Thursday, December 24, 2009

The *!$%?@!?!! Christmas Card

I know I shouldn't curse when it comes to the Christmas card-- seems sacrilegious, I suppose... But seriously, every year I drive myself crazy trying to think of something "original" to do.  "Original" meaning, not posing in front of the fireplace (sorry mom!).  My own fault, I know.

So this year, even though I knew I'd be pushing it with the move and all, plus not having the computer hooked up, plus having to convince the 3-and-under-crowd that it was important to pay attention and follow directions... I just HAD to run with this fabulous idea that I discovered a while ago (years? months?) while surfing the web.  It just made sense since it reflects heavily on the realities of parenting young children.  What's this hubbub she's babbling about you ask?

After a week of hashing it out with Photoshop late into the wee hours and 30-something odd drafts later, I finally finished "the card" just in time to get it out before Santa came a'calling. Well take a look-see...

It definitely could've used a little more tweaking-- i.e. erase shadow behind Smarty Pants, but in the spirit of all things good, I decided to let it go.  Plus, me with no sleep = grouchy mommy.

Wishing You & Yours Loads of Joy & Cheer. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Decor - Minimalist Style

Since we just moved a couple of weeks ago, decorating for the Holidays is about 10th on the list of "things I must do today"--  Right behind, find all my measuring spoons and cups, which have somehow fallen into a blackhole (or more likely, a mismarked box).

But with dear Smarty Pants worrying that Santa wouldn't stop by our house because we don't have a Christmas tree, let alone a single Christmas decoration, I put aside my unpacking to set up some Christmas Cheer.  Can't disappoint Santa, yah know??

Hmmm... the tree didn't hit the ceiling at our old house.  Oh well, at least it's skinny enough to tuck beside the couch which makes it less of a target for Happy Vee, our ornament stealing bandit.  It's okay if we only used 1/4 of our ornaments, right?  Because the other 3/4's are M.I.A. and I have a better chance of finding them next Christmas.

It really was the perfect tree for our old house though.  Tall enough to fill the nook of our semi-circular staircase and thin enough not to block the hallway.  Maybe one day we can "gift" it to the new owners. See, it fit the old house perfectly...

Usually, I display our Christmas Cards in a more artistic manner, but they definitely warmed up our lean & mean, bare mantle...

Next year I'm going to recreate the "ribbon on the door" Christmas card display of years past...

Yep, so that was it for our Christmas decor this year.  Kinda minimal, but it pleased our Christmas-lovin' preschooler and put us in the right spirit of the holidays.  I have to say, though, it was awesome being able to clean up everything in less than an hour-- maybe there is something to this "minimalism" stuff.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fun Holiday Foods

I'm not picky, I love almost all food.  And I like food even better when it's presented in a fun or pretty way.

Here are a couple of fun ways to liven up even the most mundane appetizers--

Crudite platter... boring. But crudite arranged like a Christmas Tree, just plain fun!  Okay, I was super busy and asked Dad Tee to take a picture, um, which is why the angle is not quite right.  The white cauliflower (aka snow) should be at the bottom. 

A plate of olives...ho-hum. But olives disguised as penguins with a little cream cheese and some carrot slice accents-- fun!  Would've looked better if I piped the cream cheese, but at least you can tell I didn't buy them. Couldn't keep the kids away, hence the cute, little round eye hovering on the left side of the picture.

Now if I could only convince Smarty Pants to eat my cute, fun food.  That kid makes other picky eaters look like little piggies.  Ah well, I had fun putting it together!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Goodness

So I'm a crazy person and signed up to bring "goodies" for 3 Halloween school parties.  I did pretty well for the first 2 parties, but wimped out on the last one.  Ah well, it was only for the adults of Happy Vee's "Mommy and Me" class-- Lipton's Onion soup mix dip with Ruffles with Ridges, anyone?

So for the first party I was told "not too much sugar".  This is the preschool that gives Smarty Pants saltines and water for snack, so I pretty much knew that the teachers wouldn't be too happy if I loaded the kids up with a bunch of sugar then ran far, far away.  So I thought, Rice Krispy treats aren't too bad... at least there's cereal in them... part of the food pyramid, right?  But I had to make them a little bit fun for the kiddos...  Whah-lah!

Amazing what a little food coloring & popsicle sticks can do!

For the 2nd party, sugar wasn't an issue, but allergies are abundant.  I could work around the fish allergy, but the "no nut facility", no flour, no egg, no sesame seed, no milk... no wonder no one wanted to bring snack!  I finally decided on Oreos... because apparently there is nothing real in Oreos to be allergic to.   I'm kidding (I think??).   A couple of the kids with restricted diets brought there own snacks, so I had a little leeway with the white chocolate coating...

Double Stuffed Oreos + Wilton's Orange Candy Melts + Halloween Sprinkes + Popsicle Stick = Fun & Yummy!

I also made these babies.  Didn't really need to, but these are my All-Time favorite and I really wanted an excuse to eat them... Oops, I mean, an excuse to "make" them...

Who knew caramel could be so pretty?  I could've made it from scratch, but I cheated...Just unwrap a bag of caramel candies & melt them in the microwave.

Chilling in the Refrigerator

And finally, a coat of Wilton's white chocolate... divine!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The New House - Reno Begins!

I can't believe it, but we're almost at the end of Month 2 of our New House Reno. It started off a little slow-- First we had to meet with many, many contractors, then of course, we got many, many quotes. We had to break out the ol' spreadsheet to do the apples-to-apples analysis. After a lot of negotiating (thank goodness The Mister is a darn effective negotiator because I'm horrible with stuff like that!) we decided on the contractors that we were going to use. We tried to coordinate as best we could with all the contractors but now I understand why you need to hire a good General Contractor if you're going to do a big remodel...It's a bit of a headache! Finally we gave the go-ahead to the chosen few so that materials could be ordered and schedules could be coordinated... 7 weeks out and it's all starting to come together!

New Crown & Baseboards - Installed and being painted as we speak. We have high ceilings, so we went with 6" baseboards & 6" crown. They make the rooms look grand and inviting... even with just a coat of primer on them!

New Wrought Iron Banisters - Installed with a new stain. Definitely the most bang for the buck. Our staircase is in the center of the house. Before the upgrade, you'd walk through without noticing it; Now it's the focal point of the interior.

Kitchen Cabinets - Not sure why the original owners liked everything shiny-- They painted their then new cabinets with a gloss (a really bad DIY job with drips and highly visible brush marks). We thought that we'd have to scrap all of the cabinets, but a very nice contractor (who we didn't go with because he was extra $$$ for crown moulding) mentioned that they could be salvaged with a little sanding. We had the ugly gloss removed and refinished with a satin glaze. They look AMAZING! I can almost hear the cabinets cheering!

Closet Organizers - Old stuff ripped out, new stuff coming in next week (hurray!)

Paint - After buying 14 cans of sample paints and painting them on foamboard (leftover from Happy Vee's birthday), we finally chose 2 lovely neutrals that will adorn our main living area and 7 other colors for the bedrooms, bathrooms and garage-- Shiny bright blue, blood orange and emerald green paint be gone!!

Garage - Floors are expoxied, and the walls are painted and ready for the cabinet install! Daddy Vee has a crazy notion of putting a lift in the tandem so that we can fit 4 cars in the garage. Yes, he is a car nut... Yeah, I don't even pretend to get it.

Entertainment Center - Ripped out, hurray! I briefly thought we could salvage it by giving it a nice coat of white paint, but it was really poor quality-- bowed cabinet doors; small, useless drawers; weird design. Another DIY project gone wrong.

New Kitchen Island - In the works. We're thinking of going Espresso to accent the now beautiful kitchen cabinets. I wasn't planning on replacing the appliances, but I just saw Daddy Vee surfing the web...TBD

New Master Built-in - Not sure what we're doing here yet-- self-contained fireplace? more cabinets? Anything is better than the DIY cabinets that are stained a strange yellow color.

Hallway Cabinets - The original owners didn't quite finish the cabinets that they had installed in the hallway. We're just going to have the uppers installed and call it a day.

Carpet - Ordered and should be here in a few weeks!

Powder Room - Wainscotting is in and just needs to be painted. With a new toilet, fixture and mirror, it'll look 100 times better.

There's still a ton of work to do, but it's now starting to feel like a home that we can eventually move into. Hopefully everything will be ready by October. Pictures coming soon!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Circus is in Town!

We had Happy Vee's Circus Party today. Although it was a hot and sticky 90-degree day, everyone had a great time and it was a HUGE success!  I'm also really happy that 90% of the decor can be reused-- the pinwheels, the garland, the table mats, the banners, the paper lanterns, even the tulle. The only thing we threw-out was the plastic table coverings. I wish we could've gotten away without using them at all, but the picnic tables definitely needed to be covered... if anything, to protect the partygoers from splinters! So without much further ado, I present....

Our Circus & Pinwheel Birthday Party!
The Invite - Inspired by Armelle's red ticket. I continued the red ticket theme throughout the party-- labels for food, labels for favor bags, labels for kids goodie bags. It's so easy to get carried away with the circus theme, but I find that it's always good to keep one thing constant from start to finish-- and for me, the one constant was the fun red ticket!:
Welcome to the Circus! - I didn't have a set plan for decorating the bridge. Luckily it just came together with little fuss and was very economical-- paper lanterns from Michael's dollar bin and yards of tulle... $5 for 100 yards.  I think it came out pretty darn festive! Just in front of the bridge are containers from the foodbank. They were awesome to work with, they dropped off the containers before the party began and picked them up at the end. In lieu of presents, we asked friends and family to bring canned and paper goods in Happy Vee's honor. I was so happy that we were able to completely fill the containers.

Watch Me Grow mobile - I created the cubes in Tabblo but couldn't figure out how I was going to display them. I finally came up with the mobile idea while taking an extra long shower-- the only place where I have a few moments to myself! I'm planning on hanging this in Happy Vee's new bedroom once we move.

Candy Bar-  I stocked the candy bar with my favorite candies-- sour straws, cotton candy, m&m's, twizzlers, skittles, starburst... you know, just in case there were any leftovers.  :)

Cupcake Table- The cupcake picks were heavily inspired by Polkadots and Pirates on Etsy (although not as cute since I created everything in MSWord).

Pinwheels - With the help of Grandma Tee, I made 20 large pinwheels and staked them around the picnic area and 50 small pinwheels to use in the centerpieces. It was nice to use up the scrapbook paper that I've had lying around for the past several years.

The Happy Birthday Banner - My first project using the Cricut. Knowing what I know now, I would've done it differently, but it was eye catching and served its purpose. I'm just happy that the guys were able to hang it up! Thank goodness for the "little giant" ladder, because that was an incredibly tall pavilion!
Here's the flag pennant that I meant to string on the picnic pavilion. We ran out of time (plus the pavilion was 20+ feet tall!), so we used it on the fence. I was a little bummed, but didn't have time to dwell on it too much.

Circus Signs - I made these simple signs out of Foam Board, Red Ribbon & Letters cut from my Cricut. An easy project with big impact.
The Spread -  On the menu... BBQ Beef Sandwiches, Santa Fe Chicken Sandwiches, BBQ Chopped Chicken salad (so good!), Mini hotdogs and Sliders,  Baked Beans, Mac and Cheese and Fruit Salad.

Games - I made most of the games out of recycleables and I think they came out pretty cute. Bottom line, the kids had a blast.

Clown Creation Station - This came out really cute, and I'm bummed I didn't get more pictures of the kids with their decorated clown hats, oversized ties and clown noses. To keep clean-up easy, I provided the kids with foam letters and shapes of all sizes & colors to decorate the hats and ties with. After they were done with their clown creations, they received a reuseable "green" bag with their name on it that they could collect all their prizes in.  Here's a cute picture of Grandma Tee and Aunty Jay modeling the hats and noses--

Clown Tumble (our version of Tin Can Toss)- Can you figure out what these fun pins are made out of? Yep, just some puff containers (filled by 1/4 with a little sand to weigh them down) decorated with foam shapes and googly eyes. I just taped the top to keep the sand in.

They took quite a pummeling-- I piled them up pyramid style and had the kids knock them down with some colorful juggling balls. They had 3 tries, and the more pins knocked down, the bigger the prize. Everyone got a prize just for trying. They still look great and Smarty Pants has been busy playing with them in our backyard.

Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the rest of the games, but here's a photo of the signs I made and a description of the games. We had a wide range of ages, so I tried to have a few games that the little ones could participate in as well.

For the 3 and under crowd, I had Animal Bowl. I just placed a toddler friendly game of stuffed animal pins on a wrapping-paper-decorated foam board for the kids to knock down with oversized soft balls. They had 3 tries, and the more pins knocked down, the bigger the prize. Everyone got a prize just for trying.

The Ball Toss was an "everyone wins" game. I used baby food jars and cut color circles out of paper, numbered the circles (1 thru 5) and glued them on the bottom of the jar. I then placed the jars inside a decorated file folder box (my box fit 30 jars). The kids tossed a ping pong ball into the box and they received the corresponding prize to whatever number it landed in. I noticed that it was harder to get the ball into the jars toward the center of the box, so I put the 1's & 2's near the edges, and the 3's, 4's & 5's in the middle. The larger numbers got the bigger prizes.
photo via Martha Stewart

Frog Fling was geared toward the older kids. I bought these green rubber frogs from OTC for the kids to knock down the balls with. I used a pre-decorated file folder box and affixed these yogurt bottles to it with brads. Ping pong balls fit perfectly on the yogurt bottles and it was quite challenging for the kids to knock down the balls with the frogs.

Fish Squirt was geared toward the younger kids, but kids of all ages (including adults) enjoyed playing it. Using the same set-up as Frog Fling, the kids had to knock down ping pong balls off the yogurt bottles with a water-filled fish. They had 4 chances to squirt down 4 balls.

Using my kid's water table and 3 dozen weighted ducks, I easily put together the Duck Buck$ game. I numbered the ducks on the bottom to correspond with a prize. The little kids loved this game and, probably more so, enjoyed splashing in the water.

I bought the Ring Toss game, but in hindsight, I should've made it with bottles or puff containers. I created different levels-- clown (really close), acrobat (midway) and ringmaster (far away) to make it more challenging for the big kids. They had 3 rings to toss.

For the Tiger Toss game, I bought a beanbag target rug from OTC and used tiger beanie babies for the kids to toss. Obviously, the tigers that landed closest to the center got the bigger prizes. I also created 3 levels for this game-- kitten (really close), cat (midway), tiger (far away).

For the Entertainment, Eddie the Clown kept the kids and adults in stitches...

And Big Red, the mad-talented balloon twister, although eerily silent, created some AMAZING balloon art... I'm not kidding, check out the fish on the fishing pole that he's making!

Favors - Grandma Tee made the yummy "better than Cracker Jacks" mix to fill the favor bags.  I'll have to post the recipe one of these days. 

And last, but not least, Happy Vee drowsily enjoying his Carrot Cake Cupcake... Yum!

The End!

Now that the party is over, I'm ready to reclaim my dining & living rooms!!! I think that will be the last big party for a long while. It was fun, but I need to refocus my attention on the new house, all of our cra-zee remodeling projects, and the BIG M-O-V-E!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

I had a lot of fun putting these photo frames together for the Grandpas and Daddy Vee. With a quick trip to JoAnns for the letters, a little bit of patience trying to get the kids to cooperate with the camera, and a dash of Photoshop magic, it was a pretty easy project. My hope is to update the frames every Father's Day with new pictures... Yeah, we'll see...

What you need:
1) Craft Letters- I cheated and only bought one of each letter that I needed-- so one "A", one "P", etc. I used both sides of "D" to add a little more color variety.
2) Scrapbook Paper & scissors or craft knife- I just traced the letters & cut them out-- doesn't have to be "perfect".
3) Modge Podge or other thin craft glue
4) The patience to get some cute pictures
5) Photoshop if you want to play around with color and b/w
6) Horizontal frames - I found mine at Kohl's for 40% off (aren't they always on sale there?).

Photoshop How-to:
  1. Open the picture that you want to use.
  2. In the Top Menu: Layer > Duplicate layer
  3. In the Palette bin, select the Duplicate layer (should be the default)
  4. In the Top Menu: Enhance > Convert to B&W. Select the "portrait" option.
  5. Magnify the letter that you're working with.
  6. Using the Magnetic Lasso tool, outline the letter that you want left in color. I found that doing this in small portions was easiest.
  7. Once you have the area selected that you want left in color, press the DELETE button on the keyboard and the selected area should turn to color.
  8. When you are finished, select: Layer > Flatten image and SAVE your project.

linked to:

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cowboy Party - The Finale...Yee-Hah!

To give the party an Old West feel, I created signs using western-type font and printed them on aged-looking parchment paper. There are some great free font sites out there. I found some fun ones on this site.
I used twine to string the signs up around the party area. Welcome sign - Welcome to Lastname-ville, population: 3; the bridge - No Fishin'!; the food area - Chuck Wagon; restroom - Outhouse; drinks - Waterin' Hole. It was so easy to do and added a fun, Old West flair to the picnic area.

Games & Entertainment

The Band
Through a friend of a friend, we found a cute (and with 15 members, quite large) banjo band to play at our Cowboy Party. The band was made up of a bunch of music-loving retirees who love to perform. The music set a festive mood and was the perfect fit for our casual and laid back party. They played throughout lunch and thoroughly entertained the kids and adults alike. Who knew you could actually play a rubber chicken?

Lasso a Cactus
To make the lasso for the game, I wrapped a hula hoop with rope. It was a bit heavy, so definitely a game for the 4+ crowd. To make it look like a lasso, I left an extra few feet of rope so the kids could swing the hoop around. Each child tried to "lasso a cactus" by tossing the hoop over a large 6 foot inflatable cactus (Oriental Trading).

There's a Snake in My Boot!

Using an adult-sized cowboy boot (we used pink ones because they were on sale for $5 at Target) and vinyl somewhat realistic looking mini-snakes (Oriental Trading), the kids stood on a large rock and tried to drop the snakes into the boot one by one.

Pin the Badge on Sheriff "Smarty Pants"

I printed a poster-size picture of Smarty Pants in his Gymboree cowboy outfit and pasted it on a foam board. We covered the kids' eyes with a bandana, spun them around and they tried to stick a foam star badge in the correct place.

Wagon Rides

The little kids had a ball riding Smarty Pant's new Radioflyer wagon. It kept them busy and the older kids enjoyed pulling the little tikes around.

Photo Ops

As the guests arrived, they received a cowboy hat, bandana, moustaches, badges and other fun cowboy gear. For our backdrop, we rented 3 bales of straw from a local feed store. The park already had a rustic fence and tons of oak trees, so we didn't have to do much to make it look like the Old West.

Cowboy Trivia Game

To keep the adults busy, I created a cowboy trivia game. We live in an area where they filmed a lot of the old western movies and TV shows, so it was fun to pull together a "local" cowboy trivia game. The biggest winner & biggest loser won gift cards to the Claim Jumper restaurant.

Guess How Many Rattlesnake Eggs
This was an easy game to put together. I bought the ginormous container of jelly bellies from Costco and pasted a sign that read "Rattlesnake Eggs" over the manufacturer's label. Whomever guessed the correct amount of eggs won the entire container. By the way, we didn't actually open and count every jelly bean (wouldn't be too sanitary if we touched all of them!), but we guess-timated by calculating the serving size and number of servings in the container.

Favor Bags

I'm not a fan of throwaway favors-- seriously, why bother? I'd rather spend a little more money than know that cheap toys were thrown away after maybe 2 minutes of playtime, filling yet another landfill. We had a large age range so I tried to find favors that were age appropriate.

Babies - Wagon Wheels finger food snack, Cowprint Bib, melamine cup, plate & utensils.

Toddlers - Woody straw cup (Toy Story), Cow/Horse Baby Einstein puppet, Snack Trap, Earth's Best organic cookies.

Little Boys - Stuffed Woody (cowboy) from Toy Story, slingshots, m&m's (aka rattlesnake eggs)

Little Girls - Stuffed Bullseye (horse) or Jessie (cow girl) from Toy Story 2, a cowprint journal with flower pen, stickers, m&m's