Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Birthday Blast on a Budget

Ok, in anticipation of Amelia's 1st birthday next month (and Braden's 4th in March) I thought I'd post a blog about some fun DIY stuff you can do for your kid's birthday. Now, there is nothing wrong with grabbing a pack of streamers and balloons from Party City and giving kids store bought favor bags, heck – I'm guilty, but I can tell you that I get no greater satisfaction than making stuff for my kids' parties.

So, to start with, let's focus on invitations. I've gone both ways (store bought and hand made) and love them both. If you want to do store bought, try www.vistaprint.com. They have great stationary and a great price! I've never been dissatisfied with their products or service. Do it yourself invites, to me, are some of the most time consuming things about DIY birthdays. Last year for Braden's train party I did handmade golden tickets and it almost did me in. Just some helpful hints on invites though. Try to include a picture of your child, and if the party is a theme party, try to get a pic of the child doing something related to the theme. For Braden's train party we had a pic of him riding Thomas with his train hat on. Tip 2 – clip art is your best friend. Use the search option in word clip art and you will be surprised at how many cute things you can come up with. Tip 3 – a screenprint software is your best friend. I use FastStone (and LOVE IT!), but there are lots of free screenprint services out there. It will allow you to copy parts of your computer screen and use in whatever invite your're creating. So, get the scissors and glue and enjoy!

Moving on to décor. Now, this can go as overboard as you'd like, but I'll throw some ideas out there. I made a huge banner for Amelia's birthday this year (think door size) and it was cheap and not too hard. I got a piece of fleece fabric from the leftover bin at Hobby Lobby for next to nothing and used that as my background. I then used Word to print out gigantic letters in stencil font on pink and blue paper. I spelled out 'HAPPY 1ST BIRTHDAY AMELIA". I cut out the letters and glued the "HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMELIA" with hot glue to my banner. I then found some ballerinas that I liked and printed them out and glued velcro to both the ballerinas and the "1st". This was I can reuse the banner each year and just change out the birthday and the theme.

Other really cute, easy, inexpensive décor for a girly party are tissue balls. Basically all you need is tissue paper, tape or thin wire, and fishing wire or string. Take 8-10 pieces of tissue paper and place them on top of each other (looks really cute to alternate 2 or 3 colors and/or get some with polka dots). Then fold the tissue paper over 2 inches. Turn over and repeat (think like you're making a fan) until it is entirely folded. Once folded fold in half lengthwise and unfold. Wrap wire or tape around the crease. Then you can cut (either a rounded end or a pointed end) each end about half an inch (should look live a V or a half circle). Then you just fan the ball out and hang it up. The great thing about this is that kids LOVE them and you can hang them up in your room once the party is over. For any of you who are particularly brave, I've heard of folks lighting them on fire (outside of course) and letting the wind take them away. I would however not suggest this for a kid's party.

Now, I am not one to attempt baking and decorating, so we'll move right on to the party favors. I am just as guilty as the next parent of buying overpriced party favors at Party City, but with these simple ideas, you don't have to!

The delivery bag – you can have this double as an activity for the kids, too. Just set out brown bags and have kids decorate their own and then stuff them during the party. Another cute idea is to use the favor as the bag. For Braden's first birthday we had a construction birthday so I had kid size construction hats for all of the kids. I found some stick on letters and personalized each hat and filled the hat with candy and toys. Also, always be on the lookout in the Target $1 section. Every so often (around back to school time) they'll put out both ziploc and paper bags with Disney characters (Princess, Cars, Toy Story, etc) on them and at just $1 for 25 you can't beat that if it goes with your theme!

Now, we've got a delivery system, what do I put in it? The first idea is super simple and cheap! All you need is a computer, color printer, and some small to medium address labels and you can make your own stickers. Let's say your theme is Disney Cars. Go to www.google.com and google 'free disney car clip art'. It should bring back some sites that you can go to that offer free, downloadable clip art. So, find the ones you like, download them, and go to Word and create some labels. You can add words or just leave the clip art as your sticker. Then print out on your label paper and let the kids enjoy. I've found that file folder labels are just about the perfect size.

Now, to go along with your stickers, you can also make a personalized sticker book. Take one of your clip art designs and just enlarge it to be about 2-3 inches tall. Go back to Word and create another label that is a postcard label. Then you can insert your clip art along with "Child's Name's Sticker Book". Print out for each child and then cut out the 4x6 label. Add some blank 4x6 index cards behind it and hole punch in the upper left corner. Add a keyring to hold them all together and Voila (if you've got a laminator at home, laminate the top page, but this step isn't necessary).

Another idea is to print your own color pages to send home with the kiddos. Head back over to google and search for "my theme color pages" and you will inevitably get several results (unless you are having some sort of crazy party like rattlesnake catching or something like that) so all you have to do is choose the one or ones you like best and print. All kids love to color! And remember, at back to school time, crayons go on sale for 25 cents a piece so that could round out your favor basket.

A take home outfit is always fun, too. One year I had a luau and my mom hand made Hawaiian outfits for all 20 of us. I've also made tutus for all of Amelia's little friends (which requires no sewing), so if you'd like to know how to make a tutu, feel free to ask me.

Now, I could go on and on about this (I did after all make 25 individual tutus for cupcakes for my daughter's birthday this year), but I think I've given you all enough to get started. Google, word, and a printer are your best friends when it comes to a kid's birthday party – well, that and a lot of time and dedication =) I promise to post pics of Amelia's birthday next month so you can see all of my creations.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All Grown Up?

It has recently become evident to me that I have forgotten what it means to be a grown up. I attended a meeting last night, a grown up meeting, which in and of itself is a treat. But this was a new member meeting for Junior Auxiliary (for those of you not in the know, think Junior League for small towns). I have been around this organization for years because my mom was a member, so I should have known better. But, somehow I thought is was appropriate to go to this meeting in a cotton shirt, knee length shorts, and flip flops. Granted, it is what I had on all day long, but I should have known better. When I walked into the room, every other woman had on a dress or slacks with heels. Ahhhh! And it's not that I was the only parent or the only parent of small kids so I had no excuse.

So it got me thinking…what other normal adult behaviors have I acquiesced since becoming a mom. The list was a bit astounding.

First of all, the only things I have to talk about are my kids (as my friends without kids love to point out!). Granted, I work from home so I don't get a lot of daily interaction with other humans so I don't get any 'funny work stories' to pass around the table, but still, you'd think a reasonably intelligent 30 year old woman could come up with something else to talk about than the fact that my kid got peed on at school yesterday (yes – it was a rather traumatic moment for Braden).

I've touched briefly on the clothes, but I haven't let you in on the worst of it. Granted, shorts and tank tops are perfectly acceptable dress code for my daily life since I work from home, but practically all of my clothes are stained with some sort of baby milk, throw up, etc by the end of the day. By the time I go out in public I've forgotten they are there so I often go out in public looking like a hot mess! (Not to mention the shower, shave, makeup, and hair routine has been reduced to about 5 minutes these days)

Now, for those of you who knew me in my college days, you know that I frequented a bar or club once or twice. And don't get me wrong, I in no way miss that life, but these days I would rather go to bed and get an extra hour of sleep that drink a beer or go dancing. I guess I still do get to dance, but it is with Amelia and Braden in our living room and to silly songs about trees and nuts, not songs about gangstas and hoes.

And forget going to dinner at a restaurant. Now, we still go sometimes, but by the end of it all I'm normally so exhausted that it probably would have been a better idea just to stay at home and cook. Between keeping the baby busy, and trying to pick up whatever it is that she's thrown on the floor and keeping Braden from climbing over the back of the booth to visit the folks next to us, it is constant chaos. And my kids are not bad kids, they're just kids and kids are meant to run and be loud, not sit in restaurants.

So, am I really all grown up, who knows, but is it worth losing a little bit of my old self to get to snuggle up with my babies every single night? Absolutely! I'll put my big girl clothes on and drink to that =)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beach Babies

Ok, I promised a blog about the beach, complete with pictures, so here goes. Hope you have as much fun reading as we did making the memories!

So, the kids and I were fortunate enough to tag along with my cousin and her family for vacation this year to Orange Beach, AL (for those of you not in the know as I wasn't, it's near Gulf Shores). Now, as excited as I was about going on vacation, I was very nervous about 2 specific parts of the week.

The first part was obviously the drive. It was 522 miles from my house to the condo. As the drive grew closer, I chose not to look at it as 522 miles, but rather only 140 miles further than Nashville (a trip we had made 2 weeks prior with no issues). Little did I know, those 140 miles would almost be my undoing. The trip went find until about 140 miles from the beach. It then took us 4.5 hours to go the last 140 miles. To say that I was over the drive by the time we got there might have been the understatement of the year. 11 hours in a car with the kids by myself is another thing I can add to my list of accomplishments. The kids did great though! God was looking out for the 3 of us that day.

The second part I was a little worried about was the condo – not the fact that it was 6 floors off the ground (I had Melissa and Uncle Dennis to do their fair share of worrying over that), but the fact that there were 7 of us that were going to share a 900 square foot condo for 6 days. And, believe it or not, we all survived and did it quite well. I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't lived it. That's just a lot of people in a small space, but the kids all did great! (I wasn't really ever worried about the adults!)

So, now into the good stuff. Of course almost immediately when we got there we trekked out to the beach. Then brought stressor number 3. SAND. I hate sand. The kids didn't seem to mind it much, but I just hate it, and when you have two small kids, you can't help but get sand all over you, but as the week went on, I learned to live with it and enjoyed myself.

So, our days pretty much went as follows. Wake up (my kids slept surprisingly late for them, i.e. woke up after 6am each morning), head to the beach, kids beg to go to the pool, we tell them we didn't drive 522 miles to swim at the pool, play at the beach for a few hours, take a quick dip at the pool, lunch, naps, crafts, out for dinner.

This restaurant served the kid's meals on frisbees so it gave my kids weapons to use as they were digesting!

We want to go to the beach. Let us out!
One day I decided to take Braden to a souvenir store instead of making him take a nap. Big mistake! He loved the souvenir store, but had numerous melt downs the rest of the day. That was of course the day that all 4 families (there were 2 other families there with us) decided to go to dinner… That night was not my best.

After Braden screaming at me for 20 minutes, we get to the restaurant only to find that Amelia has thrown up all over herself. Change her, make it to the restaurant to find there is an hour and 40 minute wait. Decided to eat at the grill instead. We sat down and as everyone else was arriving and we were getting our drinks the waiters come running through telling everyone that we all have to go to the front of the parking lot. I grabbed what I could off the table and headed out with the kiddos (Bobby was carrying Braden because he had fallen asleep in his lap). I honestly thought it was a restaurant mandated limbo contest or something… No, come to find out it was a bomb threat. So we, along with the other 7000 people waiting to eat at this restaurant were ushered to our cars and out of the parking lot. The stuff I left on the table was never to be seen again, but nothing I can't replace. The group decided to head to another restaurant closer to the hotel. All 13 of us were seated immediately on an outside patio. To say that the service was slow was perhaps the understatement of the year. It took over 2 hours to be served and get our dinner eaten. Keep in mind that we had a 10 month old, 3 3 year olds, a 5 year old and a 6 year old. Thank goodness they discovered that they could feed Amelia's cheerios to the fish and turtles swimming around the patio. We quickly went through those so they started throwing whatever they could find – bread, ice, probably a fork or two, but no one really cared because it kept them busy. Amelia decided that 2 hours was too much for her and promptly threw up on me again. At this point in the evening I decided I was done. Took the kids back to the condo and changed clothes and put everyone to bed. However, considering that there could have been a bomb and we had that many kids in a confined space for 2 hours, the evening didn't go nearly as bad as it could have!

Do you think the turtles will eat my little sister if we throw her over?
Our last afternoon we took a Dolphin tour. The whole trip from beginning to end was fantastic! When we got to the marina there were jellyfish everywhere, so the kids loved seeing that. The boat ride out was very nice and we saw dolphins almost immediately. We then hooked up with a charter shrimp boat, and unbeknownst to me, dolphins are smart enough to follow the shrimp boat to catch whatever falls out of the net. So, for about 20 minutes the dolphins followed the shrimp boat and we followed the dolphins. Then, the shrimp boat brought their net in and the dolphins went nuts! The folks on the charter boat were hand feeding fish to the dolphins at one point and that was really awesome! On the way back, all 3 of the older kids got to drive the boat, which was super cool for them! However, all of that being said, one of my favorite memories of that boat ride was the way Amelia looked in her life jacket – think of a neon orange stay puft marshmallow!

I see one!

Just call me Puft Diddy!

Are you sure I'm going the right way?
The trip home wasn't any better or worse than the trip out there. Took 10 ½ hours to get home, but I drove in rain for the last 45 minutes and Amelia got sick every time we stopped so I call it a draw =)

We had such a fabulous time, and even though my kids probably won't remember it, I know they had a great time while they were there! So glad we got to go!

Coming to a Christmas card near you

I find it amusing that the folks trying to amuse my kids so they'd smile weren't standing behind the camera =)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Beach Bums

Since my last few blogs (and my next one, too) are about vacations, I thought I would share with you some tips I've learned over the past months about vacationing with small children.

1) Plan, Plan, Plan! – From the packing to planning whatever adventure you're off on, planning is the key to vacationing with small kids. Even if your entire plan is to sit on the beach for a week, you still need a plan. Believe me, getting lost on hour 11 of a drive or getting to the place you're staying just in time for bedtime and realizing you forgot night time diapers is a nightmare! You don't have to pack as early as I do, but at least start a list of what you need to pack. I start a list about 2 weeks out from vacation. Then, every time I think of something I need to take, I write it down. As I pack, I mark it off my list.

2) If you can, take food with you – I love eating out on vacation, mainly because it is a break from the cooking and cleaning of real life, not necessarily because I love the local cuisine. That being said, eating out for every meal can be exhausting and bad for both your pocket book and waistline. So, if you're staying in a place that has any sort of kitchen, take as much food as you can and fix a simple breakfast and lunch each day and plan on eating out each night. I know that whatever place you're staying in probably has a grocery store near by, but seriously, do you really want to grocery shop on vacation? It's enough of a pain at home, so to avoid, mentally prepare a grocery list of what your family will eat each day and plan to pack it. (Note – eating out is only less stressful if there is no bomb threat involved…believe me – I know!)

3) Plan for "just in case" – Inevitably with any vacation lasting more than a week, something will always happen to ruin your perfect plans. For example – it may rain every day you plan to go to the beach or Disney and you're now stuck in a 900 square foot condo with 6 other people. Since watching Sponge Bob from sun up to sun down will most likely put most parents over the edge, have a just in case bag packed. This also comes in handy when the kids just need a little vacation down time. For our most recent trip I had the following craft projects that the kids LOVED!

a. Color your own shirts – I found white and light gray shirts at the dollar store and got some of the iron on printer paper from Wal Mart. I then designed some shirts that said "Beach Bum" and listed the city we were staying in and found a clip art of some flip flops. I made all of the wording in stencil font so that the kids could color their own shirts with some fabric markers that I brought along. They cost way less than the kids shirts at the souvenir shops and kept the kids busy for at least an hour one day. They were very excited to show off their new creations.

b. Theme color your own stickers – again I went into word and found some clip art that related to the beach and would allow coloring by the kids. I found some large address labels that I already had and made a few sheets for each kid. My particular address labels were the re-stickable kind meaning that the kids could stick them to anything and they'd come right up.

c. Vacation picture frame – I found some wood frames at Wal Mart for less than $1 and packed some stickers and paint I already had. This was a 2 part project so it was even better! First the kids painted their frames. Once they dried they came back and decorated them with stickers. Once we get pics from the trip back I plan to put one of them in the frame that Braden made.

4) Shop for souvenirs ahead of time – This is something I've practiced for just about every trip we've been on – whether it be a trip to the Atlanta zoo or a weeklong trip to the beach. Souvenir shops can be the expensive death of an otherwise fiscally responsible trip. I'm just as bad as the kids are. We get in there and I want to get every tacky t-shirt and knick knack to commemorate this occasion. So, in order to avoid the pitfall, I plan ahead and just don't go. That doesn't mean my kids don't get souvenirs. Example – when I began planning trips to the zoo and aquarium for out of town guests I began amassing zoo and aquarium knick knacks wherever I went. I found cute color your own zoo masks and zoo keeper rubber duckys at orientaltrading.com and some cute fish stuff in the $1 section at Target. So, when we go to the zoo I pack a cute mask, a juice box and snack, and a rubber ducky in a cute little zoo themed box. When the kids ask to go into the store I pull out the ready made souvenir and they forget all about buying the $20 hat that they'll never wear again. Same thing for the beach, since we went at the end of summer I got new beach water bottles, pails and shovels, etc on clearance at Target, but all of the kids had new toys to play with and didn't care much about going to a souvenir store.

5) Make naps and downtime a priority – take it from the mom who didn't enforce this one day – make your kids take naps! Kids are always more keyed up for vacation and chances are they'll be outside in the heat and be expending more energy than they normally would, so even if you're temped to not make them take a nap, DO IT. You and your kids will thank you later. Plus, it gives you a little time to recharge as well.

Now, you may look at this and think I'm crazy. A no nap, 13 trip to the souvenir store, unplanned vacation might sound like a blast to you. If so, kudos to you and enjoy! If not, hope the above tips help out just a little! I promise the next blog will be filled with pics of my beautiful kiddos and our white polo/khaki short adventures along the beach!