Thursday, January 29, 2015

Going back is hard...

I'll be the first to tell you that I *love* my job. I really do. But going back after 6 weeks off is hard! Especially after a busy, busy weekend.  Last Friday I had an all-day staff meeting. Saturday I had to drive 5 hours round trip to meet with the students from my online class. It's always good to get to meet them face-to-face, but boy does it make for a long day! 2.5 hours driving, 3 hours teaching, then 2.5 hours back home!

And Sunday. Sunday was the bridal show! I think my booth looked quite nice. I think I have a bigger table at the next event, which will help it look not quite so crowded. I met and talked to lots of very nice people, added a few dozen new names to my mailing list, and had a few women express interest in hosting a party! I've followed up with them and am crossing my fingers something will come through. 

The thing that most people liked about my booth was my (slightly obsessive) wedding day checklists. I had a list of ideas for things to put in a wedding day survival kit for your bridesmaids (pictured here). I also had a wedding day emergency kit checklist, and a bathroom basket checklist. All of the brides were very, very happy to get that handout and it will definitely be a staple in my wedding expo toolkit :) Next one is a mall show in February. Let's hope it goes even better than this one.

On Monday I started back at work. I've got some new students and that always changes the class dynamics, but I think it's going to be a good semester. This week we've gotten to know each other with a "find someone who" activity and by interviewing each other. I had my students come up with the interview questions themselves. In my evening class, we laughed so hard that my abs literally hurt afterwards. I love it. 

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm trying some new things in class. I'm starting the self-directed activities with my multilevel classes next week, but I started them with my level 0 students this week. My level 0 class is almost harder than my official multilevel classes sometimes because you make progress SO QUICKLY when you start from nothing. So my students who came in September saying "No English!" are light-years ahead of the student who arrived in the country a month ago and can barely tell you their name. Adding into the mix that a couple of the new students are pre-literate and it gets real interesting.  My students were very skeptical of the self-directed activities at first and really wanted me to tell them what to do. But after three days they are getting much more comfortable. I think it will be really beneficial for all of them.

My current new obsession for my level 0 self-directed activities is the game "Spot It!"  It comes in several different varieties, but it's great for a mixed group. On each card, there are several different pictures. Each pair of cards has exactly ONE picture in common, so the object of the game is to flip over two cards and try to find the matching pictures as quickly as possible.  Some students point to the pictures, others then help them identify them and say the names of the objects.  Plus it's been a great way for students of different cultures to interact with each other (I have two main ethnic groups and they tend to cling together). I've just picked up the alphabet one and the numbers/shapes one and I think we'll play one of those on Monday! 

And, finally, in "never a dull moment" land - there was a fire in the building I teach in today! They only ended up evacuating half the building (not my half), but it was a bit of an adventure as the fire trucks pulled up and the firemen starting coming into the building. I'm hoping for a little less excitement next week!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone

This past week and the next few weeks are busy, busy, busy.  And I've been busy finding inspiration for new directions and trying new things in my various jobs.

First, and most importantly, I just finished reading a book about teaching ESOL for multi-level classes. And there was SO much good information in it. Sadly, a lot of it was like "Wow, this would be perfect if I had 8 hours to prep each lesson!" but I think I can slowly start to integrate changes and re-use some of the materials from year-to-year once I've prepared them.  The biggest change I've tried so far is having "self-directed" time in the classroom. I have to admit, like many teachers, I have trouble giving up control of the classrooms. I sometimes feel like if the students are working quietly, I'm not doing enough. But I'm trying to let that feeling go.  What I've done so far is organized several different worksheets/readings/games and let the students pick what they want to spend a set amount of time doing. This is particularly great for community classes and multi-level classes, where the goal isn't necessarily to progress from one level to the next, but rather to work on skills that are important to each individual student.   I think this worked very nicely in the temporary class I was teaching this month and I'm excited to try it out in my regular classes! Wish me luck.

Last week I had a new consultant meeting for Thirty-One. The woman doing the training AND all of the other women there had such great ideas and I'm very excited about trying things out and working to grow my business. This weekend I'm taking a big leap and am going to be a vendor at a local bridal show!  I've been flexing my creative muscles thinking of ideas for products that are particularly helpful for brides-to-be. Pictured here is a bathroom basket for guests (in a Double Duty Caddy) This whole adventure is definitely stepping out of my comfort zone and requires a little bit of a financial investment, but I'm really hoping it pays off.  (Again, wish me luck ;) )

I haven't quite gotten to the point where I'm ready to launch my Etsy shop, but I've made a lot of progress. I'm a little over halfway to the number of products I'd like to have before I open the store. I've purchased shipping supplies. And business cards and return address labels are sitting in my online shopping cart, just waiting for me to pull the trigger....
This picture kind sums up this blog - sewing, an ESL book, and a flyer from KnitPicks... ;)

And, on a lighter note, speaking of firsts and trying new things - I went to my first Cavs game last night! Our seats were pretty good, the Cavs won, and a good time was had by all :)

And that's it from me today. It's going to be a busy, busy weekend and it's time for me to get to preparing!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sky scarf

This post has been a long time in the making. Over a year, in fact. On January 1, 2014  I cast on my sky scarf. And every day for all of 2014, I took note of the weather and knit two rows in a yarn that best corresponded to that weather. And now I'm finally ready to reveal the finished product!

A few progress pictures and close-ups of the finished product:

These are my weather conditions. From top to bottom: sunny, partly sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy. 

The scarf on January 31, 2014.

February 28, 2014.

March 31, 2014.

April 30, 2014.

And, sadly, that's the last progress picture I took. Because then May happened. and I defended my doctoral dissertation and got married. And somehow life got really busy ;)

But I do have a few more pictures of the finished product to share!

Another view to give a general sense of the length.

First half of the year.

Second half of the year.

I knit two little rows of bright, bright blue for May 25 - our wedding day :)

And that's it! It was a fun project and I'm so happy to have this to document one of the most eventful years of my life. But I'm also glad to be done with it for now. Whenever I had just a few minutes to knit in a day, they all went to this scarf and now I'm looking forward to using those little bits of time to work on some other projects. 

Have any of you ever taken on a big project like this? How did it turn out?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Trying to keep warm + Microwavable Paleo "oatmeal"

After a brief thaw on Sunday (26*! I walked around with my jacket unzipped!), it's back to being chilly here. I've been focusing on some projects to help keep me warm, including my go-to winter morning breakfast! Recipe for that is at the bottom of this post :)

But, seriously, first things first - we are so happy about Ohio State winning the first ever college football playoff! J and I have been quite excited about the playoff game and were just hoping the Buckeyes would prove that they deserved to be there (they were the fourth out of four teams included and many didn't think they deserved that spot). But we are thrilled that they won, and quite decisively, too!  J made Ohio State jello shots in preparation for the big game, which we watched with some friends at a local bar.  It's always more fun to watch these big events in large groups and boy was the crowd riled up last night.
Documenting the moments after the big win :)
(Headband made by me before the first round of the playoff - it brought us luck then, so I wore it again last night)

In crafting news, I made these cute microwavable hand warmers this past weekend. They're made of flannel so they're nice and soft to hold and are filled with rice. Just pop them in the microwave for 30 seconds and they're warm for about 15-20 minutes (bigger ones would stay warm a little longer). These aren't going to get you through a long outdoor event, but they're perfect for daily walks with the dog.  (And an important note for anyone wanting to make their own - be sure to use 100% cotton materials! That means both the fabric AND the thread :) )

 I also made a knockoff version of Lululemon's Vinyasa Scarf. The vinyasa scarf is a very wide scarf with snaps that you can use to wear it in all sorts of different ways. Seriously. Google "how to wear a vinyasa scarf" and you'll find all sorts of ideas! There are even several video tutorials. Pictured here are two ways of wearing it that I could photograph easily ;)

 My version is a nice soft knit from my favorite place to buy knits: Girl Charlee! (note: if you sign up and purchase through my link, you get 10% off your first order and I get referral credits to buy more fabric :D )  I'm thinking about making another one, but making it reversible instead of the same fabric on both sides. If I do - I'll post a tutorial for how to make it! :) I may also make one that's uses a nylon/spandex blend, which is closer to the original Lululemon scarf material. But those are projects for another day and I have enough else on my to do list to keep me busy...

Speaking of being busy, here is a quick and easy recipe for you all!

Microwavable Paleo "oatmeal"

While I don't eat exclusively Paleo by any stretch of the imagination (see exhibit A, jello shots, above) - I do find that incorporating more Paleo-style eating into my diet tends to help with some of my stomach issues, so I often use Paleo recipes. One thing I like to eat, especially on this cold winter mornings, is this protein-rich, savory "oatmeal".  I've seen a lot of Paleo oatmeal recipes that require you to cook it on the stove, but I'll be honest - I don't have time for that in the morning! This version is quick and easy.  Exact measurements are not required and everything can be adjusted to taste.

1 tsp coconut oil
1/2 to 1 tsp cinnamon (adjust to your taste - can always add more after it's cooked)
1 egg or equivalent in egg whites (You can use pasteurized egg whites if you're concerned about salmonella)
1/4 cup of your favorite milk or milk substitute (I use almond milk)
2 TB ground flax seed
1 TB almond butter

Combine all ingredients into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for one minute and stir everything up really well. That's it!

Note: If you like a less runny oatmeal - you can reduce the amount of milk and/or increase the time you microwave it. I recommend removing after 1 minute and stirring, then using 30 second intervals after that.

What's your favorite breakfast on a cold winter morning?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A very crafty Christmas + my favorite baby blanket pattern

Conway does his best burrito impression (using our comforter)
It was very cold and windy this morning. The kind of cold that makes your eyeball hurt. Not fun. No one wanted to get out of bed this morning and definitely no one wanted to go outside. Walking Conway was not pleasant. And, yet, despite the fact that his feet were obviously cold (even though I used paw wax, which usually does the trick) he kept stopping to smell things instead of just doing his business and going home.  Dogs are weird :)  The class I was supposed to teach today was cancelled, which I think was a good call. All of the students in this class are refugees, many of them walk a mile or more to class. Often in clothes that were donated to them because they came from countries with warmer climates.  I don't think it would've been safe for them to be walking 20+ minutes in windchills of -20* (actual temperature was around -2* when class was scheduled to start).  The only thing I like about this cold weather is the satisfaction I get in knowing that something I made actually is good enough to keep me warm in these temperatures. Here I am bundled up in a hat and scarf I knit :)

Speaking of making things, I wanted to share some of the handmade Christmas gifts from this year, now that some of the craziness has died down and everyone has been given said gifts :) The one that isn't pictured is J's PJ pants. I still need to do some adjustments for size on those (that's the beauty of sewing clothes for yourself and loved ones, right? That I can actually make those changes so that they fit him right!)

First up - a Cleveland Browns tote bag for my brother-in-law. He loves everything Browns. This bag has a hard bottom (my first time attempting that) and is great for groceries, tailgating supplies, or any other random things. I am planning on posting my go-to bag-making method on this blog in the future, so stay tuned in the next few weeks for that.

Next are the pressed-flower necklaces I made. I actually made a few of these. For my mom, my mother-in-law, and for myself. What makes these necklaces special is that I made them with flowers from my wedding bouquet :)  I decided not to get the bouquet professionally preserved or to keep it as a whole bouquet, but I wanted to have some keepsake from it.  I learned while making this that I am capable of making necklaces :) and I hope to include some in my etsy shop eventually (though they're not a priority just yet!)

This lace scarf was not really a Christmas present, but it was something I had been working on for a while and finally finished in time to wear to church on Christmas Eve. For this one I used a pattern I found on Ravelry: Simple Lace Scarf. Made with one skein of Patons Silk Bamboo. It's a lovely yarn!

Last up on my show and tell is this baby blanket for my dear friends' little girl! (I've always been a blue and green fan myself, so why not make the blanket in those colors instead of pink??) I made this with Bernat Baby Blanket, which I'm now in love with. They make a version of it in "grown-up" colors and if I didn't have so many other projects in my queue, I just might make a blanket for myself with it! 

My Favorite Baby Blanket Pattern

I used one of my favorite blanket patterns for this. I love it because it looks nice, it's easy, and it's very versatile. You can use any type of yarn you'd like and can make pretty much any size square. I've made it with both this yarn, as well as Lion Brand Pound of Love. Some of you may recognize it as a typical dishcloth pattern, but it translates very nicely into blankets, too.

Decide on your yarn. The needle size and amount of yarn you'll need will depend on what you've chosen. I recommend going with the suggested needle size for your given yarn (which was size 11 for this one). You'll need circular needles for this (or very,very, long straight needles. But I recommend going with the circular ones!)  I used about 260 yards of super bulky yarn on this project and the blanket is probably "stroller sized". If you need help estimating how much yarn to buy, I recommend Jimmy Beans Wool knitting calculator. This will give you a good place to start. 

Cast on 4 stitches. That's it. Just four :)
Row 1: Knit 4.
Row 2:  K2, yo, knit the rest of the row.
Repeat row 2 until the blanket is a triangle that is half the size you want the full blanket to be (you will basically complete the square.)

Row 3 (when you've reached the halfway point): k1, k2tog, yo, k2tog, knit the rest of the row
Repeat row 3 until there are 4 stitches left on your needles
Row 4: knit
Bind off

And that's it!

What about you? Did you make any gifts this holiday season? 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Starting the new year off right

So far, 2015 has been off to a good start. We've been working hard on getting organized and I've been making good progress getting some new projects off the ground. We've got two huge Ikea bags of old clothes ready to go to Goodwill, two grocery-sized bags of books to take to Half Price Books, and even found a place where we can recycle our old printers (yes, plural!). I've started a new eating plan and so far (*knock on wood*) my stomach's been feeling better than it has in months. Cross your fingers for me!

Yes, folks, that's the t-shirt folding thing that Sheldon on Big Bang Theory uses. J loves it!

Things are starting to move forward at my various jobs/projects.  I just finished my first couple of headbands for my etsy store! I will open that (and start looking for craft fairs) once I feel like I have enough of a stock to really start advertising and selling.  I've also booked two vendor shows as an exhibitor for Thirty-One Gifts. One bridal show and one pet expo! Should be fun. If you're in the area, let me know and I'll give you the details to stop by. I may also have one more bridal show in July. Additionally, I've been putting out some feelers for possible January parties. If you're interested in hosting one, just let me know! (Double hostess credit in January! I do online and catalog parties, too :) )

My online class started this week and I'm trying not to be too overwhelmed by the fact that the number of students I have has nearly doubled. Yikes. But I got my teaching evaluations back from last semester (I'm teaching the same course again) and they were very good. 100% of my students who submitted evaluations said they'd recommend me as a professor (90% said they'd "strongly recommend" me) and 100% said they were satisfied with the online course experience. This is good to hear as I gear up for the spring semester.

I also started teaching ESOL classes again today, though only a three week session for an organization my regular employer works with. This organization helps refugees and they (the refugees) have required hours of English lessons. Since my real job doesn't start back for another 3 weeks, I offered to teach for their clients a few times a week until then. Today I had mostly planned to do introductions and had planned for a very low level class, but it turned out the students mostly all knew each other and were at a higher level than I anticipated. We finished what I had planned for the class 15 minutes into a 2.5 hour session! But one of the things about being an adult ESOL teacher in mixed-level community-based classes is that you have to be flexible and learn to go with the flow. I pulled a couple of picture dictionaries out of the supply closet (I use both Oxford Picture Dictionary and English for Everyday Activities: A Picture Process Dictionary) and we went over a few pages of those books. Then we played a game where I divided the students into two groups by level and gave each group a stack of cards. Each card had two words written on them that were either the same word (for example: "cares cares") or two similar words ("cares scare"). The students worked together to determine if the words on each card were the same or different. With the more advanced students, we also discussed the definitions of the words on the cards.  It actually worked out really well!  I think I'm going to look for some more games to play with this group as a "fun" way to learn English before the official classes start up again in a few weeks. Any suggestions?

And, finally, I thought after 2.5 weeks off - I'd be bored out of my mind and ready to go back. But, alas, I wasn't. It's not that I don't love my job. It's just that I had so much I was going to do to be productive over my break and I didn't even come close to finishing it all! The good news is that I'm only working part time for the next 3 weeks so I still have time to make a little more progress on that to do list. Wish me luck! :)

Stay safe and warm, everyone!

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year's Musings

First - just sharing this cute picture of our tuckered out pup on our way home from visiting family :)

Second, since I didn't have a picture of it - I didn't mention it in my previous post about Christmas. But now I have to share the amazingly thoughtful gift J gave me for Christmas! A little background to this story - I defended my doctoral dissertation 13 days before our wedding this past May and everything this spring and summer was such a blur. By the time I officially graduated in August and got my diploma in the mail sometime in September, it almost felt like it had never happened. I felt like I should do something with my PhD diploma so I didn't lose it, so I went to the craft store, bought a really cheap picture frame, and slapped it up on the wall in our home office. Where it still is to this day. Or so I thought.