Category Archives: Activities

Baking Birthday Party!

Congratulations to “semicrunchymomma,” who wins the Estelle headband from Guavaloo for her little girl! Thanks to all who liked & shared!

birthday girl

This darling girl turned 4 this summer, & she told me back in JANUARY (she plans ahead like her mama) that she wanted a “baking party, with cupcakes & pizzas & chef hats.” What fun!

dessert table

I had a field day with my cricut’s cupcake font for the “happy birthday” banner & these fun chandelier hangings my husband suggested:

chandelier

I also used the cricut to freezer-paper stencil custom “Chef [name]” aprons for each of the kids. Kid-sized apron & chef hat sets were around $5 each from Chefskin on Amazon. I kept the party small–8 kids total–to keep cost & chaos to a minimum.

This fun garland was just cupcake papers of different sizes & colors randomly threaded onto embroidery thread with an embroidery needle!

cupcake paper garland

While we waited for everyone to arrive, the chefs colored their very own restaurant menus…

menu 1menu 2

…drawn by the very talented Sister Alison Bowe, a missionary currently serving in our ward! (I enlarged them to 11×17 for the kids.)

menu 3As the menus said, once the kids were all there & dressed as chefs, they got to make pizzas. Our local Grimaldi’s donated the dough, & “Chef Dad” tossed it pizzeria-style before the kids “decorated” them, in the birthday girl’s words.

pizza
Tasty!
pizza 2Then they made fruit, yogurt, & granola parfaits. So that not ALL of the party food was junk.

parfait makingFinally, the part everyone was waiting for: decorating cookies & cupcakes! With like 6 different colors of frosting & more than a dozen kinds of sprinkles, what could go wrong?

cupcakes and decorationscookiesTurns out, not a whole lot. Luckily all of the parents stuck around to help out, which minimized the mess, & the kids took their decorating very seriously!

decoratingdecorating 2The birthday girl loved that she got to decorate her own birthday cupcake!

candles(I used this beet red velvet cupcake recipe. Had to counteract all that sugar somehow, right? See what a conscientious party host I am?)

Each kid got to decorate 4 cookies & 2 cupcakes. They ate 1 of each at the party, & the rest went home in these cute treat boxes from Michael’s, finished with baker’s twine & a darling tag.

favor boxWhat a fun time we all had! Special thanks to Ursula Borrack for capturing such sweet photos of this sweet party!

Shared at Tater Tots & Jello

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Quick Kid Craft: Patriotic T-shirts.

patriotic shirts

This year we wanted to wear something a little different for the 4th of July, so we undertook this easy t-shirt craft after seeing a friend post a picture of her son wearing one. It takes only a few minutes apart from drying, & you can even “girlify” it with a little ribbon! I took sharp scissors & snipped small cuts in the shirt, either on the front pocket, or around the neck. Just make sure you have an even number. Thread the ribbon through & tie into a pretty knot or bow, then squeeze a little hot glue inside the knot to keep it from untying in the wash. Now, if your little girl has an abnormally large head like mine does, you may want to snip the ribbon where it doesn’t show & safety-pin it after she pulls it over her head. Didn’t think about the fact that it needed to stretch… Whoops!

Now on to painting!

What you need:

  • kid-sized white t-shirt (I got mine at Target for $5 each)
  • red & blue paint (you can use fabric paint, but acrylic is so much cheaper–usually less than 50 cents a bottle–& I’ll show you how to heat-set it at the end for the wash)
  • 1″ foam brush
  • 2 paper plates

What to do:

  1. Squeeze a generous amount of your blue paint onto one paper plate & spread it around.
  2. Place your child’s left hand in the paint, coating well. Then carefully help her stamp her hand, fingers outstretched, on the left side of the shirt. Clean off her hand &, if she’s young, let her go play while you do the rest. (By the way, 14 months may be a tad young for this craft; my little one kept squelching her fingers together & I had to spread them myself.)
  3. Squeeze some red paint onto the other paper plate & use your foam brush to paint stripes next to the handprint. The foam helps keep the stripes a nice uniform width. Paint as many stripes as you think look good!
  4. To heat-set: When the paint is completely dry, place a doubled-up paper towel inside the shirt & on top of the painted part, then iron on the cotton setting (high heat) for about a minute. Now you can wash it after they wear it!

If you’re looking for a place to wear your new shirts, how about organizing an indoor “parade” through a nursing home? That’s what we did yesterday, & it was a wonderful experience. We rounded up some friends from our MOMS Club, decorated up our wagons, waved some little flags, & played “Stars & Stripes Forever” on repeat on my iPhone with some little speakers as we marched through the halls. The residents were very appreciative of visitors, & it was a great experience for the kids! They loved marching & getting so much attention, & it was a great teaching moment about how good service can make us feel. My 4-year-old kept saying, “Mommy, they’re so happy to see me!”

decorated wagon

nursing home parade

Where will you wear your patriotic shirts?

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General Conference FHE

Hi friends! I’m hoping to start getting back into posting, at least occasionally. I still have lots of great ideas; I’m just trying to focus right now on living them rather than photographing them. But I think this one in particular will help many of you.

This weekend is General Conference, when the prophet, apostles, and other leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speak to the entire Church and tell us what the Lord would have us hear about how to keep Christ in our lives and be better people. I’m sure many of you have tricks and traditions to keep your kids occupied and focused so that everyone can hear the messages. We play Conference Bingo, let my preschooler color pictures and do activities in special Conference packets, and have picnic lunches in the living room (the only time food is EVER allowed there).

But the big challenge we were facing was how to remember, retain, and apply what was said during that special weekend! Here is what my husband and I came up with two Conferences ago:

Conference FHE poster

We made 2 posters, with photos of each member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, and every week for Family Home Evening, we taught a 3-year-old-friendly condensed version of one of their talks. We distilled the talks down into either a direct quote or a summary (often the talks touched on so many topics, we had to just choose the one we felt applied best to our family) and wrote that next to the speaker’s name. Then I did my best to draw a symbol or picture to help my pre-reader remember. I am no artist, but I like to think that my drawings mostly resemble what they’re supposed to represent…

The posters hung in our hallway, where we (and any visitors to our house) could pass by them often and recall some of the lessons. I can’t tell you what a difference this made in our family! My older daughter now knows all of their names by heart, and could tell us what they taught. It was a huge help for my husband and me too; I still remember the topics of that Conference better than any before or since (we moved the day before last Conference, so that whole weekend was a blur).

As an added bonus, our FHE lessons were pre-planned for 15 weeks!

conference poster

To do this in your family, just buy 2 standard-size white posterboards. Divide each into 8 parts. Print approx. 3″x2″ (wallet-size) photos of each member of the First Presidency sand Quorum of the Twelve. Hang the posters in your house. Ahead of every FHE, consult your Conference Ensign or lds.org for your lesson topic. We always reviewed the previous lessons each week as well.

What Conference traditions and tricks do you use to be able to listen and remember what is said?

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Getting into the Olympic spirit.

I love the Olympics.

I love the athleticism, competition, the drama, & how for 2 weeks every 2 years (we’re thinking winter too) everyone becomes an expert. I love watching people from all over the world come together in the spirit of sportsmanship. And I love that this year I get to pass it on to The Munchkin.

Why are the Olympics so important? Why bother giving Olympic Fever to the rising generation? My friend Kalani wrote a fantastic essay answering that question. There are so many important lessons that athletic competition can teach kids: patriotism, the importance of working hard, how to be a good sport, & — perhaps most importantly in this age of rising childhood obesity — that moving is fun.

So I encourage you to let your Munchkins watch a competition or two with you this year to help them catch The Fever. Here’s how we’re starting with ours.

We’ve decided to let her stay up late to watch some of the Opening Ceremonies Friday, & have started getting her into the spirit by introducing her to the logo & the colors this week by decorating the apartment a little at Munchkin height. We made our own Olympic Rings into a paper chain, with The Munchkin telling me which color strip came next. After just one sheet of construction paper of each color, she had those colors down!

Next she drew her own Olympic Rings. Not a bad first attempt!

Finally, to help her learn a little more about the sports & the competition, I made up a quick medal count chart using clip art to illustrate each category. I had no idea there were so many! If you want one of your own, download it here. Get the medals here — you may need to add extra paper on the side for the swimming category, if it’s anything like 2008 was!

We have a couple other ideas too that I’ll be posting soon. How are you introducing your kids to the Olympics?

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Mermaid Party Redux.

My last post talked about why we shouldn’t overdo it on the party planning. But purchasing everything pre-assembled can get pricey, so here are a few cute things I did to save money & personalize it a little for my Munchkin. I was so busy having fun that I didn’t meticulously take pictures of my handiwork, but I think that’s a good thing (except when I’m trying to explain to other people what I did).

For starters, this is the party theme I bought. However, rather than buying everything to fit the theme, I saved money by only buying the swirly hanging decorations (see below), tablecloths, invitations, & dessert plates. For everything else–flatware, napkins, dinner plates, & even a couple extra tablecloths–I bought cheaper, solid-color items in the party’s colors: light blue, purple, & hot pink. I also got balloons in those colors.

The Munchkin was insistent that the kids all wear party hats, so we got assorted solid-color ones at Party City that happened to match the theme colors really well, then decorated them with sea animal stickers together. She loved helping! In previous years I would’ve been too much of a perfectionist to let her help.

(In the interest of full disclosure, we learned rather quickly that paper hats tend to dissolve after several minutes atop wet heads. But they were fun & they stayed on for the cake, which is what The Munchkin wanted anyway.)

Now for my favorite part: the favor buckets. I bought these sandcastle buckets from Party City for 99 cents (my advice: sign up for their emails before you order; I started getting all sorts of discount offers after I’d placed my order!). They come in 8 different colors, so I’m sure they’d match your theme colors. Then I filled them with awesome cheap sea-life-themed favors from Oriental Trading Company. I hate the buckets that are full of useless crap, so I tried to choose things the kids would actually like to use. The Munchkin loves bubbles, stickers (those were from Party City & also delightfully cheap; we bought extra to decorate the hats with), & stampers, so we included those & a squirty fish thing, then a bag of Goldfish & just a few pieces of candy. To assemble them, we grouped like items together & formed an assembly line; it taught The Munchkin to follow patterns!

These buckets would be great for any ocean-type theme. They received lots of compliments, & they were simple & inexpensive!

Next, the thank-you notes that came with the party supplies were the fill-in-the-blank kind. Those are great for kids who are learning to write, but The Munchkin’s still young enough that I’m doing the writing for her. So fill-in-the-blank would be kind of a copout. Instead, I bought blank notecards from Target (again, they come in lots of cute colors) & puffy stickers from Michael’s (can you tell I like stickers?). The Munchkin & I decorated the cards in little sea life scenes. You could do this with any theme imaginable & it’d look great!

Last but not least, activities. One of the great perks of having the party at the splash park was I didn’t have to coordinate activities. But with Tropical Storm Debby threatening, I came up with a couple last-minute things to keep the kids busy under the pavilion in case we had a momentary downpour. I printed an Ariel coloring page & a couple of sea animal coloring pages & had a bucket of crayons. Then we let the kids make jellyfish. To prep, just cut cheap white paper plates in half & have streamers & a stapler handy. The kids color their jellyfish, & then you tear off some streamers & staple them to the straight side. So easy!

So there you go! Hope this helps with the planning of any ocean-themed parties in the future. Just remember to listen to your own Munchkin rather than what the professionals on Pinterest think, & keep it simple: if you overdo it this year, you’ll just have to try to outdo yourself next year!

Good luck!

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The Munchkin’s Best Birthday Yet.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t make a single thing for this birthday party.

And it was AWESOME.

And I don’t regret it one bit.

Way back in February The Munchkin told me she wanted a mermaid party. “Not a ‘Little Mermaid’ party, a mermaid party.” I love this girl! She makes up her mind & sticks to it. With all this prep time, I had grand designs for customized printable invitations, themed food, etc., but the reality of a newborn, & family in town for said newborn’s baby blessing (isn’t she cute?), set in really quickly. Still, it took awhile to get past the mom guilt brought on by picture-perfect Pinterest parties. Do I love my child less because I bought my (still cute) decorations from Oriental Trading Company, hand-wrote fill-in-the-blank invitations, & ordered a — gasp! — supermarket cake?

Absolutely not! I realized that in past years I had poured so much of myself into these events that, not only was I so stressed out I was stressing everyone else out, but I was seeking validation from other people instead of my Munchkin. This year my only pre-party panic moment was about whether we should pay a hefty deposit to move the outdoor party inside because of Tropical Storm Debby. Thanks to a lot of prayer (& even, in a weak moment, an email to the FOX 13 morning meteorologist), we kept the party at the splash park just like she wanted, & we all got to actually enjoy it.

So I’m writing this to let my fellow “just moms” out there that you don’t need to order custom everything from Etsy or specialty bake shops or whatever. You don’t need to impress the grownups there. Sometimes a splash park, a Publix cake, & some party hats with stickers on them are all you need to make a birthday girl’s day.

That’s what’s important!

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TV: What they should (& shouldn’t) watch… & what you should watch after they go to bed.

TV is EVERYWHERE. I lost count of the number of TVs in the Red Robin we ate at on Labor Day (there was even one in the floor… what?!). There were TVs in the waiting room in The Munchkin’s pediatrician’s office in NJ. There are even TVs in the checkout aisles at grocery stores, above the pumps at gas stations, & on the PATH trains into the city! So how can you keep your kid under that 2-hour suggested screen time limit?

I can’t answer that for you.

What I can answer for you, though, is what we do to at least try to limit The Munchkin’s time in front of the tube, & how you can help your kids make better choices about what they’re watching in those 2 hours or less.

As well as some good choices for you too.

My good friend Lauren is blogging on TV choices as well over at her blog today; check it out!

Screen time tips

  • Don’t leave the TV on. It sounds silly & obvious, but I’ve walked into too many homes where the TV is just on for background noise. When the program you have chosen for your child (yes, chosen… see below) is over, turn it off. No amount of kicking & screaming changes this in our house. Also, if you need to have news in the morning as you get ready, use the radio in the kitchen.
  • Set expectations & stick to them. The Munchkin knows that she can watch in the morning while Mommy’s getting ready, & sometimes in the evening while I’m making dinner, if it’s not one she can help with. That’s it. Occasionally we will have a rainy-day movie, but it’s just that: occasional.
  • Know that kids are sneaky. & take the appropriate precautions. Even at her age, The Munchkin knows how to turn on the TV & DVD player (thankfully not usually at the same time). Keep the family TV & computer in public view, & hide the remotes. (That last tactic worked wonders when I was growing up because we’d broken the power button on the TV, so no TV ever got watched until after homework was done. We never did find where my mom would stash the remote all those times…)
  • No TVs in kid rooms. Period.

Choosing what to watch

When they’re young, it’s easy. They don’t have friends & commercials telling them they should be watching. Though, in the aforementioned pediatrician’s office one day, Spongebob — the Ren & Stimpy of the new generation — was on, & despite my best distraction efforts, she zoned completely. Then like a week later we were walking in front of Dylan’s Candy Bar when she saw him again & recognized him. How do they do that?! Those Hollywood ad people have no souls.

Wait, where was I? Oh yeah. I think it’s important to help your kids choose shows that you can tolerate. I, personally, want to take a power drill to my right temple every time Dora is on. So we don’t play it in our home. You can’t say “no” to everything (which I imagine will become very tempting in the tween years judging from the after-school lineup on Disney Channel), so suggest something you can say “yes” to. I have very fond memories of evenings spent with my dad & my siblings watching Rocky & Bullwinkle, followed by The Muppet Show.

The only suggestions I have are for little kids, because that’s who’s watching TV right now. Those of you with older kids, please give your suggestions!

  • Sesame Street: Teaches kids stuff (The Munchkin may or may not have taught herself how to jump after an “Elmo’s World”), not annoying (except “Abby’s Flying Fairy School”), & even celebrity guest stars & jokes that parents can appreciate (I still think of the Sesame Street versions when I hear Feist’s “1-2-3-4″ or Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” on the radio). But even The Munchkin got over it after awhile. Now she’s into…
  • Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Okay, so the writing’s not going to be winning awards any time soon, but at least not everyone has the EXACT SAME voice with the EXACT SAME inflection (cough cough, Dora). The characters solve a problem in each episode, & I like that they’re resourceful with their “Mouseketools:” for example, they needed to transport sand somewhere, & one of the tools was a few pillows — they emptied them to carry the sand in the pillowcases.
  • Curious George: Honestly, this is my favorite. (Is that weird to say?) It’s well-written & teaches kids about lots of different things. The Munchkin & I always have lots to talk about after each episode.

I think the important thing is to teach your kids (when they get old enough, of course) to be active consumers. Just because my friends were all watching Beavis & Butthead in middle school, doesn’t mean that I could turn off my brain (or stay up that late, for that matter) to watch it too. But how can you teach them that?

The main thing is to be an active & discerning consumer yourself. So we’re old enough to watch TV-MA now. Does that mean we have to? Well, that’s up to you & your family. But here are my 2 cents:

I don’t like to watch stuff that makes me feel gross, sad, or uncomfortable. We had to stop watching 24 after a couple seasons because of all the torture. The Office just wasn’t funny anymore — just awkward. The Mentalist was really good, but it just left us feeling depressed or disturbed afterwards most of the time. So if something you’re watching leaves you feeling less than desirable — or like you just murdered 85,000 brain cells by watching it — just stop watching. Here are the shows that make us happy:

  • Psych: This show makes me laugh harder than anything else. Lauren should be talking more about the finer points of this gem, as well as Monk, which is sadly over but still great.
  • White Collar: Another USA Network program that does a great job of keeping it clean & entertaining. The cinematography & costuming are beautiful (oh, ok, & so is Matt Bomer). Rundown: FBI agent catches brilliant con artist & gets him a “work release” from prison to help out his elite team in New York.
  • Chuck: The usual nerd-boy-meets-hot-girl-&-goes-on-spy-missions-with-her love story. Brilliantly written, clean, funny, action-packed. I have yet to introduce this show to someone who didn’t immediately love it. But this is the last season, so if you’re just tuning in, start at the beginning. Please.
  • Bones: The only drama on the list, this is actually classified strictly as a “dramedy” because it’s generally so lighthearted. Brilliant Smithsonian forensic anthropologist (Emily Deschanel) consults on murder cases with strong but sensitive FBI agent (David Boreanaz). Her team of “squints” is awesome too. I’m just sad Zac had to leave… I hope they write him back in eventually.
  • The Middle: We first started watching this because it was about a family in Indiana (we were living there at the time), starred Patricia Heaton & the janitor from Scrubs (see below), & it looked funny. We keep watching it because it is funny. Each of their 3 kids falls on a different point in the social spectrum, & their misadventures are totally relatable. It’s a very family-friendly comedy with no social agenda, unlike the family comedy that comes on ABC after it. (I think Lauren will be covering that one, since I’ve only seen one episode.)
  • Frasier: An oldie but a goodie. Still SO funny. Niles is my absolute favorite.
  • Scrubs: A story of love, friendship, bromance, & what it’s apparently like to be a young doctor who reminisces to himself all the time.
  • How I Met Your Mother: We just started watching reruns because they were on after Frasier, so I can’t claim to be an expert, but it’s funny. & it takes place in New York. Win! Oh, & it’s also what I watched while I wrote this post.

works for me wednesday at we are that family

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