Ritter Ames — USA TODAY Bestselling Mystery Author of the Bodies of Art Mysteries series and the Organized Mysteries series

Archive for April 2015

To keep up with all my ideas, I have my “working notebooks” and keep one on each new book, and file all series notebooks together in my office. I scribble lines I want my characters to use, ideas on where they should go and what they should wear, I take notes on news programs that cover topics related to the places and events my character(s) will see. It’s all grist for the mill, you understand. Yes, I could do all of this in a digital file and have it wherever I go, but there’s just something about brainstorming with a pen and paper that a notebook computer simply can’t provide.

But one things I do always take advantage of online is to collect pictures on my Pinterest boards at https://www.pinterest.com/ritterames/ For some reason WordPress doesn’t want to imbed this address correctly today as a link, so I figured the whole thing might be best in case anyone wants to take a look. I’m up to 27 boards now–a lot of people have many more, but so far this group serves my immediate needs. On my boards, I have Organized tips I’ve collected for my Organized Mysteries, travel tips for my characters to use in both my series, and–what I’ve been mooning over lately–great places around this glorious globe that I want to use in future Bodies of Art Mysteries.

BarcelonaRight now, I’m trying to decide if I’m going to keep all of book #3 in the Bodies of Art Mysteries Series, working title (definitely subject to change) Abstract Aliases, completely in England, or if I’m going to move onto the European Continent. I’m thinking a side trip to Barcelona, Spain or Basel, Switzerland is also an option. And yes, it’s just a coincidence that those cities and countries share the same first letters in their names–but you can see how my mind probably works. The shot peeking through the walls at the left are the view from Sagrada Familia in Barcelona–can’t you just see Laurel making plans while she checks out that view?

The shot atBasel Switzerland at night the right, on the other hand, is Basel, Switzerland at night. I have no difficulty imagining Laurel and Jack in the moonlight along that river view–whether they’re strolling in elegant evening clothes or escaping potential capture while dress in burglar black.

There’s just something about looking at vibrant pictures that makes me not only want to travel, but to write about the possibilities of what my characters might see and do when they arrive at those same places.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]I think it’s easy to see why my Pinterest Boards are not only one of my best ways to stay organized, but to keep motivated in my writing, too. I tagged my Pinterest Board on Italy so many times when writing Marked Masters, that I think I left that tab open on my laptop more than I did my email or Facebook! But that was the best way to keep all the elements of Florence in mind as I wrote that portion of the novel.

I’ll be leaving on a jet plane at the end of this week, but only to head for the East Coast. No European travel for me. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t be taking notes the whole time I’m gone. Need to slip another notebook into my luggage 🙂

Luckily, I have a bit more time before I need to make a final decision on all the places Laurel and Jack will be going in their next book!

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I started talking the other day about ways to transition from wintertime living rooms/family rooms to springtime ones. Today I’m taking a sweep at the Mud Room. Yes, the room has mud in its name and its function is to try to trap the dirt and grime before the mess enters the house. However, if your mud room is anything like mine, trapping dirt is just the beginning of the room’s job.

In our mudroom, we also have the washer/dryer, and a utility bathroom people are supposed to use to strip and shower when the filth is too much for the guest or master bathrooms. Clothes go right into the washer this way–at least on principle. But that only happens if everyone does his or her part. Too often, there are piles of everything all around. And the lovely cabinets and counter top I had the builder install so I had room to store clothes that needed to be put away, and fold things neatly on the Formica… Well, I let Life happen for a while and then everyone gets pulled in for another reminder that Mudroom does not equate with Catchall.

But winter and spring are particularly bad times for mud rooms, and there are a number of ways to help stem the tide of whatever rolls into your doors. Spring Cleaning is just one time of annual cleaning for this room. If you’re like me, you won’t expect perfection out of family members, but you won’t accept sheer laziness on their parts, either.

MUD ROOM

1. Like the front door waste basket I mentioned in the living room post, a waste basket tucked into a corner of the mud room saves many a mess. From dryer lint, to junk stuffed in jean pockets because a trash can wasn’t nearby, it’s just easier to get family members to actually throw trash away (instead of stacking it on the counter top or dryer) if there’s ready access to a waste basket that stays permanently in the room. A big plastic hook on the wall by the light switch tend to keep my husband’s keys from wandering off. I also keep a basket on the nearby counter top for hubby to toss his wallet into; another thing he would lose too easily otherwise.

2. If you have room in your mud area, and this is the more favored way to always exit your house, a set of sorting baskets can hold items handy when heading out the door–such as mail to post, videos, and library books–so nothing is forgotten. Large and small bins by the doorway are also great for holding shoes or seasonal items like caps and gloves. While winter accessories like gloves and hats are heavier weight and take up more space than spring caps and gardening gloves, it’s easy to recycle the same bins for whatever season the calendar says. If you don’t have bins available, and don’t want to buy new, look for heavy duty cardboard boxes and cover with wallpaper or contact paper to match the room, or discarded wooden crates you can paint, then stack or line them up near the door. When a few are kept at a low level, even small children can reach their own items and increase their independence.

3. Hooks serve many functions in a mudroom. Besides my hubby’s hook for his keys, we use hooks by the doorway for dog leashes, umbrellas, and whatever seasonal jackets we wear the most.  Use lower hanging stick-on hooks, too, so little ones can hang their own things, and the hooks can be moved up as kids grow.

4. If you prefer eye hooks for keys, screw the eye hooks into a board or picture frame for easy access by a door. This also provides a space on the wood for labeling which key goes on what hook. You can hang small bins this way, too, if you don’t have cabinets in there.

5. If you don’t have a counter top in your mudroom, but you have some room, fit a table–even a small one–into the space. This not only helps in getting laundry folded and sorted, and stacked so others can help mom put it all away, but it also gives a designated space underneath for laundry baskets and hampers and storage bags. Too often, if we don’t “have a place” for something, that something ends up staying in the middle of the floor.

Create an organizing method that works for you, and stick with it for a few weeks. Soon it will be second nature for you, and everyone else will see the beauty of its efficiency. When the weather finally settles into spring temps, make it a family activity to switch out winter clothes for spring, spring for summer, etc., laundering the heavier gear and storing it away until next year. Just a change out like that can make a space look new, as the lighter fabrics and less bulky jackets send out that quiet message that better weather is here!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]

Spring has officially hit the calendar, and that means we’re all ready to dig out from more than just snow under the windows.

While some people like to take their Spring Cleaning & Organizing in one big bite, I prefer little nibbles myself, so I don’t get off-track on all of the other to-do lists I have every day. If’ you’re like me, I offer my room-by-room spring cleaning and organizing ideas–but best of all, I don’t bring in anything new and costly to do the job. Look around the house and find amazing ways to re-purpose items for organization by thinking outside of the box.

I’m starting today with the Living Room with a Baker’s Dozen of tips, and I will be moving through other rooms in the house throughout the next week or so. So come back in the days ahead, and leave any springtime ideas you already use, or new ones you might think of from reading my tips 🙂

LIVING ROOM/FAMILY ROOM/GREAT ROOM — The place of community living

Yes, the whole family uses the living room or great room, and this room always holds way more than it should. Once spring temps arrive it’s time to put away all those comfy sofa blankets and afghans we’ve used all winter. Maybe you have a closet, or use the huge Ziploc bags like me to stow them under beds. They can also be packed away in large trash bags, with the extra air all mushed out and the openings taped up to be stacked neatly somewhere. More things to do as spring arrives–

1. Wipe off the fan blades of the ceiling fan, and reverse the rotation if you had them set for winter to push down the heat that gathered near the ceiling. We live in a summer hot zone, so we want the cool breeze the fans create, but prefer the warmer air stay up at the ceiling where the spiders can enjoy it. (No, I’m not a fan of spiders, either)

2. Keep a small waste basket right by the front door (or whichever door you use the most) to throw away junk mail and unnecessary flyers before they migrate into the living room.

3. Pull out all the furniture to find the favorite pet toy, missing library book, or lost DVD. Also check between the sofa cushions for errant action figures and the wandering universal remote. A basket that stays on a table or bookshelf is great to hold items like this. Another basket or box in a corner of the room can hold all the pet toys and small children’s toys like extra Legos. For the remotes, my favorite organizing tip for those is to stick one side of a Velcro piece to the remote, and the corresponding side to the item the remote controls. Then, the remote easily stays stuck to its video or audio device until you pull to remove it again.

4. Until the world goes truly wireless, all those tangled cables behind entertainment centers are here to stay. You can buy a cable caddy that sticks onto the entertainment stand or table top, but if you don’t want to go to that expense, you can cover an empty paper towel roll with wallpaper or contact paper that coordinates with your room, and run all the cables through the tube (or two) to keep things looking a bit nicer and better organized.

5. A bin or basket on the coffee table can hold small items, cards, game pieces, pens, or anything that might get lost or broken if just left on the surface. Keep a box of coasters handy in the room to help make using them regularly a bit easier, too.

6. Keep flat surfaces clutter free. We humans tend to toss all papers in the “kitchen or family area,” and often find them missing when we really need them. Designate a small table or desk for the area as the place for mail and any important papers that need to be signed and returned. A two drawer lateral file cabinet will work well for this, too, if you have a place in the room to store it. In our house, I have two upholstered cubes in the family room that can be used for extra seating, or if you lift the lid and turn it over, it becomes a handle occasional table to set a cup of tea and a book. But best of all, the lower inside is one big storage area. I use one cube near my favorite comfy chair to hold all the yarn for my current knitting project, and with the top on the cube everything stays neat and safe from the cat. The other cube I put near hubby’s reading chair, and that’s the one that holds mail as it comes in, and files we need for any kind of current household project. He also keeps magazines and catalogs filed there when he’s on the hunt for something new and wants to check out all of his options before purchase.

7. In the same vein, a lot of small photo frames tend to clutter a family room and makes the space sometimes go from “wonderful” to a little too much “wow” when there are more than a room can comfortably hold. Take back your table tops and walls by reducing the number of framed photos you display every day. You don’t have to take them all down, just think about displaying in a new way–like photo albums and collage frames, or digital photo frames that store hundreds of digital photos and rotate them constantly. For storing in photo boxes, organize by date or occasion and keep in a central location.

8. For “good work” pages that come home with your children and end up tossed someplace in the living room, assign a drawer just to save those items. Drawer space in the living room often works well. When the drawer starts getting full you can have a family night to decide which pages need to be saved and archived in a notebook or child’s memory box.

9. One of the saving graces in my household has always been Post-It Notes and Post-It Removable hooks. Both items can go on the wall anywhere you need to leave a list or note, or hang a small item, and are equally easy to remove when you need the wall space back in pristine condition.

10. I remember when I thought toys were going to take over every extra bit of floor space. Designate one less-used corner of a family as the toy area and transform into a mini kid zone. Yes, kids can play in their rooms, but they want to spend time with the family too. With a movable chalk board, a small bookcase and a kids’ table, toy clutter tends to stay contained and in its place. If you need a little more toy storage look at rolling bin options or cover storage boxes with pretty paper. In our house, this area morphed into our family game area as everyone got older, with an adult game table replacing the mini kids version.

11. Space behind the soft is great for storing extra blankets and pillows. We stick an extra flashlight there, too, so everyone knows where they can grab some emergency light in case of spring storms. If you use a sofa table behind yours, see if you can find an attractive box or trunk to store on the floor between the table legs for an added storage option.

12. Our family is moving away from DVDs and videos and streaming more entertainment. But if you have movies and shows you prefer to keep on hand, take a half-hour or so to sort through your collection. Make two piles: one for keeping, and another for either donating or selling online. At first we didn’t think we wanted to give any up either, but as we sorted through them each year, more and more were placed in the re-purpose/recycle pile, as new options for watching our favorites became available online.

13. Collectibles can take over a room and not only commandeer space, but create more dusting work as well. Large collections are revealed best when a smaller number of  pieces are displayed at one time. Use smaller groupings, or shadow boxes, and rotate the items to keep the look fresh. Think about doing what museums do, and how exciting it is for people to come next time and see new things, even in a permanent display. Put half of a collection in a sturdy box in a closet, and keep the other half out for viewing. Then rotate different favorite items throughout the year.

Finally, one last story. This isn’t really a tip, but it might give you some ideas on saving memories. When we built our house, my daughter was only five at the time, and while we were clearing up some of the building-mess in another room, she used her sidewalk chalk to draw a gorgeous scene on the yet un-carpeted cement floor of the family room. When we saw what she was doing the drawing was more than halfway complete, and neither my husband nor I wanted to stop her and erase the drawing. So hubby found some sealer to put over the drawing, and to this day it sits under the pad and carpet in that room. It’s just a kind of secret family thing we all know is there, and we all smile telling the story each time the carpeting is replaced 🙂

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]


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