Friday, December 7, 2018

Our Favorite Hands-on Christmas Charities

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As we are waiting for the snow apocalypse to arrive here in the mountains of North Carolina, I thought it would be fun to share our favorite hands-on charities. We have done many charities over the years and some have become yearly traditions that the kids look forward to. We have found through the years that training our children's hearts toward charity is so much easier when they can  participate in the giving process.

Return to Bethlehem ~ This is a wonderful charity every Christmas that we love to attend. It is a guided tour through the "streets of Bethlehem" just days after the birth of Jesus. It ends with a live nativity. There are beggars spread throughout the "streets" to collect money for a local charity that serves the homeless.

Giving to the Food Bank Christmas Tree ~ The kids have given food to the food bank every year since they were very young. They pick a few items at the store and then we take it to the tree. It is a tradition that they look forward to year after year. This year, Dean was busy the day we were able to go so I only got a picture of Anne.

Toy Drives ~ Instead of "adopting" a child for Christmas off of an angel tree, we tend to pick toy drives where toys are collected for families to come and "shop" for their children. It is much more affordable for us, since many of the angel trees seem to want or require the giver to spend more than we can afford to spend even on our children. Not that giving to others more than ourselves is a bad thing, but it was a very confusing concept to our children when they were little that anyone would be allowed to ask for so much. We have "adopted" a teen mother twice since teen motherhood is close to my heart, and I want to encourage young mothers to push on and reach their highest potential. 
This year there was a call out for teen gifts. We gave a make-your-own Lava Lamp.
Homeless Kits ~ We make these year round and hand them out as we pass homeless people on street corners. Through the years, we have gotten to know a few homeless or nearly-homeless folks. Some we talk to and some we just watch and help where we can since they are too mentally ill to safely approach. We have found that most of them love lollipops and candy canes but often can't chew granola bars because of poor dental care. We generally try to give toothpaste and tooth brushes with candy. They also love socks year round and water bottles in the summer time. The women often become very excited about soap. But most of all, they just want to be spoken kindly to and seen as human and worthy of a few kind words.
  • We also love filling shoe boxes with treats for the elderly homebound with the organization, Meals on Wheels. We may still pull this charity off this year if the snow doesn't make us miss the cutoff date. For sure, we will drop off some pet food that they can take out on their rounds to help the homebound with pets. 
  • We also generally take in our worn out towels once a year to a no kill shelter so that they can turn them into rags or extra bedding for pets. The kids also like making dog toys for the shelters. Most have directions on their websites on what they need or how to make dog toys. 
  • Most years we take a name off the library book tree and buy a book for a child in need. 
  • Lastly, we like to "Secret Santa" someone who is really struggling. This year we have a few people in mind. The days are over of my kids commando crawling across the lawn in the hopes of not being caught (lol), but they still like the idea of surprising someone with the joy of Christmas.
A few year-round charities that are fun for little ones ~ 
  • Thank you notes given to the Red Cross for those who donate blood. My oldest needed two blood transfusions as an infant. 
  • Making encouraging cards for Veterans, which we will leave at the VA Hospital.
  • Taking a special meal to a family in crisis or a lonely elderly person.
  • Making blankets for the Linus Project. While hospitalized, two of my children have received blankets from this project through the years.
  • Taking cookies to the police or fire department.
  • Finding a teen mother program that encourages mothers to stay in school and provides parenting classes. They usually have a list of needs, but diapers are always a safe bet.
  • Anonymously sprinkling a playground in a poor neighborhood with dolls or stuffed animals with encouraging notes attached has been one of my kids' favorite charities through they years. Later, they love to go back to the park or playground to see that the toys have been picked up and know that they have found new homes. 
  • Taping dollar bills to vending machines on a college campus or hospital.
  • Leaving books and small toys with "please take" signs in laundromats or other places where kids may need to wait for a long time.
  • Placing quarters in meters that have expired. 
  • Taking toys to children who will be in the hospital over Christmas.
  • Asking a Head Start day care what toy they need and then shopping for it with my children and taking it into the day care. 
I would love to hear any other ideas y'all have. I am always looking for fresh ways to give.  We are so abundantly blessed!

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, November 30, 2018

Week 14 ~ The Nutcracker and Decking the Halls

For the month of December, I will have a different theme each week about how we celebrate Christmas. This week it is the Nutcracker and how we deck the halls. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is completely taking over our lives at the moment. We are very busy with shows. We did do math, literature, history and health this week. We also made it to all out-of-the-home classes. However, most of our time was spent at the theater or resting up for the theater. Anne is in five dances as five different characters and Dean is working backstage for all rehearsals and shows. We will be spending 20+ hours at the theater before the weekend is complete. Unfortunately, my camera really struggled with the dark environment, but I got a few shots.
Anne is the first leap during the cat dance. It is a very dark piece and it is hard to take a successful video.

At the end of the elastic doll dance, the mouse king attacks the dolls. Anne is trying to save her friend "doll" and pulls her off stage.
Elastic Dolls ~ Anne center

The story within a story scene ~ Anne as princess (in mask) in the background

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Anne as Princess

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Cat scene ~ Anne front right
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Pop Rock Candy ~ Anne is center in other dancers arms


Getting directions ~ Anne in princess dress

Dean blew up balloons and made all the hanging pom poms ~ poor boy!

Cat Scene
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Mermaids ~ Anne third from the left

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We also spent lots of time decorating the house. We have collected our Christmas decor for years. I hate paying full price, so everything has been acquired from after-Christmas sales and thrift stores. My most recent finds are the two snowmen stocking holders I scored for $4 at a thrift store. They are really heavy. Hopefully, I will find more in time. I love Christmas decorating and had several hours of fun laying it all out. I took a chance and pulled out some of the breakable things, even though we have a kitten in the house. Much to my surprise, she so far has left it all alone.

We laid out our favorite Christmas picture books



I have been collecting Fontanini nativity pieces since my late teens. 

My Mother decided to stop decorating much at Christmastime and gave me her stable (inn).

I love it!
Lights make everything more festive.

My choir figures
And last but not least....The TREE! Dean wanted a themed tree this year with only red balls. We compromised and used all the balls we had (regardless of the color), plus a few glittery flowers from a dollar store.


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Blessings, Dawn

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Thanksgiving Week

I am not counting this as one of our school weeks, because we did very limited school. Next week will be the same, since it is Nutcracker week. So, I will be combining both weeks to make up week fourteen. We did have some lovely moments and quality experiences I would like to record.

Dean's dreams came true this week. We finally had enough money saved up to purchase all of the parts of a gaming computer. Dear husband and Dean spent about six hours building the computer. Now, Dean can play with his friends and brother without the computer constantly crashing without  having a proper graphics card. I am delighted that he learned some skills, and we saved hundreds of dollars doing it ourselves.


Recently, Grandma taught us all about Banksy (the British street artist), and the kids made their own similar drawings. First, they created and cut out their own stencils on mylar and then painted on canvas board. Banksy is an anonymous artist, and we really enjoyed learning more about him (or her). Banksy's art appears around the world, but he carefully guards his identity.


We also had a lesson with Grandma on linoleum block printing. The kids carved their own blocks and then printed their own printed cards. This was pretty cool, too. Anne decided to skip this lesson, because she needed to work on our Christmas gifts for her teachers. She wrapped her homemade candles with yarn.



Anne finally finished her research paper on Wooodstock. She will be doing several more research papers this year. She will be allowed to pick all the topics she wishes to research this year.

I promised the kids we would have gentler books for family time through Christmas, since they found Christy to be traumatic. This week we listened to an audio book called A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck. We had listened to the two earlier books in the series years ago and laughed our way through this one, just as we had the previous two. However, it was filled with some rich lessons and some light reinforcement on the importance of living a hard-working and honest life.

Lastly, we had a lovely Thanksgiving at home. In the evening, we went downtown to look at the lights and take a few photographs. I really wanted to finish giving out our homeless kits so we could make new ones with a more winter focus in mind. We took our four remaining kits and handed them out to a few homeless people who were settling in for the night in doorways. Dear husband even got out of the car and gave a kit to a man and talked to him for a few minutes. He is generally very shy about doing things like that, since he wasn't raised doing any hands-on charity work. I guess living with me for the past 20+ years is having an impact ~ haha.


Blessings, Dawn

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Week 13 ~ Creating a Secure Life

I have been thinking about the many different ways we as parents raise our children. We all have different styles and wish to impart a variety of characteristics and goals onto our children. The majority of us want our children to be independent, flexible, responsible, secure, self confident, happy... the list goes on and on.  In my experience we all have one or another particular characteristic we want to impart to our children more than all the rest (or at least we put extra effort into that one aspect). My mother really wanted me to be a flexible person who could roll with the punches. She very much accomplished that goal for me. I really am a very flexible person that can change and adapt very quickly to whatever the environment or situation I find myself in. My family teases me sometimes about having a Plan A, B and C for every situation. If one doesn't work out, I quickly go on to the next plan. This was the armor for life my mother gave me. I have noticed that lots of parents I know would say independence would be the defining characteristic for their children. They tend heavily toward "free range" parenting. This is not my leaning at all. I am sure there are people who know me who would define me as a  "helicopter mom". They actually would be wrong, though.  According to Google, a helicopter mom swoops in and attempts to solve every problem that their child comes across and, in doing so, prevents the child from gaining independence. I do, however, want my children to truly feel secure. If I were asked what armor I most wanted my children to have when leaving the nest, it would be a strong sense of security. A strong sense of security, in my view, leads to self-confidence, independence and happiness. Frankly, kids love to have structure and and to the rules. I have seen this play out time and time again. Just recently one of Anne's friends sent me a thank you note, stating her appreciation of the opportunity to stay in my home for a few days. "I feel so safe in your home, it is the safest place I know," she wrote. This is a young woman who is being raised in a loving home, although very much in the free-range style. Her statement meant the world to me. I sometimes worry that I am not accomplishing my goal because Dean is such an anxious soul. Of course, I know his anxiety is because of his special needs, but still it was really nice to hear from an outsider.

Highlights from this week ~
my vintage kitchen tools
  • Anne got her first job!! She starts the 10th of December. She will be working for a small children's consignment shop that we have frequented for many years. She asked at what age they would hire teens. Immediately, the owner came out of her office and had Anne fill out an application. She was interviewed and hired right on the spot. She will be working two mornings a week, labeling clothes, putting them out on the floor, pulling expired clothing and moving them to the clearance area, and helping customers.  
  • We finished Christy by Catherine Marshal. I love this book and it drips with moral instruction on almost every page. It was a bit intense at times for my tender-hearted children. The book contains several chapters dealing in great detail with a horrible typhoid epidemic which kills several main characters. It is a true story, after all. We are moving on to gentler books for the holidays.
  • I continued to work on eBay and reduced more belongings in our house. Anne is helping me purge. I accomplished the kitchen this week and either got rid of or moved to our "for sale area" two boxes worth of stuff. I also labeled the inside of every cabinet with what belonged in it to help my crew get things to the right locations. 
  • Dean finished a book about Malala Yousafzai and we had many conversations this week about the importance of education around the world for women. He also was led to want to understand a bit more about world religions. I will be incorporating that into his world geography and cultures class.
  • We made it to all of our out-of-the-home activities. Crazy Wednesday is really working well for us, as it turns out.
  • Dean got a volunteer job helping back stage throughout The Nutcracker. He will be setting up the stage the day before tech starts. Then he will work with the professional back stage crew, moving things on and off the stage during tech/dress rehearsal and all of the performances. He is somewhat looking forward to this volunteer opportunity and not as anxious about it since he knows the people. I am so glad he was offered this opportunity, because I have always thought working on a back stage crew might be right up his alley.
  • As the cold moves in, we are having more and more game nights. We played board games almost every night this week.

Blessings, Dawn

Friday, November 9, 2018

Week 12 ~ Field Trips and the Path to Rejuvenation

No one was ready to start school when Monday rolled around this week. We were tired and cranky. That vacation at the beginning of October had served as our semester break, but it really hadn't provided the rejuvenation we all needed. I started school, nonetheless. That was a stupid mistake. Tears flowed and brains misfired. No one seemed to remember anything about ratios, grammar, or even what was going on in our family read-aloud book that we had put down for a few days. We won't even talk about the disaster of physics! By noon, the mother in me had a parent teacher conference with the teacher in me, and school was promptly called off for the day. We took a deep breath as a family and headed out on a family hike. It was lovely and peaceful and just what we all needed.





















We are a family that has experienced extreme levels of chronic stress over many years; and even though that stress has been much less in the last year, we are still tired as a whole and need breaks and grace at times. Emotional healing is a long process and sometimes I forget to be mindful of the need to stop and change gears. I refer to our family's mental health as our emotional temperature. We had flared into an unhealthy range by Monday. I decided that the emotional temperature of the family had come down to more normal limits by the end of the day, but we were by no means rejuvenated. So, I decided to do some basic school for the rest of the week and be mindful of getting our family healthier to face the long haul of November.

Tuesday ~ We did math, grammar, family reading and a little bit of physics. Then we went out to the movies for discount movie day. Tim and Dean went to Goosebumps 2 and Anne and I went to see The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Then if was off to classes and rehearsals for our own Nutcracker.

Wednesday ~  As I stated last week, Wednesday is our new crazy day. I did not attempt to cancel any part of our day. However, I reduced how much school work each child was supposed to do in waiting rooms. One of the reasons that I was feeling so stressed was the never ending To Do list and some items having been on it for weeks at a time. So as we went through the day, I got things accomplished at the stores that were near us. They may not have been the cheapest stores, but time is money, too, and getting things off my To Do list was the priority. The biggest relief was getting my jacket zipper fixed so I am ready for the cold blast that is on its way. The seamstress was so nice and fixed it right on the spot for just $12.

The end of the day brought a meltdown for Dean. He was very distraught over the third project in a row of his that had failed. He has such a creative mind and fantastic ideas. However, he sometimes fails to research his projects and simply forges on ahead without a solid plan. He is also really struggling with the realities of growing up right now, and his generalized anxiety that permeates most of his day. He finds it very hard to wait for things and complains a great deal about boredom. I want him to leave the house more to do other things, but he argues with me about doing more out-of-the-home activities. However, he is screaming for more structure and guidance even if he denies it. Changes are coming in the new year for my guy. He will need to do more structured activities, even if I have to explore prescription anxiety medications to help him along. The day did come to a close with peace and well needed sleep.























Thursday ~ We hunkered down and tried to bring more order to our home in a few areas that felt out of control. I have a never ending struggle with stuff. There is just too much of it! We loaded several items on eBay and have decided to start sorting, washing and selling the HUGE lot of Legos that are in a big drawer. We accomplished all out-of-the-home classes, math, reading and grammar. Happily, I am also staying on top of my exercise and healthy eating plan. I have lost almost three pounds.
Dinner with chicken leftovers for lunch the next day. 

























Friday ~ Today we decided to do school in the morning and then head out for a girls' day at Biltmore Estate, taking Grandma along. We invited the guys, but they preferred to stay home and play board games. Our annual pass is about to expire and we are not going to be able to afford the cost of renewing it this year. We had a blast seeing Biltmore for all but one month this year and enjoyed all of the different seasons. We wanted to see the estate decorated for Christmas. It was beautiful.

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Blessings, Dawn














Friday, November 2, 2018

Week 11 ~ Hello November!

Wow! It is November already. This is potentially the busiest, craziest month of our entire year. The Nutcracker is always the first weekend of December. This year that weekend actually starts on Friday, November 30. Even though the Nutcracker will only be about 5 days early this year, it feels like it is very early. I am mostly excited about it being early so that we can embrace Christmas the whole month of December, but it means that life is taking on a very fast pace -- starting now.

I feel like I have been dragging and weepy for weeks. I know lots of my emotions are tied up in our estranged daughter's transition into adulthood. Goldilocks turns 18 three days after Christmas. We will start the new year without any legal responsibility for her. That is a relief in the respects of not having to jump through tons of hoops that her doctors, case workers and teachers demand. Their demands are often misplaced, confusing, conflict each other and are unhelpful to Goldilocks or to the rest of us. Meanwhile, Goldilocks has cut us off completely. She even managed to avoid her IEP meeting last week so my husband was not able to see her at school. This is so typical of RAD and FASD young adults. I have heard about young adults disappearing for months or even years at a time. This is such a painful journey!

One would think that this would be the time to hunker down and try to stay the course. It is definitely not the time to start new goals. Or is it? I have found time and time again that making a change when things are crazy often takes hold the best in our family, for some reason. This time, I am making a personal goal to lose a bit of weight and get my energy back. Recently, my husband and I were talking about our goals for the next 20 years of our marriage. I want to be here and with full energy and health to enjoy our future. I spent the first 20 years of our marriage being a hardworking mom of special needs children. I have loved that role very much, but now I have a bit more time to pursue my own interests (a bit more time, I still have much parenting to do). I really do very little for myself. I honestly don't really know how to put myself first and it even sounds a bit icky to me to say that I should put myself first sometimes. I am going to try to keep up with my exercise plan, low calorie diet and really enjoy my walks which is my main "me time". I am feeling a bit better already.
Just so my Mom doesn't worry about me starving myself. This was my breakfast most days this week. It is 254 calories of yummy goodness.  (Strawberries, tomato slices, one egg and one oz of bread)
Highlights from our Week ~ We had a balmy Halloween. We did not trick or treat. I am a bit tired of seeing posts about how teens are going to commit crimes, drink and drive or do drugs if they can't go out and get candy. Please...what is the excuse for the other 364 days of the year? That doesn't mean I have a real problem with teens trick or treating. I just think that is a very dumb reason for encouraging trick or treating in the teen years. Because dance messes up Halloween for us every year, we never are able to throw a party. So, we went to our favorite street which was closed to traffic and stuck to the middle where all of the adults and teens hung out. We enjoyed the decorations and costumes. It is a carnival atmosphere every year. We then picked up a pizza and took it home to enjoy it and our bag of candy that we bought at the store.

Me as the crazy Mad Hatter
Tim as Mr. Spooky, Husband as a Munchkin Game character and Dean as an Aztec Warrior
Anne as a Vampire
There was a sale at the local dance store, so we decided to purchase three (!) pairs of pointe shoes. Anne goes through a pair every six weeks. Each pair only lasts for about 30 hours of dance time. Yikes -- the cost of dance is overwhelming at times! She has been very busy sewing straps on pointe shoes this week.

Tim took cupcakes that he made with Grandma to his brain injury day program's Halloween party. He was a knight for that occasion.


Wednesday is our new crazy day. We have condensed several weekly standing appointments to one day and now spend the whole day on the road. This means that on three other days we will be able to  stay home until the late afternoon instead of having an interruption during class time every single day. We are trying it for the month of November. I sure hope it works, since I really need larger blocks of time at home for the kids to get through their work peacefully and at their own pace. Our day is so scheduled that both kids have to be on the road the entire day, because I do not have time to run home to pick up whomever is needed next in between appointments. This means Wednesday is waiting room school for each teen. They liked it this week.
Meanwhile I was playing with settings on my phone.
We finally started Conceptual Physics this week. We are using several books but started with this one! We love it so far.

All other subjects are rolling along. I am linking with Weekly Wrap-Up.

Blessings, Dawn