lists and home organizing

Are you ready for holiday mode?

I’m not even going to answer that question.

but it is going to be so worthwhile, digging into the holiday to-do list now, to make December calm enough to celebrate, to really celebrate. That is my goal each year.

I was going to wait to post this until Monday, but I’ve gotten a few emails and comments and wanted to post as soon as I had it ready.

Visit here to download this year’s 2013 Handmade Holiday Organizer

And feel free to follow along with me on Pinterest to see all my holiday favorites.

I’m digging in this week! It’s a tad earlier than last year, but that means the checklist will be totally done and completed two whole days before Christmas. That felt best for me. I am feeling jolly just thinking about it.


Iglesia by robzand

One of my favorite jobs ever was when I was just finishing college, editing for an academic journal.

…if you’re wondering what this has to do with el 5 de Mayo…I’m getting there…

this is me back then, looking very high minded and contemplative

Besides meeting lots of amazing academics, I got to hang with a very cool staff. We had detailed, heated discussions over misplaced modifiers and amazing conversations about actual life too. And occasional hallway chair races.

A friend of mine was the designer, Robert. I’d occasionally wander back to the design office and gawk at Robert’s design library, and ask him a barrage of questions, which he would answer with the patience of a monk.

Robert was one of the coolest guys ever and also one of the whitest guys ever, which I bring up because I was totally shocked to find out he played mariachi, in a band, an actual real mariachi band. We went to hear his band and it was awesome, he took his music as seriously as his design.

A few years ago I emailed Robert for a good, authentic, Cinco de Mayo playlist. And I got it. So incase you want the real deal, here it is. Mariachi autentico for your 5 de Mayo.

Volver Volver, Mariachi Sol de Mexico
Sergio El Bailador, Bronco
El Cascabel, Conjunto Tlalixcoyan
En Mi Viejo San Juan, Daniel Santos
Solamente una Vez, La Sonora Santanera
Bonito Tecalitlan, Mariachi Aguila Real
El Mariachi Loco, Mariachi Arriba Juarez
La Negra, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan
Flor Silvestre, Trio Calaveras
Las Tres Huastecas, Trio Calaveras
Guadalajara, Paco de Lucia
El Relampago, Lila Downs
Flor Sin Retono, Oscar Chavez

Notes from Robert: “There is a lot of great Mariachi music and I like the songs for different reasons. Sometimes it is the story they are telling in the song and sometimes it is the melody of the music. A lot of mariachi music is played quite poorly but the groups I mentioned above have excellent musicians and so you will find good recordings of their songs.”



The weather this spring turned from storms and downpours one week to bright warm sunshine the next. All at once there were people outside everywhere, neighbors talking, kids biking, highschoolers walking. It was glorious.

Do you make a summer list? What’s on it? With all the sunshine we decided we could not help ourselves from making plans, so we pulled out a big piece of poster board and a box of crayola markers and had a meeting on the family room carpet. We made our must-do list, whatever style. Everyone had suggestions. And if you can read the list, you will see that my kids and I are major nerds : ) But summer free time is my favorite and I’m even thinking of allowing no lessons at all this summer. Just one big break. Okay maybe swim lessons. And music maybe too. But that is it.

Once we had our list down, it didn’t seem right to roll it up and hide it away until June. And summer is never, ever long enough for me anyway. So we’re calling it our extended summer list, and starting on it now. Today.

It’s spring break here, so yesterday we hit the road with a picnic of cinnamon rolls and strawberries and a playlist full of good books (free great stories here, we just finished Alice in Wonderland) and we are going to see about knocking a thing or two off our list.


i always feel like i discover something when a certain to-do item suddenly feels right for a certain time of day. i just look forward to it more. do you ever feel that way? here are a few to-dos and times of day that i think make good matches.

the early morn. write and think and plan. i can’t stay up past 10 p.m. most nights, which becomes very inconvenient for dinner parties. but i love to wake up early with a clear head, while the whole world is quiet, and work and problem solve. do you do mornings?

sun up. busy myself around the house, making it ready for the day. it just feels right. i like a few minutes before i wake my kids to just survey everything. my favorite is summer mornings, when everything is bright and welcoming before my kids even open their eyes.

late morning. email.

late afternoon. art projects and table talk. usually afternoons are all about homework, but every now and then i surprise my kids with a table full of art supplies and my full attention. we have the best conversations while twisting pipe cleaners and sculpting mix-medium zoo animals.

supper prep. music practice time for my children. i tell them i can’t cook without accompaniment. p.s. i do not make formal dinners every night. i think that’s a post of its own.

supper time. sitting down to eat. for once. in the day. ahhh.

twilight. my favorite time for having guests over. roasting marshmallows if possible. also a very good time to go out for an ice cream cone.

kid bedtime. talk over the day with my kids. we have a little practice i kept up from chats with a college roommate. we each name our high and low for the day. its nice for when we pray, we know what everyone’s worried about.

grown up time. i have a new favorite. collapse on the couch and text. i love getting in a quick chat with both my brothers at once or a favorite aunt. or, on Mondays, I watch this guy show with my man. and sometimes roll my eyes, which kind of goes with watching any good guy show.

what about you, any favorites?


There are a few things in this life I live to do. Like explore a new town, eat shrimp tacos, snuggle with my kids, and make lists.

I love to have a list brewing in my head. I love to start with a blank, clean notebook sheet, write a heading at the top, and wait for the ideas to bubble up. I have a binder I keep in my kitchen that started as my housekeeping binder, and has grown into the AmberLee binder of lists.

I’ve decided to make listing official around here. I always adore running across a good list on my daily blog reads, so I am jumping in on the fun. I will be making a list a month. Starting tomorrow. I can hardly wait.


Holiday-OrganizerMany of you are way more organized than I am.


I’ve begun receiving inquiries about whether I’d be posting a 2015 Holiday Organizer. And so, inspired by you, I managed to put together an updated, and 6th annual (insert triumphant trumpet noises here), free printable

Holiday Planner

Oh how I love that tingly planning feeling. I can just see things falling into place already. Whether all of that will actually happen, we will see.

Holiday-Printable-Organizer1This year, if you get started on October 4th with the planner, you’ll have just under 12 full weeks to prepare, and hopefully have a calm and festive holiday, with a few quiet evenings here and there to sit near your tree, admire the twinklie lights, and think on the meaning of this incredible season.



I’ve had a couple questions recently about how I like to keep things organized, so I thought I’d take a day and tell you all about it. Ready or not, here are my favorite ways for staying on top of things (or trying anyway!)

1. My mini-goals chalkboard by MaryKate McDevitt. I like erasing what ever I wrote yesterday and having two simple goals up for today. To tell you the truth, some days even two goals seems ambitious.

2. Google Reader. I could not live my life without having all my favorite blogs and websites come to me each morning instead of me going to visit each of them. If you have never tried Google Reader, I will tell you truly, you are missing out. This 3.5—minute video is the best explanation I’ve seen and will help you understand why Google Reader is better than having a golden retriever who gets you your paper and slippers every morning.

3. Gmail. Especially all the fun stuff in Gmail Labs. You can turn on different features that the good people at Google are experimenting with in Beta. Some of them rock. Learn how to turn on Gmail Labs right here.

3. Evernote. (Thank you, Jenny!) I can save any picture or text from any website I like, or from my phone, or from my email. This is my new way for keeping recipes. This video explains a little about saving things from websites. I love you, Evernote people! Whoever you are.

4. My hand-written piece of paper to-do list. You may not believe it after reading everything else I just wrote, but I am a paper girl at heart. I like to draw out my weekly list with a row for errands, phone calls, computer chores, and things to do around home.

5. My AmberLee binder. This is the binder where I keep all my favorite lists. Lists like things to do when I’m old, a spring cleaning list, recipes I can throw random vegetables into, the perfect Disneyland meal plan, the list of things I want to teach my children, and so on. If my house were burning down, I would go back for this binder of lists.

6. Teau-Deux. I do not use this, but it is the only non-paper to do list that has ever tempted me. Go take a peek.

7. This e-book. It is written by a super mom and kindred spirit who writes for a website called The Power of Moms. This wonderful woman has given me a place to put every piece of information that comes into my life. Amazing. And in case you only have time to read the first 5 pages, you’re in luck, she’s summed up the entire book in pages 1-5. My kind of woman. Also proof that she is a kindred spirit, she draws out little pictures for her to-do lists that match mine, exactly. Only she has a column for things to talk to spouse about. Good thinking. The book is $35 and worth it, or visit here for deets on getting it free.

Okay. Now that you know all my best secrets, what do you do to stay organized? Please. I can never get enough of this topic. Spill.


As promised, Sophistimom has put together the quintessential kitchen essentials list for grads. And, should you need an extra recipe to tuck inside when you give one of the fun kitchen tools listed, I recommend this raspberry tiramisu, pictured below. Heavenly. And now, I’ll leave you to Jaime of Sophistimom (thanks, Jaime!)

1. One thing I can’t live without is a versatile baking dish. I like this 11 cup rectangular dish from Pyrex. It has a cover for storing leftovers, and is perfect for everything from casseroles, to marinating, to baking cakes.

2.  The Spoonula from Williams Sonoma. This is an absolute must for me. I use it for baking, sauteing, and anyplace I would normally use a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. It does the work of both. And it’s red. Very cool.

3.  As much as I don’t like nonstick pans, if I’m making eggs, there’s no other way to go. I feel a little better about hard anodized nonstick, which won’t peel or scrape off and find its way into my food. These Calphlon Unison pans, are supposed to be fine for metal but I use my spoonula with them just to be safe. Hard anodized is expensive but Calphalon is having a special on this pair of these indispensable skillets.

4.  Busy college students and anyone with an active social life won’t have time to cook all day. I would suggest a simple Crockpot and a gourmet cookbook to go with it.

5.  This is a tool a lot of people forget until they’re making a pot of pasta. When it’s ready to pour out, don’t risk burning yourself by improvising. Use these fabulous strainers, which also double as flour sifters.

6. No kitchen is complete without a cutting board. I love a good wooden one, but this polypropelene one guards against bacterial growth and is dishwasher safe.

Stop by next week. I have have a secret recipe to share, plus a couple others I consider essential for grads.


Today help me welcome Stephanie of Stephmodo, a favorite of mine for all things kitchen and French (be sure to stop by her Etsy shop of French imports, you will be charmed). Stephanie put together this kitchen essentials list, perfect both for grads and seasoned cooks alike, and was so good to do it besides being 8 months pregnant (see her adorable maternity photoshoot here). I’ll let her take it from here. And thank you, Stephanie, for taking a moment from your preparations to bring us this list (friends, do you love those bowls?!)

1. Martha’s melamine bowl set (those colors…)
2. Wusthof Mincing Knife (perfect for cutting pizza, quesadillas or pb&j–my husband has a few things to say about this too)
3. Vintage Cast Iron Dutch Oven and Skillet (both found at an antique shop, although ebay is a good source too; we use these all the time.  I love the way they sear fish on the grill, roast chickens, and roast vegetables)
4. Microplane Zester (great for lemons or parmesan–best zester ever)
5. OXO Salad Spinner (say goodbye to wilty lettuce forever–I also use it as a crisper)
6. Zyliss Garlic Press (there is no other garlic press worth having around)


Thank you, thank you, for all your gift ideas for Nicole’s foreign exchange student yesterday. I’m always a little nervous when I post a reader question, I always pray that at least a couple of you will be stopping by and will have some suggestions to offer, and then you always blow me away with your thoughtfulness. Truly, my favorite moments on this blog are getting to read your ideas and feedback and getting fun interviews and guest posts. I just love hearing the thoughtful things that are going on in your life. So thanks for that. It makes blogging worthwhile for me.

And speaking of guest posts, I am thrilled to be a guest today on SherbetBlossom. Hannah is doing a series on one of the best possible topics ever. Her series is called Project: Organize. Do you love it already? I’m assuming all of you have already clicked over by now since there are few topics in the world more fun that organizing. But for the two of you still reading, go stop by SherbetBlossom and get your fill of organizing inspiration.


Thank you, thank you for your clever-brilliant-awesome suggestions for organizing fabric. After looking at your photos and reading your ideas all weekend I am feeilng the organizing bug and can not wait to attack my fabric.

Thank you, Domanique for passing along this idea from the Little Green Bean. If you haven’t stopped by to see other comments, make sure you do. So many good ideas and pics too.

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The good news. I finally got a set of these drawers from IKEA that I have been wanting since this post about organizing craft supplies. The kids and I got to work stuffing drawers with all kinds of crafting goodies. The shallow drawers hold them beautifully. I am so happy.

The other news. I mentioned Monday that I cleaned out my fabric closet. It felt so good to fold everything into nice neat stacks. The only problem is, now I don’t know what to do with all my stacks. Help. How do you keep your fabric scraps organized? So far my best idea is just piling them up out of reach of kiddos, but I know myself too well. They won’t stay this way if I don’t have some system. Any suggestions?


For some time I’ve been meaning to start highlighting your comments. So often they put a smile on my face so I’d like to pass them on every now and then. I thought Mandy‘s comment on this blog post was a good place to start.

“holy crow are those weck jars…it’s my dream jar shelf…” —Mandy

If you are unfamiliar with Weck, you can feast your eyes right here.

And one last, very important thing. Be sure to stop by Mandy’s blog. She has a recipe for Disappearing Strawberry Freezer Jam that I can’t wait to try.

[pantry image from here via here]


It seems such a shame for something as pretty as ribbon to be shut up in a closet, wouldn’t you agree? I have this fantasy of storing all my wrapping in plain sight, as a sort of functional art, and this super simple project has me one step closer.

look at this pretty ribbon, all it asks is to be set out and appreciated

I’d call this a tutorial, but really, it seems too simple to be a tutorial. It’s just a trip to a couple of stores I’m guessing you already visit. A few minutes later, you’ll be set with a place to store every spool of ribbon or twine in your closet. Should we get going then?

Start with a trip to the thrift store.

Have you ever noticed many candlesticks have a hole that goes all the way through? Do a little searching and I’m sure you’ll find several. On my last trip I picked up five. They are ripe for the picking, my friends. If you don’t like your color options, pick up a spray can of Krylon at the hardware store and do a quick paint job when you get home.

Often you’ll need to unscrew something. It wouldn’t hurt to have a Philips and flathead with you when you go.

The next stop is the craft store. Pick out a wooden dowel that makes a snug fit. Mine was pretty snug. The wood was soft enough that I just screwed it right into the base. If your dowel is a little thin, you have options. Pick up a wooden disk while you’re at the craft store. Drill a hole so you can use the wooden disk as your base, then plant the dowel in the hole (again, make sure it’s a snug fit) and slide the candlestick right over. You also have the choice of picking up one of these from the hardware store, they’re called allthreads and work great for this project if you prefer them to a dowel.

That’s it. Once you find a dowel or rod that fits, there’s nothing left to do but stack the candlestick back together, and display in your studio, office, or right on your mantle.