Monday, March 31, 2014

Conversations with a toddler

I can't even explain how surreal it is to chat with a toddler. It's probably odd for most parents--but neither of my older children spoke before the age of 2--my oldest, at 17, still doesn't talk.

So I was completely unprepared for our first conversation, which happened simply because I'm used to talking without expecting a response.

It happened after I'd confiscated a penny Harper tried to put in her mouth. She wasn't screaming like she usually does, which made me suspicious.

Me: Is there something in your mouth?

Harper thinks for a moment.

Harper: Yes!

Me: What is in your mouth?

Harper sticks out her tongue.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

DIY mistletoe pillow.

I'm a little bit in love with my new Christmas pillow. We don't have a lot of holiday décor--despite my best intentions, I never get my holiday shopping started before Thanksgiving, which means there's just enough money to buy presents and not much for the fun decorations.
Plus, this year we have a toddler. And her favorite part of the holidays so far (besides the Bubble Guppies special "The Puppy and The Ring") seems to be undecorating the tree and any other surfaces that may seem festive.

I saw this pillow at and had to have it. I decided that I was going to break down and buy myself some holiday décor. Until I saw the price tag. $145. That's more than I spend on each child with their gifts and stockings combined. And it wasn't an amount I could shave off the budget by being thrifty somewhere else.

But I couldn't forget about the pillow--its adorable French holiday message, the fluffy mistletoe, its charming messiness.

One night as I was getting ready for bed, it popped into my head: I could make one.

I shook that notion right out and tried to sleep. I've never made a pillow. I am in the very, very early stages of learning to sew.

But I drifted off thinking of my canvas drop cloth, which I'd just used for a painting project. About one-third of the drop cloth remained clean during the project. That could be enough for a pillow. And I had some batting left over from a project two years earlier. I was planning to get rid of the batting. I also had an old green sweater, which I'd used to make stockings for homeless high-school students. And half of a piece of green felt. And some black fabric paint. I could make a pillow out of things I had lying around the house--it would be free, so if I screwed it up, I'd only have wasted some of my time.

I got started the next morning, when I should have been getting ready for work. I downloaded some templates for mistletoe and cut them out of the sweater and felt scraps. I created a stencil for the saying using my Silhouette (and one of my favorite fonts, Lavanderia).

Over the next few days, I worked in pieces--an hour here, 30 minutes there.

I created the mistletoe and sewed the first three sprigs onto the drop cloth fabric, then used fabric glue on the other sprigs, as it was getting a bit thick for my sewing machine. I used a scrap of red gingham fabric to create a bow, then sewed that on the fabric.

I created the pillow by folding the drop cloth fabric in half, then sewing the wrong sides together, leaving a hole to turn it right side out and then stuff. Then I top-stitched the front of the pillow. I'm sure there are better ways to create a pillow.

I still love the pillow from Wayfair. But for $0, I think my copycat isn't so bad. And it adds a sweet, festive touch to our home.

I already have plans to make another one sometime during the new year, when things have calmed down and I can spend some more time--and perhaps money--on some of the elements. I'd like to add a border to the pillow and experiment with other ways to create the mistletoe, perhaps sewing on a few pearls too.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Picture-perfect teacher gifts

I am convinced that some of the most amazing people in the world go into special education--as teachers, therapists and paraprofessionals. Each Christmas, I wish there was a way to truly express how grateful our family is for the magic they work in our lives every single day.

Sadly, I'm constrained by a budget--and the fact that this magic requires a heck of a lot of people.

We do write thank you notes--and I hope that the people who work with Xander know that I mean every word.

When it comes to gifts, it's hard to think of ideas that aren't tacky but won't eat up our entire holiday budget. This year, I was really excited to think of one--which I will share in detail later. I'm going to order poinsettias from the local activity center, which provides a day program for adults with intellectual disabilities. It's where Xander will spend his days after he leaves school--and where many of his teacher's and paras' graduates wind up.

I can easily drop these off at Xander's school. But his after-school life skills program is pretty far from our house and I began to worry that with all of the hustle and bustle, I wouldn't have time to deliver the flowers. So I wanted an alternative, something that could fit in the backpack he brings to the day program.
These picture-frame ornaments from Michaels fit the bill perfectly. To make the gift extra special, I tucked each one into a red chevron-patterned paper bag and added a tag that I designed to match the gift. The best part--these tags can be used a lot this year, as I'm giving family photos to several people on my list. I'm putting them in larger frames, wrapping in tissue paper, then sticking the sticker on the tissue paper, putting the gift in a box and wrapping. So simple, but adds a layer of delight!

Want to print some tags out for your picture-perfect presents? Click here. If you have one handy, a 3-inch circle punch works great for cutting these out. If not, a pair of scissors works well too.

What are you giving your child's teachers this year?

Free printables to make DIY nutcracker kits for gift-giving

I have some young boys on my Christmas list--young boys I  see only during the holidays. So it's hard to know what to buy. I know their interests but not the things they already have.

We exchange gifts with these relatives a few days before Christmas. I remember well what those last days before the Big Day were like with young boys--school is out, anticipation is high and boredom is a given.

So I decided to give them a gift that would break that boredom: A paint-your-own nutcracker kit.

I bought a set of six unpainted nutcrackers at Hobby Lobby, then bought some empty tiny paint canisters in the art supply section.

I bought a set of brushes (I can't stand the super-cheap brushes that always come with kids' art kits). I also got some clear plastic containers from Pick Your Plum.  Then I designed some labels for the various parts of the kit.

The last and most frustrating part was finding a container that could fit the whole kit. I  could have avoided some of the pain by simply measuring everything and figuring it out. Instead, I kept ordering containers only to have them delivered and discover they wouldn't hold the kit. Then, I saw these cardboard suitcases in one of the Christmas sections of Target. They were perfect--and exactly the kind of thing a young boy would like to have to store treasures in long after the kit was used.

To make sure they could continue to use the suitcases, I affixed the outer label with temporary adhesive. I printed the other labels onto sticker paper, then cut them out and stuck them on the containers.

The containers include--a long, skinny one to keep the paints in and two short, square ones. One of those has two stocking stuffer toys (a small car and a Christmas kaleidoscope) and the other has Christmas gum drops (hence the "goody goody" label).

I can't wait to give these presents--although I kinda wish I'd made one for my own kids (and myself). They look like a lot of fun, and I bet they'd work well for boys and girls of many different ages. If you'd like to make a kit, you can download the labels here (one outer label and the "oh what fun!" and "goody goody" circles), here (just the outer label) and here (the labels for the paint containers, plus different circle labels).

What are some great ideas you have for the kids on your list?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Random Acts of Kindness: Stockings for Homeless Students

I have an amazing friend who has challenged her friends and family to do random acts of kindness for the month before her birthday.

She's the kind of person who is always helping other people--I know, everyone says that. But it's true in this case. One example: A few years ago, we hosted an orphan from Moldova, a 13-year-old boy who came with a host of problems and an incredible spirit and beautiful smile. But it didn't look like we'd be able to adopt him. So my friend and her husband volunteered without hesitation, even though they had a handful of young children at the time. It so happens that Moldova has some strict adoption laws, and my friend and I were both too young to adopt the teen. But the experience still stands out--with so many smaller examples--as a testament to my friend's character.
And when she learned that her fifth baby would be born with a serious heart condition, my friend faced those challenges with remarkable courage and grace. Those traits shined through again when my friend was diagnosed with brain cancer. 
So when she asked us to perform random acts of kindness for her birthday, it was impossible to say no. My friend created a Facebook group for people to share their experiences. I was hesitant at first; I usually hate writing about things that I do like that. But as I kept up with the group, it really was inspiring to read about how others were reaching out and helping.

I decided that this challenge would be a great opportunity to get my kids involved and chose three projects, one that fit with each of them. For my 16-month-old daughter, we went through her clothes and toys and donated them to Just a Hand, a local charity that gives gently used clothes, toys, baby stuff and more to foster parents. Often, they get foster children with no notice--and nothing more than what they are wearing. I talked with a foster mom once who got a baby girl on Christmas Eve dressed in pajamas. This local woman started just getting leftovers from yard sales. And in the past few years, her effort has grown so much that she now also offers two giveaway events each year, where she gives clothes, toys, baby and kid stuff to hundreds of families who are referred to her by social services.

For my younger son, I decided to make stockings for homeless students at his school. His school is one of the wealthiest in our district, but there are still many who are homeless. Some live in motels with their families. But many are on their own, trying to navigate high school while entering the adult world all too soon. I still call on my mom for help on a pretty regular basis, so I can't even imagine being 16 and not having anyone to call.

This project won't fix that for them. But I hope it helps them feel a little less alone. I sewed stockings out of a sweater that has some holes in it--it was a favorite sweater, made out of a beautiful pale green wool and I hated the thought of getting rid of it. Then, we stuffed those stockings with toiletries (Axe body spray for the boys, glossy lip balm (and trial sized boxes of tampons) for the girls, plus shampoo, body wash, etc. Then we added hot chocolate, an instant Starbucks caramel coffee package, mini candy canes and a festive tag. I dropped them off at the school for the social worker. I know that in her office, she keeps a bin filled with toiletries and gives them to the homeless students when she meets with them. I thought she could just keep these on the shelf and hand them out through the month of December.

If you'd like to do a similar project, your school district should have a homeless liaison. Call the district and ask for that contact information. Or, show up at your child's school (or a nearby school) and drop off toiletries with the social worker. They always meet students who need these items.
I plan to do our third act on Thanksgiving. My parents live down the street from a group home for adults with intellectual disabilities. We're hoping that in about two years, our oldest son will be living in that home (or one like it). I have to confess that some days, I'm looking forward to that time, when I won't have to change his diapers or worry about poop smeared throughout his room. But most of the time, when I think about him moving away, it makes me cry. It's hard to think of him living somewhere else--but I know we'll be visiting often and will have him home with us for the holidays. But some families can't or won't take their loved ones home for the holidays, which means they'll spend the holiday at the group home while their roommates celebrate elsewhere. So we're going to bring some mini pies over to the group home for the residents--and the staff--who are having Thanksgiving there.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

You Rock: A simple touch for Thanksgiving cupcakes

Sometimes you have the best holiday intentions--like freshly baked desserts for Thanksgiving--and then your toddler gets the first cold of her life and needs extra special attention.

So you need something quick and easy. Like cupcakes from the bakery. To give them a homemade touch, add a cute topper. I love these little pilgrims. And they were perfect for my son's classroom Thanksgiving party. It turns out that you can only send in store-bought treats these days, anyway, so it all worked out.

And it also turns out that icing is great for making miserable toddlers feel better.

You can download the cupcake toppers here. Simply punch them out with a 2-inch circle punch, glue them to toothpicks (or, as I did, little wooden appetizer picks) and insert into cupcakes.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Vintage Logo Overlays, Some More Examples

Here are some more examples of how to use the overlays I shared yesterday to simply turn a photo into a Christmas card.