My Life

Creating a Maker Space

There’s a Maker movement afoot. It’s becoming almost mainstream these days, with Maker Spaces popping up in schools and libraries all over the country. We’re lucky to have several spaces in the area (the Fab Lab at MSI and the Maker Lab at the Chicago Public Library, as well as our Hacker Scouts group). Finn and I have always encouraged our own little makers, although encourage may not be the right word. Really we just try not to get in their way. Of course, we provide space and as many supplies as we can for them to create. To that end, we have an evolving Maker Space in our home – the basement. While I certainly don’t limit projects to that space, it is the most conducive for mess, ongoing work, and just as importantly, storage.

You’ve seen the basement before. Not surprisingly, it’s changed since then. Here is the current configuration.

Maker Space Basement

 Now I know, most people would have you think you can’t create a contemporary Maker Space without a ton of tech equipment, including a 3-D printer. And I’m sure we could make great use of a 3-D printer, as well as a host of other tech supplies. But those aren’t practical now, in either expense or for the age of our children. I prefer to be able to leave the makers largely unsupervised, to get out of their way as they create. They let me know when they need assistance and I tend not to stifle when I’m not there to tell them how adults would make it work. Or, let’s be honest, to freak out about the impending mess. 

Our Maker Space, till now, has been mostly art centered, as that’s what Emm prefers, with a variety of toy based building materials that Roan uses, although both children use each space and its materials. We have a sewing station, with plenty of fabric and thread. Not too many patterns, as they prefer to make their own. There are also felting supplies and plenty of yarn.

Maker Space Basement Sewing Nook

We have a large craft table, created from two expedits. The top is MDF covered in chalkboard oilcloth. Glue guns, paint, tape, markers, etc are all readily available, along with a large quantity of paper, cardboard, random boxes, etc. And ping-pong paddles.

Maker Space Basement Crafting Table

We have a big open space for building, with larger building supplies like cardboard and PVC tubes, ogo pods, marble run kits, blocks (we like CitiBlocks), etc as well as smaller building toys such as k’nex, legos, and the like.
Maker Space Basement

And we have the obligatory TV space, with a sofa and a Wii.  If the basement is ever clean, you can be sure the kids were enjoying extra media time. Mostly it looks like this (they were building Egypt, in case you’re wondering). And yes, he insists on wearing those headphones (decorated by the tall one for some costume event) all the time in the basement. Hates the furnace noise.

Maker Space Basement

What we don’t have down there are tools and electronics. Till this year I didn’t feel that it was safe to allow the sort of loosely supervised making that goes on down there unfettered access to those materials. There’s been plenty of electronics tinkering, robot building, arduino programming, and even wood craft happening. But it has all been supervised. Well, except for the Lego robotics. Those are currently in the school room because that’s where the child prefers to play with them.

Now Finn and I are pondering how we create a safe, creative space that includes tools and electronics. Probably something that can be removed when we have guests, as not all play date buddies are tool/electronics friendly.  I’ve been looking around for inspiration. Most of the spaces I can find are large, public Maker Spaces. Many are for older children or adults. The children’s spaces are almost all exclusively art focused, I’m sure for the same reason ours has been for so long. I’ve started a Pinterest board (of course). I’d love to make it collaborative if anyone’s interested.

I think these two tables will make a good work space for electronics, with the craft table reserved for building with wood and tools. Although I may need to relocate some of the bins.

Maker Space Basement Tinkering Tables

 And the maternity ward.

Maker Space Basement

Maybe a pegboard above the tables to hold supplies? Like the table below, but with less tech. And less tools to start.

Maker Space Basement

Perhaps a bit more like this (found here), at least to start. Screw drivers and pliers  and safety glasses and such out and accessible, with all the parts we have everywhere in a tinker bin.  The soldering iron, however, will remain a supervision only tool for several more years I think. As will any power tools. And maybe saws?

Maker Space Basement

Do any of you let your kids have access to these items? How do you set up your space? I want my children to be safe, but I also want to encourage experimentation and risk taking. I think. While not getting sued by my neighbors should their children happen to come play.





Linking up to Remodelaholic.

My Real House

Well hello there. It’s been a while. How were your holidays? And happy new year! I keep wanting to pop in and share things with you, but I just can’t seem to get things together. There’s either stuff everywhere or it’s too dark for photos. Or there’s stuff everywhere AND it’s too dark for photos (4:30 sunset you can not go away soon enough!).

Which is silly, really. You guys know that my house, like yours I imagine, contains four people with lives outside the internet. It’s rarely, if ever, tidy (I make judicious use of the quick tidy and the careful crop in every picture you see) and just as rarely (if ever) Pinterest worthy (that’s a thing now).  And I went into this blogging thing interested in making people feel like their regular homes could be beautiful. That my regular home could be beautiful. And instead of inviting you over for tea, I ended up tidying it up for you. Don’t get me wrong, I really like my house to look nice. But I also like to live there. And I like my family living there. 

So I’ve made a decision. I’m showing you my real house. Some days it looks good. Some days it’s dreadful. Most days it’s somewhere between. And since Instagram is for over sharing, and because everyone likes a 365 project, I’m going to take a picture of my house (#myrealhouse) every day this year. Or, you know, every day that’s left of this year. And I’d really, really like it if you’d join me. 

To get us started, I’m baring it all. Here’s my real house. Laundry, legos, blurry (and poorly lit) photos and all. And no, this is not as bad as it gets. We don’t know each other that well, I have to save something for the third date.

Nothing says welcome to our home like a too long runner and large bucket o'shoes.

Nothing says welcome to our home like a too long runner and large bucket o’shoes. Of course it’s now snowed a bunch, so imagine this with all the boots piled in front of the door so that no one can actually get in or out.


Sometimes I just have random stuff on shelves. I'll make it pretty later. Maybe.

Sometimes I just have random stuff on shelves. I’ll make it pretty later. Maybe.

Legos. I might be bragging here, because they're currently confined to one room. One room you can't walk through, but still.

Legos. I might be bragging here, because they’re currently confined to one room. One room you can’t walk through, but still.

Hi there. I do laundry. This may or may not have been there for days.

Hi there. I do laundry. This may or may not have been there for days.

I moved stuff. Now there are holes in the wall.

I moved stuff. Now there are holes in the wall.


We do projects. They require supplies. We dump them here. Pretty, right?

We do projects. They require supplies. We dump them here. Pretty, right? (you’d think with the supplies right there, I could go ahead and fix the holes in the previous picture. But no. Baby steps.)

Vignette. Go ahead. Pin it.

Vignette. Go ahead. Pin it.

A relatively clean dining room table. With bonus light bulb that still hasn't been replaced.

A relatively clean dining room table. With bonus light bulb that still hasn’t been replaced.

Dead plants. Not recently dead.

Dead plants. Not recently dead.

We live here. And we use dish soap that doesn't come in a pretty bottle.

We live here. And we use dish soap that doesn’t come in a pretty bottle. And dishes don’t get washed immediately. etc.

Cereal boxes are not attractive. I buy them anyway because we, well, we eat cereal.

Cereal boxes are not attractive. I buy them anyway because we, well, we eat cereal. Also, sometimes we have old fruit and tomatoes randomly on the counter. Also wine. Because wine.

So there you go. There are more pictures, but I think that’s enough reality for one day. Must keep some of the mystery in our relationship. So, will you join me? I’m really interested to see your spaces. Mostly though, I just need to know that there are more of us out there. Pinterest is lovely, but sometimes, when I look over and see reality, I know that that is lovely too. It really is.

Want to follow along? Or better yet, join me? Share your house, your real house, on Instagram (you can find me here) or on Designing Around’s Facebook page. If you use Instagram, use the #myrealhouse so I can follow along (and feel better about myself). As we go, I may even shake up Pinterest with some real homes. I know, so crazy.


Want to talk about homeschooling? Yep, thought so. Everybody does. And truthfully, so do I. Because its kind of cool. Mostly it’s cool because we’re still making it happen. And it’s working. Since this is kind of decor blog, however, I thought we’d start by looking at where we do most of our schooling. The formal part, at any rate. We do it (ha! I’m so mature) in the library. Because we’re fancy pants homeschoolers. I’ll do a second post discussing what, exactly, we’re doing with the actual schooling, but today, let’s chat about form v. function. Or, better yet, form and function. Because really that’s the goal, right?

We currently have a separate room for “school”. We tried working in the dining room for a bit, as well as in the living room, and we’ve found that for our kid, having a dedicated school space is more functional. The school room is in what we call “The Library“. It used to be “The Office“. I’ve rearranged the library quite a bit since you last saw it. As per usual. I really need to update the house tour section, as the house looks nothing like that now. Anyway.

Ta Da.
study room

The Library. Capital L, of course. The Library, as with most rooms in our house, is small. 9′ x 11′ as a matter of fact.

I needed the room to function as a homeschooling space, with room for two kids and an adult to work after-school, as well as be a space for electronics projects and music lessons. And since it opened onto the living room and I had to see it everyday, I really needed it organized enough that things could be put away easily and that it looked like it fit with the house when we had company. I recognize that not everyone needs that level of tidy, but it keeps me sane. I work full-time, I co-homeschool my kid, I do a lot of freelance writing and blogging – I just need some things to work well without a lot of maintenance. Which for the first couple months of the year was not happening.

The space needed a lot of furniture to work effectively. Into that space I needed to cram the 5 billy bookcases, a reading chair, a desk large enough for projects, filing cabinets for all the school stuff, and a computer desk. For a small room, that’s a lot to ask.

When we moved the gray sofa out of the space I kept the bookcases in a line along the back wall. There was a larger desk where the table is now, the reading chair was across from that. Blocking the doors to half the bookcases. The desk also held the computer. And the built-in desk on the other wall, it just held piles of crap. As did the desk and the chair. This is the only picture I have of the room in that configuration. It was a mess. It had all the components, but none of them were working well together. The desk was too big for the room, the chair didn’t fit and the bookcases looked great, but we couldn’t get to anything. Anyone else have a room like this? You know what you need in there to make it work, but what you have doesn’t work together?


You can see the bookcase issue. And keeping the computer there meant that the boy kept “accidentally” turning it on when he was supposed to be working. Not functional for anyone.

So I pulled the room apart and started over. The sofa moved upstairs. The giant desk went to basement storage (usually I just sell stuff, but I like the desk and think it might eventually find a home elsewhere). The bookcases went into an l-shape around one corner and got a serious clear out of decor clutter.


The big aha moment came when I realized I had a folding table that might work elsewhere in the house. So I moved my grandmother’s gate-leg table down (it had functioned as a nightstand in our bedroom). The table really was key, as its folding makes the room function for music lessons and non-school time, but unfolded it’s large enough for two to sit at for home school or for Emm to spread out at for homework. It’s not perfect, as it’s antique and a little awkward to unfold with the rug, but it’s so much better than what we had. I do like seeing that table everyday, seeing it used. And it was free.

computer desk


The computer (not pictured, as it was at the genius bar) moved to the built-in desk and the home school drawers got a huge clean out and reorganization. Exciting, right? Exciting for me anyway. Better yet, I did all this a month ago and the room has stayed relatively tidy since. Everyone can find what they need for projects, books get put away as we finish the subject and there’s plenty of reading material within easy reach when certain people get “bored”. The room has never functioned this well for the entire family.

Will this arrangement always work well? Who knows. It seems that this year, especially, I’m having to adapt quite a few systems that worked well for years, because with bigger children they just aren’t functioning. But it works for now.

So that’s where we home school. And do hours of middle school homework. And play minecraft. And solder Halloween costumes. And practice guitar. And, hopefully, create memories. Good ones, not just ones of parental nagging*. Oh who am I kidding.

*you may have noticed I didn’t list reading here. In the library. Weird, right? Turns out the kids like to grab books from the space and then cart them around the house (most of the time) instead of just curling up in that comfy chair I provided.They will, in fact, go sit in the most uncomfortable chair in the house with their book. Probably because they like to hear me ask them to put things away. They just can’t get enough of that. They move things where they don’t belong all the time, just to hear me ask them to put the things way. Sometimes they pretend they can’t hear me so I’ll ask more than once. Those kids. They just love to hear me talk.

Middle School. Parenting. And other stuff.

There is so much written about parenting the early years. What they should eat, how they should play, how you should play with them. It goes on and on, opinions for everything. And while there is plenty out there about parenting them as they grow, it seems to become far more “expert” and far less “personal”. Bloggers, who have become a big source of parenting connections, naturally write less about their children as they get older, respecting a child’s autonomy as they grow into their own person. And it is, I think, almost impossible to write about the very personal act of parenting without writing about the child.  Every child is different. Every parent is different. Parenting each child is different.

All this to say, I see communities developed around parents of children under five, maybe even under seven. And there are lots of articles and blogs for parents of special needs children at that age. I don’t see the same thing for parents of tweens and teens. Particularly for special needs kids. Maybe it’s because those parents have found their tribes elsewhere. I certainly have quite a bit of mine spread out across the country via Facebook, people I know and have known, sometimes very tangentially, who respond to my blatherings – about the unique challenges of parenting my two. Because mostly that’s what I use the Facebook for, venting and reassurance.

Posting here has been very light of late. It’s not that I haven’t been incessantly rearranging the furniture (I have) or coveting pretty things (also yes). I’ve just also been living the evolution of parenting – moving from being the parent of young children to the parent of older children. It’s different. Which is what I’ve always said to new moms, it doesn’t get easier really, it just gets different. Which is not always what the sleep deprived mother of a newborn wants to hear, so often I just keep that to myself and nod sagely, as though I’ve learned something through survival. I haven’t, I’m still totally winging it every single day, but they don’t need to know that.

I spent the summer wanting to create fun, memorable moments with my crew, convinced that once middle school hit we’d be dealing with so much stress and anxiety I’d be lucky to survive without becoming a raging alcoholic. I was simultaneously stressing about making sure everything was ordered and prepared so we could survive the fall, getting documents and meetings together for an IEP (which was almost a full-time job in and of itself), ordering supplies, arranging the house, and of course prepping for homeschooling the other one. I felt constantly overdrawn and like I wasn’t making enough of the time. Which was silly. We had fun. We got a dog. We did stuff. I just don’t remember what it was.

Deep breath. I’m going to write this down now. If it all falls apart tomorrow, it’s because I told the internet. 

This fall has been so much easier, in many ways, than I was expecting. Probably because in my head World War III was going to erupt as soon as she set foot in 6th grade. When you set the bar really low, it’s easy to jump over it. In fact, I’ve been afraid to say it out loud, for fear of jinxing everything. But you guys, middle school, public middle school – it’s going ok. Possibly even better than ok. Right now anyway (I still have to clarify, my way of knocking on all the wood I can reach). The accommodations we asked for are working. The walking a mile each way to school, with a really heavy backpack, is something that’s been on the therapy list for years. We’ve never been able to make her do it without creating more anxiety, but now everyone walks to school so she doesn’t bat an eyelid. And it’s making a huge difference. The anxiety isn’t gone, but it’s manageable. The arguments and temper tantrums are, dare I say it, normal tween stuff. The panic attacks are far less frequent and much, much less intense. The self-recriminations are no longer an everyday occurence.

We have conversations. About stuff. And things. She can discuss her homework. WITHOUT YELLING. And you guys. SHE SLEEPS THROUGH THE NIGHT. I can’t even. Seriously. I haven’t been this well rested in twelve years.

Now, all this still requires pretty careful environmental manipulation on our part. We still can’t do after-school activities. She comes home, does her homework for two hours, has dinner and a shower and family reading, and goes to bed. It’s not what we want for her long-term, but it’s working for now. We tried pushing bedtime, even just a little, and it was pretty disastrous. So weekends are low-key, we had to miss a family wedding because of the backlash it would create. All this is what we’re used to though and this time it’s creating a happy, cheerful child who, so far, is feeling pretty confident and smart, proud of her skill navigating her new environment.

The homeschooling is also going pretty well. We made some changes to our curriculum and expectations based on last year (hey, look, we learned about teaching our kid). Those changes have made everyone happier and more productive. It also helps that the boy can read pretty well now and is generally less resistant. He’s still not a big fan of group activities, but he’s more and more interested in them. The homeschooling thing is a post of its own, but I thought I should mention it, since I’m rambling all over the place here.

Here’s the thing. Back to my points at the top. Who do you read to figure this out? Who are you figuring this out with? It’s certainly not any easier now, the instruction manual I wanted when they were babies and I couldn’t figure out why they were crying would be just as handy now that they’re older and I have no idea what’s really going on. How do I know if I’m worrying about the right things without other people to freak out with (kidding)? Is there an Honest Tween, cause I need some humor here. Am I giving enough information about all the stuff coming up? Am I giving it to the correct child at the correct time? Does it matter?  (I did get to explain periods and puberty to the boy yesterday as he picked up The Period Book I’d gotten for the girl and asked clear and detailed questions. That was fun. And by fun I mean really, really weird. No one  writes about that either. I need to know this happens to other people.)  

I’m sure this rant, for those of you still reading, is not exactly what you expect from a blog entitled Designing Around. This, however, is exactly what I’ve designed around lately. Life. Parenting. And dogs that insist on ruining all my rugs(seriously, what is up with that dog?). How about you?


living room august 2013 019

You guys. There is so much summer going on. Which is good and appropriate but really? I just want to lay in bed with a book for hours. Hours. Instead, I have rearranged my living room. Again. This time, mostly to keep myself occupied and in a space where I can keep an eye on all the shenanigans going on outside. And this late in the summer, there are many shenanigans. Also, I seem to have given up on the grammar entirely. Oh well.

In other big news, I think I may have fixed the rug issue. After living with bare floors for a few days they just felt too dark. And the space felt crowded with both chairs. And I didn’t like the black shelving thing I brought up (and never showed you, perhaps I’m showing some living room sharing restraint). However, on a trip to check out all the new collections from West Elm, Crate and Barrel, etc. (research, you know, very important), I stumbled upon a rug sale at the West Elm. So I bought a rug. As one must do, when one finds a rug sale.

living room august 2013 022

I bought a white rug, despite lots of misgivings. And then. AND THEN. They gave me the wrong rug. Well, they gave me the right rug, but in gray. Which was really what I wanted but didn’t know was possible. So now, for you, I have many pictures. So many pictures. Ok, fine. Four more pictures. Which are probably four more than you really need of my living room with yet another configuration. And they’re a little awful because in order to have a clean living room I had to take them quite early. I like to pretend, however, that you are all highly enamored of my living room and really just wait with bated breath for the next segment in How the Living Room Turns.

living room august 2013 024

living room august 2013 028

living room august 2013 025

living room august 2013 030

Also, I rearranged some other things while I was at it, so there are pictures of that as well. But really, what this is documenting is the first time my house was clean and tidy, with pillows on the couch instead of shoes, a guitar, books, old snacks, etc. Summer. Season of clutter and dirt. So not all that different from the other seasons.

It Keeps Going and Going

Dear July:

I feel like we have this conversation every year. It’s not you, it’s me. And maybe it’s you. You’re just so very much. June is lovely with her newness and freedom and promises of forever. July, you’re just hot. And not the good kind of hot.  The kind that really makes me want an afternoon nap. Instead, I have to walk the dog and take the kids to the pool. I’m tired of always feeling gross and sweaty and sticky. My kids smell too, they are no longer charming to cuddle. Also, I hate shorts. I need a better cool weather wardrobe option.

July you are not June. July, my summer is running out because Emmeth is going to all day theatre camp soon and then middle school so I’ve got to squeeze in the family fun. And you keep making the garden grow. I can’t keep up with the garden insanity July. The kids want to play outside, go to the beach, to the pool, go for bike rides, have fun. And so do I. But no one does the laundry or the grocery shopping if I go do these things apparently.  Also, July you’re a little close to August,which means I should probably get on that curriculum planning for Roan.  And find a new sitter. Oh August. Let’s not start yet, I’m in complete denial about you.

However. I do like all the fresh produce, so that’s nice. I like sending the kids out of the house to play. I like walks in the early morning or evening.  I like ice cream. I like having an excuse to have it more often. Sometimes even for dinner (stop judging me July). I like that July is homework free.  I like that in July I can work short weeks.  I like having an excuse to build cool things, like the fun bike sprinkler we made for the block party. I like seeing our neighbors and friends wandering the neighborhood, kids running in and out of the house.

So, July that’s two paragraphs of complaint to one of praise. Not too bad I guess.  Better than I thought you’d do. If it makes you feel better, your score is still higher than February’s. February has no redeeming qualities.

You have 10 days to redeem yourself July. That or keep doing what you’re doing, just send me a free household helper so I can find that elusive “balance” I hear so much about.




So. We seem to have acquired a dog. A very, very small dog, but none the less, definitely a dog. If you happened to look up and see a flock of pigs flying last week, now you know why.


Her name is Winnie (that’s the name she came with from the shelter). She weights about 7 lbs, harness and leash included. She is, most definitely, a mutt. Some sort of terrier mix. She’s charming and super sweet and the children adore her.

I’m pretty smitten as well, although I hadn’t counted on the amount of stuff she’d need. Less, certainly, than a small child, but it comes in equally garish colors and materials. Blech. So I am forced, forced I say, to research attractive dog supplies. Here you are. Modern dog essentials, most courtesy of a lovely store called Domestic Beast.

modern dog supplies

My “wish list” includes a $60 leather collar,  a $40 rope leash and lovely dipped dishes. As well as felted wool toys. I imagine if my children need Waldorf materials to be successful, then so does the dog. What she actually has, however, is a cheap collar and leash from Target and a generic rope pull toy. She also has far less attractive dishes.  C’est la vie.

I did, however, get the black storage containers for her food. And will probably get the tag, as the noise from the dangling ones is annoying late at night.

If only I’d realized the exciting organization and style opportunities a new pet would offer. The children really should have thought to include such things in their requests for a dog years ago. They might have been successful much earlier.

Kitchen Details – Lighting

industrial sconces

I have the hardest time choosing lighting. Lighting and paint colors actually. They seem so, permanent. Furniture, not a problem, that stuff moves around and goes in and out around here like nobody’s business. But I can’t move light boxes easily and painting, while simple, takes time.

At any rate, as part of finishing the kitchen I’d like to address the lighting in there. Right now its a bit of a hodgepodge. There’s a ceiling fan with a pull chain in the original kitchen, track lights that aren’t really enough in the section that used to be a porch.

kitchen reno june 2013 003

I know I would like pendants over the island. Two, three? Not sure. Not sure if the electrical can be run through the giant header that goes over the island either.

kitchen reno june 2013 012

I think I would like sconces by the shelves. And something over the stove, it’s awfully dark in that corner. Which sconces? Ooh, research. I’m clearly all over that part. The ten options above are just a fraction of the ideas. If I go with sconces, there’s a clear preference for the articulated industrial style. But I also like the idea of one (or two) barn lights over each section (the shelves and the stove). And this barn light is only $40.

But do I really want to put more holes in the wallpaper? Should we swiss cheese the ceiling and install can lights? I kind of hate can lights on their own. But I also hate track lights and ceiling fans and I’ve managed to live with those for years now. I think I could keep going round and round here for years.  Anyone else have this issue? Or are any of you really good with lighting decisions?



1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

Moving Day


It’s time. The next button and everything else associated with google reader disappears tomorrow. If you haven’t already, it’s time to migrate your feeds (and hopefully your subscription to this little blog as well). If you read with a reader you can find me on Bloglovin and Feedly, which seem to be the most popular options. Or you can subscribe to my feed using any number of readers with the subscribe button on your right.

That is all. We now return you to your regularly scheduled Sunday agenda.

Charming garden retreat via.

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