Monday, April 14, 2014

A Cool New Journal and Cool New Things to Journal About

Hello, my name is Maggie and I have recently become a Zulily addict.

Okay, maybe it hasn't reached that level of "I have a problem"-ness just yet, but I have to say that resisting the urge to open the app daily is proving difficult. If you haven't heard of Zulily, it's a site/app that offers deep discounts on name brand items with a new selection daily.

So far, I've scored two summertime rompers, purple rhinestone flats, an Under Armour t-shirt, and three graphic tees for Arabella, as well as a super affordable Under Armour jacket and the neatest journal ever for myself!

Ever heard of WAFF journals? I hadn't.

I'm guessing it's short for WAFFle? Idk and idc. I love it. Mine is black, and I have had way more fun than any self-respecting twenty-something should simply arranging and rearranging words on the front and back covers. 

Just in time to break this puppy in, I've rediscovered an old favorite source of writing inspiration: The Observation Deck. I bought mine circa 2007 when I was working at CoffeeTree books during college, and it was recently spotted sporting a healthy coating of dust on a shelf in my classroom. The neat little box opens up to reveal a deck of cards (think: pull one at random) and a guide booklet that explains what each card is intended to accomplish for you. Without the cards, you have a nifty book of prompts. Paired with cards, it's more random and game-like. 

My Creative Writing kiddos tried out the "Explore the Underside" card earlier in the week and took photos outside our school to spark their writing about unexpected perspectives. I'm trying to get them amped for National Poetry Month, as well as a visit with Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker, so The Observation Deck was a well-timed find. 

In my quest to be an authentic writing role model for my students, I pulled out the deck during class today while they were working on other things. Perched atop an empty desk, I hinted at what I was writing about (the card was labeled "Squint" and that's literally what I was doing) and shared favorite lines with them ("What is a clock but a circle by which we live and die?"). 

For more prompt-driven inspiration, I often use As an educator, these are awesome because they are visual AND already tied to Common Core standards. As a writer, they offer a variety of styles and genres from which to choose. I can't recommend this website enough. It. Is. Great. 

I'm also really looking forward to my upcoming trip to Orlando. I coach the LifeSmarts team at our school, a competition that covers real world topics and educates students on concepts they will encounter outside of school. This is our fourth trip to Nationals in six years, and we are going to Disney World! Not gonna lie, it's bittersweet to go without Arabella, and it's nerve-wracking to travel as the sole adult (I've always had the ability to take an assistant in the past), but I'm excited because I plan to write about it the whole time. 

It's crazy how motivating something as simple as a new journal can be! 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Walk in the Park

No, literally. Spending time with Bella this evening really was a walk in the park. No idiom intended.

Truthfully, I wasn't crazy about the notion at first. We have been really rushed and busy around here for the last week or so, and Bella has been up way past her bedtime (and missing her bath) the last TWO nights in a row...I know, I'm terrible. So I really just wanted to relax, pick up around the house a little, and (because of something I wrote with my creative writing students today in class) watch the old BBC version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with B.

However, when we finally got home this evening, it was just toooooooo gorgeous outside to hole up doing chores and watching television. Plus, I really wanted to hang out with Estefania. So I kicked it into overdrive and buzzed around the house: starting a load of laundry, making beds and turning off lights I missed this morning before work, picking up toys, putting away clothes, and laying out pajamas for bath time (no excuses tonight) and clothes for tomorrow. Twenty minutes later...

Park, here we come!

How beautiful is that sky? 
And of course, that girl! ;-)

These ducks (I think?) were really weird! 
Their faces looked sort of like roosters....

She stood on several tree stumps,
saying "Treeeeeee stuuuuuump" instead of "Cheese!"

Another plus, I'd already met my step goal when I left work, so this fun and invigorating walk pushed me to a total of 15,498 steps as of right now. I'm kicking Adam's butt!

Sometimes life really is as simple as a walk in the park. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring Has Sprung, and the Work Has Begun!

A common question in Room 109 last week was, "What are you doing over Spring Break, Mrs. Prater?" And I'm sure most students expected me to talk about going on vacation somewhere warm and sunny, seeing as how I've professed myself a sun worshiper and held class outside a few times since the winter finally broke. 

When I replied that I had things to do around the house, most kids just nodded and turned away, probably wondering why I'm so boring, knocking me down a few more pegs on the cool scale. 

But I have had a Spring Break to-do list since...probably the last snow day we had a few weeks ago. I felt like I needed a pretty serious chunk of time to devote to projects, correcting issues that have started to irk me as we have settled in to our new house. In the spirit of prioritizing, some tweaks (like changing the light fixtures) have been pushed back and could easily wait until it turns cold again this fall. Others, like re-vamping the fish pond, have been pushed back by just a few days by the April showers that cropped up just in time to get in our way. 

Here's a sneak peek at what we are working on this week. 

1. Beautify the Murky Fish Pond of Death

So I'm being melodramatic. But I seriously wish I had "before" pics of this one. It was a virtual cesspool of overgrown, stagnant water lilies in which roughly 20 of the coolest gold fish ever (seriously, they like to be petted...I'm not kidding) managed to survive. We actually started this work last fall by ripping out all of the chest-high peonies (I think that's what they were) and most of the lilies. Then, we continued this week by removing all the vegetation from the water and adding an aerator with underwater lights. We pulled up all the stepping stones, and raked up most of the old mulch, planning an easy conversion to lava rock. Wrong. With everything stripped away, it was easy to see that the banks of the pond were caving and the rocks around the edges were going to fall in. Adam barely got started fixing it when the rain showed up. (P.S. And as we ran inside, the garage door broke, setting us back more than 200 unexpected dollars. P.P.S. Last weekend, we had a leak in the's been a little hectic.)

Currently, it looks like this...

The goal is to have the perimeter repaired, new plants added, rock added, and a painted stepping stone walkway. And by Sunday evening, we hope to be sitting here eating fro yo and petting the cool/weirdo gold fish. We shall see. 

2. Put Some Playfulness Bella's Playroom

We are very fortunate to have extra rooms in our new house, which means we have been a little creative in our use of some spaces. One pertinent example of this is the formal-living-room-turned-playroom which greets guests right inside the front door. And while it seemed like a great idea in theory, I haven't been very pleased with its appearance since we first set it up. Not to mention, Myles the Wonderdog has decided this is the perfect potty when he has accidents inside. So I really wanted to rearrange the space, making it more pleasant and useful, as well as creating a new vibe to discourage doggie duty.

This one required some finesse, seeing as how Bella has an absolute meltdown anytime she notices that anything in our house has been changed. She freaks out. So, I started planting the seeds a few weeks ago and then got all the work done when she was sleeping over with my in-laws last night.

I'm very pleased with the finished product. 

I was looking through my phone for some photos of what it looked like before, hoping to at least find one of her playing in there, but I don't have any. And then I realized, that's because she never actually wanted to play in the room before. She basically stored her toys in there, but carried them all elsewhere to really play. And even though she cried when she first saw it today, and demanded that I put it all back, she woke up from her nap and thanked me for her "beautiful playroom" and spent the rest of the day in there!

3. Style the Closets for Springtime

This is one of my favorite "chores" of the season because I always discover clothes that I forgot I even owned, and it gives me a chance to thin down my wardrobe and donate to others. Also, it usually involves shopping for new clothes, which I already did, and that makes me super happy. 

I started this morning with my closet and discovered that I was able to wear almost all of my clothes from last spring, which is super good news. I had planned to go shopping in Cincinnati with Estefania today, but found several cute things locally so I was able to save on gas and time, which was another plus! I was actually really surprised to find great maxi dresses (like this one, but in pink and black) at Wal-Mart, after I'd already checked a few clothing stores in town and was disappointed by their selections. I also scored some cute wedges on clearance for $16 at Goody's (if you don't know this store, that's a great price) and a few other springtime pieces that have me weirdly ready to go back to work! 

I moved on to Bella's closet, which meant moving out her winter clothes while she was napping and emailing some friends with littler girls to invite them to rummage through the too-small garments. I moved her t-shirts and leggings to drawers she can reach, for easier access when she wants to pick out her own clothes, and hung her new sundresses. 

Lastly, the hall closet downstairs got a complete makeover. I lugged all the winter boots and coats upstairs and moved an empty piece from our closet storage system down. Now we have closet space for our shoes and light jackets, as well as storage for Bella's backpack and my school bag. 

4. Baker's Rack to Barbecuer's Rack

I have this baker's rack that was perfect in our old house. It had this awesome spot in a little nook, looked great, and was functional. Here, it's already been moved twice and still just collects dust. My original plan was to fold it up and stick in storage until I decided to part with it. But a little creative Googling brought me to this idea: 

I thought about spray-painting mine too, but decided against it. It's a dark green color that actually coordinates really well with the exterior of our house and our deck furniture. I think it will be perfect near the grill, a great place to set out side dishes, drinks, and utensils when we are dining outdoors, which we did a TON last summer. I hope to take care of this little task on Saturday when it's drier out. 

5. Tame the Tupperware

Last, and certainly least because I'm dreading it the most, is organizing a few key kitchen cabinets. I think I mentioned this sometime before, but the only thing we actually lost by moving was cabinet space. And while our new kitchen has some larger cabinets, they are either taller or deeper, thus rendering them more awkward and less useful. I bought some cheap cabinet organizers at Lowe's and plan to increase the functionality of some of the space. If that doesn't work, I'm pitching a metric crap ton of Corningware and serving dishes. I'm so disgusted by the way it is now, I have been putting off unloading the dishwasher for three days. And I'm not exaggerating. 

So that's my super exotic Spring Break itinerary, along with lesson planning, laundry, and getting ready for a Disney trip with my LifeSmarts team (more on that as the magic approaches).  

What are you looking forward to accomplishing as the Easter lilies finally bloom?