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.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Make your own laundry detergent

Having three kids means doing a lot of laundry. And with the addition of a very unplanned baby, we're trying to cut costs wherever we can. However, I was very skeptical about all of the make-your-own laundry detergents floating around Pinterest.
But the recipes are fairly cheap and easy, and so I decided to give it a try. We've been using this detergent more than a year now, and it really is great. I started with a very basic recipe, but did add a container of OxyClean Baby, because every five loads or so, there was a stain that didn't come out.
And I originally grated the soap, which was a lengthy process. Before the baby was born, I grated soap while watching TV. Now, I don't have that much downtime. So I tried grating it with the food processor--it turned out great, and the soap completely washed out of the food processor. I was a little worried about that.
So here's my recipe:
1 box of Borax
1 box of washing soda
1 containter of OxyClean Baby (optional, and regular OxyClean would probably work too)
2 bars of Fels Naptha soap
I put the soap in the microwave for just a few seconds (it softens the soap and makes grating easier). Then, I slice each bar into four slices. I put those slices, one at a time, into the food processor using the grating blade. If you don't have a food processor, you can definitely grate by hand. I recommend doing it while watching an NCIS marathon on USA.
Mix the other ingredients together in a large container.
Mix in the soap.
Pour into containers to store the laundry detergent.
When you use the detergent, you only need about 2 Tablespoons. I sometimes add more, just out of habit from years of laundry.
Also, when I first made the detergent, I had no idea what any of the ingredients are or where to find them. I've been able to find them in the laundry aisle of two nearby grocery stores, but I can't find any of the ingredients at Target. I know some people order them off Amazon, too.

Free Christmas Card Overlays, Vintage Logo Style

I had visions of glittery Christmas cards dancing in my head this season. But then our family got hit with a horrible cold, followed by a stomach bug.

So I opted for super simple holiday cards. Because sometimes, done is better than sparkling. I started with some awesome logo files, added some holiday cheer, inserted photos and sent them to the printers.

Now, I see that gold and glittery is quite the trend this year. Sometimes that makes me sad. But mostly it makes me happy that I opted for simplicity. And I wanted to share some of the logos I made, so you could make some simple holiday cards too.

There are so many different ways you can use these--I saved them in PSD files, so you can change the opacity, do a color overlay, etc.

Here is the same overlay as above, with a lower opacity, for example. And you can see what it looks like at the top, instead of the bottom of the photo.

And here's an example of one of the other logos on this free download. Click on the link for more logos. Happy card-making! And I'd love to see what you create with these logos.

Also, some photos don't work so well with the logos--they don't have enough dark or light spots for a logo to show up on. Here's how I handled that in our family card: