Fishing for Birthday Party Ideas?

Birthday parties are something I have definitely gotten more lax about in my parenting years. Sort of, at least. I can still look back at my oldest son’s 1st birthday party and laugh at how “perfect” I wanted things to be. Granted, there weren’t tons of guests, just close family members. He was also just 1, so it wasn’t like he was going to remember any of it. We had a Winnie the Pooh theme and it was most definitely themed out to the max. From the food to the decorations to the Winnie the Pooh ice cream cake I had lovingly made, I wanted it all to be just right. As I have mentioned, I’ve relaxed my standards a bit and figured out that no one cared too much–except me. Also, we have 5 children who all have springtime birthdays, plus mine thrown in, so I have a little rule about Birthday parties now. Each kid got a family party at 1, a friends party at 5, and now another party at 10. The next one is probably at 16, but thankfully we have a few years to figure that one out. I’ve had all sorts of themes, from Elmo, John Deere, Thomas, and even a Princess Tea Party. The only party we had this year was my oldest son’s 10th birthday bash. He’s very into the outdoors, so he wanted a fishing party with some of his buddies from school and scouts. Fortunately for us, my in-laws have a dairy farm with a pond surrounded by woods, so we were able to have it there. All of our other parties have pretty much been held at our house and none were really expensive. I have a personal pet peeve about kid bashes that are just over the top and involved way more $ than I would have ever spent on a children’s birthday party. Today I just wanted to share a few of the things we did–it was simple, not overly planned, and fairly cheap to pull off.

Lots of little fishermen.

As you can see, the boys all brought their own poles and sevral brought their own tackle boxes, bait, etc. We also had our fishing gear handy for anyone to use. One other Mom and another one of the Dads stayed to help (they are the adults in the picture).

Taking a break.

Instead of hauling down lots of tables to the pond, we sat straw bales around for the boys to sit on.

Two of my boys working on the fire pit.

As far as food, we had a campfire for cooking hot dogs and marshmallows. We also had simple fare to go along with: baked beans cooked in the can on the campfire, chips, watermelon, juice pouches, S’mores.

In lieu of a birthday cake, we made these S’more Bars. They were a big hit with the crew. (Check a previous posting for the recipe!)

Not a great picture, but the party favors were baggies of gummy worms and Swedish fish.

 

An itty-bitty baby frog.

There were literally thousands of these tiny frogs hopping everywhere. If you didn’t look closely, one might think they were some kind of insect. My liitle guys kept picking them up and calling them their “babies.” I think several of the “babies” may not have survived their handlers!

The only fish that got caught was a Swedish fish!

We also had a short hike through the woods before dinnertime. All in all, I think the kids had a great time (the adults too). Taking the pressure off myself allowed me to just enjoy the party and being with my son and his friends. Not that it wasn’t any work or planning at all, but I didn’t expect everything to be just so. Therefore, next time you have to throw a kid bash, ease up on the details and you may find yourself (and perhaps your guests?) enjoying it more.

Upcycled Candy Wrapper Bracelet

I’m not sure when it starts, but all of my kids learn to associate banking with Dum-Dum lollipops. If I even mention the word “bank,” they immediately have concerns about whether or not they will be getting a lollipop and which flavor it will be. The girls who work at our bank (we pretty much always do drive-thru) always ask “how many do you have with you today?” and know to give all of the same flavor (less battles that way!). It is not unusual to find Dum-Dum wrappers strewn about the floor of my van, amongst many other various items. Awhile back I saw a post on dollarstorecrafts.com about using Dum-Dum or other candy wrappers and Mod Podge to make cute beads for kids. I of course at least had to give it a whirl, so we saved up our wrappers and today I had a block of time to try it out. I was pleased with the results and my little gal now has a cute new bracelet to flaunt. It was quite easy and took few materials: candy wrappers, Mod Podge, paintbrush, beads, beading wire or stretchy beading cord, bamboo skewer. Want directions? First things first–make sure your candy wrappers are clean and dry. Lay out the beads you will use and get your Mod Podge and paintbrush ready.

Got a bunch of these lying around?

I also used a paper plate to contain some of my mess. The beads I used were a puffy coin shape, so I “painted” their surface with the Mod Podge and also the inside surface of the wrapper. I used my fingers to wrap it around the bead, trimming any excess wrapper as I went. (Your hands will get messy/gluey with this craft.)

Wrapping the beads.

 More Mod Podge can be painted on the outside to get it to adhere well and to help smooth it out. Use the pointy end of the bamboo skewer to reinforce the holes of the bead. Allow to dry and then string onto a stretchy cord or onto beading wire. I put mine on Accuflex wire and then used a barrel clasp as a closure. As you can see, I also used some gum wrappers, but I’m sure lots of candy wrappers would work for this project. Cute, huh?

If you're either a Dum-Dum or Smartie at crafting, you can do this.

Firecracker Sundaes

This is a fun, fizzy treat to make on a hot summer’s day or a 4th of July picnic. My kids and I saw this in the most recent Taste of Home magazine and just had to try it. The problem was it takes Pop Rocks candy and I had the darndest time finding them. Finally I found some (at JoAnn Fabrics of all places!) and we had to make these that very night. Unlike some other desserts where my husband and I end up cleaning up the kids leftovers, not a drop was left when my crew was done with them. To make them extra special, serve in tall parfait glasses or something similar.

Little helpers like to get in on the action.

This recipe can’t be much easier. All you need is ice cream or sherbert (we used Turkey Hill Orange & Cream), Pop Rocks candy, and some kind of carbonated beverage. Layer ice cream on the bottom, drop some Pop Rocks on it, and then pour soda over top. Watch it bubble and fizz!

 
 
Fun fizz.

Of course I had to make one for myself. I would describe it as a little party going on in your mouth. The fruity  tasting ice cream made it especially good.

Heidi says Yum!

We have made these a couple of times now and they have been devoured every time. Now Mama needs to go buy some more Pop Rocks!

Daniel Drew, I Love You!

 

It has been a short ten years ago that I experienced one of my most life-changing moments ever–I became a Mom. I also fell in love with a sweet, blue-eyed boy who caused my heart to grow by leaps and bounds. He was actually born on Father’s Day, 2001, something that definitely wasn’t planned. In fact, our story is one that I never would have planned to happen like it did. However, God in His infinite wisdom had things play out like they did, and I am truly grateful.

 

Things started out in the fall of 2000. I was married for a little over a year and had two semesters of college left to go before I had my bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. Despite my determination to get my degree, I really wanted to become a mother. So, I proposed to my husband that we “start trying” and if I would happen to get pregnant soon, I would still be able to finish my degree before the baby would be due. Two weeks later I was pregnant. He and I were absolutely ecstatic, though mildly freaked out by how quickly this happened. Now, I have to admit that other girls who were pregnant before me had complained about how awful morning sickness is, and I scoffed (to myself) that they were probably exaggerating. My apologies ladies, truly. At 6 weeks along, I had not only morning sickness, but mid-day sickness, evening sickness, and even middle-of-the night sickness sometimes. It was really awful. Thankfully, the sickness subsided at @12 weeks and I was able to enjoy my pregnancy a lot more. At 12 weeks I also went to my first ultrasound and got a beautiful view of my unborn baby.

 

Around this time I began my student teaching, part of the time in a 6th grade class and the second part in a kindergarten class. I felt really good and enjoyed that semester quite a bit. I had great cooperating teachers and some sweet kids who loved the fact that I was to have a baby. At just over 6 months along, I graduated (summa cum laude, may I add!) and got my teaching degree. It was the beginning of May and I was due at the end of July. Since I was planning to stay home with my baby, I was figuring on having some good “nesting” time to myself before he/she was born, working only 1-2 days a week. My husband and I also had a chance to take a little vacation before I got too far along.

 

Well, at this point we had taken our little childbirth class and I had a picture in my head of how things were going to go. I didn’t even pay attention to the c-section part because there was no way that was going to happen to me. I just knew I would go full-term, have a very natural childbirth and deliver a healthy bundle of joy. Luckily I did pay attention to the part where the instructer told us symptoms to be cautious of and to get medical attention if they ever happen. Soon after this we got a pretty hot spell and my hands and feet got quite swollen. I was not too alarmed by this and atttributed it to the heat. Then I had a really fierce headache that didn’t go away for several days. Reluctantly I called the Dr’s office, letting them know what was going on. Part of me knew something was wrong and didn’t want to admit it. Thankfully they insisted I be seen right away and sent me to the hospital to be monitored, fearing that I was getting preeclampsia.

 

The following week was a blur of testing, 24-hour monitoring, hospital stays, ultrasounds, and then absolute bed rest. I was seen by several doctors who determined that I wasn’t quite preeclamptic (but probably would be in the near future), had pregnancy-induced hypertension, and my baby had all but stopped growing due to this. I was told that the baby would most definitely be premature and was given shots of hormones to speed up his lung development. On my 3rd hospital stay in just over a week’s time, they decided to release me home to rest. All they had to wait for was one set of test results to come back. At this time my headache suddenly got much worse and what I thought was indigestion became a terrible pain that was literally escalating by the minute in my right side. I mentioned it to my nurse, thinking she would want to know. She left the room in a hurry and at least four doctors roared into the room. I still remember one of them shouting “get a pair of scrubs for the Dad!”

 

What happened next was one of the most surreal times of my life. Ten years later, I can still remember  many details of that short time. Needless to say, I was rushed into the OR and given an emergency c-section. We were pretty much given no explanation at the time, we were just told that the baby and I were in quite a bit of danger. Later on we found out that I was almost eclamptic and had a bad case of HELLP Syndrome. May I just say that I am so thankful for modern medicine and the wisdom and quick responses of those doctors. I have little doubt that were we at home when this hit me, we wouldn’t be celebrating Daniel’s birthday. Or maybe mine either. I can also say without a shadow of a doubt that I felt the presence of God and His peace like I had never experienced before during those moments. If you’ve ever had a c-section, you know that they put drapes up so that you can’t see everything going on around you. I remember seeing my husband’s eyes, as big around as saucers as he sat at my head and gripped my hand. Then I remember hearing my baby’s cry. Up to this point I hadn’t cried. I absolutely lost it when I heard that miraculous wail. My husband later told me that the eyebrows of everyone in the room (and there were LOTS of them) shot up in disbelief. My parents and my in-laws had come to the hospital to visit me, not knowing what had transpired. They went to my room and discovered it in a state of chaos, me and the bed gone. Luckily another nurse told them that I was in the OR and they happened to hear one of his first cries and see my son being wheeled to the NICU, my husband following behind in a stupor.

 

After his birth, I was able to make a quick stop at the NICU to hold my little guy. When I say little, I do mean little–Daniel was a wee 3 lb 10 oz and 17 inches long. Then they wheeled me to a room and kept me pumped full of nasty meds for over a day and a half, monitoring me what seemed like constantly. I still remember them padding my bed in case I would start seizing. Honestly, I was never very worried about myself at all, even though I’m told I was in seriously bad shape. I was only worried about my little man, his lungs not quite ready for the outside world. After being put on a ventilator for several days, he improved beautifully. I was released from the hospital after a few days, recovering pretty well from my ordeal. My Daniel was in for a total of 15 days, each day spent visiting the NICU to hold my little man. He was sent home on an apnea monitor that would beep shrilly if he stopped breathing, or his heart rate went too low or too high. Oh, how I hated that monitor!

 

Once home, we started finally feeling like “real parents.” Dan grew like crazy as I was instructed to nurse him at the least sign of hunger. It was exhausting but good. No, he was not an easy baby at all. Or an easy toddler. He was always extremely sensitive and still is a bit to this day. However, around the age of 4, he became such a good kid and is now (usually at least) a very sweet boy. Believe it or not, he is probably my healthiest kid as well. My kids are usually a healthy bunch, but there have been times when all 4 of the others have caught something and he doesn’t get whatever sickness it is.

 

Due to the grace of God, my other pregnancies were very healthy and full-term, even my twins. I actually started to develop the same symptoms right after I delivered the twins, and the hospital staff were able to catch it and treat me before it got too bad.

 

We just had Daniel’s 10th birthday party yesterday and his actual birthday is today. He knows a little bit about his birth and this morning, out of the blue (he doesn’t know I am writing this), he said “Mom, I can’t believe I used to be that little.” I can’t either. Now we are facing the tween years and my “baby” is an 80 pound big guy. He is an absolute nut about reading, is whip-smart, enjoys baseball, is a loving son, and a helpful big brother. I am so grateful for that boy and the gift of life we were given 10 years ago. I chose the name Daniel for him because Daniel has always been one of my favorite men in the Bible. My Daniel chose to be a follower of Christ a few years ago, one of the greatest joys for us ever. On that crazy day 10 years ago, when I felt the absolute peace of God, I really felt like He was telling me that He wasn’t done with either of us and had plans for us. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for my little man in the upcoming years. We love you Daniel Drew!!!

Playing baseball this Spring.

Potty Training Triumphs and Failures

 

In the last couple of weeks our family has reached a goal I never thought I would see. It’s one that years ago I swore I would throw a huge party complete with a bonfire once this goal was reached. What was I planning to burn in that blazing bonfire? Our diaper pail. That’s right, people. Our diaper pail. As of about 2 weeks ago, my youngest children finally got potty-trained. And yes, if you know us or are familiar with my blog, my youngest two just turned 4 years old. My oldest actually turns 10 next week, so we were deep into diapers for nearly an entire decade. Not only that, but the last 8 of those years I have had at least 2 in diapers at a time. Actually, several of those years I had 3 in diapers and for a short while after my twins were born, I had a whopping 4 in diapers. Crazy, huh? Now you know why I thought I would never see this day arrive. Now you also know why I am doing a post strictly on potty-training.

 

To make things perfectly clear, I am by no means an expert on potty-training. Yes, I have trained 5 children to use the toilet and finally ditch those diapers. However, this is a parenting job I always felt mediocre and very inadequate at. In fact, you may read this blog and want to criticize the daylights out of me. On the other hand, if your kids are anything like mine were and YOU are feeling like a bad potty-trainer, this is to make you feel better. Really. You see, my kids seemed to simply not care whether they were wet or dirty. They didn’t care one iota about using the potty, as much as I would have loved them to, no matter what rewards (aka bribes) or “positive reinforcement” I was giving them. I was always a bit envious of parents whose children minded being wet or messy and all but trained themselves at a young age. (Either envious or I just wanted to slap them when they bragged about it. Not really, I’m not that mean.)

 

It all of course started with my oldest son, Daniel. At 3 he was a very difficult child and really could care less about the toilet. I voraciously read about and tried out the various methods listed in every parenting magazine out there. Nothing worked. It seemed as if every child within his age range was happily peeing and pooping on the potty for their proud parents. My Mom, God bless her, had read about the whole Cheerios peeing trick for boys online and really thought she was going to get him to go. Well, she dropped the Cheerios in her potty and had Daniel come in to see what a cool game Grandma had for him. Guess what? That child screamed and screamed “My Cheerios! My Cheerios!” I was completely fed up by then and vowed to give the potty training a rest for awhile. Clearly he was NOT ready to do this. At his 4 year old check-up (which, by then, he had 2 younger siblings) I was at my wits end and vented to our pediatrician. No, he didn’t scold me for not having my child potty-trained. He assured me that it would happen anytime and he would bet that it would just happen one day and that would be that. Well, guess what? That man was right. One day my son up and decided to use the toilet and that was that. One day. Done.

 

With my next oldest, Andrew, it was pretty much the same story. I tried a bit at 3 years old to no avail. This time around I was a bit more relaxed and didn’t push him too much. In fact, the more I pushed, the more he resisted. So again, I gave it a rest for awhile. Then I was pregnant with my twins and barely had the energy to deal with it anyway. Soon after their birth was when he, Heidi, and my newborn twins were ALL in diapers. I remember actually lining them up in a row like a little assembly line to change them. I know that sounds insane, but it really wasn’t that bad. Andrew turned 4 and did pretty much the same thing as his big brother–started using the potty in one day and that was that.

 

Now, my daughter was a bit easier. Out of all my kids, she is the one who cared a little more than the boys. At 3 she was not speaking much (she had a speech delay and was delayed with her gross motor skills) but did have some interest in the potty. Actually, at a little over 3, I almost had her trained while we were on vacation. The evening we came home the poor girl fell off of our front landing and broke her leg. She was placed in a full leg cast and I had to put her in diapers again. Until she was out of the cast, she was not into using the potty. So, again I had to be patient and wait for her to be a little more ready. Heidi also trained in about a day a few months before she turned 4 years old.

 

That brings me to the twins. Potty training twins was not as difficult as it sounded. They usually went at around the same time, so that helped. Like my other boys, they could absolutely care less what kind of nastiness was going on in their diapers or pull-ups. Also, putting cloth undies didn’t really work for any of my boys. I did try with all of them. Seriously, they would walk around with them wet or stinky and not even care. So, I took the laissez-faire approach and decided it would happen when it would happen. If they showed interest, I would be all over that. If there was major resistance, I would let things be for awhile. At my family’s Mother’s Day picnic my one grandmother completely gave me grief for not having them trained. Needless to say, I was a bit ashamed but also kind of angry too. I kindly told her that it was going to happen anytime and I wasn’t too worried about it. “I’ve been doing diapers for this long, what’s another month or so?” was my reply. So, when they up and got trained a couple of weeks ago, I did not call her and gloat. I simply gave my boys lots of encouragement for being big boys and enjoyed not buying diapers.

 

So, here we are, a diaper-free household. The pull-ups are still around, but I’m sure they will be by the wayside soon as well. Now, you may have read this and thought about what a terrible example I may be to the potty-training world out there. Or, like I mentioned earlier, you may be tearing your hair out in frustration and this will make you feel a little bit encouraged. You are NOT a failure if your child is not using the toilet yet. Really. I promise you, you WILL get there someday, just like us. Really, I never thought I would see this day arrive. Our diaper pail was such a given part of our household. Now, who wants to come to a bonfire party?

Recipe for S’mores Bars

My oldest son is going to be 10 next week and he is loving anything S’mores right now. Daniel is such a sweet soul that he was very moved by the footage of the most recent tornados that have taken place in the US. He decided to make and sell some baked goodies and treats so that he could donate to that particular cause. In fact, we researched different S’mores-type recipes and this is one we ended up liking a whole lot. After they were made (and of course we HAD to sample a couple, just to be sure they were good 😉 ) he also requested that these be made in place of a traditional birthday cake for his party next week. They are a S’mores Lover’s Dream–graham crackers, chocolate brownie, mini-marshmallows, peanuts, and chocolate chips. Mmm, Mmm, Mmmm…..

Yum.

Wanna make some for yourself? Here’s the recipe, originally taken from tasteofhome.com:

S’mores Bars

  • 8-10 whole graham crackers
  • 1 package fudge brownie mix
  • 2 cups  miniature marshmallows
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup chopped peanuts

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×13 pan and line bottom with graham crackers. Prepare the brownie mixture according to package directions and pour over crackers. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until completely baked. Sprinkle top with marshmallows, chocolate chips, and peanuts. Bake @5 minutes longer or until marshmallows are puffed and getting a golden brown color. Cool before cutting!

 

Recipe for Butter Mints

I am a complete sucker for quick and easy recipes that use a minimal of ingredients and don’t have a million steps. My recipe for butter mints is exactly that. About 12 years ago, when I was preparing for my wedding and reception, my mother-in-law offered to make these for the reception tables. They were a huge hit and since then I’ve made these for various occasions. Whether you are hosting a graduation party, cookout or are planning a baby shower, bridal shower, or wedding, these are a sure crowd pleaser. Don’t let the name fool you–there is actually no butter in these mints! However, they are sweet, minty, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Sweet creamy mints. Mmmm....

Easy Butter Mints

  • 1 8 oz. package cream cheese
  • 2 lb. bag confectioner’s sugar
  • mint oil or mint extract*
  • food coloring
  • granulated sugar

Set cream cheese out to soften, or microwave in short increments until it is very soft. Place in a large mixing bowl and add entire 2 lb. bag of 10x sugar. Mix by hand until dough is uniform. Add in several drops of mint oil or mint extract to taste. Add in several drops of food coloring, if desired. Mix mint and coloring in well by hand. Form into small balls and roll in granulated sugar. You can either flatten with a fork or use a small push-mold to make shapes. Place on wax paper. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until serving. Enjoy!

**Mint oil is highly concentrated and only takes several drops.

Mint extract is not as concentrated and may take more to ensure minty flavor.