Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dreaming of a chalky Christmas

If I'd been planning this baby, I might have had her a month or two earlier. That way, she'd be sitting up a little bit better and wouldn't be so awkward for the Christmas card photo. But I think she's cute enough to pull off the awkward look.

I totally jumped on the chalkboard bandwagon. I'd had a much different idea in mind. But then this popped in my head, and I ditched the first plans. I just got the cards back from the printer (I use Bay Photo, they're great), and I can't wait to send them out. I'd hoped for something a little bit more spectacular, but this is the best I can do on two hours of sleep each night.

Here's the back, by the way:

And here's a more generic card I designed while playing around:
You can download a template to use in Photoshop here.
Don't have Photoshop? Here's a card I made in jpeg, so you can print it out and just glue on a photo:

Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Teen Guys

Stockings have always been a big deal in my family. Often, they're even better than any of the big gifts. When I was a child, they were filled with cassette tapes (I still remember the year I got "Joshua Tree" by U2 in my stocking, best stocking stuffer ever), candy, small toys and a gift card. And when my guys were small, I loved shopping for their stockings. Now that they're teens, I find the stockings to be the most challenging part of the holidays. I rack my brain repeatedly.
Knowing how hard finding stocking stuffers for teen boys is, I'm sharing my list with you. And if you have any ideas, please share them with me. Together, we might just come up with the best stockings yet.
Some ideas: sunglasses, key chain, gloves, ear buds, cologne, a Magic 8 ball (I did this last year, and it was a hit. Also, the ball predicted the Redskins would have a mediocre season, which seems to be accurate), iTunes gift card, chapstick, candy, an atlas (my younger son loves maps, so he gets a new atlas each year), a book (my sons aren't big readers, but I picked up a copy of "Moneyball," which happens to be my younger son's favorite movie), socks.
My son also loves change--he likes to go to Coinstar once a month to turn his change into bills. So I made him this. Here is a downloadable bag topper file, so you can print one out and make your pocket change into a festive stocking stuffer.
Here are some ideas I found of stocking stuffers you can order online:
Pick Punch: At $25, this might be a bit pricey for a stocking stuffer, but its coolness factor could mean you can get away with fewer stuffers. This gadget is basically like a hole punch in the shape of a guitar pick, and the product description says it can cut picks out of thick materials like old credit cards or unused gym membership badges.

Nose Pencil Sharpener: Something that's functional and fun, if not a little bit gross. It costs $1.69 at You can find a lot more gag-type stocking stuffers at the website
Drumstick pencils, $12, are pretty much what they sound like--pencils shaped like drumsticks, perfect for your favorite teen drummer.
Or how about a bacon wallet? My teenage sons could eat bacon 50 times a day, if I'd let them. So this could be perfect, for $12.
While we're on the bacon theme, there's also bacon frosting, $8. Which combines my younger son's two favorite foods.
Or Like and Dislike stamps for the Facebook fan in your life, $14.
Coal Soap: For the past few years, I've been tempted to pick up one of those bags of coal-shaped bubble gum the stores all sell at Christmas time. But for the fourth year in a row, my son is still wearing braces. This soap, at $12, is a good substitute.

Monday, November 12, 2012

God's providence

One day, I was chatting with a pastor who asked me how we can know about "God's providence."

I asked him, "What do you mean?"

"Well," he replied, "would you like to know why God gave you two autistic sons?"

Of course I would, and I began to get excited, thinking this pastor was finally going to be able to answer one of my biggest struggles.

Instead, he replied, "We may never know. But we know what God expects of us, he's made that clear. And there aren't any asteriks, or exceptions for people who have hard lives. So we don't need to question what God has done, we just need to ask, 'What do we need to do?' and the answer to that is simple: Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.'"

Sometimes I forget, so I made myself a reminder. You can get one for yourself here.

Stylin' Burp Cloths

Walk in my house these days and it's a given, you're going to see a burp cloth over just about every chair. When you've got a baby who spits up as much as ours does, you need one of these things within reach at all times. When I learned I was having a girl, I wanted some feminine burp cloths. But I didn't want to shell out money for something that would be covered in spit up most of the time.
So I made them--and spent $2 for a dozen burp cloths. I got two receiving blankets from Rappahannock Goodwill Industries' thrift store. They happened to be 50% off the day I was there, so I got two for about $2. Then, I cut up an old pair of my pajama pants, and used some fabric scraps I had laying around. I also cut the receiving blankets (I had one that was a hand-me-down, in addition to the two I picked up at Goodwill) into rectangles of 18"x 8". I sewed the wrong side of the fabric from the scraps and the pj pants to the wrong side of the receiving blanket rectangles. I left about an inch open, so I could turn them inside out. Then, when I turned them inside out (which is really the right way), I sewed over the top of the burp cloths. And voila! I had stylish burp cloths.
You may be thinking, "That's a great project, if you sew." It just so happens that I am a terrible seamstress. When I was a kid, my friends and I would make Barbie clothes. My friends sewed theirs, and handed me Scotch tape and a stapler for my creations--I was that inept at sewing. My mom signed me up for a sewing class and the instructor quickly picked up on my lack of ability and completed the project herself. So, really, if I can do these burp cloths, anyone can. In fact, some of them are a bit misshapen, but Harper doesn't seem to mind when she's spewing onto them.
If you, by chance, can sew in a straight line, these would make awesome baby gifts. They're something every parent needs plenty of--and it's awesome to get burp cloths that look a little different from the usual baby prints.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Praise God...

Lately, I've been really stressed. When I start to get anxious, I just head downstairs and peek at my Thanksgiving mantle. It sounds corny, but it really does remind me to count my blessings and remember that I have so much stress because I have so many blessings.

The mantle's a little rough this year, I apologize. I constantly struggle with what to do with that ugly silver circle. See, this isn't a fireplace. It used to house a wood-burning stove. For about 30 years. Then we bought the house and suddenly the insurance company decided it was a fire hazard. We could keep it if we moved the stove a few feet from where it stood. Which would have placed is smack dab in the center of our small family room. So we had to get rid of it. I bought this awesome mantle at a wonderful antiques store called Old Lucketts Store. If you live anywhere near Virginia, you should check this place out. Anyway, I love decorating the mantle but the circle remains an issue. I made an awesome chalkboard that I'll show you later, and that is tall enough to hide the circle. But this sign, which I love, is not.

The sign, by the way, was super easy to make. It's made from two old boards in my parents shed. They're nailed together with a long board in the back. Then, I painted the whole thing with white craft paint, just one coat because I wanted it to look a little bit rough. I cut out the letters for the sign with my Silhouette (wishing I had the newer version, because I would have liked them to be just a little bit bigger). I cut them out of vinyl, then laid the vinyl on the sign and painted over the letters with a walnut stain. I painted two coats of the stain, let it dry overnight. Then I peeled the vinyl letters--and the leaf design, also cut from vinyl--off the sign. That took some patience. The last line, for some reason, didn't come out so well. I had to go over it with white paint, and it looks a bit rougher than I wanted. But I still love the sign. I think the flaws give it character and they remind me that sometimes, blessings aren't perfect. Which is a great reminder when your blessings are stressing you out.

Some other aspects of the mantle: The pumpkins in the jar on the right are made from scraps of scrapbook paper. I hunted for every scrap with orange for this project, using this tutorial to turn the scraps into little pumpkins.

And I made this pumpkin my taking Modge Podge and old book pages to a ceramic pumpkin. I finished it off by hot-gluing some faux fall leaves near the stem.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Stealing Joy

We have a lot of photos on our walls. Call it poor man's art. Or an arrogant belief that our kids are really, really good-looking. I love looking at their photos.

But the displays in no way resemble this amazing photo display from House of Smiths.

Or this lovely gallery display from Pottery Barn:
In fact, it looks like this:

Yes, Martha Stewart told me I needed to design a template on my floor first, to make sure the frames would fit and would be evenly spaced. But really, who has time for that? If those pictures were going to get on my wall, I needed to just get them up.

And most days, I'm pretty happy with the gallery. No, the portraits aren't color coordinated. Most come from The Picture People or the JCPenney studio, not professional photographers. But these are the people I love. And I love to look at them.

But then I get on Pinterest. Or into the blogosphere. And I see what a gallery wall should look like. And suddenly, that wall of love turns into a wall of shame.

And it's not just walls. I look at these blogs and my house feels shabby. Messy. Poor.

I console myself by remembering that most of these lifestyle bloggers don't have kids with autism.

Then I stumble onto the autism blogs. And those moms are making sensory tables. Doing serious advocacy work. Totally rocking the autism life.

So I remind myself that most of them don't have demanding, but low-paying full-time jobs.

But the damage is done. On its own, my life is pretty good. I have three awesome kids. A home that's still standing (which is pretty miraculous some days). A sweet gig in the career track I chose as a second grader. Money is a struggle, but we have enough to live on.

But then I compare my life to other people. They get to have vacations. Family pictures with smiling kids. Mornings that don't include poop smeared on walls. Time for workouts or 5-mile runs every day.

And it's even worse when I compare myself to other people. Women who are skinny. Moms who don't seem flustered. Career women who take everything in stride. Women with coordinated accessories and outfits.

But mostly I compare myself to other moms. Those who are doing fun activities with their kids, decorating their homes for every holiday, coming up with out-of-the-box strategies to get their kids to do their homework and their chores.

I look at myself: A good 40 pounds overweight, exhausted, going to work in clothes that have baby spitup on them, popping in a Stouffer's lasagna for dinner, every night fighting with a teen to do his homework, vegging out in front of the TV while nursing the baby...

You get the picture.

The truth is, I'm doing the best I can. And most days, it really is enough. Amazing, even. So I need to stop comparing.

I made myself a little reminder that I printed out and tacked to a corkboard:
Then I compared it to this really cool print on etsy and felt bad. I guess some habits are hard to break.

If you'd like to print out your own reminder, click here.