10 Best Organized Living Tips…so far

Well, this week is off to an exciting start. The Neat Nook was selected to be part of this BuzzFeed Nifty article about organizing tips. >

I was so honored when one of their editors reached out. She was particularly interested in the post about “new uses for rubber bands.”

It was cool to look back at that post – and even a few others in the Organized Living category – to refresh my memory of all of the tips I’ve shared so far on this blog adventure.

I decided to share a few of my own favorites with you. So if you’re new to the blog or haven’t caught these particular posts, you can see them here.

{ONE} New Uses for Rubber Bands

This was actually the idea that was posted in the BuzzFeed article. > Secure two tissue boxes with a rubber band. Use an empty one as your built-in trash can. It’s perfect for a kid’s room or traveling in the car. Ta-da!

I love finding new uses for things. In fact, I have lots of posts with this theme. If you want to see more, such as new uses for cupcake liners, or new uses for loom bands, check out these Neat Nook posts!

{TWO} Bedtime Rituals

Nothing beats the feeling of crawling into a soft bed at night. I tell ya. Some days are easier to lull into a slumber than others, though, so I pulled together an easy routine to help us S.T.A.R.T. sleeping better. (It’s even an acronym to help us remember.)

Read the full post, and hopefully you’ll be sleeping like a champ – and waking up ready to rock the day.

{THREE} Creating a Welcoming Entryway

An entryway sets the tone for the rest of the house, so this post gives practical and beautiful ideas to organize this important space. <3

{FOUR} Organizing Your Jewels 

This was one of my very first posts, y’all! For sentimental reasons (and because the tips are still pretty dang useful) I wanted to include it on my list. 🙂 Check out these three simple steps to getting your jewels all jazzed up.

{FIVE} Tips for a More Enjoyable Laundry Room

This post not only offers great tips on organizing your laundry space, but also shares some photo inspiration that could actually get you excited about laundry.

{SIX}  Five Things Every Guest Room Needs

If you want to make guests feel like they’re on a retreat when they come stay with you, this post outlines five must-have qualities.

{SEVEN} One Hour Desk Makeover

Sometimes your desk just needs a mini makeover – like with some sorting, purging and organizing back in place. This post gives five simple steps to do just that – within an hour!!

{EIGHT} Slimming Down Your Bookshelves

If you love to collect books like I do, this post can help you slim down your selection so your shelves aren’t too overwhelming. Just let this photo be our inspiration. #ohsopretty >

{NINE} Candlestick Projects

Technically this post could be filed under the “new uses” category. I decided to round up some favorite ideas using candlesticks. Here’s the result. 

{TEN} Beautiful Bulletin Boards

I love a good ol’ fashioned bulletin board where I can print and pin pictures, quotes and even family schedules.

Here’s a post I pulled together that shows some of my favorite bulletin board ideas.

Speaking of boards, if any of these ideas inspire you, feel free to pin them on a Pinterest board. You can also follow me @ Kate Andersen.

Have a beautiful and organized day, my sweet friends!



5 Helpful Hacks (Using Common Household Items)

Hi, friends! This was a week of stumbling upon a slew of random, but super useful tips.

I tell ya, I felt like a life-hack ninja pulling these tricks out of my sleeve. And I already had everything on this list. Check it out and see if you can pull these off, too!

{ONE} Witch Hazel for Eye Relief

Let’s be clear, I’m not saying to put witch hazel IN your eyes. This trick uses a cotton pad doused with witch hazel and then applied UNDER your eyes to reduce those bummin’ bags.

I’ve been looking for a magical potion (that won’t break the bank) that actually works. So when I saw an article about the many uses for witch hazel, and it listed “de-puff eyes,” I was pumped.

I always keep some on hand to reduce the inflammation and swelling of mosquito bites. And that’s basically the situation under my eyes. They’re essentially swollen. Makes sense.

I gave it a try, and it’s not only soothing, but also seems to work! As a tip, I keep the witch hazel in the fridge. The extra coolness feels good and helps reduce the puffiness even more.

{TWO} Gum to Calm Nerves

Moment of truth…sometimes I have a ridiculously hard time controlling my nerves. It’s usually when I’m in a large group of people I don’t know very well. And if I’m asked to share anything off-the-cuff, like “so…tell us about yourself”, I freak out.

I recently joined a book group (which is fairly large and full of mostly new faces). I really want to feel comfortable and totally myself when I’m there, so I found this trick. Chew gum.

Here’s what some smart people said…

When we’re nervous or stressed, our caveman “fight or flight” mechanism gets triggered. When we eat or chew, it tricks our brain into feeling relaxed. We can’t possibly be in danger, because we wouldn’t be eating if we were. So chewing gum tricks our brain into thinking we’re safely eating a meal, and it starts producing chemicals that neutralize stress responses.

Fascinating. Now I just need to learn to talk properly with gum in my mouth – at least until I’m conditioned to feel more comfortable. #imaworkinprogress

{THREE} Straws to Keep Necklaces Untangled

One of my greatest victories this week was finally untangling my favorite necklace! It’s the small things. (But really, it felt big.) I’ve been carrying my tangled mess in my wallet since the day it all happened. Long story. All you need to know is I’ve been working on this thing for WEEKS.

Every now and then I’ll pull it out and work on it some more. I even tried the baby powder/cornstarch trick that was supposed to heal all jewelry knots. Apparently this particular case just required truckloads of patience and a pair of tweezers with pointy tips.

Once I pulled the last knot through the chain, I hollered with joy, clasped that beautiful thing around my neck, and promptly looked up tips to keep it untangled when in storage. Which is what leads us to the straw hack!

Just thread the hook down through the straw – using gravity as your friend. Then clasp the necklace and store. Or travel. This would be a smart trick for packing.

{FOUR} Olive Oil to Stop Crying Over Onions

I’ve been in a home-cooked meal phase lately, which has been great for our family’s diet and budget. Yay! It also means I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen doing things like chopping onions. Boo!

I love prepping food…except the dreaded onions. They smell and make me cry.

I’ve heard of all kinds of hacks, like freezing the onions, turning on your vent hood, wearing goggles (really?!), and even just slicing them in a different direction (julienne).

This might be the winner (not kidding) for the easiest way to hold back the onion tears: dip your knife in olive oil before cutting. It actually worked for me, so you’ll have to tell me how your experiment works if you give this a go!

{FIVE} Chap Stick to Heal Paper Cuts

Darn paper cuts. How is it that such a small thing can feel so big?! This week I’ve been pulling receipts and prepping for our taxes, and yep, you guessed it…got a paper cut.

Of course I googled remedies, like I do for everything else in my life, and found that chap stick helps soothe paper cuts!

You don’t need the fancy stuff. (I just happened to have a stick of Coconut & Pear Lip Balm on my desk.) As a tip, I probably wouldn’t go with anything that has peppermint oil in it – like the original Burt’s Bees lip balm. That might make matters worse.

That’s a wrap!

What’s your favorite household item hack (that’s not on this list)?! I’d love to know.

In the meantime, here’s to an awesome weekend. My twin girls are having their 11th birthday party tomorrow, so wish us luck. I’ll be back next week with some pics and deets of our “mermaid, unicorn, fairy, rainbow, pizza party.” Can you even believe I found these shirts?! I was dying.

Only Thug Life would have these awesome tees. For reals.





3 Tips for a More Enjoyable Laundry Room

Depending on how you feel about the chore of cleaning clothes, the laundry room might not be your most cherished spot in the house. I totally get it. I’d much rather spend my time in a craft room than a chore room. But laundry must get done, as the funny quote above explains.

And laundry rooms are those places in our homes that are never quite big enough or have enough storage. In fact, for many of us it’s more of a closet than an actual room. So how do we learn to love this little spot?!

Here are three things we can do right now.

{ONE} Keep it simple


{via} This is pretty much my dream laundry room. I love the simplicity, soft colors, open space and no sign of dirty clothes. Lol

How do we get remotely close to this beautiful image? Start by taking a picture of your own room. Whether that’s a mental picture or an actual “before” picture, that’s your call. But take a snapshot as-is. Find all of the things that don’t belong.

Are there piles of shoes, stacks of towels, lingering pieces of mail or anything else that makes the space feel cluttered? If so, you can actually feel pretty good, because this is an easy fix.

Help the shoes find their closets, the towels find the bathroom, and the mail find your desk. Have a place for everything, and put everything in it’s place. I’m a big fan of that philosophy. It might not always look perfect, but at least there’s a plan.

Once you’ve cleaned out all of the non-essentials, you’re already on your way to a much happier space!

{TWO} Make it productive

Understanding that this room isn’t always the most ideal (too small, not enough storage, also the dog’s room and mud room)…it’s important to make it as productive as possible. Assign every square inch to a specific task.

For example, can the space between your washer and dryer be used for storage? Can the top of the dog crate also serve as shelving?

This is where some Pinspiration can come in handy. Here are a few of my favorite ways to make your laundry space more productive.

Use all of your horizontal surfaces. In this picture, the top of the washer/dryer is used for folding and sorting. They also added a shelf between the cabinets to create room for pretty storage baskets. Even the top of the sink offers a spot to store detergent.

Add standing shelves. If you don’t have built-ins or room on the walls for shelves, think about adding bookshelves with baskets to gain some extra storage.

Play hide-and-seek. Here’s another great way to think about storage. Look for hidden places, like the space between your washer/dryer. These are great spots to stash dirty clothes or even laundry supplies.

While we’re on the topic of hiding spots…

I thought this was a smart way to handle an ironing board. It’s attached to the bottom of a drawer so it slides in and out of a cabinet. That way it doesn’t have to be out in the open when not in use. I also like the boards that fold down from the wall.

Double down on your space. If you have to share your laundry room with your pet or even your craft supplies, here are some lovely ways to handle the mission.

In this house, the dog bed is perfectly color coordinated with the walls, so it fits right in. The cabinets can hold all of the pet supplies, too!

Here’s a cool basement that’s one part laundry room, one part craft room. I love the open shelves that allow for baskets and any other odd-shaped supplies that need to be stashed. Keeping the walls white makes the room feel cleaner. Don’t you think?

{THREE} Let it be personal

Finally, I think it’s helpful to add a touch of your personality to the room. If you can’t make yourself fall in love with the act of cleaning clothes, at least you can make it a place you enjoy looking at.

In the picture above, I love how they added a pretty curtain to cover the sink and a stylish rug to warm up the room. There’s also a personal touch hanging on the wall.

How do you create a personal space for yourself?

Think of three things you love the most. Your kids? Your playful pup? The beach? Yoga? A bucket-list item, like spending a summer in Paris? Now find a photo or object that reminds you of these things, and put it in this space.

No room on the walls? Place a picture frame on the shelf next to your detergent. So you give yourself a reason to smile each time you reach for the soap.

Other ideas to make your room a little happier:

  • Paint the room your favorite color
  • Add a rug to make it feel more cozy
  • Display your detergent in a pretty jar – instead of its store-bought boxes
  • Place a jar of fresh flowers next to the sink
  • Light a candle in your favorite seasonal scent
  • Buy nice hangers so you’re more likely to use them
  • Place a dry erase board on the wall for inspirational quotes or love notes from the kids

I hope that was helpful and that you have a lovely day!!



How to Have an Easy-Clean Kitchen

This quote made me laugh. Mostly because it’s spot-on with how I feel about cleaning. I don’t mind organizing stuff, but cleaning is another story. I can procrastinate like a pro.

There are two times a year when I actually don’t mind cleaning: spring and early fall. And fall is probably ranked higher. Maybe it’s my way of nesting before the cold air arrives and our family huddles inside for the next few months?

Anyway, as I was feeling the (mostly unfamiliar) need to pull out my cute rubber gloves and start scrubbing, I decided to jot down a few of my easy-clean tips.

{You can buy them here}

Aren’t these adorable? You can buy them here.

This post will be the first in a series of how to quickly and easily clean a few special places in our homes. For starters, I’ll focus on the heart of the home.

For me, that’s the kitchen.

I found an article in Huffington Post recently that listed the five dirtiest places in the kitchen:

  1. Refrigerator drawers
  2. Dishrags
  3. Can opener
  4. Blender
  5. Countertops/sinks

I don’t know about you, but I was shocked by this list. Dishrags and sponges, yes. I get that. In fact, I don’t really use these. But refrigerator drawers?! Eww! These items will definitely be on my tip list.

First, the supplies

Think of these as ingredients for your easy-clean kitchen recipe.

  • Rubber gloves
  • Lysol wipes
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Lemons
  • Spray bottle
  • Newspaper
  • Baby oil (optional)

Now, for the tips



This one is probably the easiest, so we’ll start here. Pour ½ cup of vinegar in the detergent cup and run the (empty) machine for a full cycle. Then move on to that dirty fridge. Lol!



Toss any old food and wipe down the inside of the fridge – especially the meat and cheese drawer handles (just read that Huff Post article!) I really like Lysol wipes for this job so I know I’m truly disinfecting things.

Next, close the fridge, grab a fresh wipe and clean the outside handles.

{Can Opener}


I have a handheld opener, so I’ll just drop it into the dishwasher. Otherwise, I’d wipe this down with Lysol, as well.



Wipe down the entire base, including the buttons. I think the nastiest place is down inside the center – where the container goes. I’ll wipe that area the best.

{Counter and Stove Tops}


We have granite countertops, which is porous, so I use ½ cup baking soda with 2 cups of water in a spray bottle to clean and sanitize. I’ve heard equal parts of water and hydrogen peroxide also does the trick.

For my glass top stove, I’ll just clean it like my countertops with the baking soda/water spray.



Sometimes I’ll use the self-cleaning function, but I don’t always have time to babysit while it cooks. I feel weird having it on while I’m away. So…I’ll make a paste of baking soda and water to scrub the bottom of the oven.

To get the tougher “gunk,” I’ll add a few drops of vinegar to get it to fizz and loosen any debris.



The microwave is another “fix-it-and-forget-it” kind of chore. Fill a bowl with ½ cup water and ½ lemon (squeezed into the water). Microwave for 3 min. Let sit for 5 min for the steam to do its trick. Then open and wipe clean. Voila!

{Kitchen Sink}


While the microwave is doing its thing, I’ll take the other half of lemon and use it to scrub my sink.

First I’ll generously sprinkle baking soda around the sink. Then I’ll use the lemon like a scrubber. Let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing with fresh water.



I can’t believe this didn’t make the top five list of dirtiest spots in a kitchen. Regardless, I’ll clean the exterior really well with a Lysol wipe.

After I take out the trash, I’ll line the bottom of the can with fresh newspaper and sprinkle some baking soda on top to absorb any odors. You know I can’t do weird smells. #gag

{Stainless Steel Surfaces}


If I’m not totally out of time or energy, I’ll put a few drops of baby oil on a cloth and wipe away all of the germy fingerprints.

If you want this list in a handy, dandy printout, you can download it here!

That’s all for now. Stop back tomorrow for five tips on sprucing up your house specifically for fall.




5 Ways to Arrange Flowers Like a Pro

Don’t you love how fresh flowers instantly brighten a room? It’s no wonder they’re used to celebrate special occasions or come attached with an apology or condolence. Flowers are our little messengers…expressing love, joy, hope, sorrow.

As special as they are, I try not to treat them like my China, though. I make them part of my every day life. For example, I keep rosemary next to the sink, so steam from the hot water releases its fragrance. Blooms always beam from our dining room and kitchen tables. And every now and then I’ll put sprigs of lavender on my night stand to soothe me to sleep.

My love of the garden certainly comes from my mom, and any knowledge of arranging flowers comes from this trendy little shop where I worked in college. The designers were crazy amazing, and I tried to soak up every ounce of inspiration.

My five favorite flower arranging tips

{ONE} Keep it Simple


Whether you’re snipping flowers from the garden or picking up a bunch from the store, think about choosing all the same color. Monochromatic designs are so simple – yet pretty.

For this arrangement I grabbed a bunch of white Alstroemeria lilies. I cut them all the same length and tucked them into a small vase. (We’ll talk about the vase in a bit.)

Another approach is to get different types of flowers that have the same color. That way you get a variety of textures in your arrangement.

{TWO} Play with Scale


When you cut a long-stemmed flower really short, it gives it a more dramatic look. Take this sunflower for example. It’s not every day you get to look down on a sunny face like this. Wouldn’t it look cool to line up four or five of these down the middle of a dining room table?

I paired my sunflower with a few hostas from the garden, which gives it a fresh twist.

Speaking of hostas…I saw an episode of Fixer Upper where JoJo put single stems of hostas in tall clear vases arranged on a mantel. It was the perfect touch without being too fussy. It looked a little like this >>

{THREE} Branch Out with Your Greenery


Most people think of leather leaf fern when it comes to greenery. But it can be way more fun to shop in your backyard for things to toss into your bouquet.

{Believe it or not, I did learn this from the flower shop. The owner would come back from a weekend in the woods with baskets of greens, pine cones, and twigs. He was so creative!}

Anyway, take a look at the picture above. You’ll see the top two plants are actually herbs. Sage is on the left and lemon thyme is on the right. They add not only texture, but also a nice fragrance.

The lower left was clipped from my boxwoods. These are full on bushes, you guys. And they make such pretty greenery. Then the lower right is a giant leaf from my Black-Eyed Susans!

arrangement with greens

Here’s how I pulled all of them into a small bouquet. BTW, this was just one of those $5.99 bouquets from Walmart. Look how the greenery makes it feel more like a true garden bundle.

{FOUR} Contain Your Blooms


For a word or two about vases…

They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. And they play a big role in how you pull your arrangements together. A square vase can give you a modern look, and a super tall vase can create an elegant display.

I have to say, though…if you’re not a work-at-home-florist with tape, wires, or frogs to help hold your flowers in place, you’re pretty much going to want a vase that has a small neck to hold your stems upright.

The one shown is my go-to because it has a narrow neck and flairs out at the edge to help the flowers fan out. That way they don’t look like I just shoved them down inside a vase.

{FIVE} Think Outside the Vase

vase with hostas

Okay, remember the vase from the first arrangement? Here’s a better look. I covered it with two hosta leaves, then secured them in place with raffia.

Below is what my leaf looked like to start. I cut the stem off the bottom before layering it around the vase.

hosta leaf

You can use any large leaf or even a row of sticks to line the sides of your vase. This helps cover any messy stems. Oh, you can also use ribbon or pretty scrapbook paper. Can you tell my wheels are spinning?

I think I’ll do another post sometime soon about the many ways to cover vases! In the meantime, I hope that was helpful.

Enjoy your Labor Day. And I’ll be back on Tuesday with a fun post about “new uses for old things”.




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Friday Wrap: Friends & Fun

We had an action-packed week with some dear friends in town visiting. Once things settled back into a routine, I found a few tidbits I wanted to share, so this week’s top five list is a bit of a mishmash. One thing that is the same…I’m happy it’s already Friday. Love me some short weeks.

excited otter

This is how I feel inside.

Now let’s get to wrappin’ up this week like a present, shall we?

{ONE} All Kinds of 4th Fun

I’ll start by sharing some pics from the weekend. It went by so fast, which usually means we were having buckets of fun. And I’m here to say that fun was had by all – kids, adults, and even the animals.


The girls are showing off their first fireworks of the day. They shot off some parachutes, which were fun to chase down. In fact, I think we still have some on the roof.

friends at the market

This was taken on our way to the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market. Look at our colorful ensemble.

avery and bear

You know how Avery loves bears? Well, she found one to play with at the market. (This is a beautiful mural on the side of a building in downtown Fayetteville, btw. I just love street art.)

weekend activities

This is a snapshot of a few more activities that filled our weekend. The kids had a blast painting each other’s faces, visiting Crystal Bridges Museum, eating Pedal Pops at the Farmers Market, and finally lighting some sparklers!! Notice the Solo cup hand protectors in the lower right? That was the best decision of the day. The kids could light sparklers without getting burned. #momwin

friends and tats

The adults had some fun, too! We’re showing off our temporary tats.


Leo was such a trooper to put up with all of the madness.

{TWO} Lemonade for the Animals

As you can see, we packed in a lot of activities over the weekend. We even squeezed in some time for a lemonade stand! Our friends had the idea of donating the money to charity, and the kids picked our local animal shelter.

lemonade stand

Look at those cutie patooties. They even had stuffed animals on their stand to help sell the idea of helping animals. 😉

After the sale, the girls gathered their profits and shopped at PetCo for treats and toys. When we arrived at the shelter, the lady who greeted us said to go ahead and give everything to the animals. So we spent the next hour or so visiting each cage handing out treats and making some furry friends. They were so excited to see us. It was hard not to take them all home. This is why I need a farm, people.

animal services

We could have stayed and played for days. In fact, the girls asked if we could go back soon to check on the friends we made. <3

evan with dog

This is Evan and Yoda. I have to tell you, at first Evan didn’t want to go with us. He was being a bit of a moody teenager. Once we got inside, though, something changed. His face softened and I think he really felt for these animals. He wanted to stop and pet each one. Later that night, he told me he was really glad he went. A good lesson for both of us. 🙂

{THREE} Vanilla Nut Bites

Okay, so on Saturday we decided to go swim at our friends’ pool. It was awesome to have our new, local friends meet our long-time college friends. It turns out they’re all from Nebraska, which is even cooler. (Go Big Red!)

Anyway, this is the occasion where I was introduced to these balls of goodness called Vanilla Nut Bites. They are delicious, easy to make, and healthy – my three favorite ingredients.

vanilla nut bites on a pan

I forgot to mention they’re also no-bake, which makes them ideal for summer snacking. Don’t go heating up that oven if you don’t have to. I rolled these up in less than 10 min.

Are you ready for the recipe? Here’s all you need…

vanilla nut bites

Vanilla Nut Bites

  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients in a food processor. Roll into balls (using a cookie scoop or something similar to make it easier) and put in freezer or fridge to set.

I’m tellin’ you, they are so good. And be prepared for inappropriate jokes about balls and nuts when you serve them – especially if anyone has had a glass of wine or two and/or has seen the SNL skit about schweddy balls.

{FOUR} Sweetest Tomatoes

While we’re on the topic of food, I have to announce we had our first garden tomatoes this week. It really happened.

With so much going on I hadn’t properly tended to the garden in awhile. The kids were playing outside and noticed something bright red in the tomato patch. Lo’ and behold, we had not one, but almost a dozen ripe tomatoes!

We quickly had a salad celebration complete with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a dash of sea salt. (That’s my favorite way to eat a fresh-sliced tomato. Sometimes I’ll add a basil leaf on top.)

They tasted so good, and I was reminded to add a bit of baking soda to the soil to help sweeten our next batch. Do you do that, too?

I also plant marigolds around the base of my tomatoes to help naturally keep bugs away. I think my mom gave me that tip. Anyway, happy tomato season!


I decided to put my tomatoes in whiskey barrels this year, because I read that the leaves are poisonous to dogs. I needed to keep them out of our backyard and away from Leo.

{FIVE} Fruit Fly Trap

This last item on my list is super random, but super helpful if you’re dealing with fruit flies at the moment.

All of the fresh summer fruits and veggies I’ve been picking up at the market (and now growing in my garden) have been attracting some unwanted guests. I get flocks (?) of fruit flies in one spot of my kitchen, so I started filling a small measuring cup with apple cider vinegar and a drop of dish soap (to help the flies stick to the vinegar). It works like magic!

fly trap

This darling cup is from the Pioneer Woman set. If you look closely, you can see a fruit fly already landed. I literally just poured this and it’s already working. Bam.

Thanks so much for stopping by and seeing what we’ve been up to in the Andersen house. We leave for our big trip to South Dakota next weekend, so you might see me pinning lots of things to my new Road Trip Tips board. All ideas are welcomed, so let me know your must-do, must-have road trip items!




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Fourth Grade Park Perks

Well, Labor Day sure came and went in a flash. I hope you enjoyed the long weekend. We headed up to Kansas City to visit friends, which was a usual blast consisting of late nights and loads of laughter.

As I was catching up on Facebook and Instagram last night it looked like many friends hit the lake, campgrounds and nearby parks. This leads us to today’s post, which is a quick Tuesday tip for everyone with fourth graders in their lives.

Did you know 4th grade students and their families receive free admission to all national parks?

national park pass

It’s true. The program is officially called Every Kid in a Park. The goal of the initiative is to encourage students and their families to “experience the places that are home to our country’s natural treasures, rich history, and vibrant culture FREE OF CHARGE!”

Beginning September 1st, kids have access to a year-long park pass.

The pass is valid for the entire 2015-2016 school year. So you may want to organize a few weekend trips or plan your holiday breaks around some of our country’s best gems while the free pass lasts.

This is big news. I’m sure Leslie Knope from Parks & Rec be like…

Leslie Knope dance

Now if you’re like me, you’re not exactly sure where the closest national parks are located and what they have to offer. I did a little homework for us. Look no further than this complete download resource created by the National Park Foundation.

You can find lists and guides to more than 400 national parks. Among them is a complete Owner’s Guide, that not only shares the best secrets of each destination, but also reminds us that the national parks belong to us.

Another list that’s especially helpful is Places Nobody Knows. Everyone knows about Yosemite, but there are smaller hidden gems that might be closer and easier to access.

If you want a more interactive map of all of the parks, this one lets you search by location, theme, or category, such as “national battlefields.”

It’s an exciting time to be in 4th grade. If you and your kiddos are ready to lace up your boots, here’s the link to get your free pass. If you’re a 4th grade teacher (like my sister and niece), you can get class passes at this link.

Have fun blazing new trails, and here’s hoping you run into Amy Poehler along the way!



Let Go & Grow

Today’s post is a bit of a confession. I was recently working on a creative project and was so focused on having it look and sound amazing, that it became harder than it needed to be. I stressed about it, procrastinated as long as I could, and eventually felt guilty – for all of it. Have you ever done that? Put unnecessary pressure on yourself?

I finally (and thankfully) realized I was making myself crazy. No one else had such high expectations of me than, well, me. I took a deep breath and put on my favorite jams (as in music, not my jammies. Although, those would have been good, too.) Then I sat at the computer and started putting one word in front of the other. The next thing I knew, I was enjoying myself and the project was coming together.

The moment I let go of the outcome, I was able to experience more joy and creative freedom than I had felt in quite some time.

As I reflected on this experience, I came to the conclusion that I should apply this lesson to more things in life – not just in my creative projects, but in the way I raise my kids, love my husband, serve as a friend, look at my body, or organize the house. The moment I white-knuckle the steering wheel and drive in the direction I think we all need to go is when stress kicks in. When I allow room for things to unfold, get messy, or feel uncertain, I can be certain I will learn from the experience. It will be a gift – even if I don’t recognize it at first.

This past week I watched Chef’s Table, which is an amazing documentary-style show on Netflix. Massimo, who is the Italian chef featured in the first episode, was presented with a challenge. A member of his staff dropped the last lemon tart, and it shattered all over the plate. Instead of feeling frustrated or defeated, Massimo embraced the mess. He splattered more lemon sauce around the plate and called it “Oops! I dropped the lemon tart.” It became one of the most famous dishes on his menu. This was such a beautiful example of how a “mistake” can turn into a blessing if we have gentle and accepting eyes to see them for what they really are.

If we surrender to the universe with abundant faith, all will be well.

No matter what each of us is going through, and I know everyone has something crappy going on, let’s have the courage to lean back and let go. Know that all will be well.



Spring Cleaning Tips and Tricks

When it comes to spring cleaning, you don’t have to buy a bunch of specialty products to get your house shipshape. With a few simple ingredients (that you probably already have around the house) you can pretty much clean anything. Here are five of my favorite cleaning hacks:

{ONE} Lemons

Lemons are the epitome of clean. Why else would so many cleaning products smell like them? I say, why not use the real deal?

Did you know you can clean the yucky insides of your microwave with just a lemon and bowl of water cooked for 3 min?

Lemons are also great for cleaning stainless steel faucets in your bathrooms and kitchen. Cut a lemon in half and rub the stains away. Like magic, I tell you.

{TWO} Vinegar

Vinegar is a miracle worker when it comes to cleaning. There are even books (yes, plural) written about it.

Baking soda ranks up there, as well. Many times they go hand-in-hand. Like when it comes to unclogging a drain. Pour a pot of boiling water down the drain, followed by 1/2 cup baking soda, then 1 cup of vinegar.

Another dynamic way to use this duo is on carpet stains. Soak the carpet with vinegar and then sprinkle with baking soda. Wait a few minutes. Wipe with a wet cloth and vacuum any remaining residue.

Here are some of my go-to uses for stand alone vinegar:

  • Run it through your coffee pot or Keurig to remove mineral buildup. It makes a big difference in the flavor of your coffee. Be sure to run a batch of fresh water through after the vinegar.
  • Deodorize and clean the garbage disposal with vinegar ice cubes. Make them by freezing full-strength white distilled vinegar in an ice cube tray. Run several cubes down the disposal while flushing with cold water.
  • To remove grime, mildew, and scum from the tub, tile, shower curtain or door, wipe with undiluted white distilled vinegar. Rinse with water.
  • Remove that nasty film in narrow-necked glass jars, flower vases and bottles by filling them with vinegar and letting them sit for a few hours. You can add a little rice and shake to loosen the stubborn stains.

{THREE} Condiment Bottle

This is a random tip, but helpful none-the-less. Remove the lid from a condiment bottle and attach it to the end of your vacuum with a piece of tape. Now you can clean out the tiniest of spaces that taunt you with their dirtiness, such as computer keyboards and those evil crevices in your car that no hand could ever reach through.

{FOUR} Oil

This might sound counterproductive, but you can remove oily, greasy buildup on your stove hood and stovetop with more oil. Put a couple of drops of vegetable oil (or any other kind of cooking oil) onto a paper towel and rub it across the greasy mess until it’s clean. It leaves a nice shiny surface, and I promise it’s clean!

{FIVE} Dryer Sheets

These are great for cleaning your blinds and baseboards. Once you wipe them down, the anti-static properties of the dryer sheet will keep airborne dirt from sticking to wherever you just wiped. This means you don’t have to clean them as often.

What other common household items do you use for cleaning? Share your favorite hack!



A 28-Day Writing Plan

pencilHere’s a post for my writer friends out there. Yes, that’s you. I recently stumbled upon this 28-day writing plan by Paul Furiga and decided to give it a whirl. I was lured by the encouraging intro which stated:

“Writing doesn’t have to be hard – not for you, and not for the people who will read what you write.”

Amen. I’m in the choir this guy is preaching to. Writing doesn’t have to be hard, but sometimes it is. Especially when the inner critic rears its ugly head or the right words go hiding in the dark alleys of your mind. There have been times I’d rather clean my bathroom than sit and write an assignment. Yet, I still love writing. I’m a walking contradiction. So I decided to partake in this writing exercise to see what will happen. It’s free. In fact, the investment is only a few minutes a day for 28 days – a mere blip on the radar of my existence. It might even be half a blip if all goes well.

I’m not very far into the plan (week one), but it’s been enlightening. I’ve tossed the critics to the side and delved into the reasons I need to write. Other than the obvious motives of needing to write for work and the income, I’m discovering that writing is a powerful release for me. It’s something that has to happen – like a sneeze.

It’s not always good writing, but it always feels good to write.

I wonder if it’s how bees feel about flying? They’re not exactly the most graceful beings in the air, and I imagine it’s pretty hard work carrying their weight with such small wings. But they have wings, and so they fly. I have ideas, and so I write.

I imagine you have ideas, too? Let’s get them out of our hearts and heads and onto paper. Let’s take someone on an adventure, share a helpful tip, or leave a quiet legacy.

Week two of the writing plan is about “get in shape” exercises. The author says, “Success in any physical endeavor requires consistent discipline in executing the training plan. The same is true for writing.” Perhaps you’ll slip into your writing gear (whatever that looks like?) and join me!

Be sure to share some of your experiences. Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram by tagging me @Katejandersen or using #CreativeTipTues.

Have a creative day and write on!