Monthly Archives: March 2015

The bigger kid’s library bag

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Collage of handmade library bag

Last year during the end of year sales, I convinced The Husband to buy me a basic sewing machine. I have had a tiny little craft machine for a while, but I never use it because it refuses to thread fine sewing thread through it. I keep thinking that surely it’s the way I’m using it but if I look at it honestly, I think it’s more that I bought a cheap little machine and it’s giving me cheap little results. The Husband, bless him, doubted I’d use a sewing machine but since it was on special he bought me one and much to our surprise, I have made a handful of things – mostly kids things. A toy mei tai, a pair of pants for my son, a pair of shorts for baby girl, a cover for the couch, a skirt for myself, and so on… It’s such fun.

The only down side is that I seem to have fallen down the rabbit hole when it comes to fabrics. Ermahgerd. Fabrics. I can spend hours at my local fabric store, browsing through the fabric. I buy canvas and drill cotton because hey, who knows when you might need to upholster something!? I buy synthetic stretchy fabric and lace because mini skirt with lace. I buy fat quarters because PATTERN. Recently I’ve also been buying cheap t-shirts so that I can cut them up and make clothes for the kids. The result of is that I now have a stockpile of fabric and very limited skills to use it.

The last thing that I sewed was a library bag for my son. He started pre-school this year and the class will sometimes take a trip to the local library. Personally I can’t imagine herding a bunch of pre-school aged kids to the library, but if that’s what the teachers want to do they are MORE than welcome. The only thing is, in order to borrow books he needs a library bag. I trawled the shops for a suitable bag – one that was cute, inexpensive, a good size for him, and also well constructed. It turns out your options are limited when your requirements are that lengthy! There were plastic type drawstring bags, canvas totes from the local super market, the list could go on, but they were either too big, too small, too cheap looking, too expensive…

So I decided to combine my basic sewing skills with Pinterest, and set out to search for the perfect library bag pattern. I opted to sew a tote style bag – mostly for aesthetic purposes, but also because an adult sized shoulder strap would be large enough to be a cross body strap on my little guy.

The tutorial I found on Pinterest was this one –> “The Library Tote bag” by Diana, from Saving by Making. Her bag looked so cute and I knew immediately that my fabric (thank you stockpile!!) would work.

Photo of dog print canvas fabric

I had half a meter of this cute dog print canvas but to me it seemed a little on the thin side. It’s not like I thought my son would be bringing home mountains of books, but I wanted to make sure the bag was sturdy enough, so I hunted down a couple of other tutorials and opted to sew in a layer of navy blue linen as a lining.

I followed Diana’s instructions to make the bag, minus the French seams. To make the lining, I just made the bag body again – using the linen this time – and before fixing the shoulder straps, I sewed the lining to the canvas (right sides facing), leaving some small holes for the shoulder straps. Carefully, I turned my bag the right way around and pinned my shoulder straps in between the two layers. Then I sewed up the shoulder straps and closed the holes. I added a little snap to the center of the opening so that the bag could be “closed” (ie the books wouldn’t fall out if a slightly clumsy pre-schooler fell over)

This bag is so cute. On the days where my son isn’t in pre-school, I confess to taking his library bag out to the shops with me and using it as a shopping bag. It’s much better constructed than the canvas tote bags they sell in the supermarket (even with my beginner skills) and the fabric is divine. Soft and silky, but sturdy and strong.

If I were to make another bag I’d probably do the French seams in addition to the lining – just so that the finish was a little nicer. I’d probably also make the shoulder straps a little thicker – just a personal preference – and I might have a go at sewing in a zipper. The zipper is only because my kids and my cat all LOVE to raid my bags. I don’t keep food in there, but apparently items in my purse, my hair clips and elastics, pens and notebooks, are ALL worthy of little fingers or paws… a good zipper keeps the little people (and cats) at bay!

Photo of the completed library bag

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I passed! With no idea what I did…

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Close up of a person writing on a chalkboard

The good news is that I passed the first post-assessment for the online training I’ve done. But in all honesty? I wouldn’t have any confidence to sit a certification exam with this result. Why is this?

The first part of the “why” is probably to do with my learning style. I pick things up quickly, but I’m a shifty cheater. For technical training like this, I don’t see why I should memorise the THEORY if I know the practical, and I rely heavily on what I call “cheat sheets” – handwritten notes which contain the key points I know I will be examined on, but have no inclination to memorise.

One of the things my past colleagues have always amused themselves with is that I have a huge breadth of knowledge in my field – how to create weird and whacky formulas in Excel, how to rig up a crazy function to make online training work in a SCORM interface, even though it’s not typical functionality, how to make funky things happen in Flash, and so on and so forth. But I have limited depth of knowledge. I know how to use the F1 key damned well. Google works well for me because I store in my mind the best key words to use. I have hand written notebooks with formulas hand written down. I have a basic grasp of algebra and how to make it work for me and my work.

In the world that I work in (software development, business analysis – aka Excel Monkey – and web), the technology changes often. The functions which used to work stop working in the next software release, etc etc. So I find it’s more important to know what you’re doing, rather than how to do it (see my previous post on faking it). I think this is why I’m good at my job…

Back to the topic at hand though, I’d only pass an open book certification exam on this topic. The software specific jargon just blows my mind – it’s all just noise and I’d rather memorise something more important (like what value a formula will return, so that I can use said formula practically, later).

The second reason I have so little confidence in sitting a formal exam is that I didn’t concentrate. Let’s go back to some online learning 101. Don’t overload your learners on the nitty gritty details when they’re not necessary. 

The great thing about the SAP online training is that there are a LOT of demos and simulations which you can do. It’s so good that even though I didn’t have a system I could access (to do the learning activities), there were recordings which I could interact with, to learn the basic process of how to do something. But I lost interest after about the first 5 simulations and demos because the first 15 steps (ok, minor exaggeration) were going from the Microsoft Windows home page, to open the damned application, to accessing the multiprovider, to opening a query. It was interesting the first few times, and then mind numbingly boring for every recording and simulation thereafter. So I’d press “Play” and then I’d go and read my emails or do something else. Why couldn’t the simulation start at the learning point of the process, rather than at the start of the program?

Secondly? Don’t confuse me with an audio track that doesn’t match up to the copy I’m reading on the screen.

Believe it or not, I’m an auditory learner. It’s been tested! That said, if I’m listening to something and it doesn’t match up to what is happening in front of my eyes I tune out. This training was infested with this kind of mismatched audio / copy. Why bother with two different scripts? It makes absolutely no sense! Either get rid of the wall of text and make it into a condensed and effective infographic or get rid of the audio. Not only is this confusing to many learners, but it’s also a waste of money. The extra bandwidth required to play the audio, the extra time to write the script and then record it… it’s all so wasteful.

Thirdly? I know I didn’t have to pay for this training, but it would be so nice if there was a cheatsheet provided for me. Just on the key process steps. It doesn’t need to be an extensive manual, but a simple print out would have been fantastic.

So all that said, don’t examine me on this. It’s going to take me a few months of solid, real world application of this learning, for me to have the confidence to sit down and do a formal exam…

Fake it until you make it

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Image of a caterpillar, captioned Fake it until you make it

Monday is a big day at my workplace. It’s the day where the different countries (I work for “Asia Pacific”) submit their revised quarterly forecasts, and get quizzed by the regional managers on the accuracy and details. There are definitely three different types of people who attend these calls – the knowledgeable and confident, the knowledgeable and not confident, and the faux confident.

I don’t envy the managers who are not confident. Every week they get ripped to pieces because while they understand their numbers they are not confident to commit to a thing. And in the business that I’m in, you have to commit and keep your promise. I’ve had to attend these meetings in both the scribe (which is basically what I do now) capacity and also in the number giver capacity and I can safely say that behind closed doors I’m a knowledgeable and not confident type! But I’ve learned the supreme benefits of faking your confidence.

Faking it is a contentious topic in my house. The Husband believes in being straight up truthful – if you’re not confident about something, you should certainly not promise it. I think it’s why he fails so miserably to understand the political mindset that he needs when working with the upper levels of management the large organisation that he works in. On the other hand, after being ripped to shreds mercilessly for about 6 months when I started attending these “review” calls, I learned that while you don’t lie, you certainly don’t “um” and “ah”. Even if you have bad news, it’s better to convey an aura of supreme confidence.

So how do you do this?

  • Remove the “ums” and the “ahs” from your range of speech. I’ve listened to a few people present to the room. It’s nor a formal presentation, but it’s a presentation no doubt – and when the speech is peppered with “um” and “ah”, it conveys a complete lack of confidence. Not only in yourself and your presentation skills, but in what you’re talking about.
  • Slow down. I notice that when people start to waffle (and demonstrate that they’re losing confidence) their speech patterns start to vary more – they mumble or they speak much more quickly than normal. So slow down.
  • If you’re in person, make eye contact. If you’re on a phone conference, you know how on America’s Next Top Model, Tyra Banks talks about how to “smize“? You can do that with your voice as well. Infact, it’s both easier and harder over the phone because people can’t see your facial expression. So learn to convey confidence with the tone of your voice by speaking clearly and audibly.
  • OWN the shortcomings in your message, but don’t focus on them. Find one thing that is positive to bring to the discussion and make sure you mention it on its own – not as a defensive move to some negative feedback.

I had a manager who was awful. This manager was so bad that the whole team was demoralised and quitting. The sales numbers didn’t meet the targets in the slightest, the support staff weren’t helping because they were too confused (and unhappy also). But this manager was AMAZING at instilling confidence in her senior managers. I hated working with her, but I learned so much by watching her work. She spoke with so much confidence. When the news was bad, someone you walked away from a discussion with her feeling like you’d won something. And she was a master at deflecting the bad news and shining a mirror on the good news. I know that this is one of the key reasons why she succeeded so well in her job – despite the failing numbers!

So you might hate the political game. You might want to stay true to yourself to the bitter end. But why does it have to be bitter or untrue? Fake the confidence and you can turn it around until one day you’ll wake up and you’ll realise it’s not fake anymore. Not only that, you will have a brand new audience of people who trust what you’re saying and who will follow YOUR lead.