Tuesday, November 30, 2010

the most wonderful* time of the year.

No matter how you slice it, Christmas will never live up to your expectations*.  It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor, surrounded by family or alone, December 25th leaves even the most jolly feeling melancholy.  Or maybe it's just me.

Dog knows I've got baggage when it comes to the holidays.  I want it to be perfect and for everyone to be happy.  That manifests itself into me spending all sorts of energy trying to figure out what I deem to be extremely thoughtful and lovely gifts that will tell the giftee (I don't think that is a word but it totally should be) that I friggin' LOVE them with my whole heart and then some.  I basically shoot myself in the foot before the gift is even unwrapped.  You see, the secret is that I absolutely expect you to react appropriately (according to my deluded vision of sugar plum fairies and whatnot) and show me that you think the present I have given you is the most awesome thing you have ever received and OMG HOW DID YOU KNOW I WANTED PURPLE HIGH TOP CONVERSE!?!.

Of course, this leads to a #giftee #fail because you open the box and think the beautiful afghan I have crocheted for you is a sweater and you are mildly horrified thinking you will likely have to don said sweater at least once and email me a picture of you in it pretending you think it is the cat's ass.  And yeah, that afghan would totally make an ugly sweater, but dude, it's a BEAUTIFUL afghan so wipe that deer in the awful-gift head lights look off your face and say "WOW!! This is totally beautiful Kat.  I really appreciate the hours of crocheting to Law & Order reruns you put into making my Christmas gift.  You are the best sister-in-law a guy could ask for".  Uhh, yeah, that happened.  We laugh about it now.  I'm over it, really.

The biggest piece of scuffed up, gotta-sit-on-it-to-close-it, hard core piece of Samsonite ass kicking baggage is my daddy issue.  He'll probably read this, and I'm okay with that because everything I write here I would say to his face.  I'm not kidding about that either - I've cried my heart out (drenching a perfectly good plate of sweet potato fries) in a restaurant in front of this guy.  He knows I have no shame.    As December rolls on through, I get edgier and edgier as I wait for him to call.  Will he want to see us?  Or maybe this year he'll just call on Christmas day and leave a message.  Ideally, I'd like to see him, for him to spend some time getting to know his incredible grandchildren. But it's totally a weird vibe because he lives 30 minutes away and visits maybe twice a year.  Do I need to dredge up all that emotional guck for the sake of tradition?  (The "tradition" being me feeling lousy about him calling or not calling.)

This year I decided to supersede the issue by proactively emailing him in November and asking if he wanted to come out for a visit during the holidays, and if so, when.  He responded that yes, he would like to come.  I emailed him back asking what size he is wearing these days and did he want some suggestions for what to get the kids?  That was last week.  I'm still waiting for a response.  So, I can't win - my daddy issues are biting me in the ass anyway (will he call? when is he going to call? why hasn't he called?).  Perhaps I'll bring this up with my therapist next time I see her.

Why the rambling post you ask?

I want you to validate me and tell me that I'm not the only one who has screwy feelings about the big C.
I'm not the only one who spikes my morning coffee before opening gifts.
I'm not the only one who feels that pang of sadness after all the dishes are washed after the big turkey meal that another Christmas has passed and bloody hell I despise taking the tree down.

Or maybe it's just me.

a thousand words.

(Max is wearing a pressure vest that provides him with
sensory input and helps him self-regulate.)
This picture blows my mind.  Mind = blown. Kaboom.  This is my Max, the kid with Autism.  The kid who spent the first month of Junior Kindergarten throwing tantrums and attempting (some times successfully) to bite his teachers.  He's happy, smiling, and clearly engaged.  This picture represents the progress Max has made in the last 2.5 years.  This picture says it all.

When I dropped Max off at jk on class picture day, I told his teacher not to worry if Max wasn't into sitting to have his photo taken.  It wasn't worth stressing him and everyone else out for the sake of a school picture that I probably wouldn't want to buy anyway.  I told her that the previous year, his daycare had been able to get him to sit, but he had tears streaming down his face in the proofs I got back.  The year before that he came home with carpet burns all over one side of his face because he got so upset he threw himself on the floor and had a meltdown.  I had zero expectations.

The next morning, his teacher happily reported that Max not only sat for the solo shot (and they had five to choose from) but he also sat for the group picture.  I picked my jaw up off the floor and told her I was amazed, but YAY!  Good stuff!  The proofs we got back were terrific, so I went ahead and ordered a bunch of photos for the grand parents.  It was only this week that I got to see the group photo, and my heart sank a bit.  Max is in the picture, but he is off to the side, looking at a toy, not engaged at all.  But, you know, he's in the picture.  That's progress.  Next year he'll move a little closer to the group and drop the toy.  And the year after that maybe he'll sit with the group.  As much as the group photo was a dose of reality, it is merely a stake in the ground for us to measure milestones against. 

This little boy is simply amazing.  He teaches me more each day and has shown me what pure joy looks like.  We're doing it Max! We're winning!

Monday, November 29, 2010

women of wonder: my 4th mission (part deux) - rediscover your happiness.

This is part 2 of my rediscover your happiness mission for the Rediscover Your Wonder project.

photographer Michael Willems discussing exposure compensation
I have been enjoying playing around with my new camera – a Nikon D3100 since I picked it up a few weeks ago. I really had no clue what the heck all the settings were for, or what all the buttons and switches did, but that didn’t stop me from taking a bunch of pictures. Turns out, this camera is so terrific, it takes really nice pictures, even if you are clueless. Very considerate of it, I agree. But the item on my bucket list that I am working towards accomplishing is to become a decent photographer, not just someone who uses a DSLR as if it is a top notch point-and-shoot. When I bought the camera, the folks at Henry’s recommended that I take an intro course so I would start to understand the power of my new camera (and also what all the buttons and switches do).

The 3 hour intro course ran this past Saturday. I was worried that 3 hours would be a bit much for me to sit through, but I needn’t have worried – it flew by. The instructor, Michael Willems was excellent – extremely knowledgeable, funny and did a great job of not making anyone feel like an idiot for not knowing how to hold their cameras (myself included). Also, I felt like I got my money’s worth within the first 3 minutes. I now know how to operate the basic menus on my camera, how to adjust settings (and when to and why I would want to). He also walked us through all of the cool features on our cameras and how to access them multiple ways. All very useful stuff.

What I really liked, was he also made recommendations on what additional accessories we should consider. Turns out that a backup battery and backup memory cards (max 4G) are the way to go. Michael’s point? If you run out of battery power you aren’t going to be taking ANY photos, so why does it matter that you have some expensive lens? Also, 4G cards are better than 16G cards because if a 4G card fails on you, you only lose up to 4G of photos. Bonus? The 4G card can be saved directly to a dvd for backup without requiring you to divide up your photos and save to multiple dvds. Great advice in my books.

Of course, there were recommendations for flashes, hoods, and lens types. If anyone wants to know what’s on my Christmas wish list, let me know! The most useful tool we got from the course was a copy of the presentation to refer back to. It’s in English, unlike the camera manual, which is in Engineer. Part 2 of the course is being offered in a few weeks and I’m hoping I can take it. If you have a camera you don’t know how to operate fully, or are getting one for Christmas, I highly recommend signing up for a course at Henry’s. Seriously. Your camera will thank you.

Edited to add: Michael was kind enough to email me some pictures he took of me when he was demonstrating how to use (and not use a flash):
This is what happens when you shoot with the flash straight on - I look like Baroness Von Shiny Face - thumbs down!

Much better! Flash was turned around and pointed up above the photographer's head - great for lighting ladies!

The best! flash positioned at the side of the camera, providing a much nicer mood.

Check out WonderBra.ca to see what the other Women of Wonder are up to!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

best toy in the world.

There are moments when I feel in my heart of hearts, that everything is going to be alright, Max is going to be just fine, and Cameron is the perfect little sister.  Count your blessings.
omg this is AWESOME!

pick me up mommy!

Cammie, can you believe we are sitting in a box?
I know right!?!

okay, I gotta get back in just one more time!

watching All Dogs Go to Heaven on dad's computer

she doesn't seem to realize he is twice her size.

Friday, November 26, 2010

all i want for christmas.

Last year we had a very intense Christmas. So intense I seriously considered doing away with the entire holiday this year and ordering in pizza instead. But a year is a long time, and I'm lactose intolerant.  It's eleven months later, and I find I’m more excited about Christmas this year than I have been in a long time. Our wreath is already hung on the front door, plans for hanging outdoor lights with my neighbour have been made (this Sunday - hell or high water!), and Christmas cookies have been purchased.

Whoa. What? Cookies…purchased?

That’s right. This year I bought a boat load of Christmas cookies at Trader Joes.  I'm sure the kids and I will make some gingerbread or sugar cookies.  I'm looking forward to seeing what sorts of mangled stars and candy cane cookies they create.  But the main thing for me is that it doesn't all have to be perfect, because it never is.  All I want for Christmas is for everyone to be relaxed, find some joy in the day, and that Max and Cameron have fun.  That is it.

If at the end of Christmas day, everyone has a full tummy, a smile on their face and a warm heart, then I will consider the day a success.  It isn't about putting out a tray of home baked cookies that Martha would be proud of.  And it certainly is not about spending a bunch of money (that we don't have) on things that people don't really need.  It's about Cameron's excited face when she sees Christmas lights, and Max's fascination with the tree decorations.  It's about good smells coming from the kitchen and just enough snow that we have a white Christmas without driving becoming a hassle.  It's about finding a quiet moment to sit and be content.  It's about Christmas music, red and green pajamas and fresh coffee and cinnamon buns for breakfast and creating new holiday traditions with Max and Cameron. 

Most of all, it's about family, whether they be near or far.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

christmas countdown: how to make a reusable fabric gift bag.

Ever since I can remember, my friend Jennifer has found creative ways to wrap gifts that did not include using store bought wrapping paper.  She wrote this post on her personal website a few years ago, and I loved it so much, I asked her if she would let me republish here on my blog.  Lucky for us - she said "of course!!" 

How To Make A Reusable Fabric Gift Bag - by my friend Jennifer
I have a raging hatred of wrapping paper. Not wrapping paper on gifts that others have given me, of course. That would be in the "Gift Horse in the Mouth" category of social behaviour. However, for gifts that I am giving to others, I am loathe to use wrapping paper. This hatred dates back to the early nineties when environmentalism was almost as chic as it is now. My family was pretty into the whole thing and we started wrapping most of our Christmas presents in newspaper.

My attitude towards conventional wrapping paper has not changed, though I have graduated from newspaper to re-usable gift bags that I make all by myself. I make the bags every year and give them all away. The people who get them give them away the following year and it goes on like that. The only drawback is my having to make a new crop of bags every year, often when I am just getting sick of sewing quilts and other gifts.
Anyway, a few people have asked about the making of the bags so I have prepared this short tutorial to demonstrate how crazy-easy it is. A set of these bags actually makes a nice gift on its own, especially if you use really pretty fabric. I did this for the Octopus Books staff gift exchange this year and it was a hit. (Right, Lisa?)

So first, and most importantly, figure out which 1970's childhood Christmas album you're going to listen to while you sew:
What to listen to?
So maybe you have a bunch of fabric scraps already littering your sewing table? Pick out a chunk of fabric big enough to surround whatever it is you'd like to wrap. If you have and want to use ribbons or twine, pick some that matches.
Now fold the piece of fabric over your gift to make sure you have enough. You'll want to make sure to leave extra fabric at the top so you're able to tie the bag shut. Then cut your fabric to the appropriate size.
(I have a fancy rotary cutter and ruler, but you can just cut it with fabric scissors. This does not need to be exact. It is a very forgiving project.)
Next you'll want to fold over the hem around what will be the mouth of the bag. I like to use my pinking shears on the edge so it frays less, but this isn't totally necessary. You could also fold it over twice if you didn't want a raw edge on the inside of the bag.
Then, sew the hem into place.
Okay! Now you'll need to fold your fabric in half with the "right sides" together. If you want to have ribbon attached to the bag, you'll need to sandwich your ribbon in the fabric with the edge sticking out a little so it gets sewn into the seam. Like this:

Pin it! Pin it all! This will make sewing it so much easier. I hate pinning, it doesn't mesh well with my complete lack of patience with everything, however I have been sewing for many years and must admit that pinning saves time in the long run because it ensures that your fabric will not go all wonky when you are sewing it.
You're almost done. Now just sew along the edges you've pinned. Make sure you back stitch at the beginning and end of the seam to keep the whole thing from falling apart after multiple uses. It would defeat the purpose of making re-usable bags.
Now you have a bag!
And you can put your gift in it and tie it up tight.
I often make these bags without the ribbon attached and then just tie them closed with whatever pretty ribbon or twine that I have hanging around. However, the ribbon being attached makes it even nicer if you have the time and wherewithal to include it.

Good luck! Here's to garbageless Christmases of the future!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

tea for two.

As the days grow colder, I fantasize (constantly) about living in a warmer climate. Wouldn't it be nice to never have to scrape ice from your windshield again? Shoveling, a distant, unpleasant memory never to be spoken of (except when weird Uncle Fredrick gets tipsy and talks about the "C" word at holiday dinners). By the "C" word, I of course mean "Canada" (my home and native land).  I have another meaning for the "C" word, but it is hardly appropriate for a blog post about tea.

Canadians view braving the winter as a badge of honour.  And boy do we ever like to talk about the weather ("Remember that storm back in 2009? That sure was somethin'").  While the majority of us do not live in igloos or use sled dogs to commute to work, we do know a thing or two about staying warm.  It's really very simple: tea.  There's earl grey, orange pekoe, english breakfast, irish breakfast for your basic "house" blends.  My favourites are herbal teas - green, mint, and camomile teas, I just can't get enough.  Got a tummy bug? Ginger tea. Sour throat? Lemon tea.  Not feeling so good overall? You clearly need MORE TEA. 

Since I spend the majority of my day at the office, I decided to bring my tea pot and (matching) cups to work.  My team (all two of us) have morning tea and afternoon tea.  It's all very civilized.  Over the coming months we plan to sample assorted flavours, and perhaps even venture into some taste tests of loose leaf versus bagged tea comparisons.  I think we all know how that's going to turn out.

My hope, is that by spreading the gospel about tea, more people will partake.  That we will unite in our love of tea and take back the phrase "tea party" making it respectable once more.  Sheesh. The nerve of some people. 

on a clear day.

On a clear day, rise and look around you and you'll see who you are.
On a clear day, how it will astound you that the glow of your being outshines every star.
 You'll feel part of every mountain, sea, and shore.
look up
You can hear from far and near, a world you've never heard before.
my very own Charlie Brown Christmas tree
On a clear day, you can see forever, and ever more.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

getting my house in order.

warning: I'm about to get airy-fairy on your ass, so if you aren't into that stuff, look away...

Change is in the air.  I feel it all around me.  Great things are on the cusp of breaking through.  I have no idea what they are.  I want to be ready, have an open heart to receive them.  For these great things to flow, I believe in my heart I need to get my house in order.

I'm not talking about decluttering my garage (though come to think of it, that could use some work too).  I'm talking about my body, mind and soul.  The stress my family is under right now is incredible.  Each of us deals with managing stress in a different way.  I have begun to realize that I cannot control how other people manage their stress.  All I can do is work on making sure I am strong - mentally and physically,  and do my best to be kind.

"The Four Agreements" is a book I have owned for a long time.  I have read it twice.  I'm reading it again now.  It speaks a truth that cuts to the quick of any problem.  It reminded me that I am interpreting things only from one perspective - my own. And while I strive to be impeccable with my word, that is not true for everyone, and I cannot take that personally, even when the words sting.  I cannot make assumptions regarding why someone is doing something.  All I can do is my best.  On terrific days, my best is incredible.  On low days, my best is not so hot.  On any day, I am enough.  I am enough.   

Universe, I have no idea what you have in store for me.  I trust you know where to find me when you think I'm ready.

Monday, November 22, 2010

women of wonder: my 5th mission - rediscover your community.

Of all my missions for the Rediscover Your Wonder project, this one is my favourite.  My mission was to "rediscover my community".  The question is, which community needed rediscovering? 

parents of children with Autism
the town where I live
...and many more (tongue in cheek)

No offence to mothers, women, parents of kids with ASD, neighbours or bloggers, but I get a lot of you on a regular basis.  Quilting tends to be a solitary art form though, so it isn't often that I get to spend time with other people who love quilting as much, if not more, than I do.  My 2 favourite quilting stores are Regalitos Quilting Arts and Quiltology.  The last time I got to visit them was in May, so I took this opportunity to hit the road for a few days to rediscover my community of quilters.

I loaded my sewing machine and my quilting supplies into my car and hit the road.  First stop was Regalitos in Jackson, Michigan, where I got to hang out with Cindie for the afternoon while she put together 5 Christmas tree skirt kits for me (I'll blog about them, not to worry).  The next stop was Quiltology in Chicago (I also hit my favourite pizza joint Eduardo's which is just up the street).  Please excuse the choppy video I shot - I was clearly overwhelmed with excitement about being around "my people".

In addition to rediscovering my quilting community, I also rediscovered my "mid-west America" community.  I love the people who live in this part of the US.  They are friendly and welcoming and the salt of the earth.  Even though I was traveling alone, I didn't feel lonely for one single minute. 

I should add that I had planned to visit another quilting store in the Chicago area (QuiltFabric.com), but I spent all my money at Regalitos and Quiltology, so that will have to wait for my next trip!
Check out WonderBra.ca to see what the other Women of Wonder are up to!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

you don't know what you don't know.

rubbing the buddha's head for good luck
The folks at Henry's Camera Centre are saints.  Why, you ask? Well, first off, they have been wonderful in answering all of my questions about my new camera.  Even better, when I discovered it really wasn't the camera I needed, they were completely unfazed and made it really easy for me to exchange it for a camera that was a better fit.
"we're having a leaf party mommy!!"

It took me about a week of messing around with my new camera (the Nikon d3000) to figure out that I couldn't live without a live view finder.  In English, that means being able to see what you are about to shoot in the little view finder box on the back of your camera.  This is a feature specific to point-and-shoot cameras and isn't necessarily included on a DSLR.  I thought I didn't need it, and that I'd be fine looking through the camera view finder to take pictures.  The only problem is that when I'm trying to get Max's attention, I need to be able to engage with him - almost impossible if I've got a camera pressed against my face.
stop trying to steal my soul mom
At the best of times it can be hard to get Max to cooperate for a photo op, so you can understand why I would want the camera of my dreams to be one I can use to get great photos of Max.  I ended up getting the Nikon d3100 instead (I know, big stretch, eh?).  It is the exact same camera as the d3000 except it has the live view finder, 14.2 MP, and shoots HD video.  That's a whole lotta camera.  I am  taking a beginner class at Henry's this coming Saturday to learn how to use all the features.  Until then I'm just flying in the dark, so bear with me as my photos are mostly being taken in auto mode and a wing and a prayer.

Friday, November 19, 2010

max update.

Two years ago, Autism knocked on our door and told us “your son is coming with me”. My heart sank. My head spun. My stomach twisted. My gut said “hell no”. From that day forward, when faced with any challenge Autism has thrown our way, I have gone with my gut. When the going gets tough, my gut is the only thing that can be trusted. 

early intervention.

They are buzz words for sure. But for a reason. Early intervention is the key to jamming your feet into your running shoes and sprinting down the street after Autism. It is the only way to pull your child out of its grasp instead of letting Autism pull him into the darkness, out of your reach.

Back then I could not picture our life in 6 months, let alone 24 months. Yet here we are. Two steps forward, one step back, the entire way. Transitions, talking, toilet training – we are still working on all of these things for sure. It’s hard to have perspective and see the progress Max has had in the past 2 years.

The progress has been huge and it is important to acknowledge it, rejoice in it.

Max can do so, so much. He has an independent spirit. A sense of humour. He can write his name, knows his letters in upper and lower case, and can count to twenty. He calls me “mommy” and gives hugs and kisses. He teases his little sister and tells his Nana and Bumpa “night night” when they go home at the end of the day. He sings songs. He walks into the kitchen and announces “I want more chips mommy!”. He enjoys watching Elmo. He finds solace in the outdoors. He is attending junior kindergarten. He is stunningly beautiful.

I hoped and prayed for him to be able to do all of these things. I always thought he was a good looking kid.

Every milestone has been made up of hundreds of tiny wins. We are winning.

I still cannot picture our life in 6 months, let alone 24 months. I hope and I pray for Max to be able to do all sorts of things. The only difference between 2 years ago and now is that my faith is iron clad.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

apparently i don't smile enough in pictures.

Always remember to be happy because you never know who's falling in love with your smile.  
Today one of my best friends told me that I don't smile enough in pictures.  I looked through a bunch of pictures on facebook and sure enough, this was an accurate observation.  So, here is a picture of me cracking up (the first picture taken with my new camera).  Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

wish fairies.

I have dreams.  They are visions of a beautiful future.

I  believe in wish fairies.  That they are fluttering around me and kissing my eyelids when I slumber.

I have faith that the universe has a plan for me and that if I let go, what is meant to be mine will reveal itself to me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

mill house inn by fig tree jelly roll quilt.

I bought this lovely Mill House Inn jelly roll by Fig Tree Quilts from pink panda fabrics (free shipping in Canada!!) last summer during a period of manic quilting (which seems to have recommenced).  I talked my mom into buying the exact same one, with the intention of having us make different quilts with the same fabrics to compare results.  She is currently knitting up a storm for Christmas, so I think that project will have to wait.  In the meantime, I'm getting started on a new quilt called "hugs and kisses" from the Moda Bake Shop.
This material is far more traditional than what I usually choose, but I'm making it for a friend who would likely prefer this to something more current.  The pattern I've selected is fairly modern, so it will be a good compromise (old meets new type deal).  This quilt is forcing me to learn a new skill - appliqué!  Turns out it isn't so hard.  I used fusible web to cut the letters out and stick them on the fabric blocks.  The only brain twister was having to do everything backwards. 
As you can see, I am switching up the words I use on my quilt (from "love hugs & kisses" to "live laugh & love").  Now that the letters are stuck in place, I am securing them by hand stitching around the edges using a blanket stitch.  It's taking a while, but it will be worth it in the end!
Stay tuned for the piecing of this quilt top - probably later this week if I can get a few minutes to finish these blocks up!  There is also the matter of those tree skirts...ahem. 

best friends forever.

The kids were very excited to see me on Sunday night. Well, Cameron was over the top hyper (like I have never seen before), and Max just looked super relieved that his crew was all under one roof again. Scott told me he was happy I came back. Like that was ever in question?! Of course I came back!

It took quite a while to get everyone settled down.  Max went into his room at bedtime, but stayed awake and played for a few hours.  Cam got in bed with me and watched "The Incredibles" followed by "The Little Mermaid".  I fell asleep to the strains of "you godda kees dee girl".  At some point Scott came to bed, finding his girls passed out, laptop still humming.  I vaguely recall him tucking us in and getting Cam to squeeze over to make room for him.  She doesn't usually sleep with us, but after 3 nights at Nana and Bumpa's, she was a bit clingy so I caved and let her stay. 

I woke up at 2:22am (I wake up at that time every night) and reached out to stroke Cam's hair.  She wasn't there.  I sat up, asking Scott "did you put Cam in her bed?".  He said "no" so I got up and started looking for her (feeling a bit panicked but also knowing she couldn't have made it very far and was certainly somewhere in the house).  She was not in her room.  She was not downstairs.  That left only one place - Max's room. 

When I opened the door, my heart almost burst.  It was clear that Cam had not only missed Scott and me, she had really missed her big brother Max.  The fact that she woke up and went to sleep in his room blows my mind.  She really is his best friend.  (By the way - she started the night in new Dora pjs, but opted to take them off - I have no idea why.)  I plan on showing this picture to her first boyfriend.  Talk about a perfect moment of happiness.