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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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!


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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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.


Bare Walls? No Problem. Easy and Inexpensive Wall Art Idea.

Have you ever worked on a project with painstaking diligence and told yourself that you just needed to add one more touch -- one tiny, precise, focused detail -- and then, upon adding it, you screwed the entire thing up?

That was me.  In my dining room I had three black and white pictures in black frames with black photo mats.  They were attractive, yet dark.  Since I wanted to brighten the room with color, I opted to "tweak" the pictures yet keep the frames.

When I say "tweak," of course, I mean that I reverted to my default decorating solution: spray paint.  Spray paint can cover a multitude of flaws, after all, and I assumed that it would be easy to convert black photo mats into white ones.  Like any good spray painter, I took my photo mats outside and sprayed a light foundation coat.  Nice.  

Then I sprayed a second coat using steady, even strokes to fill in the patches.  Even nicer.  But that's when I grew impatient.  I knew I'd need one final coat for perfect coverage, but why wait for the recommended drying times?  Why not just pound it out immediately, once and for all?

That's when I learned that too many immediately applied coats of spray paint creates horrible dripping, bubbling, and mess.  And that is how I ended up in my garage with a electric hand sander, carefully buffing down the bad spray paint job on the original photo mats until they were smooth again.  (When I sprayed them the next time, I followed directions.)

I said all that to say this: when you're doing any DIY project, you're bound to mess up along the way.  Few mistakes are actually disastrous, though, so carry on.  There are always power sanders.

As for my empty picture frames, I wanted to add interesting texture and design without breaking the bank.  I purchased three laser-cut wooden decorations from Michaels (roughly $2.00 each, before coupons) and spray painted each a fresh aqua color. 

Then, I used glue dots to adhere each painted and dried wooden decoration to a patterned piece of scrapbook paper that complimented the colors in my dining room.  Since the wooden decorations are just a fraction of an inch thick, they easily fit in a frame yet still add interesting texture.

It's an instant upgrade.  Nobody could tell that the photo mats originally were black (or sanded with a power sander, for that matter.)  Even better yet, nobody would guess that each finished piece cost less than $3, even if you count the cost of a can of spray paint.  Win-win.

Whether you have an empty frame lying around your house that you've never bothered to fill, or whether you have perfectly good frames already on your walls but are tired of the pictures inside, consider giving them a facelift.  Just remember this equation:

Scrapbook paper + die-cut wooden decoration + spray paint = one easy and inexpensive wall art idea.


What to Do When You Inherit Old Artwork (a DIY hack)

My kind officemate had a piece of abstract art hanging over her desk, and last year when she left the university, she bequeathed the artwork to me.  The canvas was massive.  Judging from the color scheme, I estimated it to be circa late 1980's or early 1990's, and I was right: on the back hung a tag with the production date.

Say hello to decor in 1989:

Not exactly the style I was looking for, but I knew there was great promise here.  So, I did what I know to do best: I got paint and I got to work.  Since a large portion of the canvas was textured and I tend to like crisp designs, I opted to start with a clean slate by painting it entirely white.

Then, like any respectable fan of Fixer Upper, I borrowed a quotable Magnolia phrase: "Today is a good day for a good day," which I stenciled along the bottom edge.

While most stencils are open, meaning that you brush the desired paint color within the inner stencil borders, the stencils I used were reverse, meaning that I painted a stretch of the canvas in the desired lettering color (gray), placed the stencils down on top of the dry gray swath, painted several coats of white on top of the stencils to match the rest of the white canvas, and then peeled off the stencils to reveal the gray letters underneath. 

I love the final results:

At nearly five feet across and three feet high, the canvas now hangs over a table in our basement where my girls regularly play Legos.  (I figured that the sentence, "Today is a good day to pour 12,000 Legos onto this table and still not be able to find the exact one I'm looking for" was slightly too long and unwieldy.  Who knows, though?  Perhaps I'll inherit another canvas and give it a go.)

So, this is what to do when you become the recipient of old artwork.  You grab some paint, get to work, and give it new life.  Then you call it a day.  A good day.


On Having Good Neighbors

"The people next door play a substantial role in our lives.  Yet we seldom choose them."  - from the essay "Next Six Stories" by Robert Fulghum

I'm not sure if many people can claim the statement I'm about to make, although I wish everyone could.  I have good neighbors.  Exceptional ones, really.

Ten years ago when we moved to our street, a road that's tucked in front of what our community fondly calls a mountain although it more closely resembles a sizeable hill, there weren't many houses around us.  But over four years ago two new homes were built directly across from ours.  As Joel and I watched the construction, we periodically wondered aloud about the new occupants, curious about where they were from and what they'd be like.

I'd like to think I even prayed for good neighbors, but I don't know if this is true.  In this particular situation, like many others, I noticed that God sometimes answers prayers I might not even have thought to pray.

Nearly two years ago, another family moved to our neighborhood as well. Turns out, all of these new families had kids near the ages of our own.  I'm not sure how it began, these brief back-and-forth walks between our yards, or the impromptu conversations in our driveways, or the periodic shared picnic meals, or the plans to hit up garage sales together on a Saturday morning, or the "can-you-watch-my-kids-while-I-run-a-quick-errand?" requests that are met with "of course" responses, or the loaning of two eggs, or a cup of sugar, or an extra folding table, or a lawnmower when your own breaks down.

Our kids have played, and fought, and made up, and whiled away countless hours riding bikes, risking life and limb on a trampoline, creating plays, choreographing dance routines, playing soccer, and holding bake sales and lemonade stands.  They've caught bugs.  They've performed a funeral and burial for the frog they had captured as a pet when he died two days later from malnutrition and dehydration.  They've eaten a collective 534 ice pops, 12 of which they've remembered to properly throw away the wrappers.

The men help each other with projects, like the afternoon when someone's mailbox was run over.  They worked together digging out the original concrete, placing a new post, and taking turns with the shoveling and yanking and whatever else it is that you do when fixing a run-over mailbox.

Once, I asked one neighbor to walk with me around my house while repeatedly calling my cell phone, which had been missing in the abyss.  We found the phone.  The next week she sent me an urgent text: "I tried on a dress and got the zipper stuck halfway up. I can't get it off! Can you come help?"

As the adage goes: desperate times call for desperate measures.  Getting trapped in a dress is one of those times.  I dropped everything and came over right away. 

We've prayed together.  We've watched each other lose our tempers with our own children, and consoled each other in the bitter aftermath of disappointment.  We've offered opinions on paint colors and commented on house projects.  We've sent or received text messages saying things like, "You weren't home, so I just took some basil from your garden."  We've brought over jars that we couldn't open with the hope that someone else had better grip strength.

We've seen each other dressed up and dressed down -- glances into life that are normally reserved only for family -- like a Saturday morning when we're still wearing pajama bottoms and old tee shirts and certainly haven't yet contemplated brushing our hair.

It's what you do when you have good neighbors.  You share life, even some of the ugly parts, and you're better for it.

I agree with Robert Fulghum's statement: neighbors do play a significant role in life, and we don't get to choose them.  But if I could, I'd choose the ones I have all over again.

Image adapted from Beat Kung.

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You Know It's Good When There's a Numbered List

I have a dear friend who lives three hours away, but we keep in touch regularly.  She often sends messages in Facebook that she's written as numbered lists.  Oh, this is going to be good, I think each time I receive one, and then I dive into the message, appreciating how the list jumps randomly from one thought to another, just like a conversation would do.

I reply in the same fashion -- a disjointed, stream-of-conscious list that collides one idea into the next.  I know I'll probably forget something, but I can always write again and pick up where I left off at number 12, or 25, or what-have-you.

Somehow, it feels fitting to write a blog post in this fashion today.  I have a bunch of unrelated things on my mind, so let me invite you to get comfortable, kick up your feet, and join me for a numbered list in no particular order, which, I have found, often happens to be the best order of all.

1) It's sort of, but not quite, fall.  Fall is my favorite season, except during the month when spring is my favorite season, of course.  I love everything that fall entails -- crisp mornings, changing leaves, warm scents, pumpkin spice lattes, wearing cute layers and boots, taking the kids on a hayride on a Saturday afternoon, and finding that perfect balance of not being overly hot and not needing a heavy coat -- yet.  We had a good summer, but I sense in my soul that I'm ready for this next season.

2) I've already finished three full weeks of the fall semester, which means that I'm past the tricky point of learning a hundred new names and remembering my Monday-Wednesday-Friday versus Tuesday-Thursday schedule, but I haven't yet hit the tricky point of having collected the first essays or speeches to grade.  Week four is a sweet spot.

I love week four.

3) I've reached the end of my DIY hot streak.  This summer, like all summers, I tackled a bunch of DIY projects around the house.  It's all very cyclical: My teaching load decreases in summer, which buys me more time.  Garage sales happen in summer, which entice me to buy random items at cheap prices.  Random items then end up in my own garage, which sparks creative ideas.  And creative ideas lead to the actual Do-It-Yourself-ing that I so dearly love.

My greatest fear about this cycle is that I'll eventually run out of room to showcase my DIY treasures; there is finite space in my house, after all, and I can't buy and refinish every cute end table I find at a garage sale for a couple of bucks.  My husband's greatest fear about this cycle is that I'll become a professional junker.

Regardless, next week on the blog I'll be launching my annual DIY week.  It will be full of transformations!  Before and after pictures!  Easy projects!  Cost-saving decorating tips!  Step-by-step tutorials!  Explanations of why I needed to use a power-sander on a photo mat!  I can't wait to share these projects with you, so let me give you a sneak peak of a few here:

Be sure to visit next week for the grand DIY unveiling!

4) What does "presidential" look like, really?  When I was in middle school I joined an extracurricular activity called Academic Games, and -- for fun -- I studied random facts about the presidents.  (Just soak in that sentence for a minute, and then let me reassure you that I did, indeed, have friends.)  This election year has been particularly dismal, but I did find this article about the "presidential look" that caused me to laugh out loud at multiple points. My favorites include:

John Adams: "Do a bad job of describing Princess Leia’s hairstyle to your hairdresser. Watch forlornly but uncomplainingly as he completely fails to achieve it. Make the face of a sad cat that has just been turned into a human being and doesn’t know what to make of the change."

James Buchanan: "This hair is the second-worst thing that James Buchanan just sat back and allowed to happen, after the Civil War."

Jimmy Carter: "As you get dressed each morning, repeat the mantra, 'It is important that people who look at my pictures be able to tell from my hair and clothes that it is the '70s.'"

5) It still helps to kick the bottom left corner of a locker.  My oldest daughter started middle school this year, and when she struggled to open her locker during the back-to-school night, the older brother of one of her friends offered this advice: "Kick the bottom left corner when you pull up on the handle.  That always works."

There I stood, watching my sixth grader take advice from an eighth grade boy, kick her locker, and nod in appreciation and gratitude when it opened wide.  

Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I was transported back to a long-ago time when I, too, kicked the lower left corner of my locker and took the advice of eighth grade boys.  How I've become the parent in this scenario is a mystery.

6) Stuff hanging over our heads.  I enjoy life much more when I don't have something hanging over my head (papers to grade, emails to respond to, lectures to plan), but I almost always do.  Given this, I'm making a declaration: I must learn learn to fully enjoy life even when stuff hangs over my head because if I don't, well, I'll never really enjoy life.

7) I'm still in denial about the influx of papers that back-to-school generates.  In the past two weeks our house has been inundated with dozens of papers, worksheets, and permission slips that have collected on our kitchen table and counters from their crumpled origins in my children's backpacks.  I still don't have a good filing system in place.  (Also, I still nurse secret thoughts about burning them all.)

8) It is infinitely harder to start exercising than to stop.  Three weeks ago I had a small procedure that required stitches in my side and a recommendation of two weeks rest from hard physical activity.  As someone who's normally active, I balked at the idea at first.  And then I thought about the possibilities.  Is vacuuming hard physical activity?  What about cutting the grass?  No running on the treadmill, for certain!

Now that the stitches are removed and I'm cleared for all activity, I have little motivation to move.  Inertia is real, my friends. 

9)  I got my hair cut.  This may not seem number-worthy, but considering that I make an appointment for a haircut every six months (and that I was beginning to resemble Mufasa whenever I entered a humid environment), this is noteworthy, indeed.  The Circle of Life!

Also, with every haircut I have a renewed desire to learn how to properly use a round brush, versus how I actually use a round brush, which is to repeatedly tangle it in my hair while pretending to style with my hairdryer.

10) True conversation from earlier this week:
Child: "Hey Mom, can you help me find something?"
Me (in other room): "Sure, what are you looking for?"
Child: "A Lego. A clear one."
Me (upon entering the scene): "Oh."

11) Miracles happen.  We found the Lego.

12)  Never promise a child that you'll help them find something before you know what they're looking for.  See number 10 above.

13) Share gratitude.  Dear readers, I'm so grateful that you visit my blog and join me as I share life in this space.  May your upcoming fall be filled with the very best things -- easily opened lockers, found Legos, enjoyable days even when "stuff" hangs over your heads, and the awareness of God's peace and presence through it all.

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It's Hard to Argue with Vandalism Like This

Title: It's Hard to Argue with Vandalism Like This

Subtitle:  Although our house normally has a "no writing on the walls or furniture" policy, this particular message trumps that rule.
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