Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On Feeling Behind

Today is Wednesday, and I finally skimmed through Sunday's newspaper and clipped a few coupons.  These days, my criteria for coupon-clipping is relatively straightforward.  I ask myself, "Which coupons would I rather forget about, accidentally let expire in my little accordion pouch, and throw away six weeks from now?  Duracel batteries?  Definitely.  Dishwasher detergent?  That sounds entirely forgettable, too.  Let's do this."

Choose your metaphor: When you have too many spinning plates, or balls in the air, or irons in the fire, we're prone to forget some things, or, at the least, to fall behind on a few.

In addition to coupon-clipping, this afternoon I spent nearly an hour sorting mail, answering email, filling out permission forms, and completing paperwork for my daughters' school fundraisers.  I RSVP'd to the four baby and bridal showers that I've been invited to and marked them on my calendar.  (People within my social circle have conspired to simultaneously experience significant life events, apparently.)  I finally mailed a thank you note.  I made a grocery list.  The hour was productive -- these matters needed to be attended to, after all -- yet I felt like I was squandering my time.

Why?  Because on Monday I collected essays, and a pile of 40 sat in the other room, 32 of which are still ungraded.  I know this off-hand because I track my progress.

Yes, I make a schedule with daily goals, complete with a +/- column that indicates how far above or below I've come toward reaching that goal each day.  This system mimics how I play Yahtzee when I'm angling to reach 63 points in the upper section, just without the dice.  (And the fun.)

I've realized two things about this.  Keeping disciplined is a good thing.  Beating myself up that I've scored a "negative two" on essay-grading, however, is not.

So here's where I stand: although I still feel behind, I refuse to let this ruin my otherwise good day.  I feared that I was wasting time by attending to small tasks, but completing those tasks actually brought a semblance of order to my home.  As for carving out twenty minutes to write this blog post?  On the surface it seems frivolous, but over the years I've discovered that adding time for creative expression often helps me, especially on days that already seem excessively full.

The essays will get graded.  They always do.

This post simply is my way of reminding myself of that today.

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Child Feeding Ducks: a progression of reactions

Stage One: Utter Delight.  Wow!  There are ducks!  And I have bread!  And ducks eat bread!  What a fortunate combination!  I can't believe that you took me to the duck park, Mom!

Stage Two: Legitimate Happiness.  This duck-feeding business is seriously fun, like when I'm coloring and I get to open a fresh box of crayons with pointed tips, or you hand me a cookie and say, "Sure, watch some TV, my child!"  If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: Today is a good day to be a six-year-old with access to a bag of bread.

Stage Three: Moderate Pleasure.  Yes, yes, yes.  Feed the ducks, feed the ducks, feed the ducks.  They keep coming, and I keep breaking off pieces of bread.  I'm getting to be an old pro.  I think I'll name one of the ducks.  Ole Yellow Bill sounds niceGet it?  Because he kind of looks old.  And he has a yellow bill.

Stage Four: Heightened Awareness.  I can't help but notice that when I walk in a different direction, these ducks follow me.  That's odd.

Stage Five: Elevated Concern.  Wait a minute here.  I've only got one dozen hotdog buns, yet there are multiple dozens of ducks.  Something seems off with that ratio.  They're all circling around me, and that one duck is honking, and I'm starting to think that he's angry.  Why is this happening to me?  Do ducks have teeth?

Stage Six: Bonafide Distress.  It's over.  I take it everything back: this park is not fun at all.  It's a forsaken, desperate place.  I'm surrounded, and my mobility is seriously limited, and it clearly doesn't help that you keep warning me that I'm about to step in duck poop.  On top of it all, my dress is about to be eaten.  Why did you bring me here?

And because six-year-olds are like this...

Two hours later:  Hey Mom?  Do we have any more bread?  I want to go back to the park.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Top It Off: Easy Cafe Curtain Idea

I don't really know how to use a sewing machine.  When I shared this with a friend who also lacks this skill, she lamented, "I remember threading the machine in Home Ec, but I can't for the life of me remember how, even though it was only twenty seven years ago!"

Roger, that.  It's a wonder that we can't conjure up that lesson.

At any rate, even without any discernible sewing skills, this summer I made a cafe curtain that adds a fun pop of color above my kitchen window.  The secret is in something very ordinary: three tension rods.  Here's how to duplicate the project in your own home.

First, measure your window and cut a piece of fabric to fit the width, with roughly 1-2 inches buffer on the sides for hemming.

Second, hem the sides and bottom.  (I know what you're thinking: Robin, you just just said that you  had no sewing skills.  This is true.  You see, I borrowed a sewing machine and my kind neighbor threaded it for me, calmly using words like bobbin and assuring me that I could do it.  I did.  I successfully ran my piece of fabric through the machine and made relatively straight hems.)

If you don't have access to a sewing machine (or a supportive neighbor who will talk you through the process), you can either a) stitch a simple hem by hand, or b) use iron-on hem tape, which would work just as well.

Third, at the top where the curtain will align with your ceiling, create a slightly wider hem.  You will slide a a tension rod through this pocket.

Fourth, arrange and secure two additional tension rods between your cabinets, slightly lower and forward, to serve as the framework. 

Finally, hang your top tension rod (curtain attached), and then let the fabric drape over the two lower rods.  Adjust the placement of the rods to your liking to achieve the desired "bump out" shape.

Then, sit back and bask in a job well done.  I not only appreciated the surprising ease of this project, but also its non-committal nature.  If I'd ever wish to update the look of my kitchen, I only need to replace and prepare a small swatch of fabric.  (And borrow a sewing machine.  And pester my neighbor, who clearly paid better attention in middle school Home Ec than I did.)

Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment to let me know your thoughts!

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

These Ugly Carts Won My Heart: DIY transformation

There are people who remember events (say, a wedding reception or a picnic they attended) by what they wore.  Others may remember the event based on what they ate.  I, however, have a different memory trigger: I remember what things cost.  I aim for balance: looking for deals, while also looking for quality.  I love when I find both.

Recently I saw an outdoor cart advertised on clearance: Was $78.99. Now $39.99!  While this cart is attractive and functional, I already had found something better.  Or, more precisely, I had found two better things.

Earlier in the summer I discovered this sorry-looking cart at a garage sale, so forlorn and forgotten that it hadn't even been priced.  When I asked about it, the owner shrugged and said, "A dollar?"  I immediately indicated that I'd take it.

With some simple touch-ups, I knew the cart could be transformed.  First, I took it home, wiped it off, and disassembled the pieces.

Careful to keep all hardware together, I taped off portions that didn't need to be painted, and then spray painted or hand painted the parts that did.

I also used a stencil to decorate the formerly dull and stained top.  The cart now sits in my youngest daughter's bedrooms as a place for her toys and stuffed animals.  It was entirely worth a dollar.

Later in the summer, I found a second cart for $5 at a separate garage sale.  The frame was solid, yet blandly industrial looking, and the wooden top had multiple scratches, which I repaired with white wood filler, as you'll see in the picture below.

Then, I reinvigorated the look by painting the top a classic navy blue (inexpensive paint sample purchased from Lowes),

and I brightened the dull frame with several coats of aluminum spray paint.

I've tucked the cart in the corner of my dining room, next to a window and our dining room table.  It's the perfect location for a magazine rack, the go-to pencil sharpener, and (not pictured) my laptop when it's charging.  The greenery from the plants adds a softening touch to the piece's rectangular shape.

The bottom line is this: if browsing at a garage sale, don't just regard the objects for what they are; look at them for what they could become.  You might stumble upon not just one, but two carts for a mere $6, and all you need to add is a few supplies, a little time, and a little effort. 

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I Own a Pallet. It's Pinterest's fault.

Years ago, nobody in their right mind looked at a pallet and thought, "I really should drag that away from the dumpster where it's leaning, cram it into my minivan, and take it home with me."  But then came Pinterest and, with it, a proliferation of potential projects, both large and small, involving pallets.

And, yes, I succumbed.  A friend was having work done on her house, a pallet was left behind by the workers, and I couldn't help myself.  After asking permission and dragging it away from the dumpster in her driveway, I crammed it into my minivan and took it home.

My husband loved this, of course, but being both extremely kind and wise, he mostly looked the other way and ignored my squirrely antics.

I propped the pallet against the house, and it remained there for months until I finally figured what in the world I could actually do with a badly-nailed configuration of rugged, ugly wood.  I didn't want to disassemble it or invest significant time or money, so I resigned to simple upgrades: I would sand it, and I would try my hand at painting a subtle chevron pattern, and, as a final decorative touch, I would add a large wicker basket that I picked up at a garage sale for a buck.

Next year, my goal is to plant cascading flowers or herbs there.

It's a start.  I've tucked the pallet into a corner of our backyard near a fence gate, and I must say, I smile each time I pass it.  It's not a work of art, but it's something.  I have Pinterest thank for it.

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