Monday, January 31, 2011

Half Score & One – LEGO My Birthday (Part 1)

Recently we celebrated my middle’s eleventh birthday. Some might say we celebrate every birthday around here pretty excessively, unless you’re talking about my birthday, and I really don’t think that a few cakes and a week of special attention is excessive in that case…
 Jacob's 11th Birthday 190
Esther Bolick’s Orange Marmalade cake of Mitford fame. Gramma made it for Jacob’s family birthday dinner and it was delish!

Even with all the extra attention for the birthday honoree, we don’t frequently have those chaotic kid’s parties that include goody bags for the guests, piƱatas, games, etc. We always have a special dinner for the birthday prince or princess with our family on the weekend closest to the actual birthday, but when our first was just a baby we set a limit on the number of “those kinds” of parties we’d have – basically they’re set for what we deem the “milestone” years.

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LEGOs were pretty much the only thing on his birthday wish list. He did well.
Normally, 11 wouldn’t be one of those milestone years, but Jacob opted for dinner with the family for his 10th, so we okayed the idea of having one of “those” kid parties for his 11th. Unfortunately, he came up with this plan just a couple of weeks before the big day… So the challenge before me was to come up with party that was fast and cheap! This is one of my most favorite challenges. Someday maybe I’ll change my blog name to reflect the fact that I like to be fast and cheap… or maybe not… I suspect that would breed a whole new type of reader.
Coming up with a cheap theme for the party is doubly important when your single income family is, at the current time, a no income family. Another important factor would be a wholesome theme that young boys would enjoy. Naturally, LEGO was the way to go. I figured it would be something we could pull off pretty inexpensively since we apparently have the flooring in our home made of LEGOs and most days the kids would choose LEGO's over food or drink. I figured all I had to do was empty the vacuum and we’d be nearly set.
First, the invitations were simple and cheap, and maybe just a touch tacky. It’s not usually my style, but time wasn’t on my side here and text messages were sent to the moms of 5 other known LEGO enthusiasts that would have the freedom to show up at 1 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon. Yet another advantage to homeschooling.
Next, we needed a cake that looked like it was done by a pro, but with a box cake mix price. Score with cupcakes topped with LEGO minifigures. These cupcakes are in fact a box cake mix topped with canned frosting. I almost never use the canned frosting, but time was of the essence here, and I was pretty sure the young lads in attendance wouldn’t be writing any critical articles. And if they did, the minifig topper would overshadow any icing faux pax… I use a Pampered Chef decorator to make the big icing swirls – works like a charm.Jacob's 11th Birthday 200
I purchased the minifig collection on Buying an entire set was more cost effective than purchasing individual minifigs. They were right at $2 for each minifig rather than the usual almost $3.50, plus, each came with accessories and we had lots of leftover new minifigs to use for party game prizes and to add our LEGO collection – which I’m told was severely lacking.
For me, the goody bags are one of the biggest challenges for a kid’s party.  The bags themselves (or sometimes boxes) can be pretty pricey – even $3 or $4 each, and that’s EMPTY. Also, they’re usually filled with useless vacuum fodder that I plot to throw away the first time my kids aren’t looking. We opted to make our own. Actually, Jacob made these almost entirely by himself. We bought a pack of 10 bags at Target and Jacob punched circles from the spare bags we wouldn’t need for guests. We used a Versamark (watermark) pen to write “LEGO” on each circle, then he used a bit of colored chalk to shade the ink and the edges of the circles. He stuck them to the bags with a bit of foam tape to pop them up a bit.

Jacob's 11th Birthday 214

We finished them off with a homemade name tag. I drilled a set of holes in the corner of a LEGO brick with a hand drill I use for working with miniatures and attached a jewelry finding from the craft section at my local big-box demon store. I wrote each guests name with a white paint pen copying the LEGO font as best I could. I thought they turned out okay, but would have been great if they could be a keychain or hook for a backpack. (You can find the LEGO font for free online…)

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To have a well rounded goody bag I think you should have a minimum of  3 items in there, they should all fit the party theme, and at least one of them should be edible. The easiest thing would be to purchase a box of LEGOs and divide them up in little bags, but I  found a set of discontinued party favors for half price on I’d give you the link, but they’ve apparently sold out. You still might find them on other sites, but maybe not at 50% off. This allowed us to put a mini model of either a jeep or a plane in each goody bag with a Legoland coupon and sign up info for a free two-year subscription to LEGO Club Magazine for about $1 each.
Another must for the goody bags was the brick candies. I found the best price on these on I got 2 pounds for $15 and had enough for 9 bags plus a little pre-party tasting. Yes… I sorted the bricks and each bag got the same amount of each size. It seemed like the right (obsessive-compulsive) thing to do. I used leftover mallow pop bags for packaging the candies. (See below).
Our third item was the minifig head marshmallow pops. I found this idea on-line here. They’re just mallows on a sucker stick dipped in yellow candy melts and I used a gourmet food marker to make the faces. That was the absolute hardest part. The markers didn’t perform nearly as I’d hoped they would. Here’s a little step-by-step for you:
  • First, find the roundest mallows in your bag and stand them nicely on your cutting board. Then STAB them with your sucker sticks. You get a nice clean, even hole that way.
  • Next, cut the end (about 3/8 inch) off a mallow and punch a piece for the stud on top of the head with the back end of an icing tip. The sticky side of your “stud” will now perfectly go on top of your mallow on a stick and cover the tiny hole on the top.
  • Be sure you have a place (with plenty of room in between) to put your drying minifig heads. a nice block of Styrofoam works well.
  • My tip for getting a nice smooth head with no drips is to be sure your melts are very melted (reheating when necessary), dip in a narrow, deep container rather than a regular bowl. and use a “plunger-like” up and down action.
  • Let your minifig heads dry at room temperature – speeding it up in the fridge for a few minutes would be okay, but don’t leave them long. The condensation when you take them out will really slow you down with your gourmet marker.
  • When the marker faces are good and dry, bag them (available where you buy the sticks in the cake-decorating aisle) and tie with LEGO colored curling ribbons.
I used my square candle cups (if you don’t have some you need to get some… these are super versatile) filled with pretzel m&m’s to make a table decoration with the “extra” minifig pops. Each guest got to enjoy one at the party received one in their goody bag and most took one home to a sibling.
Jacob's 11th Birthday 207Jacob's 11th Birthday 208

Stay tuned and I’ll tell you about the party games, tablescape and refreshments. You’re on the edge of your little plastic brick seat, aren’t you…

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Beyond Seuss

I’ve always loved reading. Since the days when I would hold my Little Golden books upside down in my lap, pointing at the pictures and making up gibberish, up until just hours before my first child arrived on the scene.

But ever since that first guy got here it seems I haven’t made time for reading like I used to. Except, of course, for the occasional “What to Expect” answer, quick articles in magazines and the actual reading I have done with my children. Certainly there are many other things to blame for this lack of reading time… Television and DVD, the computer, books on tape and CD, and just busyness in general – not just the kids. I guess maybe I just turned my interest elsewhere.

Naturally, at the beginning of a new year, we evaluate what changes or adjustments need to be made in our lives with the offering of a “clean slate” before us. For 2011 I’ve resolved to deepen my relationship with my Savior and to not be shy about sharing what I know about the free gift of salvation with those I come into contact with.  I happen to believe that one of the best ways to solidify my relationship with Christ is by reading. First and foremost, reading Scripture, and then other books that point to Scripture and encourage us to better ourselves. Sometimes these can even be cookbooks or books that advise us how to dress “thinner”.

To rekindle this relationship with books I won’t have to visit a bookstore or even a library – I’ve got quite a collection putting a sway in my shelves and stacked in teetering piles on my bedside table. Don’t be misled… Just because I’ve quit reading doesn’t by any means suggest that I quit buying books. Oh no… quite the contrary. In fact – there have been times that I purchased more than one (or four) copies of the SAME book simply because it came highly recommend, the price was right for sharing. or because I had wanted to embark on the reading adventure with a friend.

So here’s what I pledge to you. I’m going to read more and share more. And when I say, “share more” I mean I’m going to share my books, literally.  When I read a new book I’ll give you a quick review and then, if I have additional copies, or feel like I’m “done” with a book, or can’t remember who I borrowed it from, I’ll do a random drawing from the comments received and send a copy (or more if I have them) to the winner. (Just kidding about the borrowed ones…)

To start, I’m reading two little books written by E.G. White. The first is Happiness For Life. It was first published as Steps to Christ and a bestseller for more than 100 years. Happiness For Life is updated for the twenty-first century reader and my boys will be reading it with me. The second is a bit of a companion book, though it certainly could stand on its own. True Revival: The Church’s Greatest Need. True Revival combines the little book A New Life, (originally published as Revival and Beyond) with several chapters on revival and reformation taken from Selected Messages, book 1. Our church is using this second book as a topic for our mid-week meetings – so we’ll be reading it as a family in the evenings.

There’s a chance that many of you might already own these books. If you do, I invite you to read along with me and we’ll be Happy, Revived and Reformed together Smile. How could that possibly be a bad thing?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

CLEAR! (Here’s to Fresh Starts)

You know... like the ER doc shouts just before he applies the electric shock paddles?

I've just electric shocked my blog back to life.

My husband also shouts "CLEAR" before he starts an airplane up. (Just to be sure there's nobody standing by the prop getting ready to be made into human coleslaw.)

So let's get this baby off the ground again.

It's been a long time (oh... seven or so months - you may or may not have noticed...) since my last significant post here and I've missed it. But I've been tired - Just living life and not taking the time to write about it. But let me remind you... this is my web log of my junque. Just the stuff I want to remember, share, or whatever's on my mind, and there's no grade, paycheck or cash prize, so I can write (or not) whatever and whenever I feel like it.

I've lamented for several months on how to catch you up on what's been happening, I've actually been working on this off and on since last August, but then I always remember - there aren't many readers here and you probably already know what's going on with me because you were probably there in the first place.

At any rate, I finally came up with a plan. I got my inspiration from Facebook. I know... sounds ridiculous, right? (I've been spending way too much time on Facebook – but you should see my Frontier settlement and my high scores on Bejeweled...) but I figured I could give you a list of status updates that will fairly summarize the last half of this past year. By the end of the list, if you're still awake, you'll be fairly caught up and we can move forward. (Sorry. Just deal with it - I call it my "chronological disorder".)

You certainly don't have to read it all – but then you won't know if you're mentioned of not :0) You have my permission to take a few days to get through it, if that's your goal... It does cover 9 months worth of life at my house.

You might want to make a sandwich and grab a drink. This is gonna take awhile…


*Just printed our Disney vouchers for our visit on Tax Day. Woo hoo!

*12 hours in the Magic Kingdom sure feels a lot different after 40 than it did at 12...or even 38, the last time we were there. Oy... my achin' feet. And back. And butt. And pretty much everything else... (But I still wish I could go back tomorrow.)

*So much to do, so little time. I need a clone.

*For Women Only retreat was a blessing and success. I'm exhausted, but it's all good.

*Need to finish unpacking from the last trip so I can pack for the next one.

*8 hours and I'm off for the weekend with "the girls"! Woo hoo... Big D here we come.

*Found out what a "gala" is. Not really all I expected - especially the entertainment. Still a great evening even if dinner wasn't served until 9. Those pats of butter we're looking mighty tempting... Totally shocked and surprised one of my best friends with the "Texas Home School Coalition Leader of the Year" award. 48 hours later and I still don't think she knows what's going on. Oh, what a tangled web we wove. This might take awhile to 'splain.

*Shopping in Canton makes me happy. Even without a lot of money. I've got the greatest girlfriends in the world. Dropped most of my wad in one booth - and then the rest at their brick and mortar store up the road. Bliss.


*Off to get my Gramma at the airport. Yay!!!

*For Women Only follow-up Bible study tonight. Looking forward to it! Great group of ladies participating.

*Thinking of exercising. (Also thinking of making dessert... not dinner - just dessert.)

*First orthodontist visit today for kid #3. Not painful at all thanks to the "professional discount". I wasn't going to mention my history in the dental field. Now I'm glad that I did.

*Note to all my women friends, (feel free to pass along to those that aren't my friends): When you draw your eyebrows on with an eyebrow pencil it LOOKS like you've drawn your eyebrows on with an eyebrow pencil.

*Watching Memorial Day fireworks from the bathroom window - our bank has a Heroes program each year. The F-16 flyover earlier caught me off guard. Good thing I was in the bathroom...

*Yikes. Just realized I graduated from high school 23 years ago today.


*Feeling fortunate that last night's storm didn't do any major damage around here - just some small limbs down and electricity out for about 6 hours. Friends lost huge limbs - I don't envy the clean-up in the heat predicted this weekend.

*(sigh). Not thrilled in the least that my baby has to have 2 teeth extracted today. It's messin' with my mind. Have to be careful not to body check the dental assistant if she isn't up to my standards...

*My baby girl is 8 today. This is all happening WAY too fast!

*Two errands down, one to go. Realized while I was out that I have to be packed for 6 weeks away with the family in a week! Better get to the laundry...

*My husband has finally TOLD me what he would like for a gift - I don't think he's ever done that before... not counting socks or tightie whities. He'd like an iPad for his birthday (and Father's day... and 20th anniversary...) Thanks honey, for making it so easy for this non-paid (not non-working) woman!!!

*Zack accidentally scared a mama deer and she ran off and left her sticky baby, still wet behind the ears, in our back yard. I found this out when he was holding the baby deer in the kitchen. We were gone all afternoon, but 10 hours later the baby is still in the bushes - now in the front yard. I hope its mama finds it soon... (ETA: she did. Thank you, Lord, for instinct.)

*Heading up to the last For Women Only Bible study in about an hour. It's been a great session and I think we'll try to do it again next year.

*Way too much to do and I'm not in the mood. Could someone dangle some chocolate in front of me please?

*Ahhhh! How'm I gonna fit all of this "stuff" in the van and save room for the people too???

*Ah sweet Nuvi. How I have longed for thee... Come along and be my travel companion. We shall cover many a happy mile together. (Happy early birthday honey... sorry it's not an iPad... By the way... I'll be taking your present with me on my trip.)

*Having a great time in Big D with my Scruds. (Scrappin' buds). Feels good to be scrappin' again. Actually getting some pages done from our Disney trip last April.

*Not supposed to be awake yet. Sleep deprivation hang over... where's my Advil?

*Brian flew up to meet me at my scrapping retreat (now ended) with the kids. The kids and I are headed north by van and he's headed another direction by plane. Somehow, two weeks of single parenting doesn't sound like the start of a "vacation" to me.

*7 days without an Internet connection has made me crazy(er). It's good to be back online.

*Having such a great time at "the Lake" with family. Very glad my favorite aunts are here now - the party has started!

*I do NOT like seeing the sun come up on vacation! What is it with this part of the world? The sun is up way too early here - it's been up for an hour already!

*Glad to have the retainer back from the bottom of the lake. Curious that nobody could find it until mom offered a $10 reward. More curious that the one that found it (2 dives later) is the one that lost it in the first place. (No reward was given - $10 was used to avoid the spanking for losing it in the first place.)


*Peace and tranquility. The family is back together and daddy is HERE with us now. It was a long day in the car (3 hours to and from the KC airport) but well worth it. Now, if we can just keep him on VACATION and off the phone(s) and email with customers...

*Ambulance is gone - it's quiet again. Now we wait to hear how my aunt is doing in the ER. Hopefully it's just a badly bruised hip and they'll be home for dinner. First "boating incident" of the holiday weekend and there wasn't even any blood. (ETA - she was okay. Ended up with a VERY tender bone bruise that laid her up pretty good for the rest of the summer).

*Still hearing the occasional BOOM here at a little after 1 a.m. July 5th.

Michaela (right) with 2nd cousin, Danielle. Two little firecrackers.

*Twenty years of wedded bliss. WOW... that was fast!!

*Sweet! Had to bring the children on the anniversary trip - temporarily - they'll hitch a ride back to the lake from KC with one of my wonderful aunts tomorrow evening. We were straight with the hotel and they've upgraded us to a SUITE from the "standard room" since we needed a spot for the kids tonight. LOVE it!

*Cheesecake factory for dinner followed by strolling around the Plaza, some Topsy's cinnamon popcorn and a carriage ride in the tackiest carriage around. This is what happens when you let your 8 year old princess pick the ride.

*Took the kids to Kaleidoscope at Hallmark today. We had a blast creating. I remember going there on field trips when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. Still fun! Loved the tour of Hallmark on their 1ooth anniversary as well.

*Headed down to the hotel restaurant for hubby's birthday (adults only) dinner.

*Woke to some pretty wicked thunderstorms. So much for sleeping in. Last day of the Anniversary/Birthday weekend. Not sure what we'll do as we meander back to the Lake to relieve the best aunts in the world of our kids. I think we'll do City Market and a museum on the way back.

*I'm Facebooking from the Steamboat Arabia. Very cool.

*My fingers are about to fall off. We’ve been scrubbing the walls, knick knacks, cabinets, pictures… EVERYTHING at my Gramma’s place (that’s been shut up all winter) to get rid of the mildew. We did make a lot of progress. It sure beats paying Service Master $15,000 to clean it up. (That’s not dust in the photo…)

*It's amazing – I haven't aged a day and my oldest is now 13.

*For the record, I hate 5 AM 3 hour drive airport runs... and also the 3 hour early morning drive home from the airport... and also when husbands go home from vacation a week before I do leaving me with 3 kids and a dog and a 12 hour drive.

*Last full weekend of vacation – packing and getting ready to head home on Sunday after 5 weeks away. SO glad Brian has found a way to fly back and drive home with us. I'd much rather do the 12 hours in one day rather than spreading it over two days.

*Settled in at the hotel (2 hours from our starting point) for the night. Wasn't the plan but that's the best option after a wreck on the highway. We'll see what we can do to get home in the morning. Praise the Lord, nobody was hurt 'cept for our Honda Odyssey.

*Oy, another night of waiting for the insurance company to decide if the van is totaled or not. Though it looks like we'll be renting a van to go home and come back in two weeks to get ours.

*Attending the Texas Home School Coalition State Convention and Family Conference in Houston. Looking forward to an inspiring weekend.


*Ah – my own bed to sleep in! How sweet it is.

*Cousins (and my sis-in-law) are making their annual summer visit. They’ve already been here a week and thankfully the kids have been getting in some cousin time even though I’ve been away! Yee haw!

*Thinking of visiting the Alamo today with Shari & the cousins. Hope the AC is on in there – it's supposed to be 98 today. (ETA – we did and it was… HOT.)

*Culver’s. YUM.

*Homemade (handpicked by the kids) peach shortcake for breakfast. I dare say it trumps strawberry...

*It really messes with your kid's minds when they find out you know some Hip Hop and used to rock a bikini. Not necessarily the “good” ol' days, but they were days.

*I traded my 2 boys for my sister when we picked up the van back in Joplin. They'll get some good Gramma/Grampa time back at the lake and lots of fishing.

*Seriously missing my boys. Summer's over! It's time to quit fishing and come home (and take out the trash... and empty the cat box...)

*Wow! Just realized that today (Friday, the 13th of August) is the 6th anniversary of hurricane Charley. What a mess that way! Ended up blowing away our jobs and blowing us to Texas. Who knew?

*My chicks are all home! Yay!

*God bless the AC man that shows up early on a Friday morning after a hot and miserable night with little sleep. Lots to do today and company for lunch tomorrow. Thankful that it's cooling down in here.

*I can't think of anything more fun than waiting for refrigerator repair while watching your food thaw. “Between 8 and 5” is a lot longer than you think.

*New fridge delivered before 9 a.m. This morning – fast service. Here's hoping their just as fast at replacing the missing and broken parts and repairing the light/ice/water in the door that is non-functional.


*YES! Three kids enrolled in piano lessons starting next month! Guess we should find a piano now... Minor detail.

*How incredibly lazy am I if I make my kids bring me photos of their clean room so I don't have to get up from my couch to inspect it? Hmmm... they could just be moving things from one side to the other or pulling stuff out from under the bed taking the picture and then putting it back.

*Fridge #2 cooling down now. Just heard the first batch of ice cubes drop. Haven't heard that sound for almost the last 6 years.

*“New” piano is IN the house. God blessed us incredibly. It needs a tiny bit of work (like a good tuning and a paint job) but for less than $100 I can't complain. Lessons start in 3 more days.

*A friend woke me with a text this AM to let me know that an old friend/neighbor/church member died in a single car wreck last night. He's been on my mind all day. You never know when your time is up. Choose CHRIST right now.

*Methinks my baby girl is a tad bit excited about going to Sea World today. She's up an hour (and ten minutes) before her alarm clock and three hours earlier than usual after getting to bed an hour later than usual. I predict a nap for her on the 1-hour ride home. It's going to be a great momma/daughter “date day”.

*Strains of “Lucy & Linus” greet my ears as the kids watch “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” Ahhhh.

*Why oh why did I let my kids talk me into playing one of those ridiculous “ville” games on Facebook?

*It's not often that I walk into my bathroom and find a dozen roses. I rather like it...

*Having a great birthday – THANKS, friends, for all the “wishes”. Woke early (ok... it was 8 this morning...) wondering why my husband didn't' kiss me goodbye, cuz he usually does. It was because he and the kids were making me a giant breakfast. Now the kids are drooling impatiently waiting for me to open the new game they bought me.

*What a great birthday! Thought we were going to Red Robin for dinner with my inlaws but when we got there to pick them up, they (my mom, dad and sis too) had a surprise dinner for me with lots of pretty presents and delish cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory that my mom dressed up with luscious fresh fruit and whipped cream.


*Me: What are you doing?

Her: Getting you some pie.

Me: Oh, that's sweet, honey, but I don't care for any right now.

Her: Can I have some then?

Me: Step away from my birthday pie!!! (Bill Cosby wasn't making this stuff up.)

*Supper is ready to serve at the Revelation Seminar at church tonight. One down, 20 to go.

*Curse you, Teresa Tapp! You and your blasted low impact exercises have me so sore after one 15 minute workout that I can't reach my cookies!

*I think this is some kind of subliminal message... hiding my ice cream behind the weight watchers meals...

*We appreciate you, Pastor Ben! (Let your Pastor know you appreciate his or her ministry. It’s Clergy Appreciation month.

*Tried to blog again today... just having a hard time breaking the silence. Too busy living life to write about it.

*So, I'm reading that you can lose weight by chilling your body. This is great news! Pass the ice cream...


*Ah, the procrastinator's favorite holiday... 25 hour day. And what do we do? Sleep in of course.

*Be patient with slow drivers... You never know who's driving around with a crock-pot full of chili trying not to spill it. (1 more month of making dinner 3 times a week for the Revelation study at church…)

*All packed and ready to hit the road in the early morning. Even packed my blow dryer and brushes – I'll use my back-up set in the morning. Everyone has a back-up blow dryer, right? There's a great weekend of blessings, laughter and learning on the horizon.

*I guess what they say is true... Most accidents happen within miles of your home. 600 miles this weekend and the deer didn't jump in front of my van until about mile 598. Thank you, Lord, for Your protection. Thank you State Farm for the coverage. Six years in Texas and I finally met my first deer at 70 mph. It wasn't pretty...

*Ah, the joys of hosting dinner for 18 in a house that will comfortably seat 10. I'm tempted to start a remodel today but I'll wait.


*Got my fixed Honda Odyssey back from the shop today. $3K+ in repairs with no charge or deductible to me (since it was the deer's fault). My husband comes home and informs me he hit a deer on his way. Thankfully there was no damage this time. He was able to slow down enough that he just knocked it down and it got up and ran off. Those deer are CRAZY! (ETA: Car looks GREAT! Kudos to Kass Auto body… they even changed the cloudy headlight on the other side that had no damage from the deer smack AND fixed the failing power steering pump that the last auto body shop didn’t.)

*Who wants to help build a 3-story dollhouse from the bottom up (including all paint, wallpaper, baseboards, crown molding) before Christmas? Huh? Huh? Who's with me here? Hello...? (tap, tap) Is this thing on?

*Best Christmas ever. (According to the kids.)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours from us and ours!

(Shake, shake, nudge, nudge…)

Wake up… it’s over.

Brace yourself… I think I’m going to start posting more often than every 7 months…

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