Sunday, September 30, 2012

Football Yarn Wreath - Go Vikings!

I've seen yarn covered wreaths everywhere lately and since I couldn't find a nice fall wreath that I liked, I figured I would try making one myself. Browsing through Joann Fabrics, I had a ton of ideas running through my mind, but all that was discarded when I saw yarn in purple and gold. It's football season and what better way to show my support for our team than with a stylish wreath on our door!

Here is my list of supplies:
  • Foam wreath
  • Colored yarn
  • Embelleshments (I chose a wooden V and football)
  • Ribbon

Since I purchased a plain wooden V, I painted a couple coats of white and then sprayed it with a matte sealer. Once that was dry, I glued the football on top of the white V so it would be ready to attach to the wreath when I finished it.

Next, I tied one end of the yarn around the foam and then continued wrapping and wrapping and wrapping, switching hands occasionally to avoid cramping!
How I started the wreath

Over half-way done!
Finished wrapping yarn!

Once finished with wrapping the yarn, I glued the embellishment to the wreath and tied a white ribbon around the top to hang it up. This was a very simple way to create a wreath that fits your style perfectly! These are a great gift and will definitely be making more for all the Viking fans in my life!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

I want to introduce a system that we've come to adapt in our household, to accommodate O's language developments: its called "PECS" - the Picture Exchange Communication System.  

Essentially, it is the use of pictures in place of words for actions and items; rather than ask my son what activity he would like to do next - and rattle of four or five options that would verbally overwhelm him - I hand him his book of pictures, and he picks the activity from a page of velcro-ed images.

Here's how we made O's book:

We bought this small three-ringed binder from Staples, and two sets of these, as well, to divide up the categories in his book.    (I also purchased a package of this hard, plastic "paper" to use inside the book as pages that hold velcro strips with the images...but I can't for the life of me remember what that "paper" is called!)  I used my label maker to divvy up the different categories we'd have for O to search through on various occasions.

I then went through and found images - almost entirely from google-image searches - and saved them to my desktop.  I wanted each image to be a square, and be the exact same size in the binder.  Here's how I did that in Open Office for Macs (I'm not sure if it is the same for PCs):

First, I cropped each image in to the square, and then copy/pasted them individually in to a word document. To make an image down to the perfect size in word, you right click the image, click "picture."  In the "Type" section, you have the option to change the height and width.  Because I wanted all of my images to be the same size (and fit in the binder well), I changed the width and height to be equal to one another.

I printed out pages and pages of these perfectly sized images.  For extra protection, I ran them through my laminator (you can take your images to Kinkos to be laminated.  Given how much use our PECS images get used, I'm glad we took this extra step!).

I cut them out in to the perfect size, and put velcro dots on the back:

I did this for all of the categories:

We also have a section for routines.  I've posted his Bedtime Routine below as an example: it shows all of the steps we take to get ready for bed.  He's been doing this specific routine for so long, that we don't use this set any more.  But, if we have to change the routine for some reason, we change it on this sheet, and then use it to go through each step.  It helps him to better visualize what he is doing next, and what it is ultimately leading to.

Now that O is becoming more verbal, we don't use this as often as in the past.  But for a long time, this book was a life saver!  Whenever O was having a meltdown, instead of trying to list a dozen different things he might want ("sweetie, do you want a sippy? a banana? do you want to color? want to watch cars? what about a nap - are you tired?"), I would hand him the book, and he would flip through it to find an activity that could help calm him down.  

And, given the size, it fits so nicely in my diaper bag or suitcase for traveling!

This book definitely took time and effort to put together - and it honestly is still a work in project.  Sometimes I have to remove activities that are no longer feasible, or that are season oriented (like swimming or going to the park).  And I have to add other activities to fill their spots, or activities in which O has becoming newly interested.  But it has been a worthwhile investment.  This book has shortened meltdowns, and made decision making significantly easier for O. 

Hopefully you can take something away from this post that can help your child communicate with you in a more effective fashion!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"At a Glance Journal" For Toddlers

About a year ago now (wow!) I started keeping journals for my boys.  I was at Michael's Craft Store and saw a few hard cover sketch books on sale and decided that they would be perfect for this project.

When I took the books home, I was eager to get started, but a little overwhelmed by the task ahead of me: here I was, hoping to start a journal that I would like to write in for the next several years.  It had to be all encompassing: holding pictures, drawings, random little tidbits of noteworthy moments.  It had to be practical.  Knowing had to be perfect.

I started from the outside and worked my way in. (for some reason, this made it seem FAR less daunting!)

I wanted to personalize both of the boys books as much as I could.  For O's cover, I re-printed a stencil that I had used for his Halloween costume that year - he was Super O!:
Totally adorable, right?!
It turned out like so:

On the inside covers of his book, I wrote a small quote I found that just completely depicts my relationship with him:

Once I finished coloring in my big bubble letters, I let O go crazy on it.  He had just turned two when I started the books, so now I have a beautiful drawing that perfectly depicts both his personality and artistic styles at the time.

I had determined earlier that I wanted it to be an "at a glance" style journal; something that I could write in every day, but see multiple days at a time, just by opening one page.

I started out just experimenting with using a grid for the whole month, to see if I had enough room still in each square to write something substantial.  And it totally worked.  I measured the width of the page, and then divided it by four on the left side, leaving a little wiggle room.  I then cut a perfect sized square out of the side of a cereal box to be my template, and I created the grid in that fashion.

But doing it that way took a lot more time to put together than I was hoping to spend on just writing out each month.  So, I switched to circles.  I had a circle stencil similar to this one, and found a size that would fit four across on the left page, and three across on the right page.  And I LOVE how it turned out:

I can do it MUCH quicker with the circles, which is great, because I usually stencil out three or four months in advance.

And I LOVE having "guest" writers!  My husband's sister came in town and drew a VERY accurate portrait of O!  

At the time, he was obsessed with Cars II, and would only eat graham crackers.  Almost every night, he'd bring a small piled of graham crackers in front of the TV and would just stare up at Lightning McQueen and Fin McMissile.  I love that I can be reminded of that adorableness when I go through his journal. 

I do love how they are turning out.  It is fun to end most days by jotting down one or two special things that each of the boys had done.  Even after a bad day, it takes effort to look back and find something noteworthy and positive - sometimes I need that little reminder that even bad days have beautiful moments.

My hope is that, as the boys start getting older, they can sit down with me at the end of each day and tell me what they want to have put in their journal.  And, eventually, they can do it for themselves.  It would be fun for me to see what they find noteworthy about their days - and a good lesson for THEM to try and find the beautiful moments in the bad days.

Thanks for looking!  I hope you were able to get a few ideas of how you can journal your children's growth and development!
The End 

Halloween Baby Jars

Am I the only one who cannot bear to get rid of baby food jars? I literally have a cloth tote bag full of clean empty jars just waiting to be used! My husband has been bugging me to get rid of them, but there must be an adorable way to re-use them... right? 

I'm proud to announce that I have found a way! I saw on Pinterest awhile back some baby food jars that were spray painted yellow to resemble lego characters (which I will be doing for the Conductors first birthday coming up in November, but that's a different post for another time!) and mentioned the idea to Catti. She suggested painting the inside of the jar to keep the outside nice and smooth and a little more durable. Catti also had some orange paint on hand and we thought how cute it would be to make pumpkins! I took the idea and ran!

Here is my Halloween Baby Jars tutorial:

First off, you need your supplies:
  • Obviously some clean, dry baby food jars. I soak the jars in water for a couple minutes to get the label to peel off easily. 
  • You'll need paint. Catti had some washable paint which did an okay job, but I had much better results with the Joanns store brand acrylic craft paint, but really most any paint will do the trick!
  • A permanent marker for details.
  • Paper towels for any clean up and spills
  • A paper plate. I used the plate for when I would tap the jars in case paint came out during the process.

Make sure to shake the paint if needed! I poured about a tablespoon of paint into the jar and slowly swirled it around to cover the bottom evenly.

Then, I tilted the jar horizontally and slowly turned the jar (think like a cement mixer) making sure the glass was getting covered evenly. The first two I was tapping insistently on the kitchen table and it took me about 15 minutes to get each jar covered. On the third jar, I tapped it again the palm of my hand and it went much quicker when I rolled the paint along.

There. Now we've got three orange colored jars ready to be jack-o-lantered. I drew a couple test faces on a piece of paper to figure out which ones I liked the most and then proceeded to draw them on with the permanent marker.

Of course after finishing the pumpkins I started thinking of Frankenstein and Ghosts! Maybe even a Witch or Dracula! Same process, just different colored paints and new faces!

Then make sure you husband comes in and makes himself at home on your work table. He brought me a mug of pumpkin spice though, so I guess I can't really complain.

Ta-daa! I let the jars dry overnight (much to the dismay of the Engineer who had a hard time keeping his hands off of the jars - he wants to incorporate them into his train scenes) and worked on the lids the next morning.

To paint the lids, I screwed them onto the jars, poured some paint on the top of the lid (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of paint) and dabbed it with a foam brush. The application was not smooth and was bubbly, but I let it dry and proceeded to do another 3 coats and they turned out better than I thought they would!

Enjoy! We can't wait to see what ideas you come up with for your left-over baby food jars!

P.S. I just couldn't resist...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Raising Boys, Raising Brothers.

I can honestly say that I do believe there is a distinct difference between raising boys verses raising girls and raising a mix of the two genders.  Each of the combinations brings a new dynamic in to focus.  None are a more difficult combination than the others, they are all just different.  

I can honestly say at this point in my life, I would prefer to have another boy, IF we were to chose to have another (you will probably hear regularly that I am QUITE against having any more!).  But, if we were to have another, I'd hope for another boy; a girl would create an entirely new dynamic - and I'm becoming pretty comfortable with these boys!

I have three concepts that my husband and I try to abide by in raising our boys.

1. Teammates, Not Competitors

My parents worked on this concept with my sister and me as we were growing up: we weren't competitors, we were teammates.  We weren't to fight against one another in any situation, we worked together.  When we were very little, I didn't really understand this idea.  In my head, I needed to vie for attention from my parents.  When they were praising my sister for doing something outstanding, I would chime in with something good that I had done throughout the day.  It was at those moments that my parents would gently remind me that we weren't competing for anything; they had enough love to give to both of us that neither had to fight the other for it.

It took me until my early teens to really understand the idea that I didn't need to compete with my sister for attention from my parents.  It was a lesson they had been teaching for years before I finally understood it.  I know it will take patience with the boys, but this is a lesson we are beginning to work on.  And when we notice competition rising between them, we will gently remind them that they don't need to compete for our love.  We have more than enough love in our hearts for both of them to fit fully. together.

2. Fairness, not equality

We strive for fairness in our household.  I must note, though, fairness doesn't mean equality: it means giving each of the boys the attention they need to become the best person they can possibly be.  

For example, O needs a lot of attention.  He's a very busy little boy, and needs to be entertained constantly.  His attention span is short, so we have to busy him with many activities.  Without constant entertainment - either in the form of activities or watching his favorite shows - sometimes he really just bounces off the walls in his boredom.  X on the other hand, is very laid back.  He goes with the flow, and amuses himself quite nicely.  Some days we spend more time with O, directing him through activities during which he needs our guidance and assistance (painting, puzzles, building train tracks).  Other days, X is really struggling through teething, and he and I spend most of the day cuddling.  

They don't necessarily get equal amounts of attention every day. or any day, honestly.  But they do each get the attention and affection they need to know how important and loved the both are.

3. Fun Days, Clean Nights

I'm very much a "type-A" personality.  I like my life CLEAN.  But kids...they don't care about that. In fact, they don't even understand it.  Their brains are focusing on learning and exploring and creating.  The last thing on their mind is cleaning. 

I, personally, am learning to embrace the messiness, in exchange for fun.  I grew up in a very clean, almost museum-like atmosphere.  I'm not used to allowing messes to accumulate.  But I'm learning that it's ok: It's more important for my kids to build memories and have fun than it is to have a pristine house at all times. (gasp. did I really just say that...?!) 

Case in point, my living room right now:

Most days, I don't even clean until both of the boys are in bed.  So, my house is clean from 9pm to about 9am.  And then its a mess for twelve hours.  Unless both boys nap (which is a real unusual occurrence in this house!), during which I often pick up the toys and vacuum, and then sit and bask in the tidy, unexpected silence.

Raising two boys: My experience so far

It has been almost five years since I had the Engineer and it's a constant trial and error period for me to figure out what kind of parent I am to my boys. Sure, some things didn't work out for our family, even though it worked for other moms I knew (or was suggested in the countless numbers of parenting books I read), but I'm confident to say that I have finally figured out five principles that I follow daily for raising my children.

  1. A child spells love, T-I-M-E.
  2. Discipline
  3. Be a role model
  4. No anger for mistakes and/or accidents
  5. Listen (H.A.L.T)
1. I cannot stress enough how important it is to play with your kids! I know this seems like an obvious statement, but how many times have you told your child, "Not right now, let me finish (laundry, cooking dinner, dishes, changing a diaper, cleaning, etc, etc, etc!!!)!" I know how busy I am just running a household with two boys who are both in several activities and how easy it can be to not have the time just to play. I try to set aside at least an hour a day where I sit with the Engineer and play trains, work on puzzles, play hide-and-seek or go the park and actually play with him while there. Yes, I stuff myself through the tunnels and smash my hips into the slide, and you know what? He loves it and I do too! No amount of toys or games can replace actual spending time together. Now, I know an hour a day is hardly feasible for most people, but even 15-20 minutes can make a huge impact on your child's life. Sit down and play while dinner is cooking or create a silly scenario together while you are driving around. When your kids are grown up, do you want them to remember how clean the tile and grout was in the bathroom or how much fun they had with their parents, everyday!

2. Consistency is essential while disciplining. In other words, follow through with your consequences! Never threaten something that you can't or won't follow through with. If I tell the kids to stop fighting in the back of our SUV and threaten to turn around and go home if they don't stop, I will turn around and go home if they don't stop. Maybe we were headed to a lunch play-date or Grandma & Grandpas house, it doesn't matter, we go home and miss our activity. However, this is why you must be selective in what the punishment will be since going home isn't feasible if your heading to school, daycare or running errands or maybe you don't want to go home. Either way, whatever you choose, follow through!

3. By being a role model for my children, I make sure that they see me treat others how I would want to be treated. I say "Please" and "Thank you", hold the door open, help someone when they need it and occasionally pay for the person behind me in the drive-thru (Planning a post about helping others in celebration of my birthday coming in a couple months!)! I want them to see that I enjoy being helpful to others and treat others with respect. Another way that I role model for my boys is choosing my words carefully in front of them. The Engineer has the skill of "being occupied" but is really listening to every word I say and to anyone else in the room. My husband unfortunately suffers from Diarrhea of the Mouth and will start telling me awful stories from the news or an inappropriate story from work. I constantly have to remind him not to talk about those things in front of the kids!

4. Mistakes and accidents are just human nature, especially with children. Maybe it's just me, but my first natural reaction when something of mine is broken, stepped on, destroyed or used to dig in the dirt is to become angry. As the boys have grown older, I have worked on taking a step back from the situation, taking a deep breath and reassuring them it's okay, it's just an accident/mistake (depending on the circumstance, of course!!). This is essential in potty training! Accidents will happen and anger just makes the situation worse. Take a deep breath and handle it as cheerfully as possible!

5. My favorite piece of advice my mom gave me about parenting was to use H.A.L.T when one of my boys is having a meltdown. When they do, I pause (or halt, ha!) and ask myself, is he Hungry? Is he Angry? Is he Lonely? Is he Tired? More than likely he is one of those and I'm able to address that specific need to help diffuse the situation much more quickly.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Choo choo! Come meet my boys!

I have two train obsessed boys.

My engineer is four and trains are his life right now. He plays, thinks and dreams all about trains. He just started Pre-k this month and loves school. Engineer goes three days a week for two and a half hours, not a huge commitment but a good transition for kindergarten next year. He is kind, totally hilarious and curious about everything. He's been my constant companion for the last four and a half years and I've enjoyed every minute of it!

My little conductor is ten months old and growing bigger, stronger and smarter by the day! He is sick of crawling and attempting to walk in hopes of keeping up with his older brother. While his train playing usually involves destroying the Engineers detailed setups and chewing on tracks and trains, the two get along great and have a close bond already formed.

The two of them keep me insanely busy and lacking on sleep (A full nights sleep, what's that?) but I wouldn't change it for the world!

Introducing Hugs & Kisses:

I figured it would be appropriate to begin with an introduction to my boys.

I have two toddlers: 

Meet O.  
He's three years old.  O has PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Delays - Not Otherwise Specified).  I first noticed he was behind in his milestones around his first birthday and we subsequently had him evaluated for the first time at eighteen months.  From 18 months to his 3rd birthday, just a month ago, O had a therapist come to the house once a week to work with him on communication and social skills.  Now that he is three, O goes to "school" five days a week: two days on the school bus (which is a HUGE deal) to ECSE (Early Childhood Special Education through our county) and three mornings a week to facility that specializes in special needs children.  But he isn't just his delays: O is funny, quirky, chatty (he has his own language!), cuddly and incredibly bright.  He has challenging moments every day, but it's the sweet, charming moments that also come every daythat remind me how lucky I am to have him.

This is X.

He's 16 months old.  And he's hilarious - he certainly knows how to command attention to himself!  He's a tad behind on his speech, but otherwise he's "up-to-date" on his milestones.  He's cuddly, very loving, inquisitive, an avid climber, and definitely a mama's boy. He is also the most smiley child you'll ever meet - his smile lights up any room he's in...and he knows it!  

Together, they are my hugs & kisses.