Tuesday, November 25, 2014

All the Yellow

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Fall was short-lived this year. But it had some pretty glorious days.

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I took some time to break out the fancy camera and play around with it a bit.

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It’s easy to get beautiful pictures when the light is acting like this.

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I wish there were more days like this in the year. But at least I captured a few memories.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Super small space storage

As a part of my quest to get to the house ready for a new baby, I realized that making some of our closet and storage areas more functional would be a key component. When you live in a small space, you really have to use what you have wisely.

So this past weekend I made some plans and got some supplies to fix a few of these areas in our home. One space on the agenda is our hall coat closet.

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Here it is right now. I have big plans for this tiny space, but first I had to do a little something with an even tinier space. You may notice that on the floor of our coat closet sits the parts to a vacuum cleaner. I have a Dyson Digital slim, which I love. It transforms easily from a floor vacuum to a handheld and runs on a battery so I never have to mess with a cord while I’m using it. But it comes with several attachments that just get thrown in the bottom of the coat closet, simply because I don’t really have a better place for them. Until now…

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Here’s our hot water heater closet. This is right off the kitchen in the middle of the house. It would be a convenient place to store things if it wasn’t full of a hot water heater. But as it is the door rarely even gets opened. When I was assessing our storage situation I realized that I might be able to make this tiny space useful after all. So I did!

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I managed to squeeze in just enough storage to hold my vacuum and all it’s little attachments. I can finally keep my vacuum off the floor! I can finally devote my coat closet to only coats! So exciting!

Here’s how it went down.

First I measured. That was essential. It really is a tiny space so I knew I would have to be careful to get supplies that could actually squeeze in there.

Then I went shopping. I bought 3 plastic bins, some shelf brackets, and some screws with washers and nuts (A big thanks goes out to the helpful Lowe’s worker who helped me pick out the right screws. Who knew there were so many overwhelming options?)

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Along with those new supplies I needed a drill, a screwdriver, and a measuring tape.

Then I measured again, this time knowing the size of my bins and brackets. I made marks on the wall of where each screw should go for my brackets so the bins would be spaced nicely apart.

Then I drilled. I made pilot holes for each of the screws to make everything go in a bit easier.

Then I screwed the brackets in place. By far the most difficult part of this project was maneuvering around the hot water heater to get the screws in the right place. If you do a similar project in space where you can actually stand in front of the wall you’re working on, I guarantee it will go much more quickly for you.

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Once all the brackets were in place it was time to attach the bins. Since these bins were transparent I could just sit them on top of the brackets and make a mark for where each of the screws should go. Easy!

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I then used my drill again to make holes in the bins where the screws would go. Then I fastened the bins to the brackets using the screws, washers, and nuts.

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Even though these bins are pretty cheap and slightly flimsy feeling, the brackets provide plenty of support so I feel confident that they will be able to hold anything I need them to. My vacuum cleaner is thoroughly enjoying having a tiny space of it’s very own.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Toddler Leaf Collage

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This little craft is a simple way to collect and display bits of the outdoors with your toddler. All it takes is a bit of contact paper and a short walk outside!

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I stapled a sheet of contact paper to a piece of cardboard so we would have a sturdy surface to work on. Then we took a walk with our board and picked up pretty leaves. When we found one it was simply a matter of sticking it on the contact paper. No glue, no tape. It was very easy and simple for little toddler hands to manage. By the end of our walk we had a nice collection of leaves.

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When we got home we stuck the contact paper to the glass of our back door so we could admire our work.

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Before sticking contact paper straight to glass I googled it to make sure it wouldn’t leave some sort of horrible sticky residue for me to clean off. In the process I found this blog post of a similar idea with flower petals that produced really lovely results. You should take a look if you want to see what this idea can become if you spend a little more time and effort on it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

DIY Robot Costume

We haven’t done the trick or treating thing with Charlie yet, but we’ve decided we’re going to give it a try this year. Our town has a nice little main street trick-or-treating event that I think he could find fun. However, I’m not a person who is super into Halloween. I mean, it’s fine, I guess. But I don’t get excited about it, so an elaborate costume is not something I care to spend my time on. Therefore, I thought we’d try a robot this year. Charlie’s been in a bit of a robot phase lately and it seemed like it would be an easy and cheap costume to make.

There are lots of cute robot costumes out there made out of boxes, but we didn’t have any boxes that would have fit Charlie. I originally planned to cut up a paper bag, and glue some foam shapes on for the robot buttons. But Charlie had a better idea to just use the big sheets of foam for make the body of the robot. So that’s what we did.

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I cut a neckline at the top of the foam sheets and then used gaffer’s tape to connect the front and back together at he top of the shoulders (kind of like a sandwich board sign). Then I cut circles and squares out of other colors of foam and helped Charlie glue those on the front for the buttons.

Charlie decided halfway through that he wanted to be a “plane robot,” so we added wings to the back.

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I love that this costume was free (I already had the foam sheets lying around from some previous craft idea) and that it was largely Charlie’s idea. It also only took about half an hour or less to put together.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to persuade him to try it on for a picture yet. I’m interested to see if we can actually get him to dress up for the big night.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

These Days // 4

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These days we are:

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Finding: all sorts of odd things as we try to clean out our backyard shed.

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Fighting: cold after cold after cold. At least it’s fun to drink chicken noodle soup from a tiny mug.

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Trying: dress up! It didn’t stay on for long. I guess I should just wait for my girl to come.

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Dealing: with a picky eater. We’re having to develop some meal time rules to keep from wasting enormous amounts of food. Surely it’s just a phase…

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Growing…well, just growing. It’s getting harder and harder to do things like bend over and put on shoes and feel comfortable in regular chairs. Oh well, I guess that just means we’re getting closer!

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.

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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.

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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!

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“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.

 

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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?

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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.