Friday, July 19, 2013

4 for 4: Doing, Not Pinning

My summer goal to actually make a pin a week is going great, much better than I anticipated. Because, let's be honest here, I'm kind of flaky and have the attention span of a gnat. Four weeks in a row I have done at least one thing from my pin board. Last week I even did two things!

This week I finally got around to something that has been on my heart since last fall or before. My family has been suffering from a lack of gratitude for a long time now and I've been wanting to do something about it. So when I ran across this pin for the idea of a gratitude jar (right), I knew it was what I wanted.

This is what I came up with. I had all kinds of ideas for a gratitude jar. I was going to put a nice quilted strip around the middle of a mason jar, but I'm really not that good at quilting and I could never decide what colors I wanted anyway. Then I was going to get some glass etching paste and etch "Gratitude" down the side of my button jar, but then I would have to find a new button jar. Anyway, the upshot was that months went by and I never got around to doing anything.

Then, with all the pins I've been making lately, I decided it was finally time to make a decision and get this one done. I went through all my jars and vases and settled on this nice square clear vase that is narrower on the bottom than the top. At first I thought I would decorate it with Sharpie markers, but I seriously disliked anything I tried. Then I had the most artistic member of my family give it a try, but for some reason my 16 year old son didn't have the same enthusiasm for this as I did and his attempt was no better than mine.

Then I had a bit of a brainstorm. I have some leftover ink jet sticker paper from some project from a decade or so ago, and I'm pretty good with Photoshop Elements. So I created this. I then printed it mirror imaged (free transform tool, set at width -100%) onto the sticker paper. I did mirror image so that I could place the sticker on the inside of the jar, because previous experience showed me that this sticker paper peels up way too easily and I figured having it on the inside would limit that.

But even then the sticker didn't work as well as I had in mind. First, I forgot how not clear the sticker paper is. It's more vellum looking than clear. Still, I could be okay with that, but the paper also bubbled and folded terribly. Sigh.

At that point I rethought starting all over and going in a total different direction. But then the ridiculousness of this whole adventure hit me. Notice the original pin. It's just a quart mason jar with a lid. The purpose of this concept was just slips of paper with what you are thankful for stored in a jar. How crazy is it that how pretty the jar looked was mattering to me more than what I wanted to put in it. Sigh.

Anyway, here's the jar on my school bookshelf. I don't know why the handless Lego guy was on the shelf, but I had to move him to put the jar there so I just stood him up toward the front. Like my cool pencil can?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Little Things: Binder Placeholder Thingies

This is another "Little Things" post to show people a handy binder tool I use for school but I don't know what they are called or even if they can be bought.

Quite a few years ago I was working the Sonlight booth at the Arizona Families for Home Education convention in Phoenix with a former Sonlight consultant, Colleen. She had these plastic things that pop easily in and out of binders and stick out the top to mark your place, but they had the wrong contact information on them so she couldn't give them away to just anyone coming into the booth. So, she let me take as many of them as I want. I took 6 or 7, and honestly I have wished more than once over the years that I had taken more. They are soooo handy for marking your place in a binder. Last year I even took one of the binder labels for the Cores we were using and marked the top of the tabby thing so that I even more quickly flip to Core C or Core 100 in my working binder (I keep about 4 weeks worth of each IG, along with a few other things, in my 1" binder).

You'll see on the right photo that I have Post-It Notes on the backside of the tabby thing and that the Post-Its have been printed on. This page has templates for printing on a couple of different sized Post-Its, and it works quite well. I prefer to print any notes I will be using over a longer period than just once or twice.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Making stuff from Pinterest: 2nd week of July

I did make a couple things from Pinterest last week; I just haven't gotten around to posting about them.

First I tried upcycling milk jugs into storage containers from this pin that I pinned over a year ago. The blog links to Spoonful's instructions (formally Family Fun), but I found those to be a bit vague so I googled better instructions and found a nice mommy blog that I totally can't find now. Sorry.

The left is the blog's photo. The right is my attempt. Honestly, mine looks quite a bit like the tutorial's, but up close in real life it's just not as an impressive idea as it looks on my laptop screen. I ended up throwing the three I made into the recycle bin and tossed the other milk jugs I had been saving into there as well.

This isn't really a Pinstrosity, as it turned out just like the tutorial showed, but it's not a Pin Win either as I didn't want to use them after I made them. So, yet another Pin Meh for me. Sigh.

The second pin I did was only on my Pin Board for a couple weeks, but when my youngest daughter pulled out the color bucket, a handled bin that we throw all our loose crayons, markers, and colored pencils into, I just started the project on the spur of the moment. All those broken crayons in the bucket just screamed at me to turn the kids loose making crayon candles.

I made two changes from the blog's instructions. The first was using a birthday candle for the wick (I got that idea from the comments of the blog). I found it best to wait until after the crayons were all melted (only a couple of hours in our 108°F heat this time of year) and then gently push the birthday candle into the center. The other change is that I cut up some Scentsy scents to mix in with the broken crayons to give the candles a nice smell. I've broken two Scentsy warmers now but still have a few of the scents left. At least this way they get some use. 

The results were great. Definitely a Pin Win for this one. I love the mix of colors, especially my 10 year old's who chose to use only oranges and yellows. My 6 year old's, the red/blue/pink/green one, smells like dessert, however, as she chose Scentsy Peach scent and used a lot of it.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Doing, Not just Pinning: 1st Week of July

Last week I posted about my goal to make something I have pinned each week of this summer. Last week it was a set of washable Swiffer clothes. Well, I'm happy to say I'm two for two in getting something done, although this week was a close one.

I pinned this tutorial for making a composition book cover some 9 months ago or so. I even bought some nice red fat quarters and muslin to make it with around that time too. This week I finally got around to doing it. 

Journal Covers Tutorial

My Cover

I didn't follow the tutorial exactly, mostly because I seem completely unable to follow any instructions exactly, but also because I wanted to do some quilting on mine so I needed to add some thin batting and a backing. So my finished cover isn't as thin, but I love it none the less.

I use a composition book for church, writing in prayer requests that people make plus some sermon notes and scripture references. I struggle to remember what I hear, and there are times that if I don't write a scripture reference down I won't remember it long enough to actually turn to it. Yeah, you read that right. I can forget what I heard in less time than it takes me to flip to the right book of the Bible. Hey, we all have our weaknesses.

Since this was a cover for something I use at church, I wanted a cross on the front cover. I googled "cross quilt pattern" and while I found a few things, this one caught my eye. I love the wonky, not perfectness of the crosses, because "wonky, not prefect" is probably an adequate description of myself. Carla's tutorial takes all the guess work out of the block too.

Here are some more shots of my cover. I wanted the larger cross on the front, but more quilty look for the back. Stay tuned for next week's project.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Workboxes Evolution

I first attempted a form of workboxes way back in the spring of 2009 and it was a quick crash and burn. It was a single bin with file folders and it kept falling over and didn't motivate my then K'er at all.

I attempted it differently, and more fully, in the summer of the following year, and I am glad to say that while parts of the system I detailed in that post have gone by the wayside (like the whole workfolder system), the heart of that system is still in use now 3 years later.

In this post a year later, summer of 2011, I detailed the slight changes that happened to our system over the first year of use.

Today I'll give you the run down of how our workboxes have functioned day in and day out for most days over the last two years.

First, I am no longer doing workboxes, workfolders, or any thing of that sort with my teens. I simply email them a pdf schedule with 5 days worth of assignments in every subject and they work off of that. They do use a large bin (like the ones pictured below, but deeper) with file folders in it to store finished work. Books they are using either go on the school book shelf or on their own book shelf in their room (or, more honestly, on the floor next to their beds). My elementary students, 5th, 3rd, and 1st grades as of today, are the ones still using workboxes.

Here is what our school bins (as we refer to them at home) look like. They are 6.2 quart flat stacking bins with locking lids measuring 15" long by 11" wide by 3.25" high or, more simply put, big enough so that even the largest workbook lies flat. Sadly it seems the only ones available currently are no longer colorless but are all over aqua. Ugh. Sterilite now has a slightly different clip box that would serve the same purpose that you can get at Target for the same price as the visually shocking agua ones. Google "workboxes" to see the million different types of containers other people use.

Since my husband put in built-in cabinets and shelves for me last summer, our school bins have lived in a cupboard, out of sight when we aren't actively doing school. I used colored duct tape to "label" both handles of each bin with the student's color so everyone can tell at a glance whose bin is whose.

At the beginning of a school day, the bins are removed from the cupboard and moved across the room or under the table or wherever the kid wants their stack to be for the day, except not in major walkways or strewn over 10 linear feet of floor space (because sometimes I just have to be a mean mommy, sigh). Then they work through their school a bin at a time, putting each bin back in the cupboard as that subject is completed. They are free to choose the order of their bins for the most part, although I occasionally intervene and require them to do a troubling subject earlier in the day. When all the bins are back in the cupboard they are done with school. We tried, briefly, to do the whole take-a-number-off-and-put-it-on-a-grid thing but it seemed purposeless when moving the entire bin from the stack to the cupboard was a much more climatic visual of finished work.

I do not put "fun" things in our workboxes. I tried it at the very beginning of our workboxes adventures, but it was a pain for both me and the kids. I keep an almost obscene amount of art and craft supplies, educational toys, games, DVDs, science projects, lapbooking stuff, historical projects, nature study objects, and more on hand and I freely encourage the kids to use them as they want (with permission, mostly so they aren't pulling stuff out before putting other stuff away). With all that fun stuff of their choosing, what was fun about something mom chose? Day after day there were asking, "Do I have to do this?" Um, no that painting project I spent 10 minutes putting together yesterday afternoon so that you would have something "fun" in your workboxes isn't really "school", and if you aren't going to have fun doing it why bother. Yeah, I gave up on choosing fun things for them pretty quick and just went back to encouraging them to pick whatever fun stuff they wanted. That works better for all of us.

I will add that I did fill a couple bins with fun but quiet and independent activities for my preschooler, when I still had a preschooler. It gave her something to do and kept her busy and (mostly) quiet for a while as I did school with her brothers. I did things like ready-made tea parties, games like Mighty Mind and Activities in a Bag, play dough (homemade, of course), sand letter cards, Tot Tray ideas, and many other things. Surprisingly, I didn't have to switch out the things in her bins daily in order to keep her entertained. Even though she had the shortest attention span of any of my kids (and still does, but that's a whole other blog post, sigh), she still would play with the same couple bins for up to a week before growing bored of them.

For a while I put shared subjects, like Sonlight Read Alouds and Science, in one child's bin and when he got to it he knew we had to all do it together. However, for the last year or more I have had kept shared subjects on the school shelf and we just know that we have to do them as well. Since we do the shared subjects all at once, either first thing when we start school (9:00 ish) or first thing after lunch, it's just easier for them not to be in the bins.

I do not set up our workboxes every day. I just don't. Many subjects, like Math and Handwriting, are workbook based and we simply do the next thing each day. Post-It Note Flags, in each child's color of course, are ideal for keeping our place in each workbook. It would be more work, more mess, and more likely to cause lost papers if I cut the workbooks apart to put in just one day's work. Of course, some subjects are done on loose papers, like Sonlight's Language Arts Activity Sheets and copywork work assignments, but I put blank lined paper and Activity Sheets in that bin for up to a month at a time. I rarely need to mess with more than one or two workbox contents each week, let alone messing with every workbox for every child every day. A system that required that just wouldn't last two days in my house.

I see our workbox system continuing pretty much as-is for years yet. They provide a visual list of what needs to be done each day so that both the student and I can see at a glance what is left. They also provide school storage and organization along with portability. Workboxes are a huge and very successful part of our homeschool.