Wednesday, July 1, 2015

DIY Upscale Dry Erase Board Calendar and a Giveaway

We used to have regular dry erase boards hanging in the kitchen along with a paper calendar in order to track all our activities, weekly menu, shopping lists, things to do and notes. After awhile, I got tired of that look and decided to upscale a few frames to make better looking boards.

Picture frame
Construction paper
Liquid chalk markers

How To
I got two frames, a large one to act as a calendar and a smaller one for everything else. Behind the glass, rather than pictures, I inserted pieces of construction paper. Any colors you like work fine, they can even be changed out based on the holidays. Red for Valentine's Day, green for St. Paddy's Day, red and green for Christmas, etc. If the frame is bigger than your piece of paper, you can over lap pieces. To get really funky, try over lapping a few different colors. I added a mat to one of mine to dress it up further.

On the calendar I use Color Gallery liquid chalk markers to make the lines, days, dates and month heading. Using different colors for each helps make it colorful. Then as I need to add in appointments, I use another color so it stands out. For the other frame, I use the markers to section off columns, add headers (To Do, Shopping List, Dinner, etc.) then use another marker to add items as they come up. The boards help me keep up with my meal planning, shopping and everything we need to do. Staying organized is much easier and I have something prettier to look at in the kitchen.

The liquid chalk markers are my favorite because they wipe off easily, the colors are bright, they write easily and the words pop. I found regular dry erase markers just didn't work as well or look nearly as good. These wipe off easier, too. With the glass, the liquid chalk markers almost look 3D. It's a neat effect. The markers also work on windows, chalk boards and regular dry erase boards. Check out the video below to see what I mean.

To help you with the creation of your own DIY upscale dry erase board, the Ander Blake Company is sponsoring a giveaway.* Enter to win a set of the liquid chalk markers I use. Enter soon, the giveaway closes at midnight on July 7!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Prize fulfillment is the sole responsibility of the Ander Blake Company.
I received the markers at no charge in exchange for this review.
This post contains affiliate links.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ready-to-Eat Healthy Meat Meals and Vegan Cheese

When you're looking for healthy meals you don't have to cook, IONutrition offers a fresh meal service that brings you food right to your front door. Each is made with local, in-season produce and either free-range chicken, wild fish or grass-fed beef with little oil and no preservatives. The containers the meals arrive in are microwave safe for easy heating. They're also gluten free, organic, and low in salt, sugar and fat.

I got to try a few of the meals in exchange for this honest review. They literally just arrived and the review had to be done immediately to meet their deadline, so I didn't have time taste them yet. (There were three missed shipments and one was the wrong order, though the deadline didn't change. Without that, I would have been able to do my usual thorough review.) Every one looks good, though. Each dish weighs about a pound so there are good portion sizes. I'll be digging into a St. Tropez veggie rice bowl with cod, curried mushroom quinoa with turkey, sweet potato and split pea medley with salmon, trifecta bean casserole with beef and dual mushroom lentil and rice with chicken. The meals stay fresh in the fridge until I want to eat them and a few I may stick in the freezer. The package notes all the ingredients and calories clearly on the front. All spices and ingredients you can recognize and pronounce. IONutrition puts the focus on eating fresh, filling, balanced meals rather than on the calorie count so some are rather high in that regard. One is over 640 calories, the others are all over 510. With the large portion sizes and calorie count, I may make some into two meals. There is plenty to do that.

IONutrition, the sister company of Fresh n' Lean, offers a variety of meal plans so you can pick one that fits your needs best. You can select a 5 entree lunch box, 5 day week plan, 10 entree meal plan, 7 day week plan or a paleo meal plan. Family and group plans are also offered. It sounds like ala carte is going to be available soon as well.

Vegan cheese is something IONutrition's sister company, Fresh n' Lean, offers. I got the unexpected opportunity to try the cheese recently when it was mistakenly delivered to me (this was one of the shipping issues I mentioned, I got the wrong order). I'm not a vegan cheese person, but was asked to give my opinion. It's organic as well as vegan, made with coconut oil, nut milks, yeast and other natural ingredients. I got two packs, each with three slices. One flavor was cheddar, the other American. I don't know too much about vegan cheese and haven't had it before so don't have anything to compare it to. It looks like regular cheese and the slices are about the size of what a Kraft single is. To me, it didn't really taste or smell like I expect and was dry and crumbly. The smell was very strong, more along the lines of a feta or other strong cheese. I'm not sure if that's the norm or not. None of us liked the smell or taste. We ended up not eating it. Someone else may enjoy it more. It is a healthy option for those who are vegan or lactose intolerant.

I received the meals in exchange for my honest review. 

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Monday, June 29, 2015

An Adult Aspy: A Personal Summary

I'm so excited to introduce you to the author of this article. Lindsey is a very good friend of my family's (really, we consider her to be family). She volunteered to do a guest post on a topic I've been talking about more recently – autism. She herself has mild autism (often referred to as Asperger's Syndrome) so had been a great support with M2's diagnosis of mild-to-moderate autism. Here is her perspective as an adult who has dealt with Asperger's for over 30 years. Keep in mind, the way autism presents itself can vary from person to person. 

Geek. Awkward. The weird one. Anti-social.

I grew up with more disheartening labels than I care to mention. Born into a military family in the early eighties – when mild autism was unknown and women were never diagnosed – my personality quirks weren’t seen as a disorder that could or should be addressed by a professional. Consequently, my ad hoc ‘therapy’ growing up in a society that wasn’t structured for my strengths and weaknesses was less than stellar. I’ve always had the feeling of being left out, right down to my bones – I wasn’t interested in the same things as other children my age, I didn’t know how to communicate with them and they confused me.

Frustrated and lonely, I withdrew into things that I did understand; scholastic pursuits, fine arts, computers, etc. And so my childhood went, actively working on my IQ without corresponding attention to my EQ. I’d implicitly accepted that somehow I was broken, and would spend my life as such.

Then, years ago when I was in my mid-20s, I had a good friend of mine ask a simple question that caused a reexamination of the structure I had built to understand myself. She said, “I don’t want to offend you, but do you walk on your toes? Because I think you’re an aspy.” Considering I take pains to hide my "natural" toe-first stride, this came as a bit of a shock. This friend had been officially diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome, now known as mild autism, and had seen traits in me that paralleled her own. While it wouldn’t be worth the hassle to garner an official diagnosis, as I’m not seeking assistance or programs for help, having a recognized and researched behavioral structure to compare and contrast my personality with has proved a tremendous help in proactively boosting my social integration and EQ. I use trusted and tested behavioral therapies to address traits I would otherwise not have recognized.

Eye Contact – Appropriate eye contact is something most children learn intuitively from watching others around them. Many mild autistics lack this skill, either not enough (appearing disinterested or not attentive) or an uncomfortable staring (appearing aggressive). I still have some troubles in regards to making appropriate eye contact with people I’m speaking with, but is something I try to be actively aware of, especially when conversing with people I don’t know very well. I’ve made good strides in this regard, and mostly falter when I’m highly emotional – tending to avoid eye contact most when I’m angry.

Touch Sensitivity – Growing up, I had a counter-intuitive relationship with physical contact. On the one hand, I liked to climb into my mother’s lap past the age where other children grow out of this, cuddled with people sleeping next to me, and absorbed as much information from touching an object as seeing it. On the other hand, I reacted negatively to others making physical contact with me without my initiating it. I earned a reputation of hating to be touched. It wasn’t until much later in life that I married the two disparate feelings, grasping that it wasn’t that I hated being touched, but that it was too much sensation I wasn’t prepared for. Uninitiated contact was the sensory equivalent of an unexpected camera flash.

Hand Flapping – While I don’t recall much hand flapping as a child, I don’t doubt I had similar self-stimulating behaviors to cope with stressful situations. Hand flapping is about a white noise of physical sensation, like sleeping with a noisy fan. I would never advocate a complete cessation of this coping mechanism (as long as self-harm is not involved), but certain behaviors are less intrusive than others. As an adult, I’ve turned my initial reflex from flapping to either clenching my fists or rubbing my hands together. People are less likely to look at you askance and wonder about what you’ll do next. It’s worked out better if people perceive me as frustrated or nervous, rather than unpredictable.

Toe-First Stride– Toe walking is one of the more puzzling characteristics of the disorder. Many diagnosed autistics naturally walk with only the ball of the foot in contact with the ground, rather than with the expected heel-toe placement. Sometimes this is called walking on tip-toe, but this is rather a misnomer; the heel of the foot is not highly elevated in the step. This lack of heel contact is more often noticed as an unexpected bounce in a person’s stride. When in my home, especially when in socks or bare feet, I walk on my toes. I can’t tell you why, but that’s the most comfortable way for me to move about. Forcing myself into a heel-toe stride feels like I’m stomping around like a rogue jackhammer. When in public, I make an effort at a ‘normal’ stride. Accordingly, I look for flats with good heel support when shopping for shoes, to lessen the thud-thud sensation of a heel-toe placement.

Speech Processing – To not put too fine a point on it, I’m an educated and intelligent individual. I don’t say that in a condescending or bragging tone, but as an admission that I’ve done well scholastically through the years. Unfortunately, sometimes I’m taken for being slow on the uptake or a bit of a space cadet, because speech processing is not one of my strong points. A similar judgment happens when someone is conversing in a non-native language; the extended search for a particular word to convey a concept more precisely will inaccurately give the impression of a slow or ignorant mind. Luckily, conversation is a skill that can be improved with practice. While I still have trouble assembling what I’d like to say during especially complicated or subtle conversations, everyday banter has become smoother and more natural as I’ve focused on improving it.

Integrated Social Anxiety – Not all mild autistics have anxiety issues to boot, but enough do to make this complication worth mentioning. My own social anxiety and autism traits are intimately linked – not intuitively understanding other people leads me to feel isolated and uncertain in social situations, and that confusion makes me anxious and ill. From experience I’ve learned I need to couple behavioral therapy with a prescription SSRI to cope effectively with this imbalance. A side benefit of my particular prescription (sertraline HCl, brand name Zoloft) is that the drug has a “disconnecting from the outside world” effect. I call this a benefit, as it reduces the sensory impact of life enough for me to handle physical contact, movement, unexpected loud noises, etc., with grace.

Though perhaps not the case for those diagnosed with more severe levels of autism, I’ve come to view my personality not as an autism-spectrum disorder, a thing to be cured, but more as a different operating system. Apple OSX to the world’s Microsoft Windows, if you will. My efforts have been focused on how I can best integrate with society at large, rather than trying to change the core of my being to match. I will still “geek out” about things that interest me, but actively watch for the glazed look of too-much-information when talking to others. I’ll never love talking on the phone to strangers (where I lack visual cues to help interpret speech), but make myself do so in optional situations, to become less terribly anxious when I’m required to do so, such as client calls and job interviews.

And, most importantly, I take these experiences, these 30+ years of living with, well, ME, and share them with other people. With people who have no experience with autistics, so they won’t fear the unknown. With people who have autistic friends and relatives, so they understand what makes us tick. With people diagnosed or suspected of being autistic, so they won’t feel alone or rejected. It’s how I pay forward the good things in my life, and make this a better place to be.

Author Bio
Lindsey is a graphic designer who lives, works and plays in the D.C. metro region, and has known and loved Melissa, A, and their kids for years. She is currently available for freelance design work and is interested in full-time graphic design positions as well. Find out more about her services and experience.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Get Kids Reading, Thinking and being Creative with DOT Magazine

I've mentioned before how important I find reading to be. Even before M2 was born, she had a bookcase stuffed with books. We have them all over the house. M2 already loves to read. She gets super excited when she has something new to read, especially if there are lots of colors. Even more so if it comes for her in the mail. Little kids just LOVE to get something addressed to them in the mailbox. When she's reading (well, us reading to her or her flipping through herself) something educational, I'm extra happy. With DOT magazine, M2 gets to read something fun with plenty of color to keep her attention and I'm happy that she's learning.

DOT is a quarterly magazine printed in the United Kingdom. (Why is it that we Americans always seem to think things are extra cool if they're from England? I have no idea, but it does seem to up the cool factor.) It's the happy mag for creative kids. Why is it called DOT? Because the little guy on the front is Dot. He and his friends are throughout the magazine.

It's printed on recycled paper using vegetable ink, making it eco friendly. The pages are nice and thick, not the usual thin, glossy paper you find in magazines. It's really more of a book, which means that M2 isn't going to destroy it right away and can keep it on the book shelf to read and enjoy over and over.

The magazine is printed in vibrant, deep primary colors to attract the little one's attention. M2 was thrilled when I handed it to her. She got to read through it at bed time then insisted on tucking it in and sleeping with it. I take that as a sign that she really likes it.

The inside is filled with cute little stories, nursery rhymes and activities with adorable drawings. I love that here are no ads so the focus is purely on on being educational. The issue M2 got is all about shapes. Fun activities kids can do themselves in the magazine accompany the lessons. The pages about shapes have the kids draw their own. An interview with a librarian has them setting up their own library. There are even pages to color and instructions on a cute craft involving shapes. The whole publication is really dedicated to the mission of encouraging kids to think and be creative. Since the pages are thick enough, any activities M2 can do in the magazine aren't going to bleed through or ruin the pages.

The magazine fosters family time as well. I can sit and go through it with M2, ask her to point out colors and shapes or draw with her. Since the colors are all primary, they're easy for her to figure out. With 32 pages, there is plenty to read and do.

You can sign up for a subscription no matter where in the world you live. If you'd like to learn more about the magazine, stop by here. It's published by Anorak Press, whom you can find here.

This post is sponsored by Anorak Press.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wherein Life Throws Many Punches

The past few weeks life has changed around here. A lot. It's been one big change after another for our family. A new diagnosis for M2, a job change for A, opportunities that fell through for me and a new fence (about the only fun one on this list).

To start with, M2 got the diagnosis of mild-moderate autism. We'd been told by her current therapists that we should have her tested. At baby B's checkup, we mentioned to the doctor, who is also M2's doc, that we wanted to get her checked out per the therapists' recommendation. I was amazed when he said there was an appointment the next morning. We'd thought there would be a 6+ month wait.

I took her in for the evaluation since I'm with her most. Having A and B go along would have been more distracting as we'd have to chase B around, too. The developmental pediatrician spent over two hours evaluating her. He picked up things I'd never even realized were related to autism. Anything I said to try to convince him that maybe it's not autism just proved his point more. By the end of the appointment, he was confident in his diagnosis. While it's nice to know exactly what's going on, and that I'm not making it all up in my head, it's also difficult to be told your child is autistic. It's not something she'll just grow out of, we don't know what caused it and it's not something we can just fix. Right now, we're still looking into options for therapy and other avenues to pursue to get her help. The hope is that since she's mild-moderate, over time she'll learn to adapt and it'll seem more like quirks than big issues. Right now, the big tip off that something's going on is her speech. She just has not improved and the usual therapies haven't helped. We know now that it's because it's related to her autism, not one of the usual causes for delays.

Just after this happened, we found out that A's job is giving him a large pay cut. When things are already pretty tight that's a huge blow to receive. We're still figuring out how to deal with it and what we're going to do. One route was me finding a work-from-home job that's more stable and pays more than my current blogging and freelance. I had a job pop up that I spent all of last week prepping my resume, writing samples and practicing interview techniques for. The company was moving fast so I thought it was a great sign. There were a few "huh?" moments when my contact there said things that made me wonder if she'd even read my resume, but I pushed it off. 

At the interview, I found out I was right. They'd had no intention of hiring me, they were most likely trying to reach a quota so they could hire someone they'd already selected. The interviewer was nothing short of hostile from the start. Seriously, who asks you, "What would the person who hates you MOST in the world say about you?" Umm, that I suck? Nothing good, that's for sure. After all, they hate me. The interviewer was not impressed when I tried to turn it around to be something positive. I've never had an interview like it before. I was seriously in shock the whole time with what was going on.

Ten minutes after the interview had been scheduled to end, after the office had closed, I got a form email telling me they weren't hiring me. My guess is that it was already scheduled to go out after the interview ended. It was another blow, especially since I'd worked so hard and thought I had a good shot. Now, we're back to figuring out where to go from here. There are no real answers and much of it is being based on chance and luck. That's not something I deal well with, I like to be able to work toward a goal and have backup plan. And a back up plan for the backup plan. I work hard to not end up floundering. This time, there isn't much of a choice and any route isn't going to be fun or easy. Right now, I'm going to be upping my freelance work as much as possible. (If you know of someone who needs a writer, editor or proofreader, send them my way!)

On the weight-loss front, I've been back sliding. As you can imagine, there's been a ton of stress, uncertainty and changes. Logically, I know that things could be much worse. Emotionally, it's not a great time for me. I'm an emotional eater and have been eating more than I should while all this has been going on. Not really junk food, but still more than I should and not as healthy as I should. Last week rather than losing, I gained a pound. I'm working on getting back into the portion control and healthy choices. Exercise is happening more often at least. I'm determined to get back on track and keep losing.

The one upside lately has been that our new fence for M2 has finally gone in. Since she's a runner, we haven't been able to let her play outside much. It's simply not safe without the fence. Now, she can run all over the yard and play while I'm outside with her. I'm really looking forward to spending time with her and baby B outside enjoying the warm weather.

On the blog side of life, I have some great posts planned for the coming months. There is going to be the rest of my The "Fat Kid" Tells All series to start with. I'll also be sharing more of our journey with M2 as it progresses.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cute Headbands for Summer and a Giveaway

M2 is very particular about how her hair gets put up. She doesn't like clips or hair ties. Headbands usually stay on for a bit but then even they end up being pulled off. Then I discovered The Light of Creation Etsy shop. The owner, Marina, makes all kinds of cute headbands. M2 got three that she's been wearing lately -- and she keeps them on!

Each of the headbands is a pretty, light fabric with an elastic part. The elastic is completely covered with the fabric as well. The headband stays put, without being too tight that M2 gets annoyed by it. Even when she's running around and doing headstands, it stays put. She likes to wear the bands with the fabric folded, though you can also fan it out for a different look. They're made nicely, too, with finished edges and elastic that's the perfect width.

The colors are so pretty. M2 loves picking out which one to wear with her outfit. Her bangs get held back and her hair is of her neck. It's perfect for summer so she doesn't end up as hot.

Stop by The Light of Creation to check out the headbands and pick out a few. Just for blog readers, when you use the code SUMMETIME you'll get 15 percent off. Hurry, because the code expires when the giveaway ends! Enter the giveaway to have a chance at winning a couple. It ends at midnight July 1. Three winners will each win two headbands.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway fulfilment is the responsibility of The Light of Creation. The winners will have 48 hours to respond with their contact and shipping information once the contest ends and winners are announced. If there is no response, another winner will be chosen.

This post is sponsored by The Light of Creation.

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