Andrea's blog


Ayla's Sewing Debut

Paxton has been sick with a cold this week, so we've been hanging out around the house, laying low.  I promised Ayla if she cleaned up her room, we could do some sort of art project or sewing project.  She was VERY excited about doing a sewing project.

Since I didn't have anything in particular in mind and she had never sewn anything before (nor am I very good at it), we started with something easy. I pulled out a scrap of denim, some embroidery floss, a needle and a hoop, and we decided on a simple rainbow with her name underneath it for the design.

I drew the design on the back, threaded the needle and knotted the end for her, and then showed her how to make straight stitches.  She did the rest!  She did an amazing job following the lines and had remarkably evenly spaced stitches for her first try!

The whole project took her about an hour.  And she was REALLY proud of the results.

Plus, it happened to fit perfectly in a 5" x 7" frame we had picked out to use in her room. 

Whew...a successful art project!


Cleaning House - Rid Your Home of Youth Entitlement

A local friend of mine has three boys, one Ayla's age, one Paxton's age, and one younger.  As I've gotten to know this family, I've been blown-away impressed with the boys' manners, their willingness to be helpful, and their capabilities.  The oldest first introduced himself to Ben and I by telling us his full name, shaking our hands, and calling us by name.  He exudes independence and responsibility.  The middle one can often be seen helping the youngest brother and doing little jobs.  And even the youngest (who barely talks), is his daddy's little sidekick, helping with all the jobs around the house.  They say please and thank you, they share with their brothers and friends without being asked, and they RARELY complain or whine.  They call themselves a TEAM -- and they are one! 

So I've been keenly observing their mom and dad and picking their brains about how they do it, trying to incorporate some little things in our house - things like setting and clearing the table, keeping their rooms clean(er), etc.  Because, let's be honest. Ben and I were doing ALL of those things for A & P, *while* they demanded we do more for them!  And they had no clue how to make a bed, or fill the dishwasher, or sweep the floor--skills they NEED to have in life.  So, who's the sucker??? Us. 

No more!  Once I saw some other kids their age being responsible and contributing to their family -- I was done with being a hovering slave parent!

And then, I heard about this book -- Cleaning House - A Mom's 12 Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement: 

Is Your Home Out of Order?
Do your kids expect clean folded clothes to magically appear in their drawers? Do they roll their eyes when you suggest they clean the bathroom? By racing in to make their lives easy, have you unintentionally reinforced your children’s belief that the world revolves around them?
Dismayed at the attitude of entitlement that had crept into her home, Kay Wyma got some attitude of her own. Cleaning House is her account of a year-long campaign to introduce her five kids to basic life skills and the ways meaningful work can increase earned self-confidence and concern for others.
With irresistible humor and refreshing insights, Kay candidly details the ups and downs of equipping her kids for such tasks as making beds, refinishing a deck chair, and working together. The changes that take place in her household will inspire you to launch your own campaign to dislodge your kids from the center of their universe.
“If you want your children to be more responsible, more self-assured, and more empathetic, Cleaning House is for you.”
—Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family

While we were on our trip, I read the book.  Usually in the backseat of my car, while my dad chauffered us around Chicago.  It's pretty good, not exactly profound, but it's a good catalyst for recognizing different areas of life where kids need to learn how to be more responsible, and she gives a realistic response to how well that went over in her family (not always so well received...) The biggest thing I learned from her was START EARLY.  She had the most trouble with her teenager...

I've tried to incorporate some of her ideas, some of what I'd seen my friends and their kids accomplishing together, and did an *ok* job of giving my kids some responsibility in the middle of a 3-week long vacation.  In some ways, since we had less stuff to take care of, it was a perfect introduction to being responsible for their stuff. 

So, while staying at my dad's house, we gave them jobs.  They made their "beds" every morning, got themselves dressed, cleaned up their own dishes, wiped up spills, helped with the garbage, cleaned up their toys, carried their own bags, helped load and unload the car, etc.

Then we came home.  So far, it's been a good transition into having more responsibility at home too.  It's a work in progress, but I can happily report that it's going well, and though they complain about it some (mostly they're excited about it), they ARE contributing to the family, instead of creating more work for Ben and I to do.  And I call that SUCCESS.

Ayla is 7, Paxton is 4.  Here are some jobs they've recently added to their repoirtoire of responsibility:


  • set the table for dinner
  • clear the table after dinner
  • put away silverware from clean dishwasher
  • replace garbage bags in garbage cans
  • clean up his room and put toys away
  • make his bed in the morning
  • get himself dressed
  • dusting
  • wipe down kitchen table & chairs
  • feed the cat

Ayla (in addition to the jobs Paxton can do):

  • wash dishes & fill up dishwasher
  • vaccuum kitchen floors
  • clean mirrors
  • wipe down counters in kitchen & bathrooms
  • make & pack lunches
  • put food & condiments, etc. away in refrigerator
  • straighten bookshelves
  • go back and get something we forgot at Target (while I was in line checking out)
  • strip sheets and remake her bed
  • take dirty laundry to garage

They are lists we're adding to every day.  Not only has it been good for them to learn to do all these things, but they're actually HELPING and making my job easier.  Once I have seen that they're capable of all these things, I'm much more comfortable saying "YES! You can help!" and trust that it will be helpful.  Because they WANT to help.  They always have, I just wouldn't let them.  It wasn't their fault they didn't know how to do anything -- it was mine!

So here's to raising responsible, capable, contributing kids!  Expect great things from them and watch them happily strive to do even more...


Sharp Carpet (and a surprise!)

While the kids and I were out of town for three weeks, you might think Ben would take the opportunity to get lots of sleep, watch movies, and relax in the quiet of an empty house.

Not this year.

The day before we left for Chicago, we were picking out new carpet for the bedrooms and hallway upstairs and the basement playroom (all of which has needed to be replaced since we moved in 6 years ago - but no one in their right mind would replace carpet with toddlers in the house). 

In an effort to get new carpet before our painting marathon from last fall became dated and needed to be redone, we decided an empty house for three weeks was the perfect time (for Ben) to tackle the project.  Unfortunately, it meant he had to do all the work himself.

He spent two and a half weeks moving all the furniture out, tearing out carpet, repairing the floors (no more squeaks!) having the carpet installed, and then moving everything BACK where it belonged. 

What I didn't know, is that in addition to ALL that, he also painted all four of the bedrooms, including ceilings, our closet and repainted the hallway (which we had inadvertently painted with flat paint the first time). 

So now, with the exception of our bathrooms, our whole house is freshly painted in shades of gray.  No more tan. 

WOW! Best. Surprise. Ever.  Because I was NOT looking forward to having to move all the furniture again, try to protect the carpets, and doing another painting marathon any time soon.

So here's a look at the almost brand-new-feeling of our house...

We took the opportunity to rearrange a little bit, and eventually we'll add things back to the walls and maybe choose some new artwork, etc.

What I love the most is how quiet it is!  I can get up in the morning and walk all around upstairs, without waking anyone up! 

As Ben puts it, you could bowl down our hallway, it's been reinforced so well!

Now the basement playroom/den feels more like a part of the house again.  While the concrete painted floor was a very good choice for us for the past several years, now that we know it doesn't get wet down there anymore, and we're done riding bicycles and riding toys all over, it sure is nice and cozy with comfy carpet.

Don't your feet just feel happy looking at it?  Well, okay, so maybe you don't care, but mine sure like it!



Rainbow Unicorn 7th Birthday Party

Rainbow Unicorn 7th Birthday Party

Rainbow Unicorns & Gymnastics.  They go together, right? 

In our world, I guess they do.  My *almost 7* year old daughter Ayla asked months ago to have a Rainbow Unicorn birthday party.

Actually, she hijacked a Oriental Trading catalog and circled and wrote down all the rainbow unicorn items she wanted for her birthday party so I could get the *right* thing.  Why fight it?  Rainbows are fun and easy to decorate with, Oriental Trading is inexpensive, and I'm all for easy birthday parties. :) I convinced her that a gymnastics party would be a lot of fun for her and her friends, and we just threw in the Rainbow Unicorns for some eye candy!

Here's how the Rainbow Unicorn Gymnastics party took shape:


We found some super cute 5" x 7" Rainbow Unicorn birthday invitations at Zazzle, so that was a no-brainer. :)  They were easy to customize, shipped quickly, looked great, and I didn't have to design or print them!

Rainbow Unicorn Invitation


Since we were having her party at a Gymnastics gym, we didn't need to do much in the way of decorating, so I kept it very simple.  I picked up 7 balloons at the Dollar Tree in rainbow colors (the purple one didn't make it to the party) and used rocks and tulle to anchor the ribbons to the long tables, and put a couple of long red plastic table cloths from Dollar Tree underneath.

Rainbow Birthday Balloons Centerpiece

We ordered the Rainbow Unicorn dessert napkins from Oriental Trading and used solid purple dessert plates from Dollar Tree, but only because these plates were out of stock when I needed to order them.  Actually, the napkins worked out better since the plates ended up covered in cake & icing. :)  Okay, some of the napkins did too!

Rainbow Unicorn Dessert Plates

Rainbow Unicorn Dessert Plates

I ordered a unicorn cake topper from Birthday Express because I couldn't find any unicorn cake designs at my local grocery stores -- and I don't bake cakes.  So I went the semi-homemade route and we ordered this pretty pony to sit on top of a plain white cake:

Unicorn Cake Topper
Unicorn Cake Topper

But I gave her a little acrylic paint makeover so she'd fit into the party a little better:

Rainbow Unicorn Cake Topper


Since it was an afternoon party, we only served cake, bottled water and Smarties.  Easy.  So easy. 

Our cake was a 1/4 marble sheet cake from the Target bakery with white and yellow icing and rainbow sprinkles.  They wrote "Happy Birthday Ayla" for me, and I added the cardboard "grassy meadow" and unicorn.  I was afraid the unicorn's feet would sink into the cake.  Word of warning -- cardboard sticks to icing.  We just scraped it off and cut into the cake after she blew out the candles and we were ready to cut -- didn't matter how the icing looked then!

Rainbow Unicorn Birthday Cake

The unicorn was a big hit.  The girls passed it around the table so everyone could rub the unicorn's horn for good luck. Plus, it's sturdy and durable enough, that now Ayla can use it as a toy with her Barbies and dollhouse dolls.


Oriental Trading made the goody bags really easy.  We ordered rainbow unicorn necklaces for each of the girls (which arrived as a tangled mess of chains, but once I got them untangled, were a really AWESOME party favor for a bunch of little girls - and better quality than I expected).

Rainbow Unicorn Necklace Party Favor


Unicorn Rainbow Necklaces - Oriental Trading

We also included a sheet of stickers, that matched the theme perfectly:

Rainbow Unicorn Sticker Sheet

Unicorn Party Sticker Sheets (set of 12) - Oriental Trading

And multi-colored glow sticks that Ayla spotted at the Dollar Tree -- but they're available from Oriental Trading as well.

Swizzle Multi-Colored Glow Stick Bracelets

Bi-Color Glow Swizzle Bracelets

Plus, we added a few packages of Smarties for their sweet tooth. :) Sort of rainbow-themed, right?


We put the whole lot of goodies into a clear party bag and sealed it with some rainbow striped cardstock and staples:


The best part of this party was that I didn't have to plan any activities. The girls played on the gym floor and the coaches guided them through the different stations (trampoline, floor, bars, pit, etc.) They had 45 minutes of activity....then a little bit of cake, opening presents, and we sent 'em home! 

Oh, and of course at our house, we like to dress for the occasion - we'll take any excuse to wear something special. :) Ayla requested rainbow nailpolish...


Custom Notecards with Child's Artwork (Art by Ayla)

How to Turn Your Child's Artwork into Professionally Printed Notecards and Greeting Cards

I surprised Ayla today with a really fun package in the mail. I turned a couple of her "Best Of" first grade artwork projects into custom notecards at Zazzle! She was totally pumped when she saw them! 

"Oh wow!!  This is so cool!"

Children's Artwork Printed on Notecards and Greeting Cards

In order to turn her large pieces of artwork into small printed greeting cards, I photographed them with a high quality camera (and a tripod) in natural light.  Our front porch in the afternoon is a perfect place to do that.  I used painter's tape to tack them to the brick wall, hanging them as straight as I could, and placing the camera on a tripod directly across from them (to minimize any distorting). I ended up with pictures like this:

Then, I cropped the images to include only the artwork (it helped that they were pre-matted pieces), and auto-adjusted the contrast and colors in Photoshop, until I had two high quality images, like this:

Sailboat Pastel Artwork - Ayla Steed

Cameleon Watercolor Artwork - by Ayla Steed

Finally, I just uploaded them to Zazzle and created Ayla's very own personalized notecards with her own original artwork on it.  What a cool way to show off her work! She'll love sending these to her friends and family (they even come with their own envelopes).

Custom Notecards by Zazzle with Children's Artwork

The cards turned out fantastic! The slick printed top looks really professional, and I love that I could customize the inside (I made the inside flap a solid coordinating color) add a little note on the back:

Custom Greeting Cards by Zazzle

I'm definitely a fan.  We'll totally be doing this again.  

What do you do with your kids' artwork each year???




These are a few of my favorite things...

I blog a lot about things the kids do and like and record so many details about our family, but sometimes I forget to include some of the little quirky things that *I* like and do that are a small, but significant part of my day.  So, since I don't do much scrapbooking anymore, here's a "blog post" version of an "all about me" layout...

A.Steed's.Life - Favorite Things - February 2013

In no particular are some (mostly little) things that make me happy these days and have become my "everyday" luxuries:



I have always been a bowl (or two) of cereal in the morning kind of girl, but lately, I've been feeling much fuller when I eat a bowl of oatmeal with a little bit of unsweetened applesauce, raisins, cinnamon, and a few crushed pecans. 

I think it makes me feel "healthy"....


White Cheddar Cheese ItsWhite Cheddar Cheese Its:

...but don't be fooled.  I can also put down a full box of White Cheddar Cheese Its in a day.  I'm not *that* healthy.  I used to LOVE the "Get Your Own Box" campaign that Cheese Its did a while back. It was VERY fitting for me. Very.



ZCUT Power Cardio Series:

I bought this set of workout DVDs because I love Zuzka's workouts.  They're short (usually only 10-20 minutes), SUPER hard, and you don't need any extra equipment.  This is her first DVD series, but she also offers a free real-time workout of the week on Thursdays, and it's been perfect for my at-home workouts. 

Zuzka Light ZCUT Power Cardio Series Workout DVD

Sorry for the insane amount of Zuzka cleavage... :/


Mary Kay Roll Up Travel Bag:

Mary Kay Roll Up Travel BagMy old bathroom bag finally gave up after daily use for several years. One of the zippers broke, so I had to go searching for a new one that would be just as useful, since I use it every day. It hangs on the back of my bathroom door, and I roll it up and take it with me to the gym too.  I couldn't find the exact bag I used to have -- apparently, it's not made anymore -- so...

This Mary Kay Roll Up Travel Bag is the ONLY bag I could find that was big enough for all my stuff, hangs on a hook, has 4 clear pockets, and *bonus* rolls up neatly into a cute little cube with a handle! 

Mary Kay Roll Up Travel Bag

Thank you very much Mary Kay!


I.O. Metro Bree Sectional (in Bela Pewter):

We LOOOOOOVE our new couch.  It's cozy, comfy, and looks so pretty, and best of all, we ALL fit on it.  It took us a while to find it, then about 8 weeks for it to arrive.  But that didn't stop me from going into I.O. Metro often to visit it while we waited for ours to arrive.  The kids even brought library books to try it out.

I'm sure that's not weird...right?

We (and the store employees too I'm sure...) are happy to be able to sit on our own now, in our own living room.

Bree Corner Sectional - IO Metro


Lily Bloom Bag:

My old Lily Bloom bag was so worn out I finally had to let it go a few months ago. (I'm sensing a theme here..evidently I like bags with pockets and I use them till they fall apart - I think I get that from my mom).  Anyhow, I've been on the lookout for a new one ever since.  TJ Maxx had a bunch in stock one week when I went in, so I picked up this fun bag.

Lily Bloom Handbag

Since I wear so many solid colors, I love a bright print purse!


Heated Rice Bags:

For Christmas, my sister-in-law Rachel made all the Steed girls these cute little heated rice bags.  Just heat 'em up in the microwave for a few minutes, and they feel wonderful on your sore shoulders, hips, hands, back, legs, etc. (I'm telling you, those ZCUT workouts make you *very* sore!)

Homemade Heated Rice Bags


A Twisty Tail Hair Do:

Lately, my hair has gotten very long (which i like), but it's also been giving me the heebie jeebies about mid-day.  I think it's something about the mess of curls hanging over my shoulders.  Why does my hair always fall forward like giant cocker spaniel ears instead of laying nicely down my back? 

Anyhow, my favorite solution for no-nonsense hair days is this twisty-tail hair do.  It's fast, it's easy, and it doesn't look like a messy bun or ponytail.  It actually makes it appear as if I care a little bit about how it looks.  I'll have to post some better photos of it soon, with a tutorial. 


So there you go...just a few, mostly frivolous, and unneccessary things that make my days a little brighter.  I'm no Oprah, so unfortunately, you can't expect a door prize of each of my favorite things just for reading this, but maybe you'll find someting new that makes you happy too. :)


Living Room - Before & After

Perhaps the catlyst for this whole painting endeavor was the living room.  I painted it the WRONG color gray first, so it was a totally mismatched mess compared to the rest of the house. 

Then,  after watching the 2012 Summer Olympics without even enough places to sit for our small little family of four, we decided it was time to add some seats to the room.  We settled on a big gray sectional that would be delivered in 8 weeks.  So, we had to get going on the painting in order to make space for our new seating arrangement. 

Here's where we started:

BEFORE (view from entryway):

...and where we sit now...

AFTER (view from entryway):

After we painted all the walls and ceiling the same SW Worldly Gray 7043 from my office and the entryway, we started filling it back up with furniture (and our brand new couch - which is the Bree Corner Sectional from I.O.Metro, in Bela Pewter)

We hauled off the green rug, moved the green curtains, couch and loveseat to the den, and started working with a new color scheme of mostly gray, teal and gold.

I bought the coordinating (but not matching) pillows from World Market, Kohls, and Target. 

Here's a view from the other corner of the room, looking toward the front door.  The big round coffee table is borrowed from Paxton's room for now (he had his fire station on it).  I think it's a little too big for the room though, so we'll probably replace it with a rectangular coffee table eventually.  But, since we haven't been out to shop for that yet, this one is sufficing for now (even if it does look like a kids' play table).  It's a good height though, and *bonus* - it doesn't matter if it gets rings on it from drinks!

Now, our Dot Calm painting (see it back there in the corner?) seems to fit in a little better with the gold and turquoise shades in the painting and the gray and gold accents around the room.

For the floor, I lucked out one day at Target and found this 5' x 7' rug on clearance with the perfect colors - for only $45!  I couldn't pass that up. 

BEFORE (view from my office):

AFTER (view from my office):

We moved the Expedit bookshelves all to the back wall to make one long set of shelves.  Even though I loved the L-shaped corner bookshelf look, it was too many "L-Shapes" for the room when you added in the sectional.  I'm still hoping to replace that silver lamp behind the couch with something more interesting one of these days.

I had all sorts of curtain shopping drama that I'll spare you, but I finally was able to find (and buy, and successfully hang) these long-length Imperial Blue/Taupe Striped Grommet curtains from World Market.  They seem to be perfectly subtle, while not being a solid color.  It was worth the drama. 

Here's a view from that back corner, looking into my office.

We still need to find a new piece of furniture to put our television on, and then we'll find some artwork or a big mirror to hang on that big blank wall.  But, even with the boring view, this is DEFINITELY the best (and coziest) seat of the house! 

I highly recommend a's awesome.  Even in a small living room.  We've enjoyed many Saturday and Sunday afternoons watching shows and football all together on the big couch.  It's a major upgrade from fighting over the three available seats we used to have...

Tour Our Home - A.Steed's.Life


The Den (Playroom) - Before & After

The "den" or the "playroom" or "downstairs" is kind of a giant holding room for leftover furniture, decorations and lots and lots of toys.  Not quite a living-room, not quite a basement, maybe we should call it a rec room? 

Whatever it is, it's needed some help along the way - and we're not there yet.  But, in our painting marathon of October 2012, we did manage to step it up a small notch. Here's what we did:

Exhibit A: BEFORE (looking down)

Believe it or not, this is after MANY improvements and variations.  Note the lovely cat food containers (on the mantle) that make *great* storage containers. Just keeping it real. We don't apologize for recycling. 

And yes, we have a television in our fireplace. We live in Alabama.  We don't need heat.

Exhibit B: AFTER (looking down)

When we did our big painting marathon, we continued the SW Anonymous 7046 color from the kitchen down the big wall where the mantle is, and used the lighter SW Worldly Gray 7043 color (used also in the entryway and my office) on the other three walls and ceiling. 

Exhibit C: BEFORE (looking up)

We moved our loveseat and chair from the living room down to the playroom and removed or relocated a few of the bigger toys.  The easel was disassembled and turned into a flat chalkboard and dry erase board.  The pink chair was moved back to Ayla's bedroom.  The tool bench moved up to Paxton's bedroom, the basketball hoop to the garage, and that great big "craft" desk (that was ALWAYS a disaster of papers and markers) was donated to Goodwill.

Exhibit D: AFTER (looking up)

We moved the treadmill and deep freezer over to the less-visible space next to the stairs, which has seemed to work really well (both for convenience and asthetics). 

Notice anything else missing?  We removed the railing and the carpet on the stairs, which significantly opened up the room.  Safe? Probably not to code, but it's working for us, so for now, that's how it stays.  Painting the top metal railing the same wall-color as the kitchen helped it disappear, as did painting the door that goes to the garage.

I moved a few of my 12" x 12" frames to the space over the mantle, and with the help of some white spray paint, they pop really well on the dark gray wall.  While I was spray painting, I brightened up the wood "Family" sign and several smaller frames to bring some color to the otherwise dark and gray wall of stone:

We didn't ban Ayla from doing crafts entirely, but we significanly down-sized her desk space in the hopes that it would downsize the mess.  All her papers and coloring books and art supplies are stored in this cabinet, and she works at the little table next to it.   This setup has worked *pretty* well so far.  But still, the floor is often covered in papers and markers.  You just can't hold an artist back. :)

The room still needs some artwork on the walls, a coffee table, and hopefully wall-to-wall carpet before too long (when we'll probably say goodbye to the area rug).  But for now, it's been a step in the right direction  -- more living space, less "junk" space.

Tour Our Home - A.Steed's.Life


Admiring the Finished Product

I spent yesterday morning photographing some finished samples (posters, printables and wrapped canvases) made with the SignsByAndrea Family Rules Art Builder

It's pretty cool to see the finished product of design-it-yourself artwork!

Custom Family Rules Art - Canvas, Posters, Prints -

Custom Poster Print - Signs By Andrea

Playroom Rules Wrapped Canvas - Signs By Andrea

In This House Family Rules Wrapped Canvas - Signs By Andrea

Have you tried it yet?




Reunited with Edison

Ben published an article today for, called "Reunited."  He tells the goose-bump giving story of how our family was reunited two years later with Edison, the sweet little boy whose house he visited in Ecuador.  Read it.

Compassion International is an amazing program -- and it's working!  We can see it in the round little face of this boy who was so ill when Ben first met him, but through the work of the Child Survivor Program, and now the Child Sponsorship program, his is thriving and doing well!

Sponsor a Child Through Compassion International

It's Valentine's Day.  What better day is there to dedicate your love to someone who needs it?  Consider sponsoring a child through Compassion International. 


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