Saturday, October 18, 2014

measuring tape, scissors, and graph paper

We have about 11 weeks until our baby is born. As you can imagine, this means that the nesting energy is running at full force.

I want to clean.

I want to organize.

I want to rearrange ALL the furniture in my house.

I need to make room for this baby!

(Of course, as my husband so practically reminds me, if the baby came today we wouldn’t actually have to do that much to get ready for it. Buy a little co-sleeper and do a load of laundry to freshen up the diapers and we’d be pretty much set. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer to be a little more organized and stylish than that.)

So as a first step toward getting my house together I did one of my favorite things – I made a to-scale floor plan drawing of my home and all the furniture in it and moved tiny pieces of paper around.

Graphpp3

Graphpp2

I learned as a kid that my enthusiasm for trying new furniture arrangements was far greater than anyone else’s enthusiasm for helping me physically move said furniture. So I made up for it by trying infinite arrangements on paper. Then only when I really loved one would I solicit the help of others to make it happen. The graph paper model has helped me numerous times in convincing my husband that a certain arrangement would work. It has also saved us the trouble of trying something that would end up being awkward in the space. It’s a solid system.

I’ve found that a ratio of one square of the graph paper for one square foot works well. It’s certainly one of the easiest ways to go. I also discovered that at that scale my entire house fits on one sheet of graph paper. Convenient.

After drawing the measurements of each room (I didn’t bother with the kitchen or bathroom since there really isn’t anything to move in those rooms) I measured and drew each piece of furniture. It sounds like a tedious process, but if you just keep pad of graph paper with you and draw each piece as you go it really doesn’t take that long.

Pro-tip: Outline each piece of furniture with a color (I used highlighters). It can be hard to see tiny pieces of white paper against a larger piece of white paper. The color helps them stand out.

Graphpp

I spent an evening shuffling the tiny pieces around until I settled on something that I think will work. I went ahead and included pieces to represent a few possible purchases we’ve been thinking of making to make sure they would work in our home. I learned a few things in the process:

  1. The baby will, indeed, fit in our house if we get a co-sleeper to go next to our bed.
  2. The baby (and all her stuff) will fit even better if we purchase an ikea dresser to serve as her changing station.
  3. We don’t actually have to move around ALL the furniture in order to make room for the baby. Most of it will actually work best right where it is. This is both relieving and mildly disappointing to me. Sometimes I like a reason to do something totally new.
  4. Some of our furniture is not necessary. There are a few pieces sitting in our house that don’t really serve a useful purpose; they just take up floor space. We’ll probably remove those.

This little project has given me a good start on planning for the baby. I have several more projects in mind for this weekend. Probably more than I can actually accomplish. I’ll be sure to share the progress though. Stay tuned. This house is about to get baby-fied!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Playing with Color

The other day I spent some time playing with color. As a designer, I pick out colors to use in my work a lot, but as with anything, it’s easy to fall into a rut. I feel like there are certain colors and combinations that I use over and over again. They look nice, sure, but they are also pretty safe and predictable. I’d like to branch out a bit and try some new combinations. So here are a few color palettes I put together as a little exercise for myself. If you find yourself needing some color inspiration, maybe these will help get your creative juices flowing.

Many of these palettes were created by picking colors from a photo. It’s a method I’ve seen done many times, but never really taken the time to try myself. I really liked the results!

color-palettes_01

“The Charlie” is based on a picture of (who else?) Charlie that Chris took on one of our walks. He’s a pretty stylish kid.

 

color-palettes_02

This is one I just made up in my head. I wanted to try some serious looking colors (like that dark blue) with a pop of something more fresh and exciting (the rose).

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This is another pallet I drew from a photo – this time of some weedy flowers Charlie picked for me in a blue glass vase. It’s very cool and calm.

color-palettes_04

 

I think this combination is my favorite of the group. It was based on a picture of lilies in a pond. The bright pink with the more fallish orange, yellow, and green is something I probably would have never thought of on my own, but I think it’s a fun combination. Got to hand it to mother nature!

 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Homeschool Plan

I put together my homeschool plan in a single afternoon. I was inspired, apparently. But I’ve been reading and thinking about how I want to do homeschooling since before Charlie was born. There are several different influences and thoughts that have come together to affect how I made our first homeschool plan.

Influencing Ideas

Tot School

A few years ago I came across the site 1+1+1=1. This site created by a homeschooling mom has a ton of stuff on it, but one of the things she is best known for is “Tot School.” She explains it in more detail on her site, but the basic idea is to spend some intentional one on one time with your young children exposing them to learning concepts through play. You can really go all out with these ideas and can find a lot of resources and ideas on her site, but the key idea for me was exposure. If I am focusing on exposing Charlie to different concepts and ideas rather than making him learn anything to a particular level of mastery it takes a lot of the pressure off and helps me remember to just keep it fun. If he’s not in the mood or doesn’t seem to catch on, I can at least know that he’s seen something new and maybe been introduced to some new vocabulary. Then the next time I expose him to that idea he’ll be a bit more familiar with it and may be able to take it farther. I think this is a great idea to keep in mind when “teaching” young children.

Journaling

Journaling sounds like a crazy thing to do with a two year old. I never would have considered it if I had not run across this post about how a preschool teacher uses journals with her three year old class. I realized that a journal doesn’t have to be about writing prompts, but really can be any way to record thoughts. I loved her examples of drawing shapes in the journal for the kids to interact with and how the kids will dictate to her what their drawings are about. I started seeing all kinds of ways a journal could be useful in our beginning homeschool endeavors. First of all, it would give me a place to have Charlie do paper based activities. Originally my plan was to just get out sheets of paper as needed, but I could see that quickly becoming messy and hard to organize. A journal is nice and contained. I also realized that it could be a valuable way to keep records. Simply by hanging on to the journal I’ll be able to go back and see what Charlie has learned and how he’s improved. I can also make quick notes on a page if there’s anything specific I want to remember about a particular day of school. The journal also gets back to the idea of exposure. I can write words or short sentences in the journal to show Charlie what writing is like. Someday he’ll be ready to do it too.

Journal

 The first journal page.

Charlotte Mason

If you spend much time reading around the homeschooling circles, you’ll probably hear about Charlotte Mason. She was an educator in England many years ago and she wrote several volumes of books on her educational methods and philosophy. I haven’t read any of her actual books, but I’ve read summaries and a lot of her ideas have really resonated with me. Some of the things that feel most applicable right now are her focus on nature studies and the arts (basically, she thinks those things are important) and the recommendation to keep lessons short. We’ll definitely be incorporating both of those ideas in our homeschool.

Life Skills

My own personal goals for our homeschool involve a lot of practical life skills. I want my kids to know how to cook and clean and contribute to general family life. I plan to use school time as an opportunity to work on some of those skills a bit more intentionally.

The Plan

So I know you’re just dying to find out what exactly I plan to do with this ambitious school time of ours. So here you go.

Structure

I aim to plan for three months at a time. I’m only planning to do activities a 2-3 times a week and many activities will be repeated over the course of those 3 months. This keeps the planning job much more manageable. I figure kids don’t seem to mind repetition as much as adults do and are more likely to learn when they are doing activities that feel familiar to them. So as long as an activity is holding Charlie’s interest, I’m not going to stress about needing to find a new way to do things.

I also plan to only focus on just a few “Big Ideas” during the 3 month time period. Planning every three months means it will change with the seasons, so seasonal themes will always be incorporated. For our first three months the other big ideas will include “What Babies Need” and “Shapes.”

Activities

Calendar Time

Every day we spend a few minutes looking at the calendar. We use a magnet that says “TODAY” and move it to the correct day of the week. I tell him what day of the week it is, and we look ahead to any interesting events that are coming up. Then I have Charlie look out the window to decide what kind of weather we are having and find the appropriate magnet to describe it. So far every day has been sunny, but we have magnets for cloudy, rainy, and snowy as well. I hope through this activity to introduce a lot of vocabulary and help him develop his sense of time.

Schoolcalendar

Fall Theme

There are lots of fun crafts out there that center on the theme of fall. I plan to incorporate a few of those along with some nature walks, leaf collections, a trip to the apple orchard and pumpkin patch, and maybe an attempt at making apple pie or cobbler together.

What Babies Need Theme

This is our “Life Skill” theme for the season, obviously chosen to try to help Charlie prepare for the new baby. We’ll do a lot of role playing with his baby doll, hopefully find some good books about new babies at the library, and I plan to come up with a sorting game involving things that are good for babies (like mama, milk, and sleep) and things that are bad for babies (like playing rough, small choking-hazard sized objects, and messy diapers).

Shapes Theme

I have lots of fun ideas to learn about different shapes, using both fine and gross motor skills. There will be tracing, sorting, identifying, and creating using different shapes.

Shapesorting

A shape sorting activity – in his journal!

Christmas

Our three month time frame includes the Christmas season, so once December hits we’ll be doing our Advent Activity Calendar again. I’ll keep a lot of the activities the same, but add in a few new ones now that Charlie is a little older.

Nursery Rhymes and Speech

Charlie has been in speech therapy for about 6 months now and has made great progress, but he still has a ways to go. With all of our other themes I plan to introduce new vocabulary and encourage Charlie to try to say new words. I also want to pick out just a few Nursery Rhymes to say together during each new season. One of his speech goals is to speak more fluidly (right now he has a definite break as he thinks of each word that comes next) and speech therapist told us that any sort of rhythmic or repetitive books, rhymes, or songs should help with that goal. We plan to incorporate those into school time, as well as any other practice activities the speech therapist leaves with us.

Whew! That felt like a lot of words right there. But I think for the next three months that will give us just enough material to get some variety in our days while still getting to spend a good amount of time in each theme. Our first couple of days of school have been fun for both of us and I’m excited about our plans! I promise I’ll share some more specific activities and pictures of what we are doing soon.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

School is in Session!

I am all about kids being kids and having lots of time for unstructured free play. I believe that is where the bulk of learning happens for little kids and I have no intentions of cutting that short in our home. 

But I also really like “school.” At least as far as it involves creative learning activities and school supplies. I’ve mentioned before here that Chris and I plan to homeschool our kids, but I’ll be honest when I say that’s only partly for the good of the kids. I also think it sounds like a ton of fun for me. During my brief foray into classroom teaching there were many things that didn’t suit me – the paperwork, the classroom management, the mulit-tasking – but the lesson planning was the part I actually enjoyed and felt like I was kind of good at. I’ve been excited to use that skill again since Charlie was born.

I’ve also been feeling for a while that it could be good to introduce a little more structure and intentionality to our day with Charlie. This kid gets plenty of free play time, but I sometimes feel like I could do a better job of making sure he gets to have certain experiences or gets exposure to certain concepts or ideas. And I know for me, that will only happen if I make a plan for it and put it in the schedule. I get the feeling that this could be especially handy when a new baby joins the family. I want Charlie to have a routine and time with mama that he can expect and depend on, and I want to have a routine in place to aim for and work back into after the baby is born. 

So. We started school today. I think it went well. We both enjoyed it and Charlie even asked to do it again when we finished. That’s a good sign, right?

School1

He’s being so studious. 

I’m trying to be realistic with expectations for this thing. I am very aware that 2 and a half is a little early to start school and that it might not work out beyond today. But I also love that there is absolutely no pressure that I succeed. I could decide to totally drop it all next week and no one would be hurt. Or probably even notice. 

Also, I’m keeping plans for school extremely light. Like maybe 15 minutes a day two or three times a week. Plans include things like calendar time, a journal, and three or four “big ideas” to focus on over the course of at least three months. 

Be watching for a more detailed post soon about my plans for the first few months of school. And probably an update on how it’s really going once the novelty has worn off. I’m interested to see how that one turns out myself. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Growth Chart

A couple years I stumbled upon a cute growth chart idea on Etsy. 

Etsygrowthchart

From Bean Signs on Etsy

I loved the simple ruler look of the charts and thought it would be a great way to record a child’s growth through the years while still looking attractive and stylish in a home. However, the charts were a little more than I was wiling to pay, and shipping for a giant wooden board was steep!

For a while I entertained the idea of just making my own. It couldn’t be that hard; just a wooden board, black paint, number stencils, and good measuring skills is all you would need. But I’m not great at getting around to crafty projects, so instead I hinted to my crafty and poor college student sister that such a thing could make a fun and affordable Christmas gift someday. Thankfully she took the hint and made us our own ruler growth chart!

Growthchart 

This past weekend I finally got it hung up on the wall in our hallway. Because I’m not a good blogger, I didn’t take pictures of the process, but it wasn’t very difficult. I simply drilled a pilot hole near the top and bottom of the board, found some long screws, and screwed it into the wall, using a level to make sure it was hanging straight. I chose to attach both the top and bottom because I didn’t want to tempt a small toddler I know into grabbing the wooden board and swinging it back and forth. 

I went back and looked at Charlie’s doctor’s records to get his height at different stages over the past couple of years. The first mark shows how tall he was when he was born. Later marks represent 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years. I’ll eventually add the heights of Chris and me, baby sister when she arrives on the scene, and possibly the dog. I’ll continue to update the chart each year as our family grows. It will be so fun so see it fill up over time!

Growthchart2

 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

These Days // 3

these days
These days we are:
discovering: that mixing two or more colors creates new colors! Usually an interesting shade of brown.

painting

painting

learning: how to write a response to a “Request for Proposal.”

listening: to “Happy.” It gets a little old for Chris and me, but Charlie LOVES it. We find it’s a great song to put on during clean up time.

watching: the mower guy. It’s fascinating for Charlie and stressful for Mabelle.

watching

preparing: to host a small group potluck. Can it still be called small when you make 30+ chicken crescent pockets?

looking: forward to a vacation to Nashville for some pre-baby relaxation and a visit with my sister.

inventing: strange concoctions for dinner. Mainly out of desperation. This beef/veggie/cous cous mixture turned out to be pretty appetising, despite it’s apprearance.

dinner

Have a happy weekend!

paint

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How to keep stuff from overtaking your home

I am by no means an expert in minimalism. In fact, I default toward packrat. I’m pretty good at seeing the potential in things and I can always convince myself that there’s a really creative use for whatever stuff is taking up space in the back of the closet. But I’ve learned that for the most part, this tendency just adds extra stress to my life. What I really want is a calm and clutter free home that I don’t have to constantly clean and reorganize. So there are a few things I’ve learned that can help a packrat like me live a more minimal life.

Give your stuff physical boundaries

Anytime I find it difficult to find the space to keep my stuff, I know it’s time to purge. It’s natural to think that you just need to get more containers and boxes and storage units to hold your stuff, but in my small house I don’t have the space for those things either! So rather than try to squeeze things into the space I don’t really have, I find it’s useful to decide on the space I have first, and start filling it from there. I make sure I include the best/most useful items first and anything that doesn’t fit when I run out of space gets kicked out of the house.

One example where this has really been useful is with kid’s toys. We recently started to feel like Charlie’s toys were taking over the living room. So we gave them some boundaries. He can have the amount of toys it takes to fill one drawer in our console cabinet, the shelves on a small bookcase, and a couple of cubbies in my desk. Everything else had to go! My living room is now able to be used by adults and Charlie hasn’t missed any of his old toys!

Find a worthy cause to take your stuff

One of the hardest things about getting rid of excess stuff is getting over the feeling that you’re “wasting” it. Especially if it’s something that is perfectly useful and sometimes barely used! I’ve found that it really helps when you have a plan to give that stuff to a person, cause, or organization that will appreciate it much more than you ever did. Goodwill is always an option, but if you look a little harder most communities have ways to make donations that will go directly to people in need. For example, a homeless shelter can always use good clothing, coats, blankets, and shoes to give to the people it serves. Our town has a ministry that helps refugees set up house in their new country. These people sometimes come into our country with nothing, so donations of furniture, household and kitchen items, and bedding can go a long way to help these people get settled and comfortable. A crisis pregnancy center could make good use of all your old baby gear. Getting rid of that perfectly good set of pots and pans feels a lot better if you know it will be used by someone who really needs it.

Be honest with yourself before you start purging.

I find this tip to be most helpful when dealing with my closet. Even though I may have good intentions to mend that hole in that shirt I wore once, or make some simple alterations to make that cute dress actually fit, the truth is that I will never actually get around to doing those things. So before diving in and trying to decide what should stay and what should go, I find it’s good to think about the reality of my life. I’m not going to do any sewing. If something is uncomfortable, I won’t wear it, even if it is super cute. And if something doesn’t fit, chances are neither I or the clothes are going to magically morph size or shape. When I have some guidelines in mind it’s a lot easier to be ruthless when getting rid of things that are just taking up space.

I’m pretty sure I will foreverandalways have more stuff in my house than is necessary or useful, but I feel like over time I’ve slowly but surely started to open up the space in our home by following these guidelines. I might need to work a bit faster in the next few months though. We have to make room for a whole new person!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Full Frames

If you’ve been to my house sometime during the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed the thoughtfully arranged gallery of frames above the couch. If you bothered to look at if for more than two seconds you probably also noticed that all of those frames were empty. 

Frames1

Well, no more, my friends! I finally got around to filling those frames with a collection of some of my favorite pictures from the past two years and I could not be happier with it. 

Frames4

We started with a collection of Ikea Ribba frames. Chris and I stocked up on these during one of our rare trips to Ikea (the closest one is a few hours away) because the frames are so cheap and they have a clean simple style that can work in just about any room. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to hang them yet, so we just got a variety or sizes and colors. 

After those frames sat in our garage for a few months, I got around to thinking about a gallery arrangement over our couch. I tried a tip I had seen some time ago about using tissue paper or newspaper templates to plan out a gallery wall. You simply trace the outline of your frames on some old newsprint, cut out the shapes, and tape the templates to your wall. Moving pieces of paper is much easier than moving nail holes for the actual frames and it gives you a much better sense for how the arrangement will work in your space. Once you have the arrangement down, you can nail straight through the paper to avoid any measuring and rip the paper off the wall before hanging your frames. It worked great, and it made it really easy to create the balanced but non-symetrical arrangement I was hoping for. 

Frames2

My dad helped us get all the frames hung on the wall one afternoon while he was visiting. You can see him nailing through the last newspaper template here. 

Fast forward about a year. After having those empty frames hanging over my head for all that time, I finally got around to printing some pictures when I was planning for my ProjectLIfe book. I added a couple larger prints we had from an old professional family photoshoot and piece of Charlie’s artwork to fill up the other big frame, and voila! my gallery wall was finally complete!

Frames3

Granted, it’s basically a Wall of Charlie right now, so eventually we’ll need to switch out some pictures to reflect the new member of our family who will be joining us. But for now I think it does a great job of capturing the different aspects of Charlie’s personality and our memories together as a family over the years.

Frames5

Frames6

Seeing these pictures out and in the open in our living room makes me so happy!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Extended Breastfeeding and Weaning – Pt. 2

My last post on my breastfeeding experience left you with lots of thoughts, but not a lot of helpful information. It’s easy to find posts and articles out there with tips and strategies on how to keep going with breastfeeding. There seem to be a lot less on how to quit. So for those mothers out there that find themselves needing to wean a baby (well, toddler at this point) who would be happy to keep nursing forever, here are a couple of things that helped me.

A few weaning strategies

Don’t ask, don’t refuse

Sometimes a mother can get used to asking her toddler if he wants to nurse, to which he will of course say yes. But if you don’t ask, sometimes the kid will forget about or be distracted enough not to notice that you’re skipping a feeding every now and then. This can be a gentle way to phase it out, but it can move pretty slowly.

So maybe sometimes refuse

Sometimes I knew Charlie was asking for milk simply because he was kind of bored and it sounded like a good way to pass the time. When this happened I started to just say, “Not right now, you can have some milk before bed (or whenever the next routine nursing time was)” and try to direct his attention to something else. This worked to make nursing less of a recreational activity and eventually we were just nursing during those times that it was firmly planted in our daily routine. So for those instances…

Change up the routine

For a long time Charlie nursed every morning. I would bring him back to our bed when he woke up and we would snuggle and nurse for a few minutes before getting up to get ready for the day. So eventually I started to make an effort to up be and moving before he started to stir. Then once he woke up, rather than bringing him back to the bed which he would automatically associate with wanting to nurse, I would or get some toys out for him to play with in the living room or let him hang out with me in the bathroom while I finished getting ready. I found that by changing the regular routine he didn’t seem to notice that he didn’t get to nurse that morning. This worked well for the morning, but I still struggled with how to do away with nursing before naps and bedtime. So that’s when it was helpful to…

REALLY change up the routine

As in, leave town for a while and have somebody make a new routine with him. In my case, I went to visit my sister for five days while Charlie stayed with his dad and grandparents. While the trip wasn’t planned as a way to finish up the weaning process, I kind of suspected before going that it might do the trick. Even if Charlie wanted to continue nursing after I got back I wasn’t sure that I would still have milk to give him. (I didn’t.) So for five days Charlie got in a new routine with his daddy of a cup of milk (not from mama) before bedtime and nap. Once we were reunited I just continued with the new routine. On the few occasions that asked to nurse I just explained that mama didn’t have any more milk but he had his cup of milk that he could drink. Since he had done well with the new routine already he didn’t put up much of a fuss about it and just like that we were done.

The End

Even though Charlie didn’t exactly wean himself, I could tell he was ready and that I was going about weaning in the right way because it felt like a gentle process. I didn’t experience any engorgement or discomfort, which told me that I went about it gradually enough. (All of these strategies put together probably took about 2-3 months.) And Charlie never had any melt-downs or fits at the prospect of no milk for the day. On the occasions that he asked and I refused, he would easily accept the answer and move on to other things. I’m thankful that it wasn’t emotionally difficult for him, because that would have made it much harder.

The hardest part was my own emotional response. While I was ready for him to wean and knew that I wanted there to be some space before the next baby came, it was still a bittersweet change. Some of our sweetest moments together had been while nursing, from his early newborn milk-drunk smiles, to the games we would play where I would nibble on his fingers and send him into a fit of giggles. In many ways it felt like the end of nursing was the end of babyhood for him, not exactly an easy thing for a mother to come to grips with. And on top of all that, I’m pretty sure weaning caused some pretty significant hormonal changes for me. I spent the week or so after Charlie had weaned for good feeling very emotional. Sometimes because I was mourning the end of nursing, but sometimes over a variety of insignificant and unrelated things. Basically, I spent about a week needing a really good cry at the end of each day. My emotions eventually evened out and got back to normal, but I definitely wasn’t expecting that particular emotional roller coaster.

In all, I nursed my first child for 28 months. I’m thankful we stuck out the early challenges and were able to keep it up for as long as we did. But while the nursing relationship is definitely a special thing, it’s the mother-child relationship that has real staying power. Obviously our bond hasn’t diminished at all with the lack of nursing sessions. We’ve found plenty of ways to get our quality time in together. The bedtime nursing routine was quickly replaced with story times and back rubs and night-time lullabies. Morning snuggles under the covers still happen if we’re not in too much of a rush (and sometimes even if we are). And while babyhood may be over, I’m finding toddlerhood to be a pretty fun stage.