Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why I Do My Kids' Parties

Why I do My Kids' Parties.  Alternately titled "How Being A Pack Rat Saves Me Money"
I love love love to do my kids' birthday parties.  I have them choose a theme no less than 4 months in advance.  Knowing ahead of time lets me get on Pinterest, browse clearance sections, borrow things from others, and have the time to make items.  A year before this party I needed new table clothes.  I chose two that I loved for spring/summer (our table is L O N G) that also matched Rosebud's first birthday theme.  Since then I used them for daily dining, as well as 2 more parties.  

 Pinterest is THE place to find party ideas.  There are also a couple of cute sites on my Blogroll that I consult.  Mostly I have to be willing to do lots of work myself.  Thankfully I have a mom who also enjoys creating and always helps out.
 I love coordinating clothing with parties.  I don't often buy my kids new clothes, but it is a fun excuse.  I also sometimes MAKE them.  I didn't make the actual shirt (Wal-Mart $3.88) but I did the pinwheel on the front and the crown.  I made the crown entirely (if memory serves me right) out of stuff I had from previous projects.  SO MUCH of what I use is bits and pieces of former projects.  I'd LOVE to say that all that stuff is nicely organized...it's not.  Thankfully I have a knack for remembering things I've used before.  Sometimes I do spend more than I "should" on an item.  The candles on her cake, for example, were originally $4 for the pack.  However, the pack had 24 candles in it.  I believe I have now used (I have saved some of the burnt ones that were still quite tall) these candles on over 5 cakes.  With still several unused and several re-usable.  That means in the end each party will cost less than $1 (probably in the end less than fifty cents) for candles.  I can handle that.  Is it pack-ratty to save them?  Yep.
 Although we always have close family friends (some with children, some without) at our parties, when our kids turn 5, they get an official "friend" party.  I wish I could find pictures of Snug's, but I don't have the time right now.  I spend more on these parties, but that really is their gift.  They get a small gift, but nothing much.  Again, I use, re-use, thrift, clearance, and borrow.  In this picture you can see the mast.  It is made from our clothesline, a free large cardboard tube from JoAnne fabrics, a tablecloth, and a borrowed Jolly Roger.  The brown paper making the bow and covering the table is leftover from when we moved.  The steering wheel I made out of cardboard that came when I had a large picture printed.  I always save cardboard.  So I had to buy the eye patches and bandannas as party prizes-when you consider that everything else was pretty much free that doesn't seem so bad.
 Again, I had theme dress.  The hat and outfit were hand-me-downs from a friend.  The gun and sword he had picked as his souvenir from Disney (when he decided to have a pirate party).  We all dressed in "theme" for this party,our roles were part of a "play" that was the party.  We used clothing we had, stuff we got from Goodwill, and some small pieces of material I bought from the fabric store.
 Cakes get tricky.  This one was from a Betty Crocker recipe site.  Of course I bought the cake and the accessories at ALDI, but the idea came from there.  Where I spent money here was on the small foil wrapped coins.  I got them at Party City and tried not to notice the price.  I think they were like 15 pieces for $1.  That is crazy.

 Certainly she didn't pick her theme, but it was fun anyway.  Again, Pinterest, knowing a LONG time ahead of time, and clearance.  I chose her theme for her second birthday shortly after her first one!  Her shirt was on clearance for around $2 at JcPenney, her skirt (and one to match her cousin for a subsequent party) I believe was $2.50. I had all but one of the ribbon colors in my ribbon collection and made the bows to match.  If I don't have anything to use my 40% off coupon for JoAnne fabrics, I often pick up a roll of grosgrain ribbon.  Comes in handy come party time to have lots to choose from.
 Pinterest.  ALDI.  Enough said.
 This was probably my most challenging, and least favorite cakes to make.  But he LOVED it.  The Transformers were very hard to use, broke after a couple of weeks, and were a huge disappointment.  I wish now I had just bought some sort of cake topper ones.  I didn't,  thinking it would be more fun to give him Transformers he could actually PLAY with afterwards, but that wasn't the case.  Fail.  He had Transformer plates, cups, and napkins that a friend gave me for the kids to just use.  She had them left after a party.  I saved them and when he said he wanted Transformers, I brought them right out!

Our boys have summer birthdays, so often we are out of town and don't do as much of a planned "party".  Instead we're swimming, hiking, at camp, or doing other fun things.  They don't seem to mind.
 This is Rosebud's most recent party.  It was really fun as I remember having at least one Strawberry Shortcake birthday myself.  I was even planning on bringing out my vintage Strawberry Shortcake dolls (because, being a pack rat, I naturally still have them) but TOTALLY forgot.  The plates and napkins that have character print I paid $0.68 for.  That was shipping or tax or something.  Because I had ordered something for my Sunday School class from Oriental Trading Company they called me to do a survey.  Do phone surveys.  They usually come with a reward.  Mine for this was a gift certificate for their online site.  Thus the practically free character serve ware.

The cute buckets/silverware rolls were from a birthday my sister-in-law did for her daughter.  She was kind enough to give me what she had left and I put them to use!
 I love dishes.  When I buy dishes, I buy ones that I like, and that also will be useful for other things.  My "Fiestaware" plates are certainly not.  They're Wal-Mart knock offs.  But I bought them in several festive colors that I can use for different party themes as serving platters.  My cake plate?  $2 at a garage sale.  The green placemat on the table under the cake?  Still from Rosebud's first birthday party and has been used in several.  Sometimes something as little as a placemat makes your table pop.  Many of the other dishes were wedding presents (clear glassware looks nice with pretty much anything) or things I've picked up at garage sales.

Balloons?  Pinterest.  They're red balloons that have cardstock (which I of course have tons on hand from former projects) glued to them and permanent marker "seeds".  Make them the night before, the glue takes a LONG time to dry.
Her apron is a bit droopy here, but she was happy to BE Strawberry Shortcake.  My mom got her the dress at a resale shop and made the apron.  You can't see them in the picture but she has green and white striped adult knee socks that I had bought on clearance after last St. Patty's Day.  I sewed the heel out of them, and on her they were way up her thigh giving the illusion of tights.  Her hat was more money than I'd usually pay for a birthday outfit, but the dear friend who made it sells them for their adoption fund*.  I consider it helping them to adopt AND getting a fun accessory.  Halloween costume for Rosebud?  Check.  

So WHY do I do my kids' parties big?  Because I LOVE it.  Birthdays are special no matter if you have a big bash at a kids' party location, do a simple dinner and cake, or a theme birthday at home.  Every family is different.  I know several people who see my parties as a pain in the neck. Something they'd never ever ever want to plan and do.  Some people think my parties are too expensive (trust me, as I've shown you they are WAY cheaper than they appear), too time consuming (probably true), or too excessive.  I don't think celebrating my kids once a year is too excessive :o)  Overall it is a creative outlet for me and how I show each one they are special.  

Happy Creating!

*If you'd like to order a hat (she has SO SO many styles to choose from, anyone remember LMM's Sock Monkey party hat?) please contact me or leave a comment.  I'll hook you up!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Not An April Fools Prank

It isn't an April fools prank.
Little Dray #5 has a due date of 9/24/14
We will know gender in 37 days.

No, we were not planning this.
Yes, we are happy about it.
Yes, we were a little shell shocked.
Yes, we know where babies come from.
No, we don't want your negative opinions on having more than 2 kids.

We will share the gender, and most likely the name when we find out in early May.

Any guess on gender?  Snug, who seems to have a knack for this sort of thing, predicts girl.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Long Winter

Snug and I are reading "On the Banks of Plum Creek" right now, and I keep thinking we should have read "The Long Winter".  (Both titles are part of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.)

I love winter.  I love seasons in general.  Spring is a bit...rainy...but it promises new things to come!  In the winter I want snow.  I hate those winters where it is in the high 30's, low 40's and rainy.  Brown, bleak, blech.  That certainly hasn't been this winter!!!!  We've had tons of snow, and I am not complaining.  The temperatures, well, they're a bit drastic.  We've been in the negative temperatures so much.  The kids want to be out in the snow, but often the temperature doesn't allow that.  Or maybe I'm just too careful.  I'm all for them being out when it is 25-30 degrees without windchill, but negative fifteen?  No.  Negative 30? NONE of us are going outside.

This morning as we all piled into our 15 passenger van (our regular mini-van needs to see a doctor but for lack of time and fear of cost we haven't bit the bullet yet) I had 4 kids BAWLING.  Sweet Pea cries pretty much all the time, so that's nothing new, and after being up all night with her throwing up I knew she was tired as was her roommate Rosebud.  But the boys were crying.  LOUDLY.  I finally got out of them that they were cold.  Their hands were cold trying to get on seat belts and the van, which cannot fit into the garage, takes longer to warm up.  I heard anguishing cries of "I HATE THIS.  I HATE WINTER.  WINTER GO AWAY!!!" coming from the backseat.  I tried not to laugh.  It sounded like all of the posts from friends on Facebook.

This afternoon Rosebud accompanied LMM as he went to feed the dogs.  They'd been out about three minutes when I heard an anguishing cry "It's no use Rosebud (which of course he doesn't call her)!  I just can't.  It's too cold!  I hate the snow!!!"  I guess things weren't going well and he was just giving up.  I brought him in, warmed his hands, gave him a different game plan, and he succeeded.  Oh the drama of it all.


Five more weeks of winter?  I think that's right.  Personally I'm tired of the extreme cold, not the snow, but for my children's sake...COME ON SPRING!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Chew On This

This is a "I'm on my soapbox post".  You've been warned.


Something that has bothered me for quite some time has come to a head this basketball season.  With kids' sports seems to come a special "snack" (what we would call a treat at our house) at the end of each game.  It has bothered me, but I don't like to make a {big} ruckus, so I've kept my head down and just participated.  No more.

I read an article a few months ago...I don't remember where.  A magazine?  Facebook post?  Another blog?  Can't remember.  Anyway, it was written by a concerned mom who was trying to get her child's sports association to ban junky treats and instead give the kids nutritious fare.  (remember when one mom was chosen to bring oranges to soccer?  I do).  The problem is, everyone has a different idea of "nutritious".  I don't buy all organic produce, and for some people, that is one step away from insanity. I'm practically killing my kids.   However, my kids don't drink juice, pop, or eat much candy.  Many people we know think we are one step away from child abusers-kill-joys at best.

I know everyone will be completely thrown off guard to find out that LMM has diagnosis of ADHD.  Quite a shocker.  Not.  Anyway, it doesn't define him, just like his sensory processing disorder doesn't define him.  It is who he is, and it just means we need to find other avenues to help him function in situations other children don't find hard.  I share this because maybe some of the things I've found can help other parents.  Although it doesn't define him, we felt like finding out for sure would help us decide how to best help him be in control of himself and be able to focus.  I'm not going to take this particular opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of medicating.  I have some strong opinion on this (another HUGE shock) but that's not what this is about.  It is about diet.

After doing some research and working with a psychologist, we have decided to modify his diet and give him a natural supplement.  We have seen some great changes!  In fact, he has been so much better focused that he has started kindergarten!  One thing we kept seeing over and over was that food dyes, sugars, processed foods, high starch foods, and fruits can all trigger ADHD symptoms.  They are not what is best for the brain and they can really affect these kids.  Another interesting thing was that a lot of dairy can also aggravate the system.

We switched to whole milk, absolutely nothing low-fat, and no hydrogenated oils within the last year.  This is also way better for his brain.  High protein diets (but not peanut butter) work well for many ADHD kids.

LMM now has very limited dairy, very very few processed foods or white starches, a reduced amount of fruit, more veggies, and more meat/eggs/tree nuts.  He also drinks as much water as he can consume.  We've seen a great change in him just from that.  So much so, in fact, he doesn't take his supplement unless he is going to church or preschool (he's finishing out the year along with doing kindergarten at home).

But then basketball season started.  We pay $8/kid to the concession stand for the season and after each game they get to pick out $1.00 worth of garbage, I mean "snacks", before they go home.  I didn't think much of it till the first game when I saw what the choices were.  HOLY COW.  They have a choice of about 20 kinds of candy like Snickers, M&Ms, sour gummy candies, fruit snacks (which are very often even worse for kids than candy), and there are about 10 kinds of chips.  Along with that they get a juice box.  Most of them are kool-aid type things.  Some are the Roarin' Waters that have "less sugars".  I CRINGE every time someone tells me those are better for kids.  That or something sugar-free.  If they are going to stick it in packaging of any kind and call it sugar-free or less sugar means they put some HORRID chemical in there to make it taste better.  They don't encourage the kids to have pop.  Well, that is at least a good thing.

At the first game I realized we never should have paid the money, I'm not sure why we did.  I guess because the coaches said "bring $8" and I blindly agreed.  But there was a silver lining.  There was some fruit and I asked if they could have that instead.  I guess I grew a third eye, but the lady said "um...I guess so".  That was for LMM's 8:30 game-I think looking back now they have it there in case someone didn't have breakfast.  It sits next to the Pop Tarts.  When it came time for Snug to go up, there was still fruit and when he asked for that HE had a third eye, but the lady (different one for each game) then said "Wow.  Yes."  I was a happy mama.  I felt my $1/per game could have bought WAY more fruit than they were getting, but for LMM who now has his fruit consumption limited this was a big treat, and for either boy they like to walk up with the rest of the team and get something.  Who wouldn't?

Second game rolls around, and I have to say after doing that Saturday alone (#1 had SWAT) AND it being picture day which meant and extra 2 hours there and super cranky kids, I wasn't feeling my most gracious.  LMM had his game, got his fruit, and we were good.  Snug had his game, and there was no more fruit.  I could see him standing there getting really red in the face so I went over.  He had asked for fruit and they said "no, pick something else".  They were annoyed he was taking so long, so I tried to explain he didn't eat any of the other food choices they had.  She said "how about just 2 juice boxes.  All kids drink those".  I asked if he could just have his dollar back for this week and they denied that flat out.  Finally the lady there said "well, what DOES he eat?".  Well, the mama bear in me got all riled, up.  I'm not proud of it, but I, being very tired, very human, and very sinful replied "Eggs.  Milk.  Water. Veggies.  Fruit.  Real food".  The lady then looks at my 7 year old and snarkily says "want a bottle of water?"  He then had tears in his eyes.  I felt SO BAD.  I wanted to just give in and let him have whatever.  But he had 3 sibling standing there, one of whom REALLY shouldn't be eating that stuff.  They have a popcorn machine and they let him have a bag of that, which I felt was a fair compromise.

Next year, we are NOT sending in the money.  I'll have little carrots and hummus, cut up fruit (maybe even something special and off-season we don't get in the winter), or mixed nuts.  When it comes to baseball in the spring, same deal.  We won't be on the list to bring "snack" and we won't be taking any from other families when they bring it.  We'll bring our own.

Here's the deal.  That junk is SO bad for their bodies.  Do they get it sometimes?  Yes.  Usually when I'm too tired to fight or afraid of ruining a relationship with someone.  I hate it.  Do my kids ever eat chips?  Yes, once in awhile.  Certainly not once a week.  Do they get juice boxes?  They have in the past, but I won't be buying any.  At a birthday party they might get some (really watered down) lemonade.  We see birthdays as special occasions and know that they will get more junk than normal.  But that is part of the fun, something to look forward to.  If they have a steady diet of junk, then they just absent-mindedly eating it.  Sometimes they get a little (again, WATERED down) hot chocolate after playing out in the snow, but more often than not it is hot tea.

And we're not perfect and I try not to look down on parents who daily fill their kids with sugars and preservatives.  But sugars are literally cancer foods.  Preservatives do NOTHING good for the GI tract, brain, or bowel.  Artificial colors are terrible for you.  I'd rather they enjoy a little on their birthday cake than have it all the time.

Lest you think our kids hate us for this, they don't.  Snug said he was trying not to cry because "I know mom that that stuff is bad for kids and can make them sick.  I wanted you to be proud of me".  Oh buddy, I am.

Here's another thing.  Maybe you don't see those things as bad.  I've heard so many parents say "oh, but they need to refuel after the game."  They're not playing varsity here people.  Here's an example.  You can calculate for your own kid/sport here:  http://www.self.com/calculatorsprograms/calculators/caloriesburned/basketball/result?weightPounds=&duration=&activity=&met=8.0&submit=
(on the far left near the bottom you can pick your sport, if the link doesn't work, let me know)

I put in LMM's weight, sport, and duration (he is on the floor about 18minutes).  In his game he burns, an average, of 45.72 calories.  A juice box alone averages 90 calories!!!  That includes the 100% juice kind.  I found my calorie counter on http://caloriecount.about.com/
That doesn't even take into account the snack he'd get with it.  Lets say he picks fruit snacks.  That would be 70.  So now he has burned 45.72 and consumed 160.  That really doesn't make sense.  Also, there are ZERO nutritional benefits to either of those foods.

If I give him a banana it is 110 calories, but it is also full of vitamins, fiber, and not processed.  Switch it up to almonds and the serving size I give him is 90 calories...and almonds are a GREAT brain food for him.  They help him settle down and we've added those and walnuts to his daily diet.

Stepping off my soapbox.  I know I'm "that mom" but my kids are worth it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rosebud The Author

We are homeschooling Snug and recently Little Monkey Man started Kindergarten.  However, he still attends preschool three days a week (we do more school with him in the PM) and Rosebud goes two days a week.  

We love our preschool; they always do great things with the kids.  Hallway art and creative writing pieces to go with them always are fun to see.  It's interesting to read both your child's "writing" (it is really dictation) and see what their peers have to say.  It gets better throughout the year as you actually get to know the other parents and children.  Sometimes we all have a good laugh at a particular piece while waiting in line for pick up.  One child was going to give his mother vitamins for Christmas-that got a chuckle.  

Today I read Rosebud's on the way IN to her classroom.  I'm going to share it with you, but it means more to #1 and I than anyone else really.  I literally had tears running down my cheeks I was laughing so hard.  Rosebud's teachers thought something was wrong.  I choked out that I had just read her latest writing piece and they started busting up as well. Because they know her well.  Because, really, her piece pretty much sums up life with Rosebud at this particular junction in life.  

I will try and explain some of the more...interesting parts...and will (put my words in italics).  Her lead teacher wrote down exactly what she said, but prompted a couple of times to get the story moving example:  how did it feel? what did you do?.  She had to ask Rosebud to slow down as her words were just tumbling right out of her.  Here goes.

My Snowy Day

On my snowy day I played with my brothers and my sister Sweet Pea (obviously she used her real name) and my mama and dada.  We played and I build a snowman.  It was little and tiny.  And it was Baby Otter.  Belle Otter...Belle Otter that what the name was. (Belle Otter is what she insists we call HER these days.  Belle as in Beauty and the Beast, and Otter as in...the animal.)  I wore a hat and boots and a scarf and I weared a coat.  My feet felt cold in my boots (note to self...).  The snow felt cold and I ate it!  It was salty.  I got boogie in it and I love it like that! (GAG.  GAG GAG GAG.)  I saw snow outside and our house and our neighbors.  And our other neighbors.  (Just in case you didn't know that when it snowed the entire neighborhood is affected.)  I heard Belle Otter.  (This part confuses me as she is normally Belle Otter, but now the snowman is and she can HEAR it?) She was swimming at the museum where we go and see the otters. (We do have otters at our children's museum, but she has some stellar hearing as it is about 15 minutes away-also wasn't it a snowman?)  I love the otters!  I heard mommy and daddy talking to each other outside too.  (I'm not sure but I think that the teacher may have cut her off at this point...it was getting a little off topic.  And perhaps it wasn't best to post on the hallway wall a private conversation she apparently overheard between my husband and myself.)

So there you go.  It was quite an...interesting...piece.  But such an insight into her life.  From her alter ego, to her recent snowman building (hers had a ton of sticks protruding from it...eyes, nose, arms, belly button...a very scary looking beast it was) to our trips to the museum, and apparently her eavesdropping skills!

 A side note, mostly for my own records, she now weighs a whopping 28 1/2 pounds and will be 4 in April.  She is just shy of 39".  Maybe by her birthday she'll be ready to not be rear facing.  (She isn't, they changed that recommendation from 2 years to 30 pounds after we had already switched her)