Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Up the Stairs

My brother taught me to play with guns.  Not really.  And in this day and age I really shouldn't joke about that.  I had used a rifle twice before shooting skeet and thought that was my claim to fame, shooting skeet in southern Virginia, but I recently learned how to use a nail gun and now I'm much more proud of that.  I thought I'd share the process. 
After we finished painting and hanging pictures in the hallway, we realized it lead to a dead end at the top of the stairs.

I had seen some seemingly simple ways of dressing up walls with bead board and decided to give it a try, well really to enlist my brother to teach me how to use a nail gun to put up wooden boards.  I wanted to create an effect of old board and batten.  Here is a link to my inspiration site, Thrify Decor Chick, where she explains step by step how to do this. 

I had estimated the cost of this project at about $75 (and we had a gift card from Christmas!) but it ended up, of course, closer to $100. Still I feel it was all worth it.  After my brother showed up, the hardest part was measuring.  We decided to have the home improvement store cut the 12 foot boards into four foot lengths to save us extra time and trouble, so from that measurement we were able to figure everything else out. 
We measured and Ed cut.  I got to try out the NAIL GUN.  After I got over my initial fear I learned that it's quite a thrill doing something with this power tool.  Ed was so encouraging, or rather commanding, "Just do it."  He did not want to play into my fears at all. 

Although I bent a few nails in the beginning he was patient with me and I was a pretty quick study. 

After we finished with the boards it was all about the filling, caulking and painting.   (Don't you love that old light?!)

Of course, that seems simple enough, but the tools just sat in the hallway for about two weeks.

Once I got up and going again, it was very rewarding.  We changed the light fixture to match the one at the bottom of the stairs, painted black, though I kind of wish I went more colorful.

Then the final touch.  This is my favorite. 

I had seen posters/paintings of important dates written in big bold number fonts that were really cool, like your birthdates, the day you met, the day you married.  (Can't find the website right now, but I will.)  And it gave me the idea to use decals, like we had on the front door, right on the wall beneath the pictures.  But ordering all those separate birthdates and years, etc. would be a big process and a big expense, relatively speaking.  Then my daughter had to go to JoAnn, and I thought I'd look for decals.  None.  But in the scrapbooking aisle they did have cool stickers that were just the right size and came in a cool font that I could imagine would work.  My idea was to put the kids' birthdates right beneath their pictures.  I spent about 10 minutes on the floor in the scrapbook aisle counting numbers and zeroes to make sure I had enough sticker packs, then it didn't even matter because they were on sale for like $1.79!  Score!  I bought three, but should have bought 4.  I abbreviated the years from 2000 to 00 even though I probably could have done the whole thing. 
The funny thing is, when my kids were younger I was reading a book called Little Big Minds, about sharing philosophy with younger children.  One of the questions was "Are numbers or letters more important?"  So I posed the question to my four- and six-year-old, and their responses were so interesting.   JJ, the six-year-old, who was really into baseball stats at the time, said, "Numbers."  Annie said, "But JJ, how would you know what the numbers meant if there were no words?"  So when the birthdates were up, we asked a few kid friends to tell us what they thought the numbers under the pictures meant.  It was really fun (the size, the day the pictures were taken, the day of your vacation, the day you were born)  and we realized that even not knowing right away made for a cute little game to play with our house guests.

One more caveat, however.  I used 3M Command stickers to hang the pictures.  I won't do it again.  About an hour after finishing this project I heard two of the pictures smash to the floor.  I got out my old fashioned hammer and nails and now they are still hanging just fine!  I will however continue to use these vinyl stickers everywhere in my house!  What can I do with them next...

Monday, March 19, 2012

More Springspiration!

Yesterday, besides being just beautiful weather-wise, was a spring-spiring day!  We took bikes to the Delaware Canal State Park and rode through some beautiful nature/history/houses - all my faves!  That and family time and physical activity made it a picture perfect excursion.  It made me want to garden and get out all the rakes and shovels and get busy.  And then get out the paints and ladders, and maybe build a little shack out back, and maybe a stone wall and then maybe a horse farm and small canal....  Just kidding!
This was the view from Sunday:
This low bridge reminded me of a song we sang in elementary school, "On the Erie Canal," except that I never knew what they meant when we sang, "Low down on the Erie Canal."  Now I know - gives new meaning to 'prior knowledge.'

There were beautiful yellow buttercups at the end of this stone staircase - what a pretty spot.

Old houses on the canal.

A Parade of Daffodils!

Love the old stone home with random additions and the lush green bushes that make it look new.

Old log house and garden path.

This house makes me want to take my shutters down and put up a white stockade fence! 

The kids were real marathoners on our 10 15 mile ride!  (Daddy had prepared us for a little less, but no one complained. :)  I was worried about Charlie, but of course he regularly rides about 8 miles in front of our house each day!)

This was another family we met.

And this house makes me want to paint the trim dark, dark, blue!  Very Bostonian looking!
I actually did do some work on the house this weekend adding the tweaking touches to our new hallway.  The Big Reveal on Wednesday!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Is there a doctor in the school?

These days everyone is talking about applying the business model to schools.   Some advocate that if people looked at the bottom line, basically what a school produces, the school and teachers would be more accountable and this would make schools more competitive.  While this seems to make sense, business minded people are usually focused on products and profits, not people.  While customer service is championed by certain individuals, the overall focus in business is on the success of the company, and is not always dependent on customer satisfaction, despite what their motto may be. 
The argument of the schools, of course, is that we can handle it ourselves, thank you very much.  But what people are forgetting is that the schools are already operating from a business-type model: the factory.  No matter where I go there are bells that ring at regular intervals alerting everyone to stop what they are doing and move onto the next activity in the production line.   Teachers in this production line deliver a lesson or task, ask the students to complete the task, and then they rate it as acceptable or unacceptable.  It is not about authentic learning.
For authentic learning to take place a student needs to express what his own needs and interests are, then research or seek assistance in meeting those needs, and finally assess how s/he is learning and what the results are.  That is what we do as adults when we need to learn something new, and that is also what people do when they go to the doctor.  They go to the doctor and say, "This is what I am having difficulty with and want to fix."  The doctor then replies, this is what you need to do, "Take two of these, and call me in the morning."  The doctor remains a fixed part of our lives knowing us as a patient and individual and continually reassessing our needs based on where we have been and what has and hasn't worked in the past.    At the same time, we have the ability to communicate about is working for us and what is not and we have the option of seeking a second opinion, finding a doctor who we feel most listens to our needs.
If we continue on this analogy between schools and doctor's offices, imagine how we would begin training our teachers.  They would have a residency with other resident teachers in a school, observing and studying students with the toughest 'case histories' in order to learn exactly how to manage 'student care' for a variety of issues in a variety of situations.  After this experience the resident teachers would have an internship with a highly qualified teacher.  (While this is not too far from the model we currently use, it could use some tweaking.)   If these highly qualified teachers would train resident teachers in the poorest districts, taking a "year of service" from their regular positions to teach in an urban setting, adequately compensated for their work, think about how much they could learn together.  Students in the greatest need would have the greatest teachers and not just one, but two.    Because resident-intern teachers are studying student cases, not just curriculum, the business of teaching, they would be highly student-focused and knowledgeable in learning styles.  They would be adept at all types of learning modules and strategies, experienced in differentiation, and basically could find ways to meet the needs of all students.   It would be a stark contrast to the pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all curriculum and testing module that is so prevalent today.  It would be an education model built on student needs first, bottom line second.  It would empower teachers to do what is best for students.  It would empower students by giving them a voice in their education. 
I am sure there are plenty of reasons why this would never work, but imagine our medical system without those years of training, which we take for granted now.  Now imagine our educational system with that intense training for all teachers.  Imagine how teachers would be recognized by society, both in terms of their profession and their dedication because it certainly would take a lot of hard work and perseverance to go through this training.   Imagine our students in this type of setting.  Imagine if your son or daughter could learn everything there was about, say, trees, or engineering, or writing, or carpentry, while in elementary school because the teacher was focused on his/her needs first.  Motivation would be extremely high, learning would be exciting, and teachers would be doing what they do best, practicing student-care, meeting the needs of students, not bottom lines.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


The first time I heard George Winston I was about 18 and had just gone off to college.  I was exposed to new things everywhere, some of which I quickly moved away from, some which have become an integral part of who I am, but this music has been a constant since I first heard a friend play his music in the dorm.  We studied Biology and Chemistry to his music my entire freshman year.  I can still picture the cassette tapes we had back then. I had a cassette of his when I delivered my first child.   I've now been to three GW concerts, one with my mother, one with my sister, and this past week I took my daughter.  22 years later I still enjoy listening to the sounds but especially his ability to push the music.  George Winston uses such force in emphasizing certain notes - like hidden messages speaking to you.  So I have been thinking a lot about pushing.
This morning I had to push myself out of bed to run.  It takes more pushing some mornings than others and today the bed felt so warm.  But I pushed.
On my way to work, I drove through farmland, listening to the music of George Winston, and saw all around me the bulbs and plants pushing themselves up out of the ground.  The farms of New Jersey are pushing toward summer. 
I saw a woman pushing a fertilizer bucket across her brown, patchy lawn and although my first reaction was, "Good luck with that!" my second reaction was "Good luck with that!"  At some point in the early morning hours she had decided that this would be the year that she would tackle that unruly lawn and push something new to grow.
Recent studies from UPenn have shown that to truly succeed in life you have to have Grit.  No matter your socioeconomic background or schooling or upbringing or geneology, if you will make it through college, not just to college, you need Grit, the ability to face obstacles and overcome them, often defying expectation and experience. (Isn't it funny that when I googled "grit" up comes a magazine of "Rural American Know-How" all about gardening, as in dirt!) Angela Duckworth from UPenn defines grit as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals."  I'd like to add that the active partner of grit is push.  If grit is the noun, push is the verb. 
Pushing is hard, just like real labor.  It takes some knowledge, yes. You have to know where to push to make it work.   It takes some courage, yes, to face criticism and push-back and often pain.  And it takes hope.  That woman out sprinking seed and fertilizer on her lawn has real hope.
Today I pushed and I'm not sure that it worked.  I'm not sure that my legs are getting any faster.  I'm not sure that the teacher I pushed or the student I pushed are ready to go the distance.  I do have hope though, just like those bulbs pushing the ground above them.  I keep pushing, and like George Winston's music, I hope somebody will hear it, a message of courage and hope.  Tomorrow I will continue to push.

Monday, March 12, 2012


There is a sign in my family room that says, "Winter - A calming white renewal."  This winter did not feel like a calming white renewal.  It felt like an anxious awaiting.  I thought we were waiting for snow, but none came.  Each week I anticipated the weather forecast for a sign that all was well with with world, that there would be snow.  After all it snows in winter.  I really needed to see that snow, to see that beauty.

This winter was out of the ordinary, not extraordinary in the awesome sense, just out of the ordinary, and honestly it left us all feeling a little out of the ordinary. Everyone in our house got some sort of sickness, which was unusual. No healing days of school cancellations came to calm us and renew us. It was like the groundhog woke up day after day and said, no winter, no spring.   Snow makes us pause, catch our breaths, and look.  Not having that opportunity made it feel... rushed.  We never got to slow down.  So I'm taking a 3-minute meditation on my computer right now to just look at pictures of snow.  Maybe it will suffice...
That's better.  Accepting that there will be no true winter, no snow, though, now I am ready for spring.  And after being out of the loop for a few weeks, I am looking for inspiration!
We travelled to Washington, D.C., this weekend and I did find some inspiration for spring.  The White House garden was visible on the South Lawn.  I have to find a way to grow some vegetables in our yard this summer.  I'll look for inspiration for that!

We went to a Christening on Sunday. The monogrammed napkins were beautiful!  I have to get ready for a first communion this May, so I'll be looking for inspiration for that!

Monogrammed napkins from the Stationery Store.  More great ideas here at P is for Party blog, including personalized wreath and cupcake treats.
Walking around the neighborhood I see bulbs and crocuses popping up everywhere.  My little bulbs are barely there, but are coming... I can't wait for that!  New wreaths on the doors, new flags hung out, new flowers planted. 

I'm liking the pink and green, but will have to do blue for the first communion.
There is so much inspiration out there.
I missed winter, but won't miss this spring!