Friday, October 28, 2011

What to do with 45 minutes?

So today after work I turned down an invitation to go out for happy hour with all my colleagues who I REALLY wanted to hang out with.  But I was already late for my kids and thought it best to head home. Once I was in the car and on the highway, though, I got two phone calls from my kids asking if they could have their own happy playdates, because, "MOM, it's FRIDAY!"  Being the understanding mom I sometimes try to be, I said yes.  Of course, it was too late for me to play. I would have had to turn around, park, try to find everyone, so I just headed home looking forward to 45 minutes of quiet alone time in the house.  What would I do for 45 minutes?  I needed a plan to take full advantage of the precious minutes.  Here was my list of options:
  • Pedicure - no, takes a little longer and I had worn boots
  • Pick up a new set of headphones at Radio Shack- boring
  • Clean the house - NO!
  • Go for a run - not without new headphones
  • Food shopping - not necessary, I can't squeeze one more thing in the fridge for all the left overs
  • Fabric store for Halloween costume - no
  • Work - I really needed to organize all the new information from our daylong meeting and figure out my plans for next week...
  • Make phone calls, check emails - probably
So here's what it looked like:
  • 3:36-3:48  Picked up stranded items from around the house and took to their rightful homes
  • 3:48-3:59  Called to contest the ticket I got from the broken parking kiosk and made a cup of jasmine green tea to keep me calm (Next available hearing date - February!)
  • 3:58-4:01  Changed the laundry (after checking for smell cause I think it was in the washer since 6am)
  • 4:01-4:22  Piled and filed - I find that if I just pile first, it feels like an accomplishment
  • 4:22-4:30  Checked emails and weather reports for tomorrow's sports! 
(Even though they say you can't multitask, I was able to get several things done simultaneously... you get the idea.)
Of course my kids didn't get home until 4:35, but I didn't get to really take advantage of it because I had such short notice!  I was caught off guard.  These moments for a mom come once every six months or so.  It's a random act of the universe and it's almost as shocking as snow in October.  You panic - you think, how will I do this?  What do I need to prepare?  It hit me and I was in a tailspin. 
But I learned something.  I think from now on I'm going to keep a list of 45 minute activities so I'm not caught off guard again.  It will be my secret list and I'll keep it inside the cabinet over the sink in case I ever get stuck there, you know, doing the dishes and not knowing where to go next.  Someday I might find I have a little time to myself and I'll forget what to do again.  It will be like a bucket list of sorts, just shorter and simpler, a bowl list, so I can remember what it's like to have free time - time where I get to do what I want.
So here's my revised list:
  • Stop and talk to my neighbors
  • Take a bath
  • Take a nap
  • Call my friends who I haven't had a real conversation with since summer
  • Draw
  • Write
  • Walk
  • Read
  • Look at one of the magazines I bought for 50 cents at the library to make my coffee table look more like a coffee table 
This is just a starter list, this bowl list, but I'm going to keep adding to it and hopefully I'll find that my bowl time comes a little more frequently, but not too frequently.  I had a great afternoon once my kids got home.  Then I knew what I had to do!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reading Places

Growing up as the oldest of five, I would have to carve out spaces for myself to hide to find peace and quiet and read.  My brother would read up in a tree in the backyard where no one could reach him.  I found an old rocking chair in the attic, and surrounded by boxes, lit only by a dangling lightbulb, I read through the Little House series.  It was a great space, all mine. 
One of the first questions I used to ask students in my reading classes was, Where do you like to read?  We would discuss places that inspire us.  At the beach, beside a tree, up in the attic.   In my current work I assist teachers in making a library, a place for children to read in a comfortable homelike environment.  Isn't that interesting?  Homelike?  We are trying to make a classroom that feels inviting, just as I am trying to do in my house, family-friendly, kid-friendly spaces.  So I'm beginning to apply the same concepts I use in creating a literacy environment at schools in my home. 
One of my favorite houses ever belongs to my husband's aunt and in it she has a large collection of picture books in a small room with a piano and little trinkets on shelves and nooks to sit and read. There is even a hammock hanging in the family room!   She is my inspiration. 
My goal this week is to create more spaces for curling up with a good book.  Here is my list of things that would be in a great reading nook:
  • a bright window
  • a soft rug
  • a comfy chair (a hammock would be even better)
  • a blanket
  • a basket for paper and pencils in case I'm inspired
  • a small place for my tea
  • lots of good books, on shelves or in baskets
  • soft lighting, soft colors

After making this list, I realized that I needed to change around my living room.  It became quite different after I tried to carry out the list.  I knew I had to make the space feel more cozy, really smaller in scale.  So I moved the couch around to cut the room off a little (it had been under the windows), and added my grandmother's bench as a coffee table.  It's not finished yet, but here is my first draft:
This is opposite the fireplace and the accent wall.  I just hope to find one of my kids lying here one day curled up with a good book!  Then I'll know I created a good reading space!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Before paint

So this was our living room the day we moved in.  Lots of potential, right?  We didn't know where to begin, but things gradually took shape.  A couch, a piano, a rug.  A lamp, a table, a chair.  Things have flowed in and out of this room as we try to reorganize our belongings to fit the house, but the paint color was a major point of interest.  That was one thing that would remain.
We spent almost two weekends at Sherwin Williams trying to find the right color.  My goal was 'peacock blue.'  Fairly simple, right?  Not really.  Anyone who has ever tried to match paint color to an idea for a paint color knows the process is overwhelming.  So we tried to adjust the color by adding more tints.  Finally the paint-mixer said to me, "We cannot go any further with this paint.  It is at its capacity."  Who knew?  They can only add so much color saturation before it becomes... well, saturated.  (literally filled to the brim!) 
This is what we started with:
SW6776 Blue Nile  BLUE NILE
 So, we started again.  A different base color.  Now we have what I had envisioned. 
SW6517 Regatta  REGATTA   
Only, that was not the end of the blue story.  This is the really ironic part.  One day, shortly after we painted, a neighbor brought us some blueberries and I invited her in to see the house.  Well, when she walked in, her jaw dropped.  I thought to myself, oh no, we've ruined what had been a beautiful room!  No, that wasn't it at all.  The room had been the same shade of blue!   All along I thought I had this wonderful idea for a paint color for the room, but really the room was speaking to me.  So here it is, our accent wall:

These are a few things I learned about paint color shopping: 
  • Bring a color swatch with you from fabric or a magazine to compare
  • Look at the paint stores samples in outside daylight because not many people have flourescent lights in their living rooms
  • Ask yourself, "Is this green?  Is this purple?  Is this blue?"
  • Don't be afraid to play, it's grownup art class
  • Find a coupon or sale so you can afford to play

We couldn't be happier with the room color.  The fabric we found to match works really well but I am still playing with another contrasting fabric.  It all depends on the furniture we actually choose to stay in the room.   I think I will just let the room speak to me...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Please Pause

On the beautiful weekend in NYC, I had the privilege of listening to Naomi Shiyab Nye, an amazing poet and speaker.  She reminded us of many things but these especially stood out: one,  to "Please Pause" and take in the beauty that surrounds us, and two, "Everytime you love someone not exactly like you, your heart expands."  Listening to her wonderful words reminded me that at the heart of it all is love.  Relationships are how we build our lives and relating to each other is the key to everything.  I hope you have a week of wonder and good relationships, that sometimes require us to Love Hard.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Girls' Weekend

Today after work I leave for NYC for a girls' weekend.  Not the kind you might imagine - this one is all about teaching and writing.  The highlight of this trip will be going to Teacher's College to hear the wonderful Lucy Calkins talk about all that's new in literacy and education.  She is my guru, my mentor, and I follow her like a tween follows Taylor Swift.   Her 'music' though is all about school.  Do you remember loving school as a child?  That wonderful kindergarten or first grade teacher who made you feel like a rock star for writing your name. The teacher who let you lead the class down the hallway and you felt like the king of the world.   Yesterday in a kindergarten class a little boy was reading to me and when he came to the word 'the', he said, "Hey, wait, that's the word my teacher been teaching me!  That's the word she been teaching!"  Well, when I hear Lucy Calkins speak, she still has that same enthusiasm for learning and it's contagious.  Every word she uses is intentional, every act of teaching is driven by the power of joy for learning. 
But I have to confess that this enthusiasm is just about gone when I talk about my own children's classrooms.  There is a drought of joy in education right now, especially when talking about test scores.  Then throw in the teachers and the salaries and the unions and you can have a really hard time finding anything redeemable about education, let alone joy.  I wonder what will happen with our schools.  Will we come out on the other end with a whole new education system, driven by passion for learning and not test numbers.  If we infused the same energy talking about what's not working into what works, we'd have sure success with learners and that would show in our students' scores.   The fact that children find joy in recognizing the word 'the' is far more important than the test scores in creating lifelong learners.
So my weekend is all about school and finding the love again.   I can't wait to hear what Lucy has to say.  And I'm making a new commitment not to lose the joy that inspired me to be a teacher in the first place.  I think that will be a far better way to help my own children become lifelong learners, too.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Grand Entrance

After I took down the aluminum scripted house number from over the door, (remember, like from 1948) we were left with nothing for a few months.  Delivery men and contractors were always hesitant when they knocked.  (We took down the doorbell too!)  I looked for a long time for the right style house number since it says so much about the owners, well not really, but I just wanted something unique.  I thought that we would make it down to Cape May where I remembered seeing really cool sculptured house numbers in a little shop on Washington Square, but that didn't happen.  I had run past houses with funky lettered written numbers and thought that was cool too, but we decided to put a keystone over the center of the door, so the written wouldn't work.  Then, there's a shop in Collingswood that had a really cool looking monogram number over the door, but that would take lots of work.  So I remembered an old magazine, Blueprint, that had this awesome combination of writing and numbers:  (Blueprint is no longer published, but the hidden library will tell you how to order back copies!)
Okay, now we had a plan, but no idea how to put such cool numbers up.  Thanks to a little internet-stigation, I found this site, vinyl vineyard, with custom made decals for such a bargain!  Now, here's what the front door looks like:

It's not quite as hip or funky as I would have liked, but I was nervous that it would make too much of a statement.  However, if this ever comes off, I will go for something more like this from Back40Life:

It's a little frillier and lots of fun!  So here's the final grand entrance:
At our old house we had a beautiful blue door, a phrase coined by my son's teacher who loved the door.  Well, I bought some old historic paint colors at restore but I am not sure yet, so for now we went with traditional black.  I'm not super happy with it, but we're going to figure out the best color as we go.  We will add some Halloween stuff this weekend!  Now I'm back to Back40Life to check out another decal I saw of an old Livingston Taylor song that I love!  enjoy the day and make a grand entrance!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where's the mud?

The 'gardens' here had been neglected for quite some time.   We had to have the tree company remove an old dead pine and some two-feet high roots bulging out of the ground.  A neighbor told me that the previous owner had loved his roots.  Sorry, but they weren't part of our family-friendly vision for the house, so out they went.  While we waited all summer for the right season to install sod, we had a muddy pit in our yard. 
Finally, we now have a green, green, field of dreams. And yesterday, I finally got around to doing what I had wanted to do all weekend, plant spring bulbs, and I did it just in time because this morning there is a soft rain falling.  I planted tulips, allium, and grape hyacinth, and am hoping that they come up beautiful and lush come spring!

The other night my husband put his industrial strength spotlight on the lawn and we all played football til well after dark (and bedtime)!
No more mud outside, but this is what we call the MUDDY room!  Don't know when it will look like a Martha Stewart mudroom, maybe when the kids do leave the house for good, but for now I just close the door and ignore!  It's on my list...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A year ago, almost to the day, we found a new house completely by surprise and it has changed our lives.  We were not looking for a new house - really it found us.  My husband was out running and a few days later took me for a drive (actually we were on our way home from the store).  When we pulled up out front, I looked past the barren yard and broken windows and envisioned the home of our dreams.  I think even our realtor thought we were crazy. 
It has been a long year and when we finally moved in last May, the real work was still before us, literally.  Now, almost 6 months later, we've had the plumbers, the electricians, the carpenters come to do their work, but now it's our turn.  I am working to make this house a family-friendly home, the kind you see in movies where all the kids come home for Thanksgiving.  Check out the set of It's Complicated.  (Thanks to Julia at Hooked on Houses!)

I don't quite know if we'll ever get there, (I'm talking the living room, not the complicated part... and I'm in no rush, the kids are all under 13 thank goodness) but we are determined to have fun in the process.
It has been a blessing in so many ways, a wonderful house, a wonderful neighborhood, a wonderful creative project!   I've been finding inspiration everywhere, including at 320 Sycamore, where she creates wonderful family spaces for living.
And the dream didn't end with the house.   Through the process of moving I have found new creative outlets in designing and writing and even blogging.  Come visit us as we go through the process, discovering all the joys of creating a life together!  Take care,  Joannie

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In the mud

One of my favorite Justin Roberts songs ends with the phrase, "If you liked that, you should check out the mud!"  Having always been afraid to get muddy, I thought this phrase is just what I need to apply to my life as I juggle working and raising four kids.  We are always seeking to balance the yucky dirt with refreshing, life-giving water and we know that in the right circumstances, things will grow.  Over the past year my life has grown by leaps and bounds with my family, my career, and my new passion, writing.  I hope you will visit to chat and read about my muddy life!