Sep 092015
 
Everyone deserves a great spot to work!

Everyone deserves a great spot to work!

One of the biggest complaints I read about organizing blogs is that all they seem to do is ask you to buy more stuff. It is true that sometimes strategic purchases will give you a huge boost in your organizing efforts but organizing also takes place when you purchase nothing at all! In this post, I wanted to highlight a recent project I completed for my kids that cost me absolutely nothing.

In our home office, we dedicate a portion of the space for use by our children. Just like adults, kids today need a desk, chair and computer to do their work. Our office is mostly comprised of IKEA furniture and it has served us well for many years. But the kids section in particular has become quite hammered. Their desk has scuffs and paint stains. Their chairs also are covered in paint and the seats are torn in spots.

The well-worn office chairs.

The well-worn office chairs.

I walked into the office one day and decided I had just had it with those chairs and desk. They needed upgrades….now! I wondered if I could just staple some new material over the chair seats. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the chair covers were really just drawstring cases.

The underside of the chair showed that it was a drawstring casing.

The underside of the chair showed that it was a drawstring casing.

This was even better for me. I didn’t need to learn to use a staple gun. I could just fall back to my old reliable sewing machine!

Stripping the chair.

Stripping the chair.

Dissecting the chair back.  You pop off the plastic back and then there is another drawstring casing to unravel.

Dissecting the chair back. You pop off the plastic back and then there is another drawstring casing to unravel.

Save the old chair cushions to use as patterns.

Save the old chair cushions to use as patterns.

I happened to have some heavy duty canvas fabric in my stash. The only problem was that it was white! I am a bit nervous using white for these cushions but my husband advises that we can always bleach them when they get dirty.

To make the new cushions, I laid down the old cushions on the fabric. I measured how far it was from the edge of the cushion to the end of the drawstring casing and drew a line that far out on the fabric. I then added another inch for seam allowance (but wish I had added an inch and a half).

Next step...sewing.  (You must sew the drawstring in as you go.  It is too hard to thread it in afterward.)

Next step…sewing. (You must sew the drawstring in as you go. It is too hard to thread it in afterward.)

Pulling the drawstring tight and fitting it back on the chair takes a little muscle power. The heavy upholstery fabrics don’t like to be gathered. I also found it was necessary to salvage the cord IKEA had used for their drawstring as I didn’t have anything that heavy duty.

Over time, the foam chair cushions became less comfortable so I added in some more padding.  I found some floral fleece in my stash, cut it to fit and then added some scraps of fleece right in the middle of the chair for added comfort.

Over time, the foam chair cushions became less comfortable so I added in some more padding. I found some floral fleece in my stash, cut it to fit and then added some scraps of fleece right in the middle of the chair for added comfort.

Stretching the cover back on the chair back.  Sometimes I had to use the pliers to pull it tight!

Stretching the cover back on the chair back. Sometimes I had to use the pliers to pull it tight!

My fabric would not pull as tight as the original IKEA fabric but it pulled tight enough. If you wanted to be a perfectionist about this, you would buy fabric with a little stretch in it (but then it wouldn’t be a “use what you have” project!).

I needed my husband’s strength to pop the plastic back of the chair back on and screw back in the screw but all the rest I could do myself.

Before and after comparison of the recovered chairs.

Before and after comparison of the recovered chairs.

Next, it was on to the desk.

The desktop before.  Functional but battered.

The desktop before. Functional but battered.

First step was sanding the laminate finish to smooth it out and to help the paint adhere.  We used about a 150 grit sandpaper. Then mask off the area you want to paint with blue painter's tape.

First step was sanding the laminate finish to smooth it out and to help the paint adhere. We used about a 150 grit sandpaper. Then mask off the area you want to paint with blue painter’s tape.

Next step...painting!  Kids love to help paint.  We used an exterior grade latex paint we happened to have in the basement.  Two coats.

Next step…painting! Kids love to help paint. We used an exterior grade latex paint we happened to have in the basement. Two coats.

I learned a trick from a Home Depot employee years ago. I wanted to stain wood a color that wasn’t available in the rainbow of stain colors. “You could always paint it,” he said. I explained that paint would likely wear off my project due to heavy use. “Why don’t you paint it and then coat it with Polycrylic for protection?” Well, I tried this and it works beautifully! This is a great technique because you can use any color in the rainbow of paint colors. If you want more of a wood stain look then dilute your latex paint with water to make more of a wash.

Next step.  Sealing with three coats of Polycrylic, sanding each coat in between applications.

Next step. Sealing with three coats of Polycrylic, sanding each coat in between applications.

The last step....score the edge of your masking tape with a ruler and razor blade and carefully peel off the tape.  You don't want to ruin your finish right at the end!

The last step….score the edge of your masking tape with a ruler and razor blade and carefully peel off the tape. You don’t want to ruin your finish right at the end!

The "new" desktop.

The “new” desktop.

Before and after comparison.

Before and after comparison.

Overall, this project saved us about $100 over buying a new desk and chairs. It also put to good use some of my excess crafting materials and was environmentally friendly. The only thing that got tossed into the landfill was the old, dirty seat covers.

Putting it all together!

Putting it all together!

My children seem to appreciate the new desk and more comfortable chairs. They are also proud of the work they put into it as well.

If you want a similar boost for your office, start with a simple cleanup! File away all of your papers to get a clean desk surface. This alone makes the biggest difference. Then, take a look at your desktop, would a coat of paint and some Polycrylic revitalize the surface? Reupholstering chairs is a bit more complicated but if you know how to sew (or if your chairs can be staple-gunned) give it a try!

 Posted by on September 9, 2015 General Tagged with: , ,
Sep 012015
 
Memory full...an appropriate description!

Memory full…an appropriate description!

When I look back at summer 2015, this is the picture that describes it best. That moment at the swimming pool when I was incapable of capturing even one more shot of my adorable baby smiling, my children progressing in their swimming lessons. It has been a full, fun summer . . . . and I am in absolute shock that it is almost over!

Wasn’t it just yesterday when we were headed out to swimming lessons in the rain?

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And what about those July nights hanging out watching fireworks while eating barbecue.

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Has art camp really come and gone?

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I can just see my children lecturing me.

Mom, that was a long time ago!

Many birthdays ago.

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Several teeth ago.

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Pounds and inches ago.

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Adventures ago.

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Daring adventures ago.

There was a lot about pushing our limits this summer.

There was a lot about pushing our limits this summer.

Mothers always want to slow things down, to savor the time. Children are always eager to see what happens next.

And so it goes in our house.

It is time for change again.

The school year (and homeschool year) is ready to start again.

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The first leaves are changing.

The tulip poplar is the first to show its fall colors.

The tulip poplar is the first to show its fall colors.

I’m not ready yet!

I don’t think I will ever be ready to let this summer go.

More organization posts to come but first I have a story to tell you.

 Posted by on September 1, 2015 General Tagged with: , ,
Jun 192015
 
Our multitasking swim bag. Ready to homeschool while we are waiting for each child's lessons to finish.

Our multitasking swim bag. Ready to homeschool while we are waiting for each child’s lessons to finish.

Most of us find that summer goes by far too quickly. We get to the end of summer and wonder where our “break” went. We slide into fall grumbling about how we don’t get enough time off or we didn’t do what we wanted to.

This summer I wanted to try being a bit more deliberate with my summer planning. I wanted to keep the children motivated and learning and work on some of the skills that we don’t always have time to work on during the school year. Summer gets quite busy, however, so I began writing out a formal list of routine tasks I wanted to try to get done each day. This actually took quite a bit of time.

Recently, my children also started asking for an allowance. While there are a million allowance strategies, my husband and I felt most comfortable setting the expectation that allowance is earned. Our children earn the paltry wage of $1 a week (50 cents for the youngest) but that small amount is motivating to them and the Dollar Store offers many goodies of interest.

So, we married the two ideas: To Do lists and allowance. Each child has a list of tasks to do each day including simple things like “get dressed” and “brush teeth” as well as homeschool and chores.

We began this experiment June 1 with our three eldest children as the participants.

One child thought this was a dreadful idea and wanted to make sure there would be plenty of downtime to pursue individual projects. She wants to get through the checklist of tasks each day as quickly as possible.

Another child has eyes full of dollar signs and eagerly looks at the checklist trying to figure out how to earn the most money.

The youngest child does not understand the concept of the checklist nor of money and therefore does not worry about it.

How are things going so far?

We have a few successes. We are managing to get some school in every weekday, which is great because standardized testing is coming soon for us. We are also coping well with the change to our routine for weekday swimming lessons.

But there is still a lot of room for improvement.

We have yet to have a single day where any of us have checked off all of the To Do list items.

We are behind on paying allowance.

We are still struggling with the To Do list recordkeeping.

The first lesson the children seem to have learned about To Do lists is that it is OK to let tasks drop off the list each day. While this is true for the real world, and a good lesson, it is a problem for us because many of our tasks are “every single day” activities like brushing teeth that shouldn’t be postponed.

So far, my biggest problem is getting the children to use their time effectively. When they dawdle on their tasks (most of which I have to supervise or assist with), it means I am losing time that I could use on my tasks. However, we don’t want to be too strict about the To Do lists either and make this a miserable experience for all involved. It has become a To Do list bootcamp of sorts for all of us.

If this sounds like a whole lot of stress during a time that should be stress-free, it kind of is, but it is also giving a framework for our summer. If we can set ourselves up with a productive routine, we are going to have a head start taking on fall homeschooling and other activities.

So, our children’s organization experiments continue. For the moment, we are mostly focused on trying anew each day to see what we can get accomplished. This restart mentality is one of the most helpful in any organizing situation.

Do you hold your children to a daily list of chores or other “To Do” tasks? Do you have any lessons to share? Please comment below.

 Posted by on June 19, 2015 General Tagged with: , ,
Jun 042015
 
With spring came the arrival of my son!

With spring came the arrival of my son!

“When are we ever going to see that baby?” a friend recently inquired. Yes, my new baby is here! We added a wonderful, healthy son to our family.

Even with three other children, it is hard to remember how tiny newborn babies are. Our whole lives were reevaluated in “proportion” to our new little one.

Smiling in his sleep.

Smiling in his sleep.

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Fitting in to our new routine.  Here, at soccer practice.

Fitting in to our new routine. Here, at soccer practice.

All went well with the delivery and our recovery has been an enjoyable time with family and friends. Easter, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day passed in a blink. It has been a challenge to settle into a new rhythm as a family of 6. When you add a new baby to the family, everyone has to grow up a bit. The big sisters become ever more responsible and the “itty bitty” who was skiing with me just months ago is now the “big brother.”

The little brother becomes the big brother.

The little brother becomes the big brother.

It has truly been an enjoyable spring. Virginia is at its best in spring. While home recovering with my baby, my garden put on the most magnificent show of blooms. Even the iris which have never bloomed, bloomed this year. During this pregnancy, I developed a severe case of “rose colored glasses syndrome” where I found myself even appreciating how wonderful DC traffic was over the Christmas season. My affliction continues–although in milder form.

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Fern tendrils ready to open.

Fern tendrils ready to open.

Cherry blossoms in DC.

Cherry blossoms in DC.

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The leaves return.

The leaves return.

A new entry in my blooms from a plant I put in last year.

A new entry in my blooms from a plant I put in last year.

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The "miracle" irises.

The “miracle” irises.

Lanterns on the battlefield for Memorial Day.

Lanterns on the battlefield for Memorial Day.

Yet life with an infant is never all roses. Despite my bliss, it is a struggle to get going in the mornings. Usually, as soon as I open my eyes in the morning, I am already behind. There is mess to clean up from the night before, sheets to wash (again!) and outfits to change. Getting dressed is more challenging as I am currently at that in-between size where maternity clothes are too big but my regular clothes are too small. My laundry and dirty dishes seem to have quadrupled. My eldest son spontaneously decided to potty train just weeks after the baby came, which is wonderful, but added to my duties came sprinting to the potty at a moment’s notice and daily carpet cleaning.

On top of everything else, the Tooth Fairy has been to visit 3 times!

On top of everything else, the Tooth Fairy has been to visit 3 times!

We are also winding up our homeschooling efforts and preparing for standardized tests. For the past 8 weeks, we have essentially been conducting a math camp, completing 291 pages of second grade math and 307 pages of fourth grade math to finish up our Singapore Math curriculum.

During a math intensive day, I got the email from goop about “Postnatal Depletion

“On average, a mom’s brain shrinks 5% in the prenatal period . . . Part of the brain shrinkage mentioned above, Dr. Serrallach explains, is reprogramming: “It supports the creation of ‘baby radar,’ where mothers become intuitively aware of their child’s needs, if they are cold or hungry, or if they cry at night.” This hyper-vigilance becomes dangerous for the mother when she, in turn, is not supported.”

–“Postnatal Depletion,” goop

The very next thing I read was:

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I laughed at the irony.

I laughed again at my obstetrical follow-up appointment when I read the depression screening questionnaire. When it asked questions about whether I have difficulty sleeping, I knew that if I answered “Yes,” it would look like depression but if I answered “No” I would be certifiable (as who does sleep well with a newborn baby?).

I took solace in quotes like this one from blogger Eileen Ogintz in The New York Times:

“You have to be prepared that it’s not one Instagram moment after another. We have incredibly high expectations and . . . it’s not perfect. It’s a messy experience and aggravating.”

–Eileen Ogintz, “’Taking the Kids,’ for Nearly 20 Years,” The New York Times, April 28, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

Mother’s Day 2015

During my break from blogging, I have been enduring many life lessons on organizational challenges. I have been reading wise words from other organizational gurus and thinking about ideas for future blog posts.

I hope that spring has treated you well and am glad to be back with you on this organizational journey!

P.S. For anyone bothered by the math question, here are the solutions we came up with.

The tessellation that took us forever to solve.

The tessellation that took us forever to solve.

 Posted by on June 4, 2015 General Tagged with: , ,
Jan 052014
 

2014-01-05-polaritybear-coverWith snow on the ground and temperatures chilly, it seems only appropriate to review a children’s book about polar bears! 

Polarity Bear Tours the Zoo: A Central Park Adventure was a gift from the La Jolla Writer’s Conference.  Author Sue de Cuevas is a retired Harvard teacher and administrator who is an expert on the Brontë sisters.   Illustrator Wendy Rasmussen is an accomplished illustrator and has illustrated numerous children’s books about animals.

The story essentially asks the question, “What would a polar bear do if let loose from the Central Park Zoo?”

We have had the pleasure and luxury of reading many great children’s books around this house.  Writing a great children’s story is deceptively challenging.  It is so much more than writing a short, imaginative story or having a few great pictures.  The stories we enjoy the most tend to have the following characteristics:

  • No “dead” pages – Every page is compelling in some way and none are a chore to read.
  • Double meaning – The words or concept of the story tend to mean one thing to children and something else entirely to adults, particularly when it comes to emotions.  The author is really speaking simultaneously to the person reading the story and the person being read to.
  • Excellent wordsmithing – When you only have a few pages to tell your story, the words you use are incredibly important.  Great children’s authors are masters of brevity and know things like when to use an invented word, the best imaginative name to give to a character, the right rhythm and pattern of a rhyme for the situation, clever use of onomatopoeia and an innate sense for writing dialogue that children actually say.
  • Optics – Not only do children’s books need great words, they need excellent pictures.  Pictures in color that have a sense of fun to them are the ones my children are drawn to every time.  Often the pictures are as much a part of the story as the words.  Also, the layout of the words is often unusual in some way with word spacing, font choice and the number of words per page making a huge difference.

It’s a tall order and I admire anyone who has undertaken the task to write a children’s story.

There are many things that Sue de Cuevas does wonderfully well in her story.  The portions of her story where she is writing about situations that are unique to New York are the ones that read the best and have the very best pictures.  Even though New York is a real place, New York in children’s stories is always a magical place and is fun to hear about.

Sue de Cuevas also adds a level of challenge in that she uses a fluctuating rhyme scheme, which is very unusual in a children’s story.    Usually the words rhyme in pairs at the end of the sentence but sometimes she will rhyme 3 sentences in a row instead of just 2 and sometimes the rhyme comes mid-sentence rather than at the end.

There are some weaknesses to the story, however.  The way the polar bear escapes is a little hard to believe and was something my children struggled with.  Also, fundamentally, I wasn’t sure I connected with the polar bear’s personality.  The stereotypical polar bear is warm, exuberant and adventurous, maybe a little bit silly.  This polar bear seems a little cautious, serious, nervous and a homebody.  It’s a refreshing change but sometimes it felt like the story was trying to have the polar bear be both personalities at once.

Wendy Rasmussen’s illustrations are the heart of this book, though.  The pictures that show Polarity’s emotions and physicality are the best.  I am partial to the dancing pictures but the swimming picture, the splat on the ground and the tongue sticking out on the back cover are also favorites.  (You can see some of the illustrations and read about the creative process to make them, here.)

Wendy Rasmussen writes of Polarity’s personality:

“I saw Polarity as a bear who sees life as a glass half full… even when sad, she pulls herself out of her funk by creating an adventure.”

–Wendy Rasmussen, The Birth of a Bear and a Book

As a polar bear fan, however, (polar bears were the theme to my children’s nurseries) I am glad to have this book and anyone who loves polar bears or the Central Park Zoo will certainly enjoy it. This could easily become a great series of stories.

What do you look for in a great children’s book?  Please share in the comments.

*Disclosure: I was provided a free review copy of this book.

 Posted by on January 5, 2014 Ruly Bookshelf Tagged with: , , , ,