Halloween Pumpking Carving - Crack in the Universe

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Every night I watch the stars, because I just know the raggedy man in the blue box will come back some day.

I hope he comes soon, I keep seeing this crack everywhere I go and it's starting to freak me out...


Socials
This Doctor Who crack in the universe craft pumpkin is pinned to my Halloween Pumpkin Carving board.

Halloween Burlap Wreath

Thursday, October 23, 2014



I have a minor wreath obsession. I finally decided I need to do more than just collect pictures of them and indulged in making one myself. 

This isn't a tutorial. There are lots of those. This is more of a Hey, lookie what I did! And I only had to buy totally different sets of supplies twice and change my plans for it three four five a dozen times and tear it apart to start over once! Wheeeee!

And yes, I totally pinned it to my Halloween Wreath board!

Peanuts Halloween Display

Thursday, October 9, 2014


I try to do something different on my front porch every year, so I'm always looking for inspiration. This idea came to me during last year's 4,782nd ritual rewatching of It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with my Bear.


In spite of my careful attention to detail - Pig Pen's sheet is dirty, and Charlie Brown is carrying a bag of rocks...


... reactions from other folks have been pretty "meh."


But I've decided I don't care. Because for whatever reason, it makes me deliriously happy.


And this thing with Linus right here? Is currently at the top of my all time favorite Halloween displays I've built.


Look for me on Halloween night, waiting in the most sincere pumpkin patch.


I pinned Linus and the gang to my Halloween Displays board.

Halloween Theme Chocolate Frosted Layer Cake

Monday, October 6, 2014


This cake was the final project for my first cake decorating class. The fall session ended in October and she told us we could do whatever we wanted as long as we incorporated the techniques we'd learned in class, and I'm me, so... there ya go.

I used a tombstone and ghost cookie cutters to get a clean outline on those shapes because I'm not skilled enough to freehand images.  That was when the light bulb went on that I could fudge character shapes in general, and is what led me to being able to make cooler cakes for my kids by printing an image onto card stock and tracing it with a toothpick. (see Blues Clues birthday cake and Pirate party birthday cake for further examples of my ability to cheat at this)

This 9" round yellow layer cake with chocolate buttercream frosting is a classic crowd pleaser that would be the perfect addition to your next Halloween party menu!


Socials


I pinned this post to my Cake Decorating board.

Crock Pot Honey Apple Butter

Monday, September 29, 2014




My BFF was part of the original apple butter extravaganza, and when she asked me for a copy of the recipe we developed that summer I pointed her at the blog posts I wrote about it.

The Great Apple Butter Experiment, Part 1: Ingredients and Preparation
The Great Apple Butter Experiment, Part 2: Making and Storing
The Great Apple Butter Sensory Experiment: Hand Pies


She read them and very helpfully pointed out that I'm a moron for neglecting to include a concise, printable version.

This is me, fixing that.

Printable Recipe PDF
Crock Pot Honey Apple Butter

Crock Pot Honey Apple Butter
Ingredients
10 lbs apples, mixed varieties
3 cups apple cider
1 1/4 cup honey
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
 pinch of kosher salt

Instructions
1) Peel, core and slice the apples. Place them in the crock pot with the rest of the ingredients.
2) Turn crock pot on high and keep an eye on it until you achieve bubbling around the edges. Then turn to low and let it go 8-16 hours (overnight is ideal). Crack lid on crock pot after it’s had time to start breaking down.
3) If smoother consistency is desired, approximately ½ to ¾ of the way through cooking time use a stick blender (for baby food smooth) or potato masher (for applesauce consistency). If rustic chunks are desired, skip this step.
4) Once it has reached the desired consistency, turn off the crock pot and proceed to your preferred storage method.


Socials


I pinned this post to my Canning, Crock Pot & Freezer food board.

Blues Clues Birthday Party

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Shortly before he turned 2, Dude went through a phase where he threw himself at the TV while shrieking "Waaaaaaaannnntt Bwwwuuuuuueee!!!" And slapping his hand on the wall a lot and shouting "Cwue!"

So I had a pretty good idea what to do for his 2nd birthday party.


To tint the frosting, I sat one of the clue stickers in front of me and kept fiddling with my Wilton gel colors until it was close enough.


For Blue's face, I used Photoshop to scale down the the template I found here - I traced around it with a toothpick. It's worth noting that I should have actually looked at a picture of Blue before I frosted, because in the show her nose is dark blue, not black.  If I'd noticed that I'd also have done the outline to match the nose.

I chose a font I liked for the number 2, blew it up in Word and printed it on card stock. Then it was easy to cut out and trace around in fondant with an Exacto knife.  I didn't even have to print two sizes, I just eyeballed one of them bigger.

The name banner represents the flag that Blue holds at the beginning of every show with the episode name on it. That shape was easy to freehand, though it would be easy enough to make a card stock template to trace in Word.

I also put 3 paw prints around the side of the cake - I just forgot to take a picture of them. Those I also traced with a toothpick around a card stock template I printed from a paw print image I found online.



Shovel and Pail
Dude talked a lot about Shovel and Pail, so I wanted them to make an appearance. Turns out? It's hard to find sand toys in late fall. Thank goodness for a kind eBay seller who deals in bulk 'assorted colors' plastic sand buckets. I emailed the seller to explain I needed the specific color combination for a Blues Clues birthday, and not only did they enthusiastically agree to help, they also tucked a few little Blues Clues freebies into the package (you can see the stickers poking out of the pail, that was one of them).

For Shovel's face, I stared at a lot of pictures of him. Then I broke out the Sharpies and crossed my fingers.

For Pail's face, I cut the shapes out of felt from the craft bin and glued them on. This was a nice approach because if I messed one up I just remade it, no worries about a permanent mistake. (The challenge is finding glue that will stick - they only stayed on a few weeks with Elmer's.)

Handy Dandy Notebook
For the Handy Dandy Notebook - known lovingly over here at Chez Geek as the "danny guk guk" - I was delighted to find endless options on eBay.  We opted for the one that has several dry erase pages in addition to the paper ones. It also came with the iconic green striped crayons and a pack of extra pages, as well as the "clue" post its I used to help me tint the frosting. This site is listed on the back of it: HandyDandyNotebook.us

Finding Blue herself was a bit of a challenge, seeing as how the show has been off the air nearly a decade.  But as luck would have it, thanks to global intellectual property theft our international partners in capitalism, you can readily obtain a shiny new Blue on eBay for a surprisingly reasonable price.  Just plan ahead - shipping takes a few weeks.

Dude was so very happy, and promptly ran off clutching his new best friend.


***

Update: nearly a year later, after much of love and roughhousing, she's still holding up very well considering her questionable origins. So if you child can't live without their very own Blue, it's worth the 15 bucks to eBay her from China.



Socials



I pinned this post to my Blues Clues Birthday Party board and my cake decorating board.


Special Needs Student Resume 2014 Update

Thursday, July 24, 2014



I knew when I wrote my original Getting To Know You: Special Needs Student Resume post that I would need to revise it as the years went by, because our kids have this sneaky habit of growing up and changing on us.

So here we are again, staring down the start of a new school year. Most of us are have a shiny new pile of fears about how our kids will handle the transition to new schools, new teachers, new aids, new therapists, new classmates. Heck, I wasn't sure how mine would handle needing a new backpack (pause to thank the Powers That Be for Angry Birds Star Wars)!

Each year we face the daunting task of communicating who they are and what they need to new instructors, plus updating familiar staff on how their needs have changed. But we accept the challenge because we want everyone in their lives to understand what wonderful people they are, and what they need to thrive.

For our part, my older son is moving from his Gen Ed placement with a 1:1 to an outplacement at a school with a dedicated curriculum for autistic students, which we are both happy and sad about, for all the predictable reasons. And we're in EI transition planning with my younger son, which means moving him into the district in which my older son has been crashing and burning. So no worries there, right?  He'll be getting his own version of this resume just in time for the dreaded 3rd birthday.

All of this is why I developed the special needs student resume. And why I decided to share it with all y'all. And since I get most folks would rather chew off their own arm than write a resume, why I also created a free template to make it faster and easier to make your own.

Go forth and advocate!

View and download a PDF of this 3 page sample special needs student resume (1st Grade)

View and download a PDF of a 2 page sample special needs student resume (Kindergarten)

Download a dotx Word template for creating a Special Needs Student Resume


Socials


I pinned this post to my Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder board.


"Introduce your Special Needs child to school staff with free student resume template by @ShesAlwaysWrite - http://bit.ly/1rdzCPd #Autism" Tweet this!


Autism Visual Tool: Reversible Stop and Go Sign

Monday, June 23, 2014


My toddler's OT recently started playing Stop and Go games with him. It was about the same time he started trying to elope and learned to open all the deadbolts, break child locks off door handles and pull furniture over to open the hotel lock, so I was certainly interested in anything that might help keep him safely indoors.

With that in mind, I took the OT's advice and created Stop/Go signs for all the doors.

I wasn't expecting much, but we diligently pointed the signs out to him each time we went through the door and talked about how we can only go outside when it's green. And how only a grownup can change it from red to green, because it took about 2 minute for him to give that a shot.

We also make an extra big show of changing it from red to green on the back sliding glass door to distract him from our other hand slipping behind the drape and undoing the new lock he hasn't noticed yet.

I have to say it's been surprisingly helpful.  Within a week of starting to work on this he and I went for a walk around the neighborhood to check out the garage sales. He slipped my grasp and bolted towards one he saw halfway down the block.  There was also a car coming, because of course.

I yelled "STOP" because that's what a mom does when her toddler is running headlong into danger.

To my absolute shock, he actually did. And waited for me to catch up. And when I got there and hugged him and the driver nodded to me they'd noticed what almost just happened, I quietly thanked our genius OT for teaching me how to teach him this.

It's worked out so well for us I wanted to share the signs I made so you can give it a try at your house.

They're sized for a standard letter size piece of paper.  I recommend using card stock.



They're aligned so you can print Stop, flip the page over and run through the printer again to get the Go centered within the Stop.



I purposely made two PDF files because I'm terrible about just hitting "print" and ending up with two pages of signs. By making myself open two files, I remember to pause between printing to flip the page over.

I recommend laminating them so the hole punched area doesn't rip with repeated use.

Hanging the Signs
I used a hole punch and some yarn from the craft bin to hang them with.

For the front door, I used a Command strip hook.  (It's totally the one left over from hanging a Christmas wreath).

For the back sliding glass door, I used a suction cup I found in the tub toy bin, but I bet a Command strip would work just as well.

You'll have to experiment with height for your kids - we had to find a balance between high enough he couldn't keep pulling them down but low enough he could still see them well.

Other Uses
I also made a spare without a hanging string to keep in the Regulation Station (someday I'll get around to blogging that). It's good for playing the Stop/Go games and grabbing when an impromptu visual is needed to get through the random situations that pop up with the kids.


Socials

I pinned this post to my Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder board.


My Son Is Better at this Than I Am

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bear was having a rough time coping with his little brother this morning, who was giving us all an especially hefty does of ear-splitting two-year-oldness.

Bear got really quiet, then, almost in tears, he said "I want to say a mean word. It starts with s."

I gently asked him to come talk to me. Did a quick mental check of the angry words I sometimes let fly and vowed to do better. Wondered if he'd heard a new word at school.

He sat on my lap and put his head on my shoulder while I told him I understood that it some days it can feel hard to have a little brother, assured him he wasn't in trouble, and asked him what word he felt like saying. 

"Stupid."

Oh, my heart. I wish he could stay this sweet and innocent forever.

Autism Resource: Potty Training Visual Schedule

Sunday, May 18, 2014



After much failure and desperation potty training my first son, I made this visual schedule. To my surprise and delight, it really helped him with the process planning. We were still in the midst of realizing he needed an autism diagnosis and running around trying to make that happen, so at the time, visual schedules were very new to me.

Unfortunately for us, his interoceptive sense is clearly impaired, so even though it helped him with the "how" he still sometimes struggles with the "when."

The reality is that it took over 4 years from when he first indicated interest in the potty to when we could mostly consider him able to know when he has to go during the day (nights are another thing).

Because of that, I pretty much hate anyone with a "my kid potty trained in a week" story. They can go right to hell. But on their way, if they could pick me up another package of pullups that would be great because I forgot them at the store today and I don't want to do the sheets again in the morning.

This came up because we're entering potty training hell with the little Dude. 

Although Dude doesn't seem to be as challenged by it from a sensory standpoint, he's giving it the full blown 2 year old treatment. Going on the potty was AWESOME when it was his idea - one weekend a while back he went 12 times and I was all OMG it might not take 4 years!!

And then he realized that the whole potty situation wasn't just his idea. He slammed on the brakes and I'm scrambling because not even M&Ms are working any more. Which is just maddening because see Exhibit A: full weekend of success when he felt like it.

Then I remembered Bear's visual schedule and stuck it back on the wall. So far, Dude's quite enthusiastic about it and keeps going into the bathroom to name the items on the list. He won't actually do them when I ask yet... but this is autism, people! It's a step in the right direction and I'm calling it progress.

If you think this might be helpful at your house, you can download a free printable PDF of this potty training visual schedule here.

It fits on a normal sheet of paper. I laminated mine because, well, I didn't laminate the first one and it got all mangled from enthusiastic hands pointing at the pictures halfway through the washing step.

Hopefully this will help your family's journey to potty independence as much as it's helped ours.  Here's to dry sheets and clean underpants...

This post is pinned to my Autism & Sensory Processing Disorder board.

Easy Personalized DIY Gift for Teacher Appreciation Week

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


 It's Teacher Appreciation Week!

If that strikes fear into your heart as well, come sit by me and have coffee split a bottle of wine while I tell you all about my new secret weapon: Tagxedo!

As many of you know, I was reluctant to go down the Pinterest rabbit hole. That said, if it wasn't for my new religion I'd never have found this amazing site. I had to start a whole new pile of post-it notes (i.e. gestating pins-to-be) just for all the ideas I have for using it.

And no, they're not paying me. They don't even know I exist. Well, maybe they do now, since yesterday I ponied up a donation to thank them for saving my neck here in the land of small children and people who expect homemade cards from them.

Anyway. Teacher week. You've so go this.

1) Go to the Tagxedo site.

2) Click Load to give it the words. (Thesaurus.com can come in handy for this.)
You can point it at something like a blog post or type in your own. The default settings make repeated words show up bigger, so if you want the person's name to be really big put it in a bunch of times.

3) Play around with colors and fonts and shapes until you lose your mind.  Click the History button to go back through thumbnails of all the versions. Finally settle for one 43 clicks back you're pretty sure you liked better than the one 27 clicks back.

4) Click the Save and Share link to choose from a list of formats and sizes
Be sure to choose a larger resolution if you plan to print (I usually pick 4MB png).

This is what you'll get (but with your own shape and words and colors and... you get the picture.)


5) Make your card.

I prefer to crop the colored border with the site name on it before I make the card.  I print it on the bottom half of a standard letter size piece of card stock so when you fold it in half, it becomes the cover of a card you can write inside.  It's a piece of cake to do in Photoshop but you can also do it in Word pretty easily.

Since my son struggles with writing, I also added a simple message so all he had to do was sign his name.  You can easily leave yours blank if it's no big deal for your kiddo to write a little thank you.

I used a Kindergarten manuscript / letter learning font because I thought it was cute in this context and because I wanted my son to be able to read it. You might want to make your own with something fancier.


If you want to use the message I made, you can download this PDF.  Just flip over the card stock with your word cloud printed on it so the interior message gets printed on the back and is oriented correctly when the card is folded.

If you're me, this takes 6 tries. Spatial relationship skillz! I don't have them.

Fold the card and have your kiddo write what needs to be written. Voila! Teacher = appreciated.

Most people just send the card, but I haven't been able to do much for the class lately due to work.  So I poured all that working mommy guilt into a gift basket of school supplies from the class wish list.  I put the card on that.

Then you get to send it to school and bask in the glow of being the cool family at the next PTO meeting. (That happens, right? I wouldn't know. I avoid those things like the plague.)

Or, in my world, you get to be the one who puts in all this works and sets it on the shelf right next to the door so you won't forget but the special needs transport arrives 15 minutes early with a different driver they'd failed to notify you about and you're frantically trying to get shoes on your kid sooner than his routine dictates while preparing him for the idea he's never before seen the person about to drive him and then the substitute driver starts the damn van while he's walking in front of it and completely freaks him out and then you finally get him settled and sent off and you come back in and see the gift sitting on the shelf, right where you left it.

This post? I totally pinned it.

May Flowers Layer Cake

Thursday, May 1, 2014


I made this on a whim when we were having friends over for a springtime cookout, and I was really happy with its cheerful simplicity.

It only takes beginner level skills and I think it could be a nice offering for a bake sale, brunch, or outdoor gathering. The color scheme is ideal for a baby shower, and it could even work for a casual bridal shower.

I used my go-to old school Betty Crocker cookbook yellow cake recipe because it's foolproof, sturdy enough to stand up to manipulating and generically tasty enough that no one's going to complain about wishing it was chocolate (Which... and I realize this is blasphemy... I find too heavy for warm weather desserts). 

If the April shower gloom starts getting to you, this is one one to bring your own May flowers.

Here's my pin of this post.

Easy Spring Bake Sale Treat: Lemon Cupcakes with Royal Icing Poppies

Sunday, April 6, 2014



I made four dozen of these lemon cupcakes topped with royal icing poppies to help out my BFF, who organizes the bake sale for her boss's garden club's spring flower show. (I know, gag. Just more proof I'll do anything for my friends.)

The lemony cupcakes were a nice light treat for a spring themed event.  The poppies were the perfect level of difficulty for my entry level cake decorating skills. I'd clipped the concept from a Martha Stewart magazine ages ago and was excited for a chance to use it. This link is to the Martha Stewart website entry that coordinates with the original print article, and includes a video for how to pipe the poppies.

The original recipe called for making the flowers with buttercream, but I needed them to stand up to transportation and sitting around in a high school gym for the bake sale. So I made royal icing with the recipe right off the can, and they came out great. Yes, I know I could have made royal icing from scratch, but let's be real - I was already making four dozen cupcakes for someone else's event.


I used a #7 Wilton flower nail, piped them onto little parchment squares and let them dry on sheet trays, just like you're supposed so.  (Note: I only made the flower petals with royal icing, the green leaves I piped on with buttercream after the flowers had been placed on the cupcakes. I put the poppyseeds on as soon as I piped them so they'd stick to the flowers as they dried.)


I was so proud of my big sheet trays full of painstakingly piped poppies. I totally took pictures, just like a good little blogger. Nope, I can't find them.

As you can see from the photo, I didn't get too fussy when I applied the base of white buttercream. Let's call it a deliberate design choice for a casual event.

To keep them clean, transport them, make them easy to stack at the sale and easy for participants to carry home, I used individual cupcake boxes. I'm kind of in love with the individual cupcake box concept and am definitely looking for reasons to do it again.

If you do a project like this, do not buy the cupcake boxes from your local craft or big box store. Retail, it can cost $7 for a package of 4.  We used a online discount site and got a case of 100 for around $50, which is a pretty great deal.  If profit margins are a concern for your bake sale, make sure to take that 50 cents per box into consideration. We essentially donated the boxes.

My only goal here is to save someone else from the special hell that is trying to come up with ideas for a bake sale. These got priced at 2 bucks a pop. They're small and cheap enough to be the token purchase for the folks who don't want to buy something but feel really obligated to. And they're perfect for people who want to bring a little something home for their kids, but don't want to commit to a full size cake or a whole plate of cookies.

Go forth and cupcake!

 Here's my pin of this post.

Day of Remembrance: Autism and Wandering Awareness

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Today I join the community in remembering autistic children who lost their lives after wandering.

This is not about pointing fingers or differing points of view.  It's about respectfully acknowledging that these families are grieving for children who were deeply loved and are constantly missed.

Here are the facts that make today's observation necessary:

(Ed. note: I created the blue graphic and while I own the copyright, I purposely left off my copyright mark to encourage sharing.  A credit or link back would be nice, but is not a requirement and you have permission to use the image to promote wandering awarness.)


Wandering is a terrifying reality for many families with children on the spectrum, and the statistics demonstrate that wandering frequency increases in the springtime. 

Please keep the grieving families in your thoughts. And please keep an eye out for our kids.


Wandering Resources
Download the NAA's Big Red Safety Toolkit for Caregivers (PDF)
Download the NAA's Big Red Safety Toolkit for First Responders (PDF)


For more information, visit
National Autism Association
NAA's AWAARE: Autism Wandering Awareness Alters Response Education


ShesAlwaysWrite Posts on Wandering
Great Solution to a Common Problem
About our son's first wandering experience  - before he got his ASD diagnosis and we knew wandering was a thing - and the type of ID we got for him.

Neighborhood Outreach
My initial post on the idea I had to make wandering awareness postcards to give our neighbors.

Neighborhood Outreach Part 2: Wandering Awareness Cards Tutorial
The tutorial I wrote on making your own wandering awarness postcards after the hugely positive response I received to the concept.  Includes free templates.


My Letter From Hogwarts is Late

Friday, February 28, 2014

One of the happiest moments of my life came recently when my 6 year old Bear asked if I would start reading Harry Potter to him.

It's a moment that I - who's worn out more than one library card in my endless quest for the next great story - have waited for since I saw two lines on the pregnancy test.

Not that I was waiting for Potter in particular.  I have so many special friends, and will introduce them each in time.  He's far too young for Adams or Tolkien or Heinlein.  He's not yet emotionally mature enough to ponder the moral implications of Ender's end game.  And while I think we're getting close, he's not quite ready to go through the looking glass or travel on a tesseract.


Honestly, I wasn't completely sure he was ready for Rowling.  But... and I may have my geek card revoked for admitting this... he'd already seen the first movie.  I know. I know.  It's a violation of the natural order of things.  An abomination.  It's almost as bad as those people who don't show their kids Episode IV first.



But Mommy needs her magic fix and leisurely reading time is in short supply.  So, I cracked. I let my kid see The Philosopher's Sorcerer's Stone before reading the book.  But... there's a but! A very important but!

I only let him watch after talking about all the ways in which the book was better. (Yes, I'm one of those people. Let's do us both a favor and skip the part where you pretend to be surprised.)  The thing is, he was really excited there's a book.  And eventually, he asked me to read it to him.  At which point my heart burst with happiness.

Which brings us to actually reading it.  Of course, I had my little fantasy of a freshly bejammied Bear, snuggled up with with his blankie, raptly listening as I read to him the story of The Boy Who Lived. 

And of course, we all know it really went down like this...

"...As he pulled into number four, the first thing he saw - and it didn't improve his mood - was the tabby cat he'd spotted that morning. It was now sitting on his garden wall. He was sure it was the same one; it had the same markings around its eyes."

Bear: Why was the cat outside all day?

Me: Because....

Bear: Why didn't they let the cat into the house?  What if it was hungry?

Me: Well...

Bear: Could they bring the cat some water?

Me: That's not the...

Bear: And why was it sitting on the wall? And where did the map go?

Me: What map?  Oh, that was...

Bear: What if the cat got cold?

Me: But it wasn't...

Bear: Don't they LIKE cats?



And so it went.

It's been 3 weeks.  We've made it through 3 chapters.  I haven't yet been able to start reading Chapter 4 - The Keeper of the Keys - to him because he won't stop asking when "Hagrid with the wand hiding in the pink umbrella" (say it real fast like it's one big name) is going to come get Harry.



Charitable School Valentines

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Valentine's Day is upon us. If you're anything like me, just last week you finally threw out the candy from the Advent calendar the kids got bored with halfway through December, and are still finding expired Halloween candy lurking in the hiding spots it got stashed in back when the trees still had leaves.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I loathe the bags of cheap candy and crappy plastic toys that some misguided parent handbook is apparently insisting we send to school for holiday celebrations.  I'm not comfortable giving the kind of stuff to a room full of kids that I'd never consider giving to my own.

I was chatting about this with a fellow mom, and she gave me this idea. I love it so much I decided to do it every time the kids are obligated to show up at school with something to pass out. I don't care if I get the reputation of being "one of THOSE moms." I firmly believe that on this topic, the status is not quo.

The idea that people are blowing money on candy for these kids is particularly upsetting in our community, which has a significant population of families below the poverty line and a food pantry that can't always keep up. Our elementary school held a winter coat drive for their own students, so it was no surprise when the class newsletter asked if any of us can supply valentine cards for the kids whose families can't afford them. 

Which brings me to... this charitable alternative for school Valentines.

Step 1 - Donate
Make a donation to your local food pantry. I give $25 because it's what I can afford, and it's about what I'd have to spend on bags of candy. If the donation site provides a field for it, I say it's in the name of Teacher's Name Xth grade class.

Bonus: the donation is tax deductible.

Step 2 - Make and Print Cards
Make a sheet of little cards that says you made the donation. I use the Avery 5371 business card template built into Word because they're the perfect size. I print them on card stock and have my son help cut them out.

Last year I made cards with the saying on the front, picked up a heart stamp in the dollar bin at Michael's and had my son stamp the back. This year I went with a nice graphic because there just wasn't time for anything else.


You can make your own cards or use either of these free printable templates I created. (And yes, I legally purchased that graphic.)

Download PDF - Charitable Valentine card template with a general "community food pantry" donation statement that can be used as is.

Download Word Template (dotx) - Charitable Valentine card template in Microsoft Word with a space for you to insert the name of your local food pantry before printing.

Step 3 - Attach the Cards to Valentines
I don't want to make my son to stick out like a sore thumb among his peers (the autism is already not doing him any favors in that regard), so I don't just send the donation cards by themselves.  I include them with a token gift the kids will recognize/expect. There are as many was to do this as you can think of.  Two methods I've used are:

Method 1
Hole punch the card in two spots and thread a lollipop stick through it. (Yummy Earth are our favorite organic suckers - they're a reasonable size, really tasty and have natural ingredients most kids with food allergies can eat.)

I thought I had a picture of the hand stamped cards from last year, but I can't find it.  So here's what that looks like with this year's cards. Last year I threaded the lollipop stick through the pre-punched pencil slot style valentines alongside the pencil.


Method 2
Tuck the donation card into the envelope of the kind of store-bought valentine card that comes in boxes including a small non-candy gift like a pencil, eraser or temporary tattoos.



In a perfect world we'd make it a family project to create our own Valentines, but I live in the real world and sometimes you've just gotta buy the box of super hero cards and move on. This year I was sick for the two weeks leading up to V-Day, and found myself with only 48 hours to spare staring at the nearly empty Valentine display at my local superstore. I bought a box for us and a box to send to school for kids who needed them.

I'm hoping the fact I also bought some for the kids with struggling families will keep Pinterest from revoking my membership card.


Start a New Tradition
The best way to eliminate the perception that this concept is a subtle insult from a holier-than-thou parent is to involve other parents. Send a note to the teacher early in the month asking if she'll talk to the kids about supporting families in need. Maybe even ask if the teacher is up for making it a class project to see how much you can raise.

Do you have a class directory? Email all the other parents on February 1st and ask them to do this with you. Send them the link to this post so they can download the free templates, or make one of your own and include it in the email. Send them a link to your local food pantry so they don't have to look for it. Point out that it takes less time and can cost less money than shopping for all that candy. When something is cheaper and easier and makes them look good, people are much more likely people are to do it.


Food Pantry Resources
Not sure where donate? Here are some resources to help you identify your local food pantry.

FISH of McHenry County

Greater Chicago Food Depository

Feeding Illinois is the state association of 8 food banks serving the entire state, their site explains how you can donate or volunteer.  They also link to the Take Action section at Feeding America, which provides information so you can advocate for hunger programs.

FoodPantries.org is a great resource that lists all the food pantries in the country, organized by city and state.
 
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