Monday, September 30, 2013

I’m not that kind of teacher (printable lesson plan pages)

While I bemoaned my far too busy semester and my complete lack of organization this term, a friend suggested that what I really need to keep organized with this many classes and commitments is a lesson plan book. I was hesitant to believe her. I don’t, after all, want a paper roster written in pencil to mark points on like my 4th grade teacher. I don’t want a notebook divided up into sections like “Math” and “Reading” and “Social Studies.” I'm not that kind of teacher. But, she insisted that I could find a good generic lesson plan book that would change my life.

So, I looked. I went to the Educational Emporium and looked at notebook after notebook emblazoned with apples and bees and rulers. Some had “Teacher Plan Book” printed across them in “chalkboard” font. It was exactly what I had feared. To be fair, I did find a few basic, grown-up looking lesson plan books that I could have written my own subjects into. The price tag: $15. Nope. Not for an experiment.
This, I decided while I stood among the shelves of ugly cliche lesson books, was something I could find a free printable for online. Those same helpful teachers who share their lesson plans on Pinterest are bound to have something they’re willing to share for this purpose. I set off around the web to find a lesson plan template that would work for me. Unfortunately, what I found was again a nightmare of apples and schoolhouses and Comic Sans. Page after page shared links for lesson planner pages that I probably would have even found obnoxious in grade school.
But, looking at what was available online it occurred to me that I’m savvy enough with a computer not to have to use these absurd templates. I can handle this, in less time than it would have taken me to drive the Educational Emporium, for that matter. In fact, after about an hour in Excel I had this document template in which to put my courses and obligations this semester. It's been a week and so far I am completely 100% sold on this technique of keeping organized. Suddenly, I feel like I can manage all of these classes all at once. Suddenly, I feel like a pretty put-together lady.

So, maybe you don't have 5 classrooms all on different schedules, maybe instead you have 7 different projects with different deadlines, or 6 different committes you sit on, or 4 different grants you're writing. Regardless of why you need a "lesson plan" book, if you're an academic, you probably do. 

I know, I know, you don't want to look like a goober carrying around a notebook with a globe and chalk on the front. You're far too respectable for that. I don't either. That's why I made these "stealth" lesson plan pages. No one needs to know but you and me that they're laid out for an elementary school teacher. Try printing out 2 weeks worth and watch your days get easier.

I found that I couldn't keep the pages in order, so sandwiched them between two pieces of leftover cardstock and stapled the hell out of them. But then the staples were catching on things so I covered them with that poor white duct tape I've been using for every project lately.
But then I didn't want to prep my next lecture, so I cut a piece of scrapbooking paper in half, slathered it with white glue, and pasted it to the front, folding down the extra to seal the edges. Just to be safe, one more piece of duct tape.
And now I have a lesson plan book that doesn't make me feel like I need to do playground duty.
Want to make your own secret lesson plan book? Download the pages here and write in your own subjects. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Myth of Spray Paint

I don't know where or how I learned that spray paint was a good idea.

I had never used it for anything until I got to college and somehow got it in my head that I wanted to repaint all of the furniture in my room black and red. It never really gave me the desired result, my spray painted furniture always looked sort of patchy. Not to mention, spray painting takes many, many coats, and ends up costing an arm and a leg to do. There are far fewer color options, so you just sort of have to choose the least crappy hue on the shelf. Above all, it's messy. There is no way to contain the mess of spray paint once it gets started.

Unfortunately, I type this blog from sticky keyboard keys, now glossed with yellow. In fact, everything in my room, including the cat, is glossed with yellow. The window screen may never recover, and I just moved in. Spray paint is evil.

Of course, it can be handy when you're painting something really ornate with lots of little nooks and crannies that would be nearly impossible to paint evenly with a paint brush. I'm sure that there are uses for spray paint. But, right now, I'm starting to think that I should probably never allow myself to buy another can of this evil, over-hyped product again. And this is why...

Again, I've decided to repaint my furniture. So, I went to Home Depot and spent $30 (sort of a lot of money for someone as broke as I am right now) on spray paint. The color was, well, good enough. I bought a drop cloth at the dollar store (okay, fine, a shower curtain), and a spent and entire afternoon and evening putting one coat after another on my chest of drawers and nightstand. At the end of the spray paint, and my evening, things did not look good.

My furniture was splotchy. My house was covered in yellow paint. My new computer was covered in yellow paint. I was pissed.

So, the next day (now exactly 24 hours away from my housewarming party, yikes) I went back to the Home Depot and spent $20 more on a quart of latex paint and an edging roller. Two coats of this paint covered the mess that was the spray paint debacle, and I'm thrilled with the outcome. I decided, then and there, that I would never buy another can of spray paint again! I'm a convert. Only cans of paint for me, now!
But then, I realized, the hardware didn't match anymore. I wanted it to be white. Unfortunately, there is only one good way to paint something like a drawer pull. So, I begrudgingly I got out the white spray paint and gave them a couple coats. Damn. So really, the terrorists have won.

You may recall the bedroom used to look like this:
well, now it looks like this:
I know, the bedspread changed color too, which sort of throws off the whole thing, but it's still too stinking hot in my apartment for down. I was dying. Ignore the bed, focus on the furniture. I apologize for how lame this post is. I've gotta start taking better "before" photos. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Love Lamp: Booze-Jug Edition (with tutorial)

This story begins in 2008 when I was first moving to Claremont. My sister and I made a trip to Ikea to furnish my new "grad student" bedroom and I fell in love with this lamp.
I know, now, you've seen it in the home of every woman within a 50 mile radius of an Ikea, but back in summer of 2008, this lamp was game changer. I put off buying it because "I didn't have space," but by December, when I moved again and was still lusting after it, I brought it home. Because it doesn't give off a whole lot of light, and it takes sort of a long time to "warm up" the florescent bulb, it has been out in the living room acting as a end table lamp for years. But now, with enough space for a nightstand on either side of the bed, it wound up on the chest of drawers standing in as a nightstand in my room.

During my hours of surfing the web for home decor tips, I read that if your nightstands don't match, it's best to get matching lamps, or lamps with the same "feel" for both tables. Fair enough. Granted, both of my lamps came from Ikea, but the other side was sporting this miserable, poorly balanced black number that I have tipped over every single night for the last 5 years. I hate this lamp.
Back at Ikea working on another project, I started scoping out a lamp with a similar "feel" to the white flowery globe and I stumbled across this lovely creature. This $50 lovely creature. Blast. But, I won't be deterred by a high price tag. Nope, not this girl. I said those words that get me in trouble time and time again: I could make that.
I contrived a plan that I was certain would get me close. Buy a jug of wine, turn it into a lamp. How hard could it be?

Now I knew from many years of drinking cheap wine in college that gallon jugs come in 2 shapes, and I had my heart set on the shapely orb of the Livingston bottle. But of course, after 5 stores including Vons, BevMo and TotalWine, I admitted defeat and just bought a bottle of Carlo Rossi for $10.
Next, I had to try to hoist a gallon of cheap wine onto unsuspecting friends. This proved to be challenging. After a week I poured out the wine (you'll see where this ends up, soon...), removed the label, and set to work.

Although there are, again, lots of tutorials online, I didn't immediately find a great one, so I'm doing my own. Do know that these directions will work for just about any booze-jug or booze-bottle if you aren't digging my Carlo Rossi lamp. In fact, it would work for jugs/bottles that don't hold booze, too, but where is the fun in that?

For this project you will need:

- a jug or bottle (empty and clean)
- a 3/8" drill
- a tungsten carbide bit set for your drill
- a "make a lamp kit" ($12)
- art hanging putty (depending)
- protective eyewear (big sunglasses will do in a pinch)

Step 1: Drill a hole in your jug
You may have read other blogs about how to make a lamp out of a wine bottle and noticed that they all use the "lamp making kit" from the hardware store, which offers the option of running the lamp cord out the side of the hardware, like this:
That's lame. You know that's lame. A lamp should have a cord running through it and out the bottom. Yes, this means that there has to be a hole in the bottom of the bottle. Why were all of these ladies wimping out? I mean, really, how hard is it to drill hole in glass?

Okay, actually pretty hard. First, I tried using a diamond bit for my Demel tool that I use for etching to no avail. Then, I tried a regular ordinary drill bit in my drill. Also, not successful. So, I broke down and bought this set of special glass and ceramic drill bits ($8 at harbor freight). Probably the best part of this experience was the the lady at the checkout counter said, "There's going to be a restocking fee when you return these," as she put them in my bag. Thanks lady, have a little faith.

Anywho, back at home I loaded up my drill with the bit.
A tutorial I found online suggested using putty to make a little "moat wall" around the spot you will be drilling.
Apparently, drilling through glass requires water, and the moat will allow you to keep the hole wet without leaving the thing under running water.
I found this step to be entirely unnecessary for this project. Once I had the right drill bit, drilling this hole took all of about 20 seconds, and I don't mind running the water for that long.

So now you've got a jug with a little hole in the bottom. It's all very simple from here.
Step 2: Lace the cord (in your lamp kit) through the hole and fish it out the mouth of the jug. 
Step 3: Assemble the base parts
Okay, lamp wiring instructions that come with the lamp kit are jargon-y. Jargon, they tell me at school, doesn't do much good for communicating to lay people. So, as a lay person in the world of lamp wiring, I will attempt a jargon free tutorial from here on out. Don't like it, go find a different tutorial.

Select the "adaptor" (white plastic plug) that best fits into the mouth of your bottle. If you're using a wine jug, its going to be the big one.

Thread the little round metal tube into the white plastic plug so it's just about the in the center. Thread the little nut onto the "bottom" (part that will be inside the lamp) of the tube as well to hold it in place.
Lace the lamp wire through this hole. Place the adaptor into the mouth of the jug. If the adaptor doesn't fit snugly inside the mouth of the jug, wrap it with putty and wedge it in there as best you can. Remove any extra putty from the top. Secure the fancy metal cap over the top of all this to hide the ugly plug.
Again, lacing the lamp wire through the center hole, screw the bottom part of the lamp hardware onto the metal tube (it should be sticking up about 1/4 inch). There is a little screw on the side of this, tighten it until the "base" part you just attached can't spin or move much.
Step 4: Connect the wires
Separate the top 3 inches of the lamp wire and tie it in a fancy "underwriter's knot." I think I would have called it a "drunk bunny" knot, but that's just me. There are lots of instructions for how to tie this knot online, but I have confidence in your ability to figure it out.
Take the top part of the lamp assembly-- that is the part that lightbulb will obviously go into--- and lift the "insulated case" up from it to expose the screws at the bottom of it. There should be two little screws, on opposite sides of the bottom of this piece: one silver and one gold. Loosen (mostly unscrew) both of these.
Inspect the two sides of the cord. One should have a "rib" to it-- that is, little ridges in it. Stop giggling, it's not that funny. This is the "neutral" side of the cord. Bend the stripped part of the wire at the top down into a clockwise hook. Hook this over the silver screw. Tighten the screw down so the wire is trapped between the screw and the assembly.
Bend down the stripped part of the non-ribbed wire into a clockwise hook. Attach it to the gold screw in the same manner.

Step 5: Shove it all together
Pull the insulated casing back down over all of this to hide the screws and wires. Snap the part you just wired down onto the base piece until you hear it "snap" into place. It takes more force than you expect. Now, you should be able to put in a light bulb and test the lamp (cross your fingers).
I bought a lampshade that fits down under the bulb, so I didn't need a big "shade attachment," but if you have a old-school lampshade (read, lampshade not from Ikea) do take note that this will need to be attached earlier in the process.
Now you may remember all the way back to the beginning of this post when I admitted that this whole thing started so that I could match the "feel" of the white globe table lamp. So, my original intent was to either try that neat "paint the inside of the glass" technique that is so popular with mason jars right now, or test out the "frosted glass" spray paint products on the market. But then I put it on my nightstand. And now I'm sort of it in love with it just the way it is.
I am still considering trying to "frost" the bottle to make it match the other lamp better. I tried to visualize what it would look like if I did this by putting a bottle of icy vodka out of the freezer in front of it. Having a bottle of vodka on my nightstand made me very uncomfortable, so the jury is still out on the frosting. I might just make a second lamp.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hanging Art (on the cheap)

My paternal grandmother was a mixed medium artist. So, when she passed away all of her kin got to rummage through a storage unit full of her life's collection. The canvases with oil paintings of distorted figures and "little clay monkeys" (as my dad described some of her ceramic work) aren't really my personal aesthetic, but I was very glad to go home with a few of her photographs that I've admired since I was a little girl. 

For the past year I've been storing this photo of an iris that I really love, but haven't been able to come up with a way to frame it that I like. Gigi framed and matted everything in simple white metal frames in order to best showcase her work. But, again, not really my style. 

Once I chose a place to hang it in my new place though, I decided that I need a big frame to make a statement, and dark, contrasting mat. The price for a big frame and a custom mat at Micheal's-- about $40, even with a coupon. Ugh. 

If you've been keeping up lately, you know where I went: Goodwill, of course (they should probably sponsor this blog). I found a truly atrocious wedding frame with a sale sticker and brought it up to the register, apologetically. The cashier looked at the price and then at me, "What a bargain for $3!" I agreed, and assured her that I with a little spray paint and different art, it would be great. "You don't need to do a thing to it!" she argued. "Just put in your wedding photo!"

Now, my biggest regret of this project is that I was in such a big hurry (housewarming party at T - 06 hours) while working on it, that I didn't snap a photo of the frame before the transformation. I've now wasted about 3 hours on the internet trying to find anything that could even come close to the caliber of ugly we're talking here, but imagine thinking that you would "just put in your wedding photo!" to a frame that is some combination of the worst parts about these two:
I assure you, that does not do it justice, but it's the best I can do. Luckily, with a coat of yellow spray paint it was well on its way to a new life. The frame was designed to rest on a table, so I tore of the cardboard "stand" and took a pair of needle nosed pliers to the hinge that held it on. 

To serve as a "mat" I pulled a scrap of navy blue poplin out of the fabric stash and cut it to be just a little bigger than the glass of the frame. Then, I put the photo on the fabric by running a line of acid free adhesive (from the scrapbooking supplies) around the outside of the back of the photograph, and sticking it to the center of the poplin.

Finally, I just dropped the fabric into the frame, catching that little extra edge of fabric in the cardboard when I put the frame back together.

The outcome is impossible to photograph without a reflection in this darn apartment (my apologies), but all in all, I'm pretty thrilled with it for $3. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I love lamp

My new apartment has a bit of a lighting problem. That is, during the day, it gets a lot of natural light. So much, in fact, that the sun turns it into a greenhouse very quickly and the cat splays herself on the floor and looks forlorn at me because of the heat. So, I had to put in blackout curtains to try to fight the sunlight. As soon as the sun goes behind the complex though, the living room gets very dark, very quickly. To exacerbate the problem, there is no overhead light in the space. There is a switch like there should be, though.

After about 15 minutes of plugging my reading lamp into every outlet in the room and trying the switch (which always reminds me of that episode of Friends, by the way) I finally found the outlet in the corner that is controlled by the mystery switch by the door. If you happen to be a contractor or apartment manager reading this, a nice thing to do is to mark crap like that, just as an aside. But, that's a rant for a different day. Where I was going with this is that I have an outlet controlled by a switch, and I have a dark room. Clearly, I need a lamp. This should be easy, right?

The first trouble is that I have a long standing vendetta against floor lamps. They're lovely, really, but I am way too clumsy to keep them around. Whenever I think that a floor lamp is a good idea, I quickly knock it over and break it, or something glass near it, or myself. Seriously, I'm a mess. I own that.

The second little snag is that had this vision in my head, of a lovely orange lamp to compliment my curtains and accent pillows. But, orange lamps are expensive and sort of extravagant, you know like headboards, so I couldn't really justify it. What I really needed was cheap, functional table lamp. Boo. How boring.

So, I drudged off to Goodwill to find an ugly, albeit functional lamp and came home with this $9 beauty complete with what appeared to be a little bit of bird poop on the shade. Lovely. The size was right, the shape was right, but what it really needed, was a little makeover.
I, of course, masked off the metal, pulled out a can of spray paint and went to work. Then, I ventured to JoAnns (yes, again, and yes, the ladies there are starting to judge me) for something teal and geometric to cover the ugly shade with. I watched this howcast tutorial about how to cover a lampshade, which was overall, helpful. Spray adhesive and I haven't really been getting along lately, so I ended up covering the raw edges on the inside of the lampshade with more white duct tape. As it turns out, you're supposed you use fabric glue (whoops)-- check out this tutorial instead if you're planning on this project. But that aside, for about $15 I've got a pretty new lamp that I'm sort of in love with.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Ribbon on a tension rod

You've probably seen an image like this of ribbon on a tension rod on Pinterest. It's usually taken from the blog of some midwestern mom with a house big enough to have a sewing room. And if you have, you've probably thought: That's ingenious! I'll have to keep that in mind for when I build my first mansion so I can be sure to have a whole wall just for ribbon. Grouse, grouse, grouse.
Well, first off, I don't think Pinterest appreciates your tone or your sarcasm. It's not Pinterest's fault that midwestern moms have whole rooms for sewing, and you live in a 15x30 box. Remember, you get to pin things like this, and they have organize their ribbon while their toddlers nap.
Anywho, I, many months ago, pinned the picture of the ribbon on a tension rod. As I did, I groused that I would probably never have enough space for such a thing. And then the unthinkable happened. I moved into a bigger place. In fact, the selling point of this apartment was its 2 walk in closets. Yep, I said it: 2 walk in closets! This means that while no, I do not have a craft room, I do have a whole craft closet. I'm pretty jazzed. Naturally, the first thing that I did when starting to organize my craft closet was go in search of all of the things I've seen and thought, "... if only I had a craft room," things like ways to organize ribbon.

Enthusiastically, I hung a shelf across one side of the closet to split the space and make room for my amazing new tension rod ribbon holder. I gleefully organized my ribbon by color as I strung it on the rod. I put it in place and... WHAM. The whole thing fell.

Deciding that the shelf it was butted against must be to slippery, I used some leftover mounting tape on both ends of the rod to try to keep it in place. This time it lasted until 2 am when WHAM, the cat ran out of my room so fast I thought I was under siege.

In a final ditch effort to make this work, I created a "hook" out of tape (real classy-like) for the rod to rest on so it couldn't slip off. And, you guessed it, down she came within 2 hours. I snapped this photo to prove that it did, for a moment, stay in place, but as you can see, it had already fallen enough times I gave up on trying to make it tidy.
By this point, though, I had already spent an hour of my life on this project, and the ribbon was already on the tension rod. I had no intention of taking it off. So, I snipped off 2 lengths of narrow ribbon from one of the spools, grabbed a couple of thumb tacks and suspended the tension rod from a shelf. It's not as pretty as I'd expected, but at least it hasn't fallen yet.
There is a moral to this story, kind readers. This is, do not lament the midwestern moms and their craft rooms with lovely tension rod ribbon holders. The truth is it doesn't work anyway.

Friday, September 13, 2013

How to hide ugly wires from your wall-mounted tv, for renters (and girls)

I am a girl. Yes, I know, the pink layout and logo have already cued you in. The fact that I blog about crafts, probably also a dead give away. But as a girl, especially one raised by a handyman/contractor/man-who-knows-everything I have a little bit of a "don't tell me I can't do something" complex that sometimes gets me in trouble. I don't like people telling me that I cannot or should not take something on, especially if its because they think my uterus might get in the way. I know that it makes me sound like a crazy person, but I will try things that are probably unsafe and too challenging, just because I don't like to ask for help. I like to think that I would have made a terrific homesteader.

So, its probably no surprise that when I bought my first TV I stubbornly researched a wall mount and hung it myself. No, it wasn't easy to hold the TV up while mounting it. But, I'm a girl, I know how to find a stud (bazinga). I got this.

But then there's this problem: I'm a girl. I want my house to be pretty. I don't want ugly black cable wires to show. I want my mounted TV to look like it's held on the wall by magic! The problem is what when I researched how to make that happen, every youtube video and DIY blog said the same things. Cut a hole in your wall at TV height, run the wires through the wall. It's a great idea, and I'm sure I could do it. But, I don't think my landlord is going to be too thrilled with the peppering of 1/4 inch screws in the wall, much less a 4 inch hole, so that's off the table.

Why, I wondered, were there no other solutions on this world wide web for hiding an ugly black TV cord? I could not believe that no one else had ever hung a TV on the wall, then realized that cutting a gaping hole in the wall wasn't really feasible.

After many, many hours of searching, I found that of course there is an easy, cheap solution: raceway. For about $8 at the Home Depot I got a 5 foot span of this plastic casing designed specifically for (get ready) hiding wires. There are even some video tutorials on youtube that teach you how to hang it. However, they make this process far harder and more intense that it needs to be (perhaps, dudes who want use their screw guns for something?)

The official installation instructions that come with this product are really for running live electrical wiring around your home (e.g., if you're trying to add electricity to a house with plaster walls and no original power). They, like the youtube tutorials, require an inordinate number of tools, screws, and patience. They refer to joints and mounts and a "whole system." I don't need a system. Hell, I don't even need to screw this thing to the wall. I just need a decorative case. I could accomplish the same thing with ribbon if I wanted to badly enough. Do not tell me I need sheetrock anchors!

Upon taking matters into my own hands, it took me all of about 5 minutes to solve the ugly wire problem for good.

Step 1: Zip tie all of the wires you need to hide together at the top, behind the TV.
Step 2: Measure the distance from the TV to the outlet, or at least to behind your entertainment center/shelf. If you're a crafty girl, use your dressmakers tape, just to spite the dude on youtube who used a 30-foot measuring tape for this.
Step 3: Take apart the raceway so that it is in two pieces, the track, and the cover. Cut both sides of the raceway to length (yes that's a steak knife, judge away...)
Step 4: Attach about 3 inches of double-sided mounting tape to the top and bottom of the track (smaller part) of the raceway. This which will be attached to the wall.
Step 5: Make sure your raceway is level. Then, remove the covering from the other side of the double sided tape, and stick the raceway to the wall. 
Step 6: Cram all the wires into the raceway. No photo for this, because it will take all of your hands, and a couple of curse words.

Step 7: Snap the cover side (larger part of the raceway) into place over the top of the wires.

My living room went very quickly from ugly wires     

to hidden wires       
It's like magic.