Tag Archives: projects

Latest project

The state of New Mexico has an elaborate rubric that it uses to evaluate teachers. It is possible to score 4 out of 5 on any given category on this rubric simply by being good at your job. The only way to score 5 out of 5 is to do what the New Mexico Public Education Department refers to as “leadership,” and what I refer to as “being insufferable.”

Basically, to hit that top level, you have to be willing to tell other people how to do their jobs.

I found a loophole as I was working on my state-mandated professional-development plan a couple of months ago, and in a moment of weakness, I acted on it: Swapping ideas with people online appears to count as a form of leadership, at least in some categories, so I said one of my goals for this year was to create a special blog just for sharing stuff I was doing in my classroom.

Yeah, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, either. I forget they make you follow up on that crap twice a year and report your progress. I remembered when my boss told me to log onto the PDP site and post my midyear update the other day.

In the interest of staying out of trouble, I spent part of this weekend setting up the new blog.┬áThere’s no content on it yet except for a header photo and an introductory post, but if you’re interesting in seeing it, you can find it at: https://foolishwandwaving.com/.

The name is a reference to the Harry Potter books and Professor Snape’s announcement that there would be “little foolish wand-waving” in his class. Alan Rickman was magnificent, but I am certain that if Snape were a real person, we would NOT get along at faculty meetings, because my teaching style is the polar opposite of his. Somehow I can’t see him decorating the potions lab with tinsel curtains and mermaid pillows or letting his kids play Vocabulary Jenga as a means of learning the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane.

Emily

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Outdoor office

I bought a new laptop a few weeks ago. It’s much smaller, lighter, and sturdier than my old one, which makes it just right for using outdoors.

I really like the idea of taking my lesson plans and curriculum-writing projects outside to work on while the dogs play in the yard. I like my home office, but fresh air and sunshine are always better than sitting inside on a pretty day, and this is the time of year when we’re likely to get a few pretty days.

With that in mind, I’ve been surfing Pinterest and poring over hardware-store websites in search of furniture of the right size, stability, and durability to use in an outdoor office.

Most of the ready-made stuff I found was either too light to withstand New Mexico winds, too top-heavy to withstand regular assaults by a blind rat terrier and a clumsy shepherd puppy, too finicky to sit up straight on uneven ground, or too expensive to meet with Ron’s approval. And none of it seemed to fit my style or go well with anything else in my yard.

As I was winterizing the pond and trying to figure out what to do with the cinderblocks I’d been using to support the now-obsolete clarifier and gravity-fed external filtration system, inspiration struck.

Monitor-riser mode. If I want to work on a deeper surface with the laptop keyboard lower, I just move that top paver down.

Twenty minutes’ worth of elbow grease and a few flat pavers yielded a dog-proof, windproof, mid-century-inspired, faux-Brutalist desk and stool with a top that easily converts into a monitor riser if I feel like bringing out a keyboard and mouse.

Ignore the color variations. Some of the blocks were wet because I’d hosed dirt and cobwebs off of them.

I rummaged around in the carport shed and found a couple of bungee cords just the right length to anchor an outdoor pillow (purchased on sale for $3.50 at the dollar store) to the pavers on the seat.

Bungee cords anchor the cushion to the seat.

I test-drove it while blogging the day I built it, and it works just about right. If I end up using it a lot, I might see if I can rustle up some breeze blocks somewhere and expand it into a bigger and more ornate desk with some built-in storage, but for now, it’ll work just fine for typing up lesson plans and posting blog entries on sunny afternoons when it’s just too nice to stay indoors, no matter how much desk work I need to do.

Emily

Winterizing the pond

While I was working in the garden last week, I decided to do some cleanup work around the yard and start getting the pond ready for winter.

Sometimes winterizing includes a water change. Sometimes it involves skimming out fallen leaves. But it always involves removing floating plants and bringing a few inside before they freeze. Too many times, I’ve neglected to do that in a timely fashion, and I’ve found myself scooping slimy, dead, decaying water hyacinths and sludgy remnants of what used to be water lettuce out of the pond in the spring because fall turned to winter faster than I expected, and I didn’t get the plants out before they froze.

Gross.

Not this year. Last weekend, I used a pitchfork to scoop most of the plants out of the pond, leaving just a few lonely specimens floating on the surface to provide cover for the goldfish until it gets cold enough for them to go dormant.

If you look closely, you can see some of the fish under the water.

When I removed the plants, I was delighted to discover all six of the feeder goldfish I’d dumped out there this summer were alive and well.

I moved a few plants into a bucket of water and stuck it in a sunny corner just outside a south-facing window, where it should stay above freezing all winter.

Hedging my bets, I also half-filled a miniature washtub with water, threw a hyacinth, a clump of water lettuce, and a few stray bits of duckweed in there, and parked it in the living-room window, where it should make a nice centerpiece for the next few months.

With nothing but fish and algae to muck up the water, the pond doesn’t really need the elaborate, multi-stage filtration system I designed for it last spring, so I disassembled the whole setup and replaced it with a variant on the biofilter I had on my pond in Cape. I upgraded the original design by placing the pump inside a half-gallon sherbet tub with 3/8-inch holes drilled in it, wedging chunks of old memory foam around it, and setting the whole thing inside a one-gallon ice-cream tub with 1/4-inch holes drilled in it. I slipped a layer of Scotch-Brite pads between the tubs, providing additional filtration, and anchored the lid with a bungee cord.

After I put away the excess filter components, I was left with a stack of cinderblocks just right for another project I’d been considering for several months. I’ll show you that one tomorrow.

Emily

Classroom Reveal, Part I

Sorry I’ve been so quiet all spring and summer. I’ve been busy — state testing, prom, honor society induction, professional development, graduation, finals, ducks (shoutout to our ag teacher for taking the noisy, destructive little SOBs off my hands), travel, side hustles, curriculum writing, and last but certainly not least, painting an elaborate mural on all four walls of my classroom.

I finally wrapped up the mural on Monday. It was a long process that began last spring, when I wandered into my superintendent’s office and asked how much trouble I’d be in if I painted literary characters all over the walls of my classroom. She basically gave me carte blanche and waited to see what would happen next. About 103 hours of actual work later, this was what I came up with:

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I still have a truffula forest made out of pool noodles and tissue paper to mount on a particle-board stand, a couple of giant IKEA leaves to install near my desk, and a few more strings of fairy lights to hang on not-quite-finished bulletin boards, but I’ll post all that when I do an official classroom reveal in August.

My goal with this project is to remind my kids of how they felt about reading when they were little — back when they were exploring the Hundred Acre Wood and having wild rumpuses and sneaking through Hogwarts under an Invisibility Cloak instead of being assigned a million pages of stuff they didn’t really care about. I want to recapture some of that joy and maybe get them excited about reading again. We’ll see how it goes.

Emily

P.S.: In case you’re interested, here’s an update showing the finished room.

Make-It Monday: Credenza repair

This is such a small project, I hesitate even to post it, but it was one I put off for a long time because I thought it was going to be much more complicated than it was.

The credenza I fashioned a few months ago from a set of storage cubes and four mid-century-style legs was not quite as well-supported as it needed to be, and when my parents were visiting a few weeks ago, Dad noticed it was developing a slight dip in the middle. He recommended I add a set of legs to the middle to shore it up.

Because I’d installed the others at an angle, I assumed I’d have to shorten the new ones before I could install them vertically in the middle — not a difficult process, but one with just enough steps to seem daunting — so I bought legs and installation hardware and promptly stuck them in my craft closet, where they remained, quietly generating low-level stress in the back of my mind every time I looked at the credenza.

A couple of weekends ago, I got sick of thinking about them, grabbed a tape measure and the new legs and installation hardware and set about taking measurements so I could trim them to the proper length …

whereupon I discovered that the designers of the legs and mounting hardware had already anticipated someone might need vertical supports on a large piece of furniture and had adjusted for that eventuality within the design of the hardware, thus obviating the necessity of trimming anything. All that procrastinating, and all I really needed to do was unload the bookcase, flip it over, and install the new legs.

credenzafixedsmall
Shored up and back to normal.

I left all the books stacked at the ends of the credenza for a week or so to give gravity a chance to repair the dip that had developed while the middle was unsupported; two weeks later, it’s balanced properly, reloaded, and much sturdier. It still isn’t perfect, but it should be fine until I can score something nicer from Joybird or (’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished) Herman Miller.

Sitting in the living room feels much more relaxing now.

Emily

Make-It Monday: DIY phone speakers

Several weeks ago, I wandered down the book aisle at Lowe’s. The book aisle is the main reason I can’t be trusted at a hardware store without adult supervision. I start thumbing through some home-improvement book, thinking about all the stuff I’d like to learn to do, and the next thing you know, Ron is coming home from work to find the bathroom sink on the curb and me sitting on the bathroom floor with a wrench in my hand, tightening the supply-line valves on our brand-new faucets. (This has happened twice, and given the condition of our current vanity, I think the odds are fairly high it’s going to happen again as soon as I find a sink I like.)

Ron was with me this time, so I just came home with a copy of 5-Gallon Bucket Book by Chris Peterson.

Anybody who’s ever walked through a feed store with me already knows I can’t resist a 5-gallon bucket. They’re just so bloody practical. I’ve got one I use for cleaning the pond, one for cleaning the quail pen, one in the backyard that Ron uses as a dog-poop receptacle, one for mixing laundry detergent, one with a spigot attached for filtering honey, one in the basement for mixing cold-process soap, two on the porch for growing plants, and one tucked in a cabinet for use as a trash can.

Some of the projects in 5-Gallon Bucket Book are kind of goofy, but some seemed practical (swamp cooler, pond filter, worm bin), and a handful were intriguing enough, I thought they might be worth trying later.

One of the intriguing projects was an acoustic speaker dock, which I built last week from a pair of buckets, a 10-inch length of 2-inch PVC pipe, and a couple of PVC slip couplings.

The instructions called for sealing the whole thing with PVC cement and silicone caulk, but I skipped that step so I can disassemble the system and store it easily when I’m not using it.

I think the finished product — pictured above (minus the iPhone itself, which I used to take the photo) — works pretty well for listening to Joni Mitchell while I’m cleaning the house on a lazy Saturday afternoon, and it would make a killer science-fair project for one of my nieces or nephews in a few years.

Emily

Make-It Monday: Bullet Journal

I kept seeing people on Pinterest talking about something called a “bullet journal.” At first glance, it looked like a good way to spend altogether too much time turning a planner into a craft project, but a couple of people I really respect kept pinning stuff related to bullet journals, so I clicked through to see what the fuss was about.

If I understood what I read correctly, bullet journals are a sort of hybrid of a planner, a to-do list, and a journal. Given my dependence on to-do lists and my longtime fondness for planners — particularly the customizable sort — I decided it was probably worth investing a couple of hours and $20 for a Moleskine notebook to set one up and see how it went. I’ve certainly owned more expensive planners over the years, so I figured I might as well give it a try.

I set this up wrong because I couldn't see the entire image on this part of the Bullet Journal website -- you're supposed to put the month on the left and use the facing page for tasks -- but given my New Year's resolution, I think giving myself less space for a task list is probably a good idea.
I set this up wrong because I couldn’t see the entire image on this part of the Bullet Journal website — you’re supposed to put the month on the left and use the facing page for tasks — but given my New Year’s resolution, I think giving myself less space for a task list is probably a good idea.
April 12: Good times never seemed so good.
April 12: Good times never seemed so good.

As far as I can tell, the big difference between a bullet journal and a regular planner lies in the index. You number the pages and slug them as you would notecards for a research paper, then use that information to make an index as you go.

I’m still not 100 percent convinced this isn’t just an unduly complicated means of customizing a Dayrunner, but it fits in my purse better, and it looks a little neater than the pile of Post-Its, napkins, and scraps of paper that usually end up scattered across my desk, waiting for me to do something about them. I doubt I’ll really use it as a journal (anything personal enough to go on paper instead of online is probably too personal for me to be comfortable carrying around with me), but after setting it up and using it for a couple of days, I think it might work well as a planner. If nothing else, it’s a chance to experiment with various features and figure out what I want to include the next time I’m in the mood to make my own Dayrunner refills. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you want to make your own, the guy who came up with the concept has a whole website dedicated to it.

Emily