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So You Want a NonTraditional Themed Birthday Party?

Even before his birthday, all my 2 year old wanted was the movie “Rio.”  If you don’t know what Rio is – you’re not alone.  Rio is a sweet movie about two parrots in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The film includes a nice social element about conservation.  In any event, the movie was the first thing he asked for in the morning and the last thing before he went to bed.  My dad even made up a song – “rio in the morning, rio in the evening, rio in the afternoon.”  So, I took it as no surprise that CJ wanted a Rio birthday party.IMG_4878

Rio is not one of those pre-packaged parties you can find at Target, Walmart or even my favorite locale for party supplies, the Dollar Store.  Perhaps during the summer you could use luau themed supplies, but in the dead of winter they are hard to come by.  Trust me – I tried.  From invites to food it became a fun challenge and took my own party planning to the next level.

I started by sharing the challenge with a more experienced (and creative) friend of mine who makes her own invitations that look elegant, classy and professional. The trick – stamps, craft scissors and glitter.  Who knew that this affordable trinity of goods could create a heavy weight card-stock invite that was personal and fun.

Once the invites were done, it was time to consider menu & decorations.  Elements of the movie came to mind parrots, Carnival, tropical fruit.  It evolved into a quasi- Mardi Gras theme with necklaces,masks and maracas for favors, punches for beverages, and brightly colored tissue paper flowers for decorations.

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Punches are my favorite party beverage.  They’re easy to make and delicious.  I usually do two an adult beverage like bloody marys and a virgin beverage.  This time, Sangria popped into mind – so that was that.  The concoction – plain red wine, some white rum, a bit of gran marnier, a little sugar, orange soda and club soda.

Feathers, glittery pompoms, colored lights  and tulle decorated the house.  The table centerpiece was a pile of bananas topped with a tropical tree made with pineapples. IMG_4857

Tissue paper pom poms and origami parrots were dancing up above.  (ThaIMG_4859nk you Martha Stewart for the recipe for fabulous pom-poms, and Tiny Shiny for a template for origami parrots that was easy to follow.)  Tried making an origami parrot?  Well most of the directions call for tons of steps  that made me feel like a total idiot! I was immensely grateful to find Tiny Shiny’s post offering a 6 step parrot.

For food, I decided to do bird bites.  Since the party was mid-afternoon, the idea was to provide a mostly well rounded menu that could serve as dinner if folks desired.  Meatballs, Pineapple, Cheese Balls (recipe here), Pesto Pizza Bites, Soft Pretzels; and since a party isn’t a party without sugar (don’t tell they boys’ fabulous dentist Cherylin (JK)) – homemade fudge & kettle corn.IMG_4876

Then, there was the cake.  When you’d ask my son about his birthday, he would say “Rio Cake.”  That’s it.  He wasn’t concerned with anything else – just the cake.  Again, he’s “my” son.  So what the heck is a Rio Cake?  Well, ask Google.  A Google images search will show images of cakes topped with marzipan parrots, flowers and the like.  Since that is way beyond my skill-set, I opted for Rio cupcakes that aimed to look like the faces of little birds, pinned here.  CJ loved helping to decorate them – or helping with the M&Ms – he would hand one to me and then eat a few.  For a larger cake, I did one with fondant and a 2 dimensional very amateur or shall I say avante guard parrot. (Sorry about the pic, had started eating the cake before realizing I hadn’t taken a photo)IMG_4863

Lastly, for entertainment, we broke the bank putting $$ from my Ebay store (WinePlusCountryEqualsStyle) and rented a jumpy from a local Sonoma company.  I’m usually anti-jumpy, due to cost, but having done parties both ways the jumpy is worth the dough.  Russell at Jump Jump gets an A+ in my book for being easy to work with, providing excellent service and a practically new jumpy.

At the end of the day, throwing a nontraditional birthday party is a winner in my book.  Thinking of how to go with the theme, or no theme, and putting your own stamp on it is such a fun experience.  For anyone reading this, I totally recommend it.  For me, well, it’s time for a sugar detox. And time to plan the next shin-dig a MadMen themed cocktail party to raise awareness about the Epilepsy Foundation – whaahoo!

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The leaves have fallen in our yard. In addition to providing a great way to teach CJ colors, they also provide a great activity.  Montessori  would call it a practical life skill.   The boys were so empowered doing it themselves.  Luckily the leaves will continue to fall so we can do this activity all the time.

Do it yourself halloween decorations

 photo(22) The boys and I have been busy spooking up our house. Determined not to spend money on anything but pumpkins, I decided to forge around the house to create decorations myself.

I admit, I’m in love with anything from Pottery Barn Kids, especially their painted signs. Though I wanted to make something more personal while incorporating my love of handprint and footprint art (not to mention not breaking the bank.)

2$ later, I was ready to make my own signs to hang and place in the garden.  The boys and I painted the stakes, then decorated them.  After putting on the final gloss and nailing them together, they were ready.  Voila- a fun decoration that will grace our house for years to come.

Want to20131018-123533.jpg do it yourself? All you need are a few supplies. You may even have some on hand.  If you want to make the garden sign – then grab one piece if wood about 2-3 feet long and wooden stakes (as many as you like available at amazon), a few nails and paint, and a sealer. Hardware stores sell single fence pieces separately. Mine was 2$ which beat spending 19$ per sign from Pottery Barn Kids.

If you want to make a hanging sign, just grab some eye screws that yophoto(23)u would use for hanging a picture and a bit of twine.  Super easy!

By the way, don’t let a trip to the hardware store set you back.  It’s pretty to find the wood section – just follow the scent of sawdust.  Of course, in doing so be ready to see some Christmas goodies.  Can’t we get through Halloween first?  And what about Thanksgiving?  Those turkeys need to be celebrated!

After you are ready to go – break out your paint and go to town. I used tempera paint as it is what I have most of, but acrylic would work even better.

Let your creativity guide ya! The possibilities are endless.  Need inspiration? Do a quick Google search for images.

Once you finish painting, let it dry. Once dry, then coat with a sealer.  I used a gloss varnish as it was what I had on hand from making CJ’s solar system for his room, but there 20131018-123458.jpgare spray sealers that will work too.  Again, just grab it at the hardware store.  At this point you can add glitter if ya like.  My boys sprinkled it on everything.  And, it made a cute accentuation of the pumpkin stems, which you may have guessed were made with their thumbprints.  Let dry overnight.

Then you’re ready to break out the tools. Grab your hammer photo(21)and a couple of nails and seal the deal. Or let your little Bob the Builders have fun nailing it in.    I must say that my late grandfather who was a talented carpenter and general contractor would have loved teaching the boys to drive in a nail.  But alas, I got to have the pleasure.

Then, get your goblins to help you pick a spot for your decorations!

Pumpkin Milk or Latte: Add a Healthy Treat to Your Morning Routine

photo(9)Fall is one of my favorite seasons for many reasons including the changing colors, the festive flavors and the pumpkin patches.  I admittedly am one of those people who looks forward to Starbucks release of the pumpkin latte.  I practically jump for joy when I see the plethora of pumpkin flavored offerings at Trader Joe’s.  You could call me a pumpkin-holic.

I’m proud to say that I am passing on my love of pumpkins to my boys.  They too enjoy visiting pumpkin patches as well as all things pumpkin. We’ve made pumpkin flavored soup, scones, pancakes and muffins.  My latest creation however is my favorite yet – pumpkin milk.  Both kid and adult friendly, pumpkin milk can be enjoyed on its own or even added to coffee.  Say hello to a homemade pumpkin latte, which is much more budget friendly than the nearly $5 and 400 calorie Starbucks latte that despite the name doesn’t include any “pumpkin.” (Sad News for Pumpkin Spice Latte Fans)

Would you know that pumpkins boast many health benefits as according to WebMd they’re loaded with vitamin A (beta carotene), low in calories as well as fiber.  Apparently, “Known for its immune-boosting powers, beta-carotene is essential for eye health and has also been linked to preventing coronary heart disease.” (Superfood-Pumpkin, Caitlin Covington) Pumpkin is loaded with vitamin k as well which is said to be able to reduce the risks of some types of cancer.

So, this mama is happy to add the pumpkin milk warmed for my boys in the morning.  They start off the day downing full fat milk enhanced with the benefits of pumpkin.  Want to try it?

Well, here’s myphoto(7) recipe:

  • 1.5 cups of whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons of canned pumpkin
  • 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice (or combination of such spices – cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamon)
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar (or other sweetener)

gather your ingredients.  Set all ingredients in a saucepan on the stovetop.  Turn heat to low and whisk until at desired temperature. photo(8)

Enjoy plain or add to coffee.

For other fun fall ideas, check out my posts about pumpkin patches, fall art, setting the table and cheap and easy Halloween decorations.  And check back for some crafty ideas as the boys and I are brewing up some Halloween fun

Backyard Fun: Make a Balance Beam

photo(5)If my backyard could talk, it would shout “Oh boy oh boy!”  You may ask “why?”  Basically because it is all set up for boys to have adventures.  With trees for climbing, bushes for hiding and lawn for running, the backyard is fully equipped.   But even I wanted to add some more features to this playful paradise.

So, some days the boys and I will build impromptu teepees, fairy villages and volcanoes.  But the other day, my husband had an idea.  He built something totally fabulous for the boys.  With three pieces of wood and a few nails, our backyard now boasts a balance beam!  This new feature is simply fabulous in every way.  It’s good for about ten minutes of active play, but heck, the boys have so much fun stepping on it, off of it and trying to balance.  Who knew three pieces of wood would prove to be so useful!

What are your favorite ways for sprucing up the backyard for kid play?  I’d love to hear!

Foolproof tips for a Fabulously Fun Bday Bash

With two boys, my oldest being 4, I have now figured out the recipe for a fabulously fun birthday bash.  It seems there are a few ingredients that are key for the wee ones.

First, there’s the theme.  For the toddler years, my husband and I picked the themes based on the boys’ interests (trains, brown bear, race cars).  Now, in the preschool years, Bobby is able to pick his theme.  This year it was superheros.  So, everything from the food to the activities tied back into the theme.  Thank you to Tattered and Ink for permission to use her fabulous superhero themed labels!2013092895102817

Second,  age appropriate activities.  For my son’s, third birthday which was pirate themed the kids went on a treasure hunt and dug up ole pirate Davy Jones in the sandbox.  For the fourth birthday, I (well truth be told, my husband) turned the backyard into a superhero training area.  With balance beams, buildings (i.e. wrapped boxes decorated like buildings) to climb on around the yard, and target practice (water guns and balloons with villains taped on them), there were things for the active kiddos to do.

Third, have fun with decorations!  A birthday party is an excuse to get creative and to engage the kids.   There are tons of ideas online for things to do and easy ways to decorate.  The best part is adapting these ideas to your own tastes.  For example, for the superhero theme, tons of blogs show the idea of making a skyline.  With numerous ways to do it, I decided to do it with supplies I had on hand. Plain brown packaging paper saved the day. The food table had the backdrop of a sky that my boys and I had painted (on the brown paper), signs of words (pop, bang, wham) that were also painted by the boys and Superman suspended by fishing line soared through the sky.  And, then the buildings were wrapped boxes that would have just gone to be recycled.  photo(3)

A themed centerpiece works as well.  For the pirate party, there was an ocean of jello upon which pirate ships made of rice krispy treats boasting paper sails set sail.  The superhero party had sheets of kryptonite made from rock candy surrounded by villains.  (Thank you to Sugarhero for the base recipe).

Fourth, a simple menu. To make things easier on game day, a simple menu cuts down on prep.  For a light lunch, sandwiches, fruit, a couple of salads and a kid friendly snack work well.  In photo(4)addition, kid sized snack holders are a hit! Whether it’s a bowl of crackers with tiny dixie cup cups for scooping or paper cones filled with treats, kids love have fun carrying around their own booty.

Fifth, a fantabulous dessert. Being a self proclaimed sugar addictIMG_2388, this is one thing that I love to make.  Figuring out how to make a cakes look like a race track, baby bear or batman symbol has been quite the experience.  Luckily there are tons of ideas on-line. and, it makes me wonder how our mothers’ did this without the internet.  For the batman cake, I ventured into the realm of fondant.  Yes, I was a bit apprehensive at first wondering how it would turn out.  But at the same time I was completely stoked to have the chance to make something that looked absolutely professional.  And, it worked!  Here’s the recipe I used.

Lastly, flexibility is key.  Accept the fact that not everything will go as planned.  I could give you story after story of things that didn’t go as planned like a balloon drop that didn’t drop.  At the end of the day, these things don’t matter as all that matters is your birthday star has a wonderful day surrounded by those who adore him or her.

A New Approach to Pottytraining – Camping

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For those of you who’ve known me for awhile, you’d think that I’d be the last person to go camping or look forward to doing so.  It’s one more example of how kids have changed me. (in a good way).  It took awhile for me to muster the courage to camp with the two boys, but all in all it was absolutely worth it and now I’m (and they’re) hooked.

We combined a camping trip with potty-training which was a gamble.  Turns out it worked out well.  My nearly four year old has been reluctant to potty train.  For months we’ve been trying, with “potty treats” displayed on the mantle as motivation including a glass vase full of lollipops.  Having tried nearly every trick in the book, it was time for a new approach (and less sugar).  Something drastic.  It was time to pull out the big guns.

Before the trip, my husband and I explained that big boys had to wear underwear camping.  Bobby seemed up to the challenge.  With tons of extra clothes for him and the potty (and a few back-up pull-ups) we were ready to go.  Bobby did extremely well the first day (none). Then the second day was not as successful, which really didn’t matter.  The point was the trip represented a change.  From then on, Bobby was in big boy pants.  So, all in all it seems to have worked.

We’re still working on that number two though, and I’m hoping it will come with time.  I’d love to hear what worked for you.