Merry Christmas!

Here's our dog, Belle, under the tree.

Have a blessed Christmas and a New Year that cleans itself. :)


It's Almost Christmas

Merry Christmas Eve!

You're no doubt busy getting ready for tomorrow, so I'll make this quick. I have two handy cleaning tips for Christmas morning. Naturally neat people already know this one, but if you are housekeeping-impaired as I am, it may never have occurred to you.

1) Before you open a single present on Christmas morning, place a big open cardboard box or large trash can, lined with a plastic bag, in an accessible area in the room. As you unwrap, have everyone toss all crumpled papers, torn ribbons, and other trash into the container. Don't let the monitoring of trash ruin the Christmas morning fun, of course, but if you follow this handy rule, you'll save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run. You might even make a game of it with the kids, challenging them to score two-pointers from where they sit. Even if most of the trash lands in the general area of the box or trash can, it will ease the pain of cleaning later.

2) Even with a handy trash can nearby, there will still be some mess. Therefore--and we learned this one the hard way--always designate one person to be the collector of all cash, checks, giftcards, and other tiny and valuable items the moment they have been opened. Trust me, there's nothing more frustrating than realizing several days later, after the trash has gone out, that the $100 bill Uncle Bobby sent you is on its way to the city dump.

Most of all, be sure to enjoy your loved ones and to remind them of the reason for the season: our beloved Messiah's birth!


Show Us Your Stations

Last week I talked about creating a gift-wrapping station in your home. Have you done it yet? If so, we'd like to see it! Take a photo or two of your station and email to me at, along with any description or explanation you'd like to add. In exchange, I'll send you a one-time use coupon for $5 OFF ANY ITEM purchased at my website. How's that for incentive?

If your photo(s) is chosen to appear on this blog, I'll also send you a FREE COPY of my book A Pocket Guide to Amish Life. Time to get out the camera--or the smartphone--and show us your station!

This offer good through Dec. 31st, 2010.

Create a Gift Wrapping Station

In The House That Cleans Itself, I talk about setting up various "stations" throughout your home for your more common, repetitive tasks such as making coffee or writing letters. Now that the Christmas gift season is here, it's time to create a temporary gift-wrapping station as well, one that will help minimize mess and save you time and trouble over the next few weeks.

First, pick a logical location for your station, one where you are most likely to do your holiday gift wrapping. Base this decision on past experience, not on where you think it ought to be! I've seen more than a few very well-equipped gift-wrapping stations that went mostly unused because they were either too far away from where the family hung out, too visible to nosy children, or, in the case of one elaborate garage set-up, too cold.

Once you have chosen an appropriate place, again look to past experience to decide what supplies you will need to put there. For example, I know for a fact that no matter my intentions, when it comes down to it I never have time for adding fancy ribbons and bows to my gifts; I'm just lucky to get the darn things wrapped at all. So even though the artiste in my imagination produces lovely color-coordinated packages with curled ribbons and glittery tags, I don't stock those things in my station. Instead, I simply have wrapping paper, scissors, tape, a Sharpie, and self-stick labels, because I know that's all I'll end up using.

Be sure to add a trash can to your station, because gift-wrapping can get messy. Also, if scissors tend to take walks in your house as they do in mine, consider attaching them to your station with a long piece of string, yarn, or ribbon. That should be enough of a reminder to everyone that those particular scissors are to stay exactly where they are for the duration.

Make the station usable for others in your family as well, for example by including safety scissors for the younger children and perhaps a step stool if the surface is too high for them to reach easily. Show it to your spouse if they'll be doing any wrapping too, and remind everyone who'll be using it that the job isn't done until the station is in order. (One family I know who is fond of glitter keeps a dustbuster as a part of their station, for quick cleanups.)

Finally, give yourself some grace, if need be, when it comes to gift wrapping. Just because the packages in the magazines are gorgeous doesn't mean yours need to be. Remember: The gifts featured in the magazines aren't wrapped by busy parents with full lives and active kids but are instead created by artists who are paid to come up with this stuff. When you feel guilty about your own relatively un-embellished packages, tell yourself that until someone is willing to give you a paycheck for time spent wrapping, you've got more important things to do elsewhere!

Have fun setting up your station--and have a lovely Christmas season.