Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Faculty Room Re-Do!

I've been teaching at the same elementary school since 2004.  Needless to say, when the 2014 school year rolled around, I felt the need to do something extraordinary to celebrate my decade at said school.

I researched the cost of a portrait of me to be muraled in the entryway, but it was slightly out of my pencils and erasers budget.  (Forget about re-naming the school.  You DON'T want to know.)

Okay, on to the REAL story.  The real story is that last year I joined the "Climate Committee" at my school. Mostly because I had no idea what it did, but the alliterative title was appealing.

Turns out, the Climate Committee meets to talk about school-appearance/climate-y things and one such topic of consideration was the faculty lounge.

Allow me to introduce Exhibit A: The Faculty Lounge

 If you look closely, you will notice the following:
1) Massive, rectangular, cement walled space.
2) Windows? Natural light? Oh, heavens no!
3) Is that natural flora I see in the corner? Nope.  Fake tree.
4) Copier machines placed strategically next to eating area so teachers can be lulled by the sound of 200 copies of "Lesson 14: Area and Perimeter of Triangles" being copied.  WIRRR WIRRR WIRRR!!!! ahhhh.....
5) Sterile, hospital-like flooring
6) Uhh.......not much else to notice. Period.

So, to quote the most annoying phrase ever...."it was what it was."  Not very appealing to be in.  Not very inviting to stay in and enjoy conversation.  Meh.

Now....here's where a seat on the glamorous Climate Committee comes in!!! Our school's parent organization is very involved in our school. They raise money constantly through various ways to bring money back into the school for the students and teachers.  This year, they generously offered to help spruce up the faculty lounge and we happily accepted.

The words, "Who would like to help organize this....." could barely come out of my principal's mouth before I lunged across the table, waving my hand in the air and sputtering out phrases involving "Pinterest" and "So many ideas!!!" Thus....my pet project was born.

After collecting suggestions from my fellow colleagues, I had a burning party of their suggestions and did whatever the hell I wanted.

Just kidding.

The suggestions/ideas that were most frequently put into my little anal-retentively labeled "Suggestion Envelope" were:
- calming wall colors
- Keurig/coffee machine
- separate the work/copiers from the eating area

Done and done! With my generous budget in hand, I started a Pinterest board of ideas and shopped around for the best deals so I could make the money stretch. 

On one particular day of insanity, I drove to IKEA and loaded up a shopping cart and two warehouse carts of furniture and storage. Drove it all back in my Chevy Equinox to save on shipping!  Not a great idea woman-power wise, however I got a TON of stuff for not a lot of dough.

From there, I had help from our building's maintenance man painting the room.  He had help from my son, who enjoyed moving his tools around when he wasn't looking.
 On first dab of the blueish-grey paint I selected, Mr. Joe was skeptical.....
He thought it would be too dark and make the room seem even more like a cave.  With confidence, I encouraged him to paint on! I had a feeling that doing two walls with the blue and the two perpendicular walls in a stone/vanilla would make it all okay.

 And then the layout was mine for the designing.  I wanted to divide up the giant rectangular room into an eating area and a work/copying area and was able to do that with a bookshelf from IKEA.....

Copier side......
 Opposite side, as seen from the eating area......

Oh, and let me tell you how fun/productive/maddening it is to put together an IKEA bookshelf with your two year old "helping" the entire time by attempting to read a book in each cubbie......
Super helpful.

I also had this giant, built-in-plastered-to-the-wall bookshelf to contend with:
If you know me, then you're not surprised that I decided to chalk paint it! Finished off with a faux granite top done with acrylics.  (See my bathroom makeover post for the how-to!)

Here is an associated picture of 4 (beautiful) children, gathered around the light of an IPad while my fabulous co-worker/friend, Kate, and I worked on hauling the stuff OFF of the bookshelf....and mostly into the trash.

Here are some "After" pictures from the end of the summer after many trips to the school, many hours spent putting IKEA furniture together (a.k.a. - hell) and many hours of patience from my sweet little man.

View upon entrance.....
Finished painted bookshelf, and IKEA shelf for room division/organization-

Fake tree gone.  Replaced with "chill out" area.
- Three chairs/cushions/pillows from IKEA
- coffee table absconded with from my neighbor's curb left for trash and ........ chalk painted!
- rug from Urban Outfitters

Bulletin boards covered with patterned fabric and burlap.  Frames from IKEA displaying purpose of each section.
 Coffee area.  Pic taken before we purchased a Keurig which has been SO nice to have this year.  
Behind IKEA table is a (now mounted to the wall) peg board, spray painted vanilla and gold to hold baskets for K cups, sugar, cream, etc.  Also, some mugs! 
Student artwork of coffee shops (seen on table) now mounted on walls, as well.
 Wire "baking rack" from IKEA holds our two microwaves.

New "Birthday Board" to display staff birthdays using old frames and chalkboard art created on Pic Monkey, my favorite photo editing website:

And one hilarious little dude who personally tested all the chairs for quality assurance.

These pictures were taken in August/September and it is now almost January.  I have a little less than half the budget left and I'm given until May to spend it or return it.  I'm not sure what else to do because it won't cover the cost of new chairs or tables, nor a new sink/cabinet area.  Hmmm..... Must consult Pinterest! Any suggestions?????

***** End of Year Update ************

So, if you're a teacher that's reading this, I need only post this picture to sum up a typical year:

Along the same tune, I wanted to update this post with how the faculty lounge ended up looking after a school year's worth of living.  I also was able to order one more piece of the puzzle using almost all of the remaining funds we received from our school's parent-teacher organization......round tables!!!

All year we had 4, dark "wood" rectangular tables serving as a lunch-eating area.  Not only did the dark laminate darken the ROOM, but it always felt like a huge, boardroom table.  Very large and very impersonal.   I ordered five, round 36" diameter tables from our school's typical furniture-ordering-company, VIRCO.  I did bring a measuring tape into the faculty lounge and saw that 36" table tops would be kind of small, but I took a chance.  My principal also used school budget money to order new chairs.  Nothing says gross like eating lunch on old, fabric covered chairs that conjure up all kinds of ick. 

She showed me VIRCO catalog for chair color choices, and I was immediately drawn to the green ones.  A pretty, Granny Smith apple color that would complement the color scheme perfectly. 

So, here we are.  Typing this on Memorial Day weekend.....so the end is near, my friends!!!!! Here are some pics of our lived-in faculty lounge (or, "Spike Cafe" as the staff has dubbed it, in honor of our English Bulldog mascot, Spike). 

What do you think?  This page is quickly becoming one of my most re-pinned Pinterest pins (how redundant can I get?!?!?!), so I know there's lots of faculty room re-dos going on out there!  What's been working and what's not?  I'd love to hear from my fellow comrades!

 Love, love, love the green chairs!!! The grey tables lightened up the room, but they're a little small.  Oh well.  Staff have started pushing them together or just enjoying their own table at lunch!

Bulletin board covered in fabric and burlap.   This one allows staff to put up articles or upcoming events, and also "Thank You" notes that come in throughout the year.  And baby announcements!!!

Another view of the staff eating area and bookshelf/storage.  We started a book share on the top shelf.  We brought in books, wrote our names in them, and then I started a sign-out sheet on a clipboard.  Hasn't caught on much, but maybe it will.

The back lounge area has been a hit for people that want to come in and relax for a few minutes, but maybe don't want to sit in the "eating area."  Back bulletin board has union information, etc.  

 The all-important coffee and microwave station!!! Our school maintenance guy (Mr. Joe, seen above!!!) has had to deal with many blown fuses, but I think he finally figured it out.  The Keurig machine I ordered has held strong this year.  I recently bought over 100 K-Cups with some more of the PTO funds and they were GONE in a week or so!!! Us teachers need our tea and coffee!!!!

Happy End of the 2014-2015 School Year, folks!!!!!

Friday, November 28, 2014

My Favorite Hobby

I love a good project.  Especially if it involves making something old look (in my opinion) beautiful and new again.

I've posted before about my Annie Sloan chalk paint obsession, so I thought I'd start a page of various furniture and/or household items that have become victim to learning new chalk painting techniques.  I am, by far, no expert.  But, you can't learn without trying and taking chances, right? 

Here are my projects in some-what chronological order.

1. My husband's old dresser from his first apartment.  Your standard gigantic, oak monster.  Notice the missing knobs.  Fancy!

 After:   Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Coco.  Fleur-de-Lis stenciling in bronze acrylic. Bronze knobs from Lowes. Clear Wax finish.  

 Before/After picture montage! Oooohhh!
2. IKEA Dining Room buffet that was horribly stained by.......me. This beauty was part of MY first apartment.  Thanks to my awful staining skills circa 2007, it was now time for a face-lift.
 Bottom part of piece painted with Annie Sloan's French Linen.  Top painted with AS Old Ochre with Morroccan stenciling in AS Aubusson Blue. French Bulldog puttering around is totally optional, but highly recommended XoXo

 The stenciling part......I'm not going to lie....was pretty intense and at times, highly frustrating.  However, I am pleased with the outcome! Below is a finished picture I took around Easter.  Top of buffet finished with a clear polycrilic sealer.

3. Before and After of the project I was least thrilled about....and I got paid for it. 

This is a desk that my neighbors found on the side of the road, so they handed it over to me with a general color palate in mind and told me to have at it.  It was my first attempt at color-on-color distressing and it didn't turn out how I wanted, but the neighbors were thrilled.....thank goodness.

One coat Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Graphite, two coats AS chalk paint in Emperor's Silk.  Here's where I went wrong.....two coats was one coat too many.  When it came to sanding/distressing to get the Graphite to show through, I practically dislocated my arm.  Next time.....ONE coat of top color.  Finished with a dark wax.

4. Super rad hexagon side table circa 1970 that I found on the side of Ferry Rd.  My husband was super thrilled when I pulled the car over, in the rain, to put it in the trunk. 

Two coats Annie Sloan French Linen, topical faux distressing with Old Ochre.  Vintage 1960's damask wallpaper I found on Etsy cut to shape and sealed with Mod Podge on top.  New knobs. 

5.  My favorite project so far, and one that I did in a day.  Found this sweet little cabinet/console at one of my favorite antique stores- Factory Antiques in Silverdale, PA

As you can see, it was in pretty poor shape.  Lots of scuffs, cracks, and nicks.  But.....if this hobby has taught me one thing, it's to see the potential in something.  And I saw the perfect cabinet, waiting to be pretty again. awwwww.....

The first thing I did was sand the daylights out of it in my garage to get some of the old laquer off.  In doing this, I uncovered these delicate, hand painted flowers underneath.  The imagination in me started wondering who painted them, when, etc.  Very cool.  But.....I was going to paint over them anyway. Womp womp.
The quality of this picture is awful, but this was stage one. One coat of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Old White.  Next, I mixed my own shade of blue using Old White and the little bit of Aubusson Blue I had left.  I think I even mixed in a little bit of French Linen, which is grey.  If you didn't know, Annie Sloan's paints mix beautifully and you can create any shade you can think of.

I learned my lesson from the red desk and applied the blue coat very lightly so that I could distress it easily.

I replaced the bottom drawer knobs with bronze ones from Lowes, but for the top drawer, I decided to look for vintage and found the perfect pair on a lovely Etsy shop here:


The shop owner and I ended up writing back and forth and she was equally as delighted as I was that the beautiful, 1920's era pulls had wound up on my vintage cabinet.  Thank you, Pamela!!

And here's the finished product after distressing and two coats of clear wax....

Man! My pictures are terrible! All taken from my camera phone....soooo, I'm thinking I need a super cool camera for Christmas, right??? :) I hope you get the general idea of how it all turned out, though. 

Kestutis.......to cope.  I am grateful for discovering an artistic hobby that I love and that helps me cope :)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

More......nuffins? (a.k.a. Whole Grain Pumpkin Banana Muffins)

When The Dude first started eating "solids", he pretty much ate everything.  Yep....nose in the air and fists on hips, I knew I had a child with a sophisticated palate.  Before I knew it, we'd be traveling the globe, sampling palak paneer in India, uni sashimi in Japan and (of course) pierogis in his mother's father's motherland....Ukraine.

Then, around 20 months of age....reality set in.  The Dude is just like every other toddler when it comes to eating.

Gone are the "he'll try anything" days, and he has comfortably settled into the 4 main food groups:
- pizza
- macaroni and cheese
- carbs

Luckily, pierogis fall into two of those categories, thus, he WILL eat them.

Okay, I'm kind of exaggerating.

No one cares what he really does eat enough for me to actually type it here, but (just so I don't end up reported to CPS for my previous comments regarding food groups that contain little to no nutritional value), he does end up eating meals and snacks with SOME form of veggies, fruits, proteins, dairy, etc.

But, his weakest area of "I will actually put this in my mouth, chew it, swallow it and digest it" is vegetables.  He mostly likes the orange ones- carrots and butternut squash.  Anything green is immediately rejected and met with, "All done, mommy."  I'm lucky if it's not pitched across the kitchen table.

So, I took an old muffin recipe I had and tweaked it to jam pack them full of whole grains, veggies, and natural sweeteners.  End result.......he can't get enough of them.

They're his "nuffins" and he frequently requests them in a voice similar to the orphan from Oliver Twist.  "Moooore? Nuffins? Please?"

And, they are pretty darn easy to make and they freeze perfectly.  So, whip up a batch of these bad boys, get creative with what you want to add, and freeze them !  They thaw perfectly at room temperature, but I only take out a couple at a time because they are so moist that they will spoil within a few days even in tuperware.

The Dude's (Toddler Approved) Whole Grain Pumpkin Banana Nuffins

- 2 ripe bananas
- 1-2 huge handfulls of kale or spinach, stems/ribs removed
-2 eggs
-1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
-1 can pumpkin
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 cups wheat flour
- 1/4 cup ground flax seed meal
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2-3 tsp. pumpkn pie spice (or a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, ground cloves....whatever you have)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Mix bananas, pumpkin, kale or spinach, and eggs in a food processor
3. Add honey and applesauce into processor and mix again
4. Mix all of that with the dry ingredients in a large bowl
5. Spray a muffin pan w/ non-stick spray or use the little paper cup things to line the pan.  Fill each cup 2/3 full with the mixture
6. Bake 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean

We're talkin'....feet on the table, eatin' like you stole it, finished with the relish that only a toddler could not be ashamed of. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

How To Hide Kale (or) The Best Chocolate Smoothie Ever

Kale is good for you.

Like, REALLY good.  Google "the benefits of kale" and you will want to shove a bag down your throat immediately.  Allow this graphic to educate you a bit if you don't know the benefits....

Holy. Moses.

But here's the thing.......kale tastes like dirt (I was trying to think of a more organic word than "crap") It's obviously a super dense green, so it kind of has a bitterness to it.  And ANYONE who says kale chips are amazing and taste "just like potato chips" is a gigantic LIAR.

True story:  I made kale  chips (basically, baked kale) once, ate them, and then practically had to do the Jim Carey mustard trick from Dumb and Dumber to get the taste out of my mouth.

But, I knew that I really should find a way of working this superfood into my diet.

Quick back story- my husband and I went "raw vegan" back in 2011.  Never felt better, never looked better, had energy to burn, yadda yadda.  I learned then a lot about making nutritious smoothies, and, more specifically, I learned that when you blend frozen banana with almond milk.....it tastes like soft serve ice cream.  No lie.

So, over the past couple of years I have perfected a delicious chocolate peanut butter smoothie that tastes just like a chocolate milkshake (I tried it on my dad, so it's true) and you can pretty much add whatever you want to it.....so why not kale?

One day I decided to throw some kale in my chocolate peanut butter perfection and BAM! No taste.  I saw myself put it in there so I KNEW it was in there, but when it got blended, that kale got pulverized and hence....no taste! Best of all, I'm consuming it raw so I'm getting the full benefits of it without cooking all the good stuff away.

So try it! Here's my recipe with some tips and tricks and optional throw-ins:

Creamy Chocolate Kale Smoothie

In a blender or blend cup, combine:
    - 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (I try to stay away from dairy, so I use almond milk. It has less calories and more protein than cow's milk, so give it a try)
    - approximately 1.5 bananas pre-cut and pre-frozen (I buy bunches at a time as if I own a monkey, and then cut them up at once and put freeze them in quart bags)
    -  1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder (you must include this or it won't be sweet.  Sometimes I put honey or agave nectar in if I'm out, but the protein powder will keep you fuller longer and obviously gives you.....protein!!!!!!!!!  My husband orders Gold Standard 100% Whey from ProSource.com in the Vanilla Ice Cream flavor.  It's cheaper to buy in bulk)

    - a couple of shakes to 1/4 cup of quick oats (do not put in steel cut...you will think you swallowed blades)
    - a couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseed meal.  I love Bob's Red Mill. This can be optional, but it adds Omega-3's, so git some!!

    -  any other powdered superfoods you want to try. I'm a fan of the Navitas brand that they sell at Wegman's and other health food stores near us.  They all have different benefits, so do some research.  Maca powder supposedly boosts your libido! HEY-O!
   - heaping tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter or whatever nut butter you like
   - 1 tablespoon cocoa powder.  Cocoa powder alone is a great antioxidant, so yay for chocolate!
  - 1 handful of kale.  You can either use it fresh (pick off the dense stems) or freeze it in bunches like the bananas.  It crumbles apart when it's frozen and works just fine.

Blend that bad boy up.  Add more frozen bananas to make it more smooth, or add more milk to thin it (duh.)

Oh....about the frozen bananas.  Yes, they have to be frozen, and no, I do not recommend putting fresh bananas and ice cubes in to substitute.  I keep seeing recipes on Pinterest that claim to produce creamy shakes that way but
1) it doesn't work.......you just end up with ice chunks     and
2) You may destroy your blender doing this.  I tried it with my hand blender once and a piece of the plastic end broke off. whoops!

Enjoy those kale benefits!!! 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fractions and Decimals on a Number Line

Since our math curriculum moves at the speed of light, this hands-on gem was from a lesson I did about a month ago (I'm testing on area and perimeter tomorrow.....weeee!!!)

My students were having trouble visualizing a number line, let alone where to place fractions and decimals on one.  (Oh, did I mention they were converting fractions to decimals and vice versa in the process?? FUN!) So, I decided to stop having them draw a dinky "number line" in their notes over and over again, and, instead, I literally hung a number line across the back of my classroom.  Just tied a string from a lamp on one side of the room to the fan switch on the other side of the room.

Because we were learning about fractions and decimals, I put the "given" numbers as 2 allllllll the way to the left side of the line, 2.5 in the middle, and 3 alllll the way to the right side of the line.  Clipped those bad boys with a clothes pin.

Then, I gave each of them a large index card with either a fraction or decimal that fell between 2 and 3 and told them to convert it to the opposite and write it on the back.  After they did that, they hung it on the line where they thought it belonged.

Since we were working with manipulatives to form the fraction/decimal (100's blocks, 10's sticks, hundredths cubes, etc.) I checked their number line from left to right and used the manipulatives to show that with each card, the number of manipulatives I have should increase.

Side note: why is spell check not recognizing "manipulatives"? Is it yet another word that we educators have made up?? I'm talkin' about counters, cubes, M & M's......MANIPULATIVES!

This was a great, (obviously) hands-on activity that involved both individual and group effort.  This could also totally be adapted for primary grades using pictures representing numerals on one side of the card, student has to write the numeral, then place on the line, etc.  DO IT!

ps.....excuse my messy, open cabinet in all the pictures.  it's looking like an open mouth to me now.