Monday, January 14, 2013

Let's stay artists

Pablo Picasso supposedly said "Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up." 

As I was writing the final exams for my high school agriculture classes, I was struck by just how little creativity I was expecting from my students. What are the three macronutrients for plants? What are the three sizes of soil particles? What are the definitions of supply and demand? These were among the questions that simply required them to recall the information from a study guide.

Here's a second-semester goal: Incorporate higher expectations for creativity and assignments that allow students to create quality projects to determine a portion of their grade. They're gonna hate it.

I believe that by the time students hit high school, some of those creative doors in their minds have closed, just as Picasso suggested. 

When I started teaching at my current high school five years ago, I was a little nervous to teach welding class. Something about being the person in charge while a student is holding an oxy-acetylene torch with a blue flame made me a bit uneasy. But over time, it's become one of my favorite classes to teach and it allows students to show their creativity. Unfortunately it's also the most expensive.

With a such a tight budget, I worked with another teacher to develop a project that would test the students' creativity. They were required to work in groups to use scrap metal to create a Christmas themed project using a variety of skills, including torch cutting, arc welding, grinding and painting. Here's a photo of one of the projects that showed the most creativity and attention to quality and detail:

The students used scrap rebar to construct the frame and runners and a piece of diamond plate for the top. The diamond plate had to be torch cut and grinded (ground?) to fit. It wasn't easy. The two identical rebar runners were heated with a torch and bent using an anvil. Again, not easy.

The group had a slight disagreement about the painting on top of the diamond plate design. But ultimately everyone chipped in and the product was this adorable design.

With the new semester comes the need for a new project.  I am assigning students to build this fire pit:

I have encouraged them to use creativity to adjust the design to their needs, keeping in mind that creating a huge fire pit will make it really heavy!  So imagine my delight when a student came to me and said he really didn't want a fire pit, but he wanted to use the same kind of metal to build a gate. I told him to run with it. I love that creativity.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The rough patch

"What were we thinking?" That's the question Jay and I have been asking each other from about 8:30 until past 11 p.m. for each of the last four nights.

More accurately, he's probably been asking me what I was thinking when I insisted it was time to move Joey out of his crib into a big-boy twin bed. The process that I thought would make our two-and-a-half year old son feel so grown up has turned him into the biggest brat the Arnold house has seen in a while. We've paid the price for his brand new freedom.

He views our commands to go to bed as a mere suggestion. He considers the suggestion for a brief moment, then cackles as he runs laps around our living room. No amount of sternness or voice-raising crushes his spirit. He jogs, dances, skips and whirls through the house while we look at each other helplessly. Our bag of tricks is empty.

I made the decision on our behalf to purchase a used twin bed I saw on a Facebook buy/sell page. I knew the previous owner and was sure the bed had been kept in excellent condition. The transaction went so smoothly that I decided to post the crib for sale on the same page. About 14 hours later, a buyer came to our house, liked the crib and purchased it. The whole series of events seemed meant to be. The bed in which both my babies had slept through their infancy and toddler days was now gone. A symbolic ending to the childbearing chapter of my life.

Oh well, the same day, we took the Christmas tree down and made major accomplishments in our home organization campaign. The new year had officially begun, and Joey was moving on to his new big bed.

The past three nights haven't been easier than the first, especially for Jay who has dealt with Joey's three hour burst of energy then half-hour of screaming before he finally falls in a heap of exhaustion. Yes, my sweet husband has agreed to stick with Joey through all his bedtime antics while I retire to our own bed. But the crib is gone, and there's no going back.

Today we were pretty sure we had the magic solution to Joey's reluctance to stay in his new big-boy bed. Here it is:

When we knew we were buying the bed, we bought Joey a sheet/comforter set with his favorite characters: "Eedee Birds and Bad Bad Piggies." While Joey was in the bathtub, Caroline and I made the bed with his new linens to surprise him. He was thrilled with his bed's transformation, but it didn't make him want to stay in bed and go to sleep.

Here's the little turkey just chilling in his bed reading a book to Winnie the Pooh and his "moomens" (Gru's minions from Despicable Me).

All the problems with Joey's transition have us scratching our heads, asking "Was it really this hard to get Caroline to sleep in a regular bed? It doesn't seem like it."

Further inspection of my memory, however, has revealed that she, too, was no picnic. She didn't want to stay in bed, so we started the habit of allowing her to stay in the living room and watch her favorite video until she fell asleep.  The two-year-old Caroline had horrible taste in children's entertainment, and insisted on watching The Wiggles: Top of the Tots. If you've seen it, I'm truly sorry. Sometimes Caroline needed it replayed three times before she fell asleep.

I guess this goes to show that, when it comes to children, memories of the rough patches fade with the passage of time. Right now, it feels like Joey will never be a good boy and go to bed on his own. But probably in a few years, when Joey's principal calls and says he's in trouble, or when he gets his driving permit, or when I'm moving him into a college dorm ... this little rough patch will be a distant memory.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

If the shoe (or Scentsy bar, or Barbie doll, or hair product) fits ...

How many times have I given Caroline the instructions to go put her Barbie dolls away, only to walk in her bedroom 15 minutes later and find her sitting on the floor still surrounded by piles of them? More times than I care to count. Usually, I'm at least partially to blame, because I haven't given her specific instructions on where to put them, just as long as they are cleared from the middle of her bedroom floor.

In my disorganized house, cleaning up and putting stuff away usually means simply getting it out of sight and keeping the house halfway presentable for a short while. Most of our stuff doesn't have a spot where it gets put away. I wish I could be more like my grandma, who has a specific spot for each one of the items she owns. In her world, everything must be put back in the correct locations.

In my effort to become more organized, I think I'm on the right track by using over-the-door shoe organizers to create specific spots for items that tend to clutter up our house.  I had seen a few inspiring links on Pinterest so I picked a couple up at Wal-Mart.

Look what happened to C's piles of Barbies:

I might need to move some more of her favorites down to the lower compartments where she can reach them, but this is a great start. 

I didn't stop there! I also put one over the door to the inside of our bathroom closet:

Wal-Mart has this type of shoe organizer for a little less than six bucks.  They had an option that was a little more expensive and a little more attractive looking, but I don't think the compartments were see-through, so they really didn't fit with my goals. I can see spending a little more on a nicer one if it is going to be on a door that is in plain sight when folks visit your home.

I was able to fit five Scentsy bars in each compartment. I've decided to use exclusively Scentsy or other scented wax cubes and no more candles with an open flame. I've used Scentsy for long enough that if I burned a real candle I'd probably forget to blow it out and be a real fire hazard to my house. I've found that Scentsy cubes retain their scent the longest of any of the cubes. 

How cool is it that this organizing project cost about $12? I think this makes me a better mom and wife because we will all know exactly where to place certain items and toys when we are finished with them.  I think it will help us save money, especially with personal care and medical items. We can display the items we use most often, have the thermometers and diaper rash cream ready to go at a moment's notice and not have to run and purchase items we already had but just didn't know where to find. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I'm binder bound

On January 10, Jay will be back to work after a month of being laid off.  We knew in advance about the layoff and had prepared for it by deciding how we could scale back and also by adding some to savings. 

But with the additional expenses of the holidays, it hasn't been easy.  It's certainly been a wake-up call for us to examine our spending habits. We had always said we could and should cut back, but this time we really had no choice but to actually do it.

The bright side is, the kids and I have truly enjoyed being able to spend quality time with the dad and husband we usually see only in the mornings and three weekends a month. He has been able to help out with Caroline's homework, Joey's bedtime routine, dishes, cooking, cleaning ... life as we know it.

Today Jay and I had a serious discussion about how we can improve our family finances. One way to help might be to follow through with another organization project of mine: a family management binder.

I had seen the organizational binders as posts on Pinterest, but didn't even go near them. I couldn't imagine myself being organized enough to have such a creation. Excuses, excuses, and none of them good ones. So again, I referred to the Bowl Full of Lemons page for guidance on the binder.

A Bowl Full of Lemons Home Management Binder

Remember those long-lost Wal-Mart gift cards I found while organizing my bedroom? Well, today I purchased the needed supplies for the binder for about five bucks.

There are several different sections to the binder, but tonight I am focusing on the financial section. I found these free printable worksheets at this link:

Family Finance printables

Filling in and maintaining this section of the binder might sting a little, but it must be done. Jay and I both agree that one of the biggest obstacles to our long-term financial success is our tendency to do what we want, when we want. We are way too spontaneous, and it often costs us hundreds of dollars. 

For instance, on Saturday morning, we might determine that we have $500 to make it until the following Friday. Hurray! That means we can go see a movie, go out to eat, shop a little, etc. The reality is, by the time we fill the car with gas, go to the movie, buy the popcorn and soda, shop for a few items we want, go eat at TGI Friday's and hit Starbucks on the way home, we've easily spent more than half the money we have for the next six days in less than a few hours.

Does this jive with our goals to re-do our bathroom, take a family vacation or pay off all our debts? Not really. 

What we've found during our Christmas break is that all four of us really enjoy just staying home, chilling out, playing, crossing stuff off our to-do lists and just being together. In 2013, we resolve to do more staying and less going. Hopefully that choice will make the family finance section of the binder a little easier to face.

Organize right down memory lane

I've been bitten by the it's-the-new-year-let's-get-off-our-butts-and-get-this-house-organized bug. In the past, when other folks are organizing, I've made excuses.  My house is too small to organize. I've got way too much stuff to organize.  I don't have the time to organize. This time, I'm reminding myself to stop focusing on the flaws and take steps toward correction.  So I'm using my own modified versions of organization plans I've found on the Bowl Full of Lemons blog/website. Check this out:

Home Organization on Bowl Full of Lemons

Yesterday I modified the blogger's plan to organize my bedroom.  I would post "before" pictures but I'm afraid that the crew from the Hoarders TV show might be alerted to make an emergency visit to my house. I threw away a huge garbage bag full of stuff I didn't need, found a few items to donate and even found a few treasures. Among those were two partial Wal-Mart gift cards totaling about $24, a pendant that Jay and I both forgot he had given me a few years ago for Christmas, and some Girl Scout patches I need to put on Caroline's sash. Now our bedside tables, floor and dresser are cleared except for a few organizational baskets and a lamp. I'm thrilled with the progress, which is certainly not perfection.

Today I moved on to organizing the two cabinets on either side of our wine rack bar.  This is an addition we made when we started remodeling the kitchen two and a half years ago. The cabinet consultant at Lowe's warned me that this space, which was previously occupied by a completely blank wall, might become a catch-all if I wasn't careful. Oh no, I said. It will remain a functional workspace in my beautiful new kitchen. Well, time went by and my vision turned into the junky space he had cautioned me against. 

Today I cleaned a bunch of junk out of the cabinets, including a partial box of Little Debbie Zebra Cakes that could be used as hockey pucks and about 8,000 empty water balloons. What I also discovered, however, was a treasured memory. As I was cleaning I showed Jay three empty wine glasses that my grandma gave me about 12 years ago.  I also told the story that went along with them.

I was living in an apartment by myself just up the hill from Grandma's house. Jay was finishing his last semester at college and was planning to come spend the weekend. I decided to prepare a dinner from scratch to surprise him. I got the recipes for Chicken Cacciatore and fresh pear cake from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, one of the only cookbooks I owned at the time. I called my grandma to ask some advice.  I don't remember the exact content of our conversation, but I imagine it went something like this:

Me: "Grandma, this recipe for this cake says I'm supposed to grease and flour the pan. How do you do that?"
Grandma: "Well, honey, you have to use Crisco and put it all over the inside of the pan."
Me: "I don't have any Crisco."
Grandma: "Well come on down and I'll let you have some."
Me: "OK, I'll be right down."

And I grabbed my bundt pan and ran down the hill to her house. I greased, I floured, and I sat down at her kitchen table to talk to her. Sometime during our conversation, I cautiously mentioned that not only was I preparing a special dinner for Jay, but I had also purchased a bottle of wine for us to enjoy. The problem, I explained with nervous laughter, was that I didn't have any wine glasses and I supposed we would have to drink out of some mismatched plastic tumblers I probably picked up at some concert or baseball game. 

I held my breath, not knowing how my grandma would react to her unmarried granddaughter entertaining her fiance with such a libation. To my relief/surprise Grandma instructed me to get up and look in one of her cabinets. On one of her shelves sat small, plain glass wine goblets. Those, she believed, would help make my dinner complete.  As I recall, she told me that my grandfather had bought the wine glasses at some time.

I treasure a lot of memories of time spent at my grandma's house. I have to smile, because when Jay and I decided to move out of the apartment and bought a house that was the equivalent of a few blocks away from hers, she said she hated to see us move away. About five years ago, Grandma had to move out of her house and she now lives in an assisted living facility. Now I have two little ones who are making memories with their "Granny."

Anyway, cleaning junk out of the cabinets gave me room to neatly organize the stuff that was taking up space on the counter underneath the wine rack. You can't really check out my progress since, again, I didn't take before pictures. But I'm proud of this: 

My sense of accomplishment, paired with the discovery of forgotten treasures -- and treasured memories -- are spurring me on to continue with organizing. I'll be posting more organization accomplishments soon :)