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Redefining Home Management

Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Little Help for The Room Mom

Being asked to be a homeroom parent can bring all sorts of fears to the mind! There are questions of…  What does that entail?  How much time will that take?  What responsibilities will I have?

 

I have been a homeroom parent many times for my kids’ classrooms, and although I can’t share a specific protocol, I can tell you what I have done to make it manageable and rewarding.

 

Each time one of my kids begins kindergarten, I don’t know the names of the kids in their class, let alone their parents.  Most public schools won’t release any information about other students, and have some very detailed rules about how much they can help you connect with others in your child’s class.  For some this anonymity might be nice, and don’t get me wrong…  I could easily move to the country and live down a dirt road where I couldn’t see another house for over a mile.  I actually grew up in a neighborhood like that, but I lived in the mountains… two miles up a dirt road, no neighbors in sight – unless you count the lone house about a mile away.  I could see a small corner of that house’s roof, from the top floor of our house – yes I grew up in the boonies! I digress…

 

However, I don’t live in the boonies anymore…  I want to know the kids and families that comprise the classroom where my kids spend a better part of their day for 9 months a year.  I don’t want to feel like a stranger in the very place my kids spend most of their waking day.  So, as a room parent I do a couple of things to encourage the classroom to become a community within our school.  I start by sending out a voluntary request that families provide basic information for a class directory.  Here is the form I use to request that information.  CLASS DIRECTORY

 

You will see that it is carefully worded to make sure that no parent thinks they are required to provide this information, or that this request is coming from the school itself.  I created this form about 4 years ago when my son was in kindergarten, and there is a version of it that my kids’ school now uses as the “approved form”.  If you would like to use this form I would suggest that you first present it to your building principal and get their permission to distribute it, which is what I did the first year I used it.

 

I then create an excel spreadsheet with the directory information and distribute it to the class via email – using the BCC (blind carbon copy) field.  I also distribute the directory to students that did not provide an email address, through their homework folders.

 

I have a copy of this directory that includes students that did not respond to my request for their contact information, and any students that ask me to keep their information private – this is my master list.  I can quickly refer to this list when I send out information to the class as a whole – so I know who needs a hard copy sent home through their homework folder.  To do this I simply write their name on the paper and send it to school with my child.

 

Once a directory has been established I use that information to distribute an invitation to a class party when my kids are in kindergarten. (this could also be done through homework folders)  I organize a gathering of students and their families at our neighborhood park during the first couple of months of school – before the weather gets bad.  This means I don’t have to host something at my home or pay for a “party location”.   The whole point is simply to give families an opportunity to meet one another and begin to have at least some kind of a sense of community.  At least we will hopefully recognize one another as we run into each other at school or in the neighborhood.

 

Last year we did a gathering just before Halloween and these were the invitations.

 

 

 

I did a snack for the kids, a cup of trail mix…

 

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I also brought drinks, sidewalk chalk and some bubbles.  It was not expensive and was easy to set-up / clean-up.  The mess stayed at the park!

 

A pre-packaged snack would be just as good, or omit the snack altogether.  Really, a park and 20+ kindergartners is all it takes for a good time!

 

Another thing I do that I think parents really appreciate is that I send out an email explaining my intent to (or not to) organize a class gift prior to Christmas.  Many families want to do something nice for their kid’s teacher, but aren’t sure if a class gift will be coordinated or not.  If no one knows what is planned or not planned, a teacher can end up not getting very many gifts due to the confusion, not because of how their students and parents feel about them.

 

I generally send a note to parents in early November letting them know if I will be organizing a class gift for Christmas, Teacher Appreciation Week, or the end of the year or some combination thereof.   This allows parents to plan what they would like to participate in, and budget for what they will be able to contribute.  Again, it also allows parents to make the decision if they would like to contribute something on their own, and have time to do so.

 

Our school asks teachers to complete an “about me” form at the beginning of the year, so parents have a starting point for gift ideas.   If your school doesn’t do this, you could easily ask your teacher to answer a few questions to utilize in gift giving throughout the year. (Favorite:  food, restaurant, cookie, magazine, ice cream shop, soda or drink, flower, candle scent, leisure activity…)

 

Last year I organized a class gift at Christmas.  After my contribution deadline I went to Hobby Lobby and bought a holiday gift box for easy wrapping/presentation.  I also picked up some gift card holders, a candle and some candy while I was there.  I then assembled a collection of gift cards and put them together as a class gift.  Here is the email form I have used to collect class gifts:  CHRISTMAS GIFT

 

Now, a point of great personal debate!!  I also include a simple card to the teacher, thanking her/him for all of their hard work and sign the name of each student that has participated in the class gift.  I have debated many times that if it is a class gift, should I really sign individual names?  After a few years of this debate, conversations with other parents, and numerous email exchanges I have decided – yes.  Yes, those that chose to contribute a class gift can kindly include a note that makes sure the teacher knows they have contributed to the gift, communicating individual appreciation for their efforts.  If no names are included the teacher really doesn’t know if the room parent just generously provided a class gift, maybe with the help of a couple of friends.  I think it is nice for them to know how many parents and students appreciate them!

 

During Teacher Appreciation Week I try to do something each of the 5 days, to let our teachers know how much they are appreciated.  I sprinkle in small gifts, bigger gifts, sentimental gifts, gifts that require monetary donations from students, and gifts that simply require a commitment of time.

 

Last year this is the letter that I sent to parents outlining my plan to demonstrate our appreciation throughout the week, providing them with the opportunity to participate in any way(s) they would like.  TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK

 

A few thoughts on these gifts…

 

1)       I like to do one gift that allows students to actually bring something to the teacher as they arrive to school.  (This is also a great idea if your teacher is leaving on maternity leave, has experienced a personal loss, has had a medical issue…)

 

I have provided a vase with 6 flowers first thing in the morning, and then requested that each student bring in one long stem flower to contribute to the bouquet.  I love seeing the faces of students and the teacher on that morning as each student proudly presents their special flower to their teacher.  In the end the teacher has a large and beautiful bouquet of flowers – for only $1-$2 per student.

 

Likewise, I have sent in a basket of office/school supplies and asked that each student bring in one item in the morning.  Each student can contribute a small item and your teacher will end up with a wonderful collection of much appreciated supplies!

 

Last, I have done this with a teacher leaving on maternity leave.  Many schools, our district included, no longer allows baby or wedding showers for teachers.  I simply let families know that on a specific day any child wishing to participate could bring in a book to “shower” our teacher with “appreciation”.  These books can be a $1 book, or a collection of classics.  This allows each child to participate, regardless of their resources.

 

2)       I like to do a second gift during Teacher Appreciation Week that students can participate in by simply taking a little time to express their appreciation – no money necessary.  This is usually the opportunity for something crafty and sentimental.  (I like a good excuse to do something crafty!)  Last year I had students respond to the question, “how has your teacher helped you grow this year?”.  I then took what each child said, wrote it on a petal of a flower and created this piece of art for their classroom.

 

 

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3)       On two days I simply compile a couple gifts for about $20 each… a collection of favorite treats, a relaxation gift (gift card to ice cream or a coffee shop, a candle & a favorite magazine).

 

4)      I then use most of the monetary funds to present the teacher with a larger collection of gift cards all on one day.  I collect 4-5 gift cards in varying amounts that are for school & personal use.  I try to get a gift card for our local teacher/education store, a general card for target or Amazon, one for a restaurant and then something they are interested in.  (a clothing store, Sports equipment store, spa…)  I like to show teachers that we are supporting what they are doing for our students, but also allow them to have something for themselves in appreciation of all that hard work in the classroom.

 

The last job that is often required of a room parent is coordinating the planning of class parties. For our school the room parent coordinates the party volunteers for each party, but not the actual party.  I have a form letter that I slightly modify for each party giving parents important school guidelines, (some parents may be new to your school) and a suggested format for the party.  I also let parents know that I will not actually be involved in the planning of the party unless they need assistance.  I can help collect donations from other parents if needed, and they should send an email to me and the teacher prior to the party with a basic outline of the party plan.  This is a way for me and the teacher to know that the party is actually planned, and the teacher will know if there are any things he/she needs to do to reconfigure the room, etc.  Here is the letter I distribute to facilitate this party planning.  CLASS PARTY EMAIL

This may make it sound like being a room parent is a ton of work!  It is a lot of work, but I have also found it to be a great way to get to know other parents and my children’s teachers better.  Now that my work schedule has gotten busier I have actually stepped back from the room parent role – so no judgment if you never volunteer for that role!  I will say however, that with these forms and procedures in place it is very manageable to be a room parent and feel like that role brings a lot of value to your child’s classroom community, and teacher.


The Main Attraction

I think my obsession with updating our dining room really started with me dreaming about a new table.  We needed a table that would allow us to fully utilize our eat-in space off the kitchen.  I wanted a table that was much larger and fit the rectangular-but-almost-square shape of the space.  This would also allow us to maximize the number of friends and family that could enjoy a meal with us.

 

I love having people over, and I love food – obviously the two go together really well.  Having guests over is the best excuse to cook foods that would otherwise be too time consuming, too expensive, or just too unhealthy to make otherwise!  So I began searching for table ideas.  Here are some inspiration photos I showed in a previous post.

 

From Restoration Hardware…

Also from Restoration Hardware…

From Houzz…

 

From Pottery Barn…

And from Ballard Design…

 

With a price tag of $1,600 and up (mostly for tables that were still too small) I knew I needed a MUCH cheaper option that I could at least to some degree DIY.  I scoured Craigslist for an old beat-up pedestal table that I could hack for its pedestal and then make my own top – but that was still going to be at least $500-600 – if everything went well.

 

Then, I found this awesome farmhouse trestle table on Etsy – they make the legs, provide you with all the hardware and you build the table top and assemble the table per their instructions – awesome!  But, the bad news is that unless you live in Oregon where they are – it costs as much to ship the legs as it does to buy them.

 

Farmhouse Trestle Table DIY Kit

 

But, this idea got my wheels turning!  I knew that if they could build and sell the legs for $200, me and my father-in-law could build them for even less!  I began to scour the web for other similar ideas, and found this table with design plans from Anna White’s blog. 

 

 

I loved the idea of just following plans with a cut list and instructions, but I didn’t love exactly how they did the legs on this table.  I read through the plans to get a basic idea of how they did this table and then sat down to design my own.   The Etsy table was my inspiration for DIY design, and this Pottery Barn table was my high end inspiration.

 

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After I had messed with some ideas, I took advantage of a visit from my dad and showed him all the inspiration I had assembled to got his thoughts.  We measured the dining space and realized that the odd dimensions I wanted really meant I needed to build my own table, even if buying one of my dream tables was in the budget. This encouraged me to commit to the project! He also helped me see that for the size of table I was wanting, legs constructed of 2×4’s would be the wrong scale.

 

He has built furniture and MANY houses start to finish.  In those houses he has done some amazing wood craftsmanship stuff that people are either born to do or not.  It doesn’t hurt that his college degree is in architectural engineering as well, so I was pretty sure I could trust his intuition!  He drew a profile for me of the legs which included some great ideas for scale, stacking different size lumber to create reveals, and angled cuts to get the overall look I was going for without spending months carving amazing legs.  Because honestly, if I’m going to spend months on amazing legs – I want them to be the ones I walk around with.  🙂

 

This is the basic drawing my dad and I came up with… basically this was my “building plan”.

 

Table-Sketch

 

I know, lacking detail!  I am a visual person though, so I knew I would need to make some decisions during the construction process when I could really see it.

 

We did decide to use 2×6 lumber for the base of the legs instead of 2×4 studs.  They were still very cheap, but as my dad pointed out, provided a better scale for the large table top I wanted.  I also used 4×4 posts for the “X” on the legs to get a chunky look like my Pottery Barn inspiration photo.

 

I talked to my father-in-law, and of course he was once again willing to help his crazy daughter-in-law with yet another project.  I also called on some local friends to assemble the tools I would need and didn’t have… a table saw, Kreg Jig…

 

For construction materials I wanted to keep it cheap and simply used Douglas fir framing lumber.  I did check into the cost of a 4×6 for the leg base, but that was going to be over $100!  Note:  I needed all untreated lumber, which is why the larger pieces were really expensive. Once I had the lumber and hardware I expected to use, I simply waited for a long weekend with my father-in-law to start building!

 

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We started by stacking the base of the legs – using wood glue and screws from the bottom (to keep them hidden) to hold all of the pieces together.  This is the first example of how my plan did not play out right.  I had intended to use a 1×4 as the final layer of the base, but it turns out you can’t easily get a 1×4 in douglas fir, so to avoid the use of different woods (that might not stain the same) we used another 2×6 and did a small cut on the edge to add detail.  I’m so glad my original plan didn’t work, because I am loving the new profile!

 

 

Once the base of the leg was completed we began adding the 2×4’s as uprights, and created the “X” with 4×4’s.  If you look closely you will see that the center 2×4 is actually cut in two, leaving a gap in the middle of the leg to allow for the crossbar to be inserted later.  This crossbar will provide stability to the table.  This is also where it was key to have my father-in-law help me.  He didn’t have to think about what tools and what angles to make everything fit perfectly.  He moved us between the table saw and miter saw and made the cuts quick and precise.  I would have been cutting lumber for a week, and don’t even want to think how many 2×4’s I would have wasted!!!

 

 

We started with one leg at a time, instead of doing them assembly line style.  It was a good thing, because our first leg was about 2-3 inches too tall – we still don’t know how that happened!!!  However, we were able to make some adjustments, and I was sure glad we only had to adjust one leg!

 

One of the things I love about projects and DIY is when the kids get involved.  Jase got to help his Grandpi with some screws.  Jase loves to be an assistant with projects, and is even pretty helpful sometimes!

 

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After building the second leg we inserted our crossbar to see how it would all come together.  I was SUPER excited!!!

 

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Next we assembled the table top.   We used a biscuit joiner to hold 6 pieces of 2×10 lumber together.  We used a 2×4 on each end to finish the edge and add long-term stability to the table top.  We used a biscuit joiner and Kreg jig for these end pieces.

 

After the table top was assembled, we attached the legs to the bottom of the table top.  You will see that we also (at the wise suggestion of my father-in-law) added cleats to the bottom of the table as extra security.  He also angled the cleats to eliminate a sharp edge that could damage a knee!

 

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We then got to flip the table upright to see the completed design.  I  LOVE! how the legs turned out!

 

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The straps you see are ratcheting straps, that we left on over night as extra security until all of the glue could fully dry.

 

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The next part of the process was a little stressful for me.  Youl have heard my trials of picking paint colors, well stain is even worse!!!  Stain can look very different depending on the type of wood you are using.  I tried about 5 different colors before settling on Minwax, water-based Classic Black stain.  I wanted a walnut color that would go more gray than red or yellow.  I quickly found that douglas fir framing lumber has a lot of variability of color, and tends to be very red or yellow.  The Classic Black stain was necessary to combat the red and yellow tones in the wood, and it surprisingly looks very brown!

 

 

I liked the table before is was stained, but the stain made the top look so much better!  The staining process was a little more time consuming and difficult than I would have expected.  Getting an even finish and waiting for dry times tested my patience a few times.  I think Jason was afraid he would never park in the garage again!

 

Since I used water-based stain I could not use the wipe-on poly coat I had planned to use to avoid a really shiny finish, while getting a good durable coating to protect the wood.  I ended up using a Minwax poly for water-based stains, and despite my worry it turned out just fine.  Hopefully it will stand up to the wear and tear of my three kids!

 

Once the 3 coats of stain, and 2 coats of poly were applied and given plenty of time to dry, it was time to move the table inside!!!  I was beyond excited to see it in our dining room!!!!

 

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I am not always very patient, so I started by bringing the legs in by myself while Jason was at work.  Jase once again was my awesome little helper!  The crossbar is so tight that I had to use a rubber mallet to assemble the table base.  I love that it is so easy to assemble / disassemble.  The crossbar is not permanently fixed in any way.  To move the table I can simply unscrew the top and hammer out the crossbar.  The table is then in 4, easily movable pieces.  (by easy I mean it fits through doors – however it is incredibly heavy!!)

 

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When Jason got home I had him help me carry in the table top and screw it to the legs.  I was relieved that my crazy idea of building our own table not only worked, but I LOVE it!  It fits our space perfectly and doesn’t look anywhere near as cheap as it was.

 

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I am super happy with how our whole dining room has turned out!  The new style is totally what I wanted… updated and pretty, but not too trendy or stuffy.  I envision a lot of yummy meals and great conversations in our future!

 

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I am loving it with the benches…

 

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I love it with my “new” chairs…

 

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I love the lanterns…

 

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And, the table top…

 

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And of course we have to see the before & after….

 

Before…

 

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After!!!

 

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OK, I’ll stop saying love, but I really do!!!

 

As I was preparing this post I came across this table for sale at Joss & Main, for just over $2,000.  I am over-the-moon happy about my DIY version for less than $150!!!

 

Rectangular-Table-J&M
Source

 

How cool is this round one too!

 

Round-Inspiration-TableI may be slightly obsessed with the trestle style table now!  But, I love knowing that we have a table that meets our family’s needs, looks beautiful, didn’t break the bank to get, and was built by me & my father-in-law!