to tackle The Refrigerator…

Remember the NFL defensive lineman “Refrigerator Perry“?

OK, I didn’t have to actually, literally (as my children would say) tackle Refrigerator Perry, but I did need to clean out our fridge because I am an organizing machine in 2015! And because someone knocked over a jug of sweet tea and it coated everything in the fridge with sticky goodness. Sometimes organization projects just come right at you!

You may recall that I did a big refrigerator organization a year or so ago – grouped ‘like with like’ in bins and added labels which my family members ignore. (Sigh.) So re-organizing it wasn’t too hard. I emptied the fridge to clean it out, then shuffled the shelves a bit to make the heavy milk jugs easier for Michael to handle.

How do you like the bins and labels???

Drop by later for some mealworms, OK? Just kidding – those are for Michael’s pet lizard and yes, the worms creep me out. #amotherslove