Thursday, September 11, 2014

Avalee: Starting a new chapter...

Well, the day finally arrived.  The first day of kindergarten.  Three years ago I took pictures of little itty bitty you with your brother on his first day.  I remember very clearly thinking; “I still have three more years” yet somehow I blinked and my time was up.

Unlike your brother, you hold your emotions closer to the vest.  You are hard to read, although Mama knows when you are worried, nervous, unsure.  When I would ask you if your were excited or even ready for school, you would change the subject or run off to play. 

Deep down I knew you would be ok (nobody drops out of kindergarten, do they?) but I found myself more and more nervous as the months, weeks and inevitable days grew closer.  Would you talk to your teacher?  Talking to adults is a big one for you (we’ve been ‘practicing’ by having you ask for your own cookie in the bakery at the grocery store, ordering your own food at a restaurant…).  Would you make friends or just keep your head down all day?

You have always been reserved and slow to warm up to people.  Mommy has tried to get you to open up a bit and you have, but it’s obvious that you are a bit more introverted (ok a lot) than your big brother. 

But where you hold back socially is where you come alive physically.  You would much rather blaze across the monkey bars, jump off, climb, kick and run than chit chat with your peers.  In that sense you are fearless.  Such an interesting combination!

And, for the last three years, it’s been just the two if us (during school hours anyway) and I have had the pleasure watching you grow and change and progress.  But, still at one point in the days leading up to your first day, I found myself panicking…

“Did I do enough?”  I didn’t teach you a letter a week like I was going to.  We didn’t have daily themed crafts.  I’m sure I let you watch too much TV when I should have been teaching you what a homonym was.  I found myself starting to tear up at how I failed you and how your childhood was so different than your brothers.

After Z started school, I started volunteering in the classroom which kept me away from you during part of the day once a week.  Then I joined the PTC committee which meant being at the school even more and more time away.  And, did we need to go on all those playdates or should I have just stayed home with you?  Then, there was you going off to play with your bestie who lives a couple houses away.  You loved it, but should I have been spending that time with you?

Then, it all came back to me...our adventure walks around the neighborhood, picnics on the carpet in front of the fireplace, endless games of Dora Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, dominoes and puzzles, baking goodies, wrapping Christmas presents, berry picking with Grandma, canning tomatoes. 

And, those playdates?  Well, that always meant special time with you testing out the crafts we were presenting and pre-reading the books we would be reading.  We even had our little pre-playdate routine: I would be prepping crafts and you would set out the plates, cups and napkins then wash off your table and move it into the other room.  Something I took for granted then, but thinking back, it was some of my favorite time with you. 


And, playing with your bestie was even something I wouldn’t have traded, once I thought about it.  Watching you two giggle while painting each other’s nails, the absolute joy on the first day your brother’s (who are best friends as well) went off to kindergarten and you got to have a tea party with no interruptions, watching you ride your bikes down the sidewalk and color up the entire driveway and sidewalk with your chalk creations.  I realize I wasn’t sacrificing time with you, but rather enjoying you in a different way.

And, maybe you did watch more TV then your brother, but snuggling with you on the couch and laughing at how silly Boots could be or singing along to Yo Gabba Gabba is always something I’ll treasure.

Even the mundane things like trips to Target where we would share popcorn and even naptime together which almost always started with snuggles, Eskimo and butterfly kisses and our favorite game of “I love you more than ___” are things I will miss.

You are my baby and I can hardly believe that you are already off to school.  That someone else gets all of you for even part of the day.  That I can’t see your face, watch you color hear you answer questions and see your special smile that you reserve when you are totally happy.

But, you will be okay.  I know you will.  I think about how you practically grew up in that school.  You helped Mama use the die cut machine and stack papers for Z’s teachers,  make posters for the jog-a-thon, stuffed envelopes, helped bag up books for the book fair, put out bingo cards and helped give away prizes.  You’ve already gone to assemblies and been to classroom parties.  You have even had the decent advantage of being a sibling at fun events like field day (which means not only do you have your  run of the place while Mom works, but there’s no limit on sno cones for you or a time limit on the bouncy slide… and, when it’s all over and the kids have to go back to their classrooms, you’re there gathering up the extra water balloons!).
In fact, you already know most of the teachers and staff.  You know every inch of that school and I know for you, that will be a comfort.

I also know you will be ready to get down to business and learn all you can every day.  You are my rule-follower, my responsible and helpful girl.  You listen and do not only what’s needed but even more.  You help unload the dishwasher without me asking, clean up and set the dining room table (again without asking) and put the laundry in the dryer.  You are also our resident caregiver; you make sure that Z doesn’t eat anything with red dye, gets Mommy bandages when I cut myself making dinner and makes sure Daddy gets enough to eat.

You are a lover of all types of creatures from potato bugs (just tonight you were appalled that Daddy was going to squish a spider and instead convinced him to take it outside) to your beloved kitty and go to great measure to love and care for all.  Watching you with animals, bugs and even snakes (I did have to stop you from kissing that garden snake this summer!) makes me proud.  I can see you combining your love of animals with your fearless adventurer spirit and do something just amazing with your life.

Sometimes I look at you and am just overwhelmed with how much I admire you.  You are so strong and independent (even with your reservations interacting with people) and just so fun to be with.  You are fire and ice, but your spunk keeps things interesting!  I think about how much you are like your great-grandma (even looking just like her!) even though you never met her.  Your sometimes stubborn, ornery attitude just makes me chuckle and think about how you must be channeling her sometimes.  You are so smart and quick and I am often amazed at how sharp your wit is.  Your sarcastic quips just keep me grinning!  Mostly, I find myself thinking how lucky I am to get to be your mama!

And, finally the day arrived and you were ready.

You had breakfast (blueberry oatmeal, at your request) then got dressed right away.  You obliged us taking bunches of pictures (your brother got in their first taking pics with his DSi) even though you tried acting like you were above it all.


I could see you were nervous and your mask of bravado didn’t fool me.  But, you walked right in and even marched a couple steps ahead to your classroom.  When we got into your classroom, it was a bit chaotic but you didn’t seem to notice.  You found your desk (next to one of your good friends!) and sat down to color. 

Again you tried to act above it all but I knew you needed some kisses and you didn’t stop me.  I wanted to stay longer, to make a bigger deal but your demeanor said “I’m ok Mom; you can let go.” so I gave you a little hug, a wave and left you there.

Daddy and I walked that ever-familiar path back home and it seemed so surreal that for the first time you weren’t with.  Thinking about how I will now be walking that path back home every day by myself started up some tears.  Who will chase the birds, ask what the gophers under our feet are doing right now (“Are they watching gopher TV, Mama?”  “Are they playing gopher Candyland?”  “Maybe they’re taking gopher bath with LOTS of bubbles!”) or hold my hand when we cross the street?

Two and a half hours went by faster than I thought (maybe because I’ve done it before?) but still I found myself walking a little faster back to the school.

We arrived early for pick up.  In fact, many parents were there early.  I chatted with my friends (your friend’s mamas) but as soon as we saw you guys marching out, all conversation stopped and we all “oohed and aahed” over all of you.   You were toward the end of a very long line and I felt my heart beat a little faster when I didn’t see you right away.  Then, you came strolling out, head up high and lined right up against the wall.  You raised your hand and pointed to Daddy and your teacher sent you off.  You let us hug and kiss you but again acted like it was all no big deal.  I asked you some questions about your day and was happy that you seemed to have a good day but having lunch was much more important (you got to pick and had both Mom and Dad)!

It wasn’t until sometime during lunch that you really opened up.  You told us all kinds of fun details about your day: your teacher gave you each…”you know those little doughnut things Grandma used to get us…ohhh, doughnut holes!” and yours had the MOST sprinkles, you finally learned what this ‘crisscross apple sauce business your brother has been talking about and you got both music AND library (you got to bang a drum in music class and made sure to look through your book about silly gooses to make sure it was right for you before you checked it out) and went down the slide “a lot” on recess.  You played with your friends, helped another friend hang up her backpack (being tall is an advantage sometimes), and even learned some new names.  But, most of all you had FUN.

“So, do you think you’ll go back again tomorrow?”  I teased.

You gave me that look (the look) and came back with “Yea, I think so.” ;o)



Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!!!

Just wanted to wish everyone out there a very Merry Christmas from our family to yours!
Here is the letter we sent our with our Christmas cards this year; just a little update about all of us. :o)

We hope this last year has been good to all of you.
We had a fantastic 2012!
Zavion transitioned from Kindergarten to First Grade, and is doing wonderful. He was recently recommended into the TAG program and we are so proud of him! He has kept busy throughout the year participating in t-ball, swimming, cross country races and now basketball. When he's not doing all of this, he's busy crafting his latest masterpiece, creating a new culinary delight or putting on a play. He's our complex, smartie-pants, guy-on-the-go!
Avalee has been quite busy herself this year. She participated in swimming (moving up after just one class!) and cross country races. She loves to learn and this year has been all about discovery for her. She loves going to 'school' after seeing her big brother off each day, and is happy to practice writing letters, drawing shapes or learning new words. She also loves to read and can often be found with a book (or two or five!) reading to herself. She's our little love-bug, always there to flash her smile, give a hug or kiss or just make you feel better!
Colin and Peggy are busy as usual! Colin continues to work for the State of Oregon as a Systems Analyst and has done quite a bit of traveling promoting his projects. He also coaches Zavion's Little League team as well as serves on the League board.
Peggy is busy being Mom! Between shuttling kiddos to and from activities to helping plan events for the Little League and school, she is a mama-on-the-go. She is also active in the school, both volunteering in the classroom and serving on the board of the PTC.
This year was an exceptionally wonderful year, because in addition to our usual camping adventures, day-trips to the coast and trips to Eugene (GO Ducks!) we also took a fabulous trip to California during the Summer! Peggy's brother was married at Venice Beach and we packed up the whole family (plus Grandma and Grandpa!) and drove to Cali. We all had such a wonderful time! When we weren't helping with the wedding, we were spending some time soaking up the sun at our resort in gorgeous Palm Springs. We all came back very tanned and very relaxed!
Overall, 2012 was a fun, family-filled year and we look forward to what 2013 holds!
~Peggy, Colin
Zavion and Avalee~

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

To the Husbands...

Okay, guys...first off, let me say you're in a safe place here. Really. Now, having said that, let me tell you what you're doing wrong in the Christmas gift giving department.

First off, I know you've been programmed to believe that we, your wives, partners, mothers of your children, etc, need jewelry, fancy chocolates, purses. I know you can't turn on the radio or TV without being bombarded with commercials for Zales or Jarrod. And, on top of that, you hear the other guys in the office talking about the new pair of diamond earrings they bought their wives. You're feelin' the pressure. I get it. But, this feeling is your first mistake. We'll get to this later.

Secondly, you wait until the last possible moment to go shopping. I know right now, you're wondering why the heck your wife even sent you this to read. You're wondering why I'm even talking about buying Christmas presents when you have 40 days left of shopping. You're also wondering if I included Christmas Eve in that and, yes I sure did. You're sitting there thinking you have all the time in the world, and why would anyone even think about buying Christmas gift until at least mid-December. Well, wrong again fellas. Read on.

So, let's start addressing these, we'll call them 'areas of concern.'

I know whenever you've bought your wife jewelry, she's acted genuinely happy. Maybe she even shed a tear or two. And, she probably was happy. But, guess what? She probably would have been happier with the shiny new mixer, vacuum cleaner or even (gasp) a GPS device. Again, I understand that us wives are not supposed to want appliances or useful type things. We're supposed to want to be taken care of and given things to look pretty. But, that's just not reality. We would much rather have that mixer to whip up some delicious chocolate mint brownies or pumpkin whoopie pies or homemade pie crust than those earrings, which, let's face it we'll wear exactly four times (our birthday, anniversary, your boss' wedding and Christmas) throughout the year. It's just not practical. And, a new vacuum would definitely be more useful for getting us ready for our bookclub gals to come over. Sure, that fancy box of chocolates is nice, but knowing that our floor is free of any and all wayward Cheerios, leaving us to have a worry-free evening of discussing Christian Grey and indulging in some wine and brie makes that vacuum a winner in our book.

I know, you're probably shaking your head in disbelief at me and you cannot believe what I'm telling you. You think you are supposed to buy the jewelry and that it's an insult to get us a new teapot or set of pots and pans, right. Well, you've just been brainwashed all these years. See, guys, we are practical. We need practical, we want practical. Our feelings will not be hurt in the least and our pride will not take a hit to get a something we can actually use.

Now, I know there are some women out there who do want the jewelry and would recoil in horror if you gave them a new Cuisinart. But, chances are, if you're reading this, if your wife sent you this, she's not that woman. Just give her the Cusinart.

Now to address your second folly. Guys, why do you wait until that last moment? It just cannot be pleasant fighting all that traffic, fighting for a parking spot at the mall and fighting your way through Sears for the last cashmere sweater (oh, and you know how we tell you we have to exchange it because it's the wrong size... Have you seen us wear it later? Nope, because we were able to get a couple cable knit sweaters and a nice  pair of microfiber gloves with what you spent on one fancy sweater).

I have a better idea for you. Shop earlier. No, I'm not just talking about starting in November. I'm talking about starting in January. I'm going to wait until you come back to consciousness. Are we good? Okay, now really, you can do it. You are going to be able to get gifts easier, quicker and for much less money. And, we love it when you save money. If you tell us that you bought that vacuum with a big ol' rebate, we will tear up. We will hug you. Most importantly we will brag about you on Facebook (you may even get a status update dedicated to you).

So, how to you go about this? Well, first of all, take notes. When your wife mentions something she'd really like or something that would make her life easier, remember that. It may seem silly to you but I guarantee if you present her with a new Crockpot because she mentioned in July how it would be nice to make homemade meals without turning the house into an inferno, you will be her hero. Or, if you get her that composter she' was ogling over in April, she will not forget. So, make mental notes or literally jot things down (your phones have excellent notepads just for that).

And, the great thing about having a running list is that you might just be able to score that perfect gift in, say, August at a screamin' deal. And, you might not even have to leave your house. You could stay on the couch, beer in hand, TV inappropriately high in volume continuing to watch whatever sport is in season. Yep, that's right.

You know those couponing blogs, websites and Facebook pages your wife follows. You can too. Subscribe to the feeds, get the emails and check the Facebook posts. You would be surprised at what kind of deals pop up all the time.
My husband missed out on a cake pop maker for three dollars last year, because he was too prideful to buy it after I'd mentioned seeing it on a blog. Don't let that happen to you. Just subscribe so she doesn't have to nag you.
Many of these sites are very specific and will spell out precisely what you need to do to score a great deal. Take advantage of these deals to buy early, save a bunch and look like a rockstar. Think about how surprised your wife will be when you report in October that you're done with your shopping. You might even get to gloat if she hasn't finished hers yet. You know you'd love to gloat.

And, here's a little extra something. Maybe you don't even need to buy her a gift. Really. Why not make buy her a gift card to her favorite restaurant. Better yet, make her a whole date night package personalized by you. Set up a baby sitter, make reservations for dinner and let her pick out the movie of her choice. A night to eat with both hands, finish a conversation and not have to wipe all the crumbs off the table afterward would, I guarantee, bring a smile to her face. And, it could be anything else she's into. Maybe she's always wanted to go white water rafting, or zip lining or maybe she really wants to hit the slopes. Go with what makes her happy and make it happen. A nice note or handwritten letter will really take it to that extra level.

Also, we know you're not crafty and that the idea of using a glue gun and sparkle paint makes you queasy but do you know who would love to get in on that? The kids. Don't forget about them. When we get gifts from the kiddos that we know you've helped orchestrate, and especially if it's something adorable and homemade, well, let's just say, we're putting down that book. So, take the kids to one of those pottery studios and let them paint something or take them into the craft store and have them pick out some beads to make into a funky keychain. They'll be happy, she'll be happy and you are once again the shining star in this scenario.

So, that's it. See guys, aren't you glad you read this? You still have time to listen, pay attention and get your honey what she really wants. And, if you can do it early and save a buck or two, well everyone wins, right? Good luck, go forth and Merry Christmas!!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

School's Out For The Summer!

Well, we did it! We made it through Kindergarten!
I know you're thinking, 'Wait you weren't in Kindergarten!' but sometimes I felt like I was in the trenches right there alongside my kiddo. Haha!
Last week the Kindergarten kids had a wonderful little program that they had been working on for a couple months. It was just too adorable and so much fun!
Always the performer, ha!
You think he's a little bored? ;o)
Family pic with our little Kindergarten grad!
Z with his two teachers

 I have to say, I am so proud of my big guy for all he accomplished in this school year. While he went in already being able to read and write some, I was amazed that he was reading entire books by the end of the school year. Very cool! And, while we still have a journey ahead of us on this one, he did learn some valuable lessons on time management and staying on task.

Z & his best bud, Samuel in the last day
For me, one of the biggest things I was proud of was the friendships he made and the way he treated others in general. 

I was especially proud of how he was friend to all; it didn't matter if it was a girl or guy, the quiet kid that didn't talk much or another crazy, loud kiddo (like himself!). I saw so many other kiddos stick to their little groups (completely understandable at that age and limited comfort level) but Zavion just put himself out there to everyone. It really made my heart smile!
I also had to think for myself at the end of the year; 'Did I accomplish what I wanted?' I knew before I even had kids that I wanted to be involved in school like my mom was with me and my siblings. I wasn't sure to what extent and if I wanted to jump in there starting so early. But, I decided to volunteer in the classroom weekly (thanks to Grandma for taking my girly on those days!) and was so glad I did! Not only was it a treat to get to see my boy in this new environment, but it also gave me the opportunity to get to know his classmates and teachers. But, really, I was just so excited to get to help all those wonderful kiddos learn to read! I thought volunteering in the classroom meant cutting things, filing, sharpening pencils (which I did as well)...that kind of thing. I had no idea I would get to work with all the kids one-on-one every week helping them learn their letters, sounds and finally reading books. It was really something special and I know I will always remember those little faces lighting up when they realized they already knew that letter or word, or once they finished a book. Priceless!
I also had the amazing pleasure of getting to help with each and every classroom party and go on all the fieldtrips. It was so much fun helping kids pick out pumpkins, reading Valentine's to them and even running a 'station' on field day.
My hubby and I also had the opportunity to go to the Parent Teacher Conference meetings, and it was from that that I ended up as the new Volunteer Coordinator. I hadn't expected or planned on getting quite that involved so early in my kiddo's schooling, but with an empty position and nobody scrambling to fill it, I stepped in. I admit, I am a little nervous but excited too.
So, now Summer looms close and first grade is on the distant horizon. I know the next school year will be full of lots of wonderful things and looking forward to all the wonderful possibilities it holds! :o)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Natl Pie Day!

So, I really didn't intend to do another 'holiday' so quickly, but it really gives me an excuse to share some of my fun pie creations with all of you. Yay! And, again, I just found out it was Natl Pie Day this morning (and on my dad's birthday too...Happy Birthday Dad!) but that won't stop me from throwing something together for you all!
I myself am not a big pie eater (was that gasping I heard?) but my brother is a pie fiend. Like, he prefers pie to birthday cake. Crazy, I think, but hey, it's his party. I've been wanting to gift him pie for his birthday for awhile now, but being as his lives in another state and gifts have to be sent, that just didn't seem very practical. Then, last year, I discovered Our Best Bites (truly one of my favorite food sites!) and their amazing pies-in-a-jar. Aha...that was it! I just knew it! So, for his birthday this year, I whipped these bad boys up.

Cute, right?!

These are SO easy, people.
1) Dough up the inside of your jar. Use your favorite pie crust or just be lazy like me and buy the prepared crusts. Pull off chunks of dough and press them on the bottom of the jar and along the sides. If you want a topper, use the seal part of your lid to cut out a circle from the dough.
2) Make your pie filling. Use prepared pie filling or just make your own! Very easy!

Here is a basic pie recipe (about 1/2C per jar):
2 C prepared fruit (pitted, diced, peeled, etc.)
2 T sugar- brown or white (use more or less depending on sweetness of fruit)
2 T flour-(again, more if your fruit is super juicy like cherries, less if it’s pretty dry)
1 T butter (divided between the pies to go on top of the pies)
Seasonings/flavorings- cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and almond extract, citrus zest etc

3) Fill it up. Add about ½ C filling per jar. Add your topper (cut a couple
vent holes) & crimp it down, or make a basic crumb topping to go on top instead.
Now you can freeze them, bake them or just give them away!
For the pies I sent to my brother, I baked them ahead of time (I didn't want pie
filling sloshing around and didn't want them to partially thaw on the way there).

4)Bake at 375 for about 45 min. From frozen, bake about 50-60 min.

I made blueberry (from our blueberries we picked during Summer!), apple and pumpkin (I just followed basic pumpkin pie recipe and directions, since it's a little different than other pies).
For the blueberry, I made a lattice pie crust, which I think turned out really cute.

The apple pie, I topped with a crumb topping, yum!

The pumpkin, I obviously just left alone (and this one won't need the pat of butter on top, either).

These were so much fun to make and so easy, that I decided they would make fun Christmas gifts for my son's Kindergarten teachers! He helped me make each of them an apple pie (what's more appropriate for a teacher right?) then we added some cute labels and put each one into a little gift bag. They were so impressed (one teacher had to be convinced it wasn't a candle, haha) and excited. Now, for those, I just gave them un-cooked and un-frozen and left it up to them to decide what they wanted to do. I also made a couple up for my grandma for Christmas, but froze those first. She received, blueberry, blackberry and apple.

Another fun pie idea that I did last year on Pi Day (yep, house full of geeks here, hehe) is to make pie pops!

I didn't follow any specific recipe here; just cut the pie crusts with my 3” circle cookie cutter, added about 1T pie filling (careful not to overdo it or these guys will get messy fast!) pressed a lollipop stick into the dough, then put another circle on top and crimped it down. I brushed some melted butter on, then sprinkled some sugar and voila, pie pops! After they cooled down, we added a dollop of whipped cream and they were ready!

These were a big hit with the family!

And, these little cuties came courtesy of a friend's borrowed pie maker (and,
now I have my own...thanks Mom!).

Since my daughter’s birthday party was horse themed, I thought mini pies would go along perfectly with the kind of rustic-ness of it. I decided to just swap out pies for cupcakes and loved the outcome!

And, for a regular ol' pie, this is my absolute most favorite; Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie.

I make this every year for Thanksgiving and try to find any excuse to make other times of the year too. It is so rich and gooey; the perfect pie in my eyes! :)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

20 milk chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 (5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 3/4 cups milk
1 (9 inch) pie shell, baked (I use the ready-made chocolate cookie pie crust)


Melt the chocolate with the whipping cream. Stir until smooth, and spread evenly over the bottom of the pie shell. Refrigerate until ready to fill; chocolate should be firm before filling.
Put the dry pudding mix and peanut butter in a heavy saucepan. Over low heat, gradually stir in the milk using a wire whisk. Stir constantly until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Cool for 15 minutes, stirring often. Pour peanut butter filling into crust. Chill several hours.
Top with whipped topping and garnish with chopped peanuts, Hershey's Kisses, Peanut Butter Cups or Reeses, if desired.

And, here are a few of my favorite pie recipes I've seen around...

This brownie pie looks so yummy!

And, how about this Grownup Pumpkin Pie Milkshake. Yes, one here, please!

Check out these mini S'mores pies! These would be so much fun for a Summertime treat, or even a fun dessert for indoor camping night (we have these every so often and they are quite popular for the kiddos-not so much the adults with bad backs though, hehe).

And, last but not least; these lattice pie cookies makes my heart go pitter pat! They are incredibly adorable and pretty simple. What a 'wow' factor they would be for a fun girls day!

So, how are you celebrating Pie Day? :)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Happy Natl. Popcorn Day!

Okay, I really just discovered it was Natl Popcorn Day about ten minutes ago on Facebook, haha. But, that doesn’t mean there isn't time to celebrate it still!

And, who doesn't love popcorn?! Popcorn is awesome; it's buttery, salty, fluffy. It's the perfect movie food, of course, but also great for kids snacks, and even parties.

I made these fun cones for my son's 5th birthday party; it was a monster theme so I used monster scrapbook paper then filled with green-tinted caramel corn. Yum and fun!

My mom made these adorable mini popcorn ball pops for my daughter's last birthday!

Of course, a personal favorite of ours is to grab a bag while we're shopping at Target. No better bribe to get your kiddos to behave than the promise of Target popcorn, hehe!

In honor of Natl Popcorn Day, I thought I'd share some of the amazing popcorn recipes I've seen on Pinterest and my all-time favorite, personal caramel corn recipe.

Check out this amazing white-chocolate popcorn recipe for a baby shower!

And how about this amazing popcorn cake. Yes, I said cake! How great would this be foe that popcorn lover?!

This white chocolate peppermint popcorn from Our Best Bites is amazing! I actually made some myself for Christmas presents, and it was very well received. :0)


Instead of boring ol' cupcakes at your next party, try these adorable popcorn cupcakes!

And, this one is mine. My take on Harry and David's Moose Munch.

I use my basic caramel corn recipe, which produces THE best caramel corn ever, and spruce it up a little.

Caramel Corn


7 quarts plain popped popcorn (about two 3.5oz bags of microwave popcorn)
2 cups dry roasted peanuts (optional)
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1) Place the popped popcorn into two shallow greased baking pans (I use my turkey roaster pan). Add the peanuts to the popped corn if using. Set aside.
2) Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, margarine and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring enough to blend. Once the mixture begins to boil, boil for 5 minutes while stirring constantly.
3) Remove from the heat, and stir in the baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will be light and foamy. Immediately pour over the popcorn in the pans, and stir to coat. Don't worry too much at this point about getting all of the corn coated.
4) Bake for 1 hour, removing the pans, and giving them each a good stir every 15 minutes (use a long wooden spoon). Line the counter top with waxed paper. Dump the corn out onto the waxed paper and separate the pieces. Allow to cool completely, then store in airtight containers or resealable bags.

To make it into Moose Munch, just separate out some popcorn (use the big clumps) and dip in melted chocolate. Do the same with peanuts, then mix both in with the caramel corn. Voila...instant Moose Munch! Yum!

I hope you enjoy Natl Popcorn Day!! :o)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Horsie Party. All About the Details...

As I said in my previous post, my little girl was just so excited about her horsie party, I just knew I couldn't let her down! As with all my parties, the planning process starts very early. With her birthday party this year, the theme was probably changed more than I have for any other party. I was definitely set on a candy theme then changed it to a 'Sugar Plum Fairy' theme but nothing just seemed right. Finally I realized what it was. I wasn't taking Avalee into consideration; I was just doing the party I wanted. I hadn't really run into this as much with Zavion's parties, and I don't know why I was having such a hard tome with hers. I decided I needed to ask her what she really wanted. Now, I know you are laughing right now. Ask a two year old what they want for a birthday party?? You must be crazy! But, you will find that kids, even that young, have a strong opinion of what they want. And, sure enough, I no sooner asked her than she blurted out, “I want a horsie party!”

See, my little lady has loved horses every since I cam remember. We have two horses that live at the end of the street, and she practically adopted them as her own.

And, then there was getting to ride a horsie at her cousin's birthday party that I think really sealed the deal for her. ;)

So, a horsie party it was. One of the first things I do with any party, is research. I love immersing myself in everything related to my theme and just letting ideas, big and tiny, come to me. When I looked up horse/pony parties I found most had to do with farm, cowgirl or farm animals. They all had a very country feel to them, which is just not us at all. I knew I wanted something a  little more modern, a little more glam.

I started out with the invitations. I saw this adorable idea on Pinterest months ago and when the theme was picked, knew it would fit perfectly!
I bought a piece of wood from Michaels (the same one used here for Zavion's Kindergarten photos) and painted it with chalkboard paint. Avalee and I raided her wardrobe and came up with the cutest outfit which she added lots of jewelry too to make it even cuter! Then I brought in the big mom's old rocking horse! This horse was made for my mom by her grandfather (my great-grandfather, Avalee's get the point) and has been passed down the line of kids. I have very fond memories of just rocking away on that horse when I was a kid. Avalee already loves it, so was very willing to hop on and give me a little photo shoot. She did amazing (seriously, any agencies want to sign my kid??) and the photos turned out awesome. I picked my favorite (hard to do!) and printed them off then added the party info to the back.

I also used one for an electronic invite for all our friends on Facebook (big money-saver there; fewer invites to print, fewer envelopes, stamps).

For the planning stage, I set up my usual list:

One of the first things I do when thinking of decorations, is to assign a color scheme. Even though I always have a theme, I find it really helps solidify things if you have colors picked out. I think it also helps get everything organized; once I pick my colors, I can go to the craft store and buy the appropriate shades/patterns of paper (or in the case of this party, I was able to just raid my growing collection of scrapbook papers, leaving me to only have to buy a few sheets of paper!). For this party, I decided on a purple (Avalee's favorite color) and brown/black color scheme. I wanted it to look girly, but also modern and simple.
And,obviously, the decorations would consist largely of horses. I decided I really wanted a garland of just horses to go in front of the mantle. Using my Cricut, I cut out horse after horse and spent hours assembling. As I was working on the garland, inspiration struck and I thought it might look really cute to add tutus on some of the horses. Using my cache of tulle, I just cut tiny pieces and stuck them on the back ends of the horses, using glue dots (a must-have for any crafter!). I tried to tuck some under others, so they fluffed up a bit and when I was done I cut some more strips in them. I loved the way they turned out but didn't love the time-consuming aspect so decided to just alternate them on the horses, adding them only to the black horses.

They ended up turning out very adorable and got a huge nod of approval from my soon-to-be-three year old (who actually 'helped' with a couple)!

For the birthday banner, I knew I was going to use some fabulous paper I had found at Michaels. It was purple wood grain and couldn't have been a more perfect fit for the theme. I was trying to figure out what I would do with it, when I had another moment of inspiration. I had been working on a Thanksgiving banner, using a free printable from this site. I had fallen in love with the shape of the banner, but unfortunately my printer ran out of ink about halfway through printing. I never got my cartridge replaced, so was left with the pieces of the banner I had already cut out, on brown textured cardstock. Just for fun, I put the purple paper on top of the other piece and instant magic! The banner had this inside border that I knew I could use to layer the purple on top of. I just printed out more of what I needed, cut them out and using a piece of vellum, I traced the inside border then cut that out and used it to cut all my purple paper. I know, it sounds like a lot of work but since I already had about a quarter of the banner cut out, it wasn't too bad. For the letter, I just used some purple sparkly paper I already had and let my Cricut do all the work there for me. I added some glue dots to everything, assembled, strung it up on jute (another must have crafting item!) and done. I also cut out a couple of big horses, the same as the garland, in the same purple and had them on each side of the banner.

I loved how it turned out and I think it is my favorite birthday banner of all time, so far. :)

Another element I knew I really wanted to incorporate into the party d├ęcor was hay. It was one of the few rustic elements I used, but even glam horses need hay, right? ;) I saw some large bales of straw at Michaels before Halloween and decided to patiently wait for them to go on clearance. In the meantime, I found some of the smaller bales of straw in the floral department I just knew I had to have! I got the next size down the the big guy to use on the mantle and the next size down from those to use on the food table (more on that later). I put the medium straw bale in the middle of the mantle and decided to add some pictures around it. I raided Avalee's room (remember, sometimes this is the best way to find decorations...look before buying!) and found the prefect purple frame. A trip to Walmart garnered me two more frames; the perfect complimentary brown and under $2 each. Then, a quick search and I found a few of my favorite Avalee photos and sent them off to Costco (another quick and easy decoration; photos, photos, photos! They're cheap, easy and very personal!). I played around with the arrangement a bit, and decided to add my most fave pic on top of the straw bale. I used the purple frame for this and the brown frames next to the bale, to offset a bit. I thought it would be cute to use the chalkboard I used for the invitations, and it fit perfectly against the straw bale. Next to those I added a couple horses that my little sister handed down to Avalee (again...totally free!).

I knew I wanted something else, so searched my house and found my stash of couple mason jars (the kids have been chowing their way through our homemade pickles!). I decided those would be cute on each end of the mantle with some flowers. Trader Joes had some beautiful bouquets with purple flowers for only $3.99, so I was set on that. I then added some submersible lights and some water beads (I picked out all the purple ones from a bunch Zavion got for his birthday) and a big 'A' to one and '3' to another (cut out with my Cricut and backed with a cereal box for support, haha).

Underneath the horse garland, across the front of the mantle, I added a banner using pictures from Avalee's invitation photo shoot. This was one of those last-minute additions (and I was literally throwing it together at about 1AM the day of the party) but it came together pretty quickly and easily.

My hubby and I brainstormed (and by that, I mean he talked me down from my big, no-way-it's-gonna-get-done idea, hehe) for something to go above the mantle and decided on this.

I was going to put the entire horse verse, but my hubby convinced me this was not very sensible. He sometimes has a point (he won't read this, so don't anybody go telling him I almost said he was right). This ended up being a very quick and easy decoration, and again, since I used what I had, free. I covered the frame in the kids' craft paper then cut out the letters on the Cricut and glued them on. As Zavion would say, “Easy peasey lemon squeezy.” ;)

In my entry ways, I added some simple balloons in the party colors (purple and brown polka dotted). I already have hooks up there (just the 3M type, but they were added for a party years ago and when we repainted, I just painted over them, so you can't even really see them anymore) so it was quick and easy.

For my door sign (you may remember this from other posts, but I always put up a 'welcome' sign on the door. I think it's something nice for the guests and sets an expectation for the party), I used the Cricut to cut out a barn then added the wording to the top. I had plans to have a little picture of Avalee peeking out from the barn window but didn't get around to it.
I just noticed I have no pictures of the door sign...oops! I really need to hire a photographer for my parties!

For my food table, I again incorporated some things I already had. I used a toy barn and horse stables that used to be Zavion's and a few more horses. The small bales of straw were used to hold mini popcorn balls on a stick (thanks, Mom for making those!). I wrapped a strip of tulle around each one to give it more of that glam feel. On each end of the table I hung some latex balloons and one adorable mylar balloon. I love the look and ease of balloons! In this case, I found some adorable latex balloons that had horses printed on them. They were even the perfect color (not really any pictures of those either. Darn...where was my photographer??).

For the food, I made mini macaroni and cheese bites (found these on Pinterest and they were a huge hit!), a veggie tray and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (I used my Pampered Chef sandwich sealer to cut them). We also had the mini popcorn balls.

And instead of cupcakes I made mini pies (big, big thanks to my friend Brittanie at Cupcakes Kisses 'n' Crumbs for loaning me her pie-maker!)!

I also added this sign next to the pies. I made it in about 10 seconds on a site that lets you generate your own 'Keep Calm...' signs. Made it, saved it and sent it onto Costco with the other party pics. I loved how it looked and it added a nice bit of whimsy.

The birthday cake was a one-of-a-kind creation by your truly, hehe. Now, I will say I can bake pretty well and can make pretty things, but when it comes to cake decorating it's always a big fail! This time however, I was pretty proud of myself. I used more pieces of that farm set, including a horse (actually her favorite one that has a permanent home on her dresser), fence and food trough. I added some actual oats to the trough (which I think all of one person noticed, but it made me happy) and a couple little hay bales in front of the fence.

Since the toys took of most of the cake, I decided to make a cake banner (which, really, is one of my new favorite ways to jazz up a cake) by cutting diamond pieces (using that same purple woodgrain paper) and adding some purple sparkly letters (Halloween clearance at Michaels!) and stringing it on more jute.

It was supposed to say 'Happy Birthday Avalee' but I ran out of room for her name, haha.

When Avalee first said she wanted a horsie party, the first party activity I thought of was a old fashioned hay hunt. I used to love hunting for pennies in the hay at our town's annual festival, and it seemed like the perfect activity. However, it seemed like a daunting task to bring hay inside (December in Oregon=no outside activities). Then, it occurred to me that we could use the kids' sandbox! I bought a bunch of those larger bales of straw (they ended up going on clearance for $2! Let's just say we ended up with much more than we needed, haha!) and dumped it in in the sandbox that was set up in the living room. I added some mini horse toys and lots of pennies.
The kids went in a couple at a time, according to age, to hunt for their treasures. It was pretty fun and cute to watch them digging around!

The birthday girl and her bff went in first...

It became a kind of free-for-all!

I'm not sure I'll get any of the moms to bring back their kiddos to the next party though, after they ended up taking home a bunch of straw!

And, I always try to include at least one craft activity so the kids can take hone something with them. I decided on hobby horses for this one.

I knew it would have to be something simple, for all the various aged kids. I used a template of a horse head (just Googled it) and traced it (over and over!) onto white cardstock then cut them out. I also gathered up a bunch of cardboard wrapping tubes (thanks to everyone who donated!) for the stick part of the horse. I gave the kids crayons, stickers, jewels ad yarn (for the manes) to decorate their horsies. When they finished, we (adults) stapled the heads to the tubes.
They turned out great and the kids seemed to really enjoy making them!

The party girl with her finished hobby horse.

I also had some horse masks the kids could color and decorate, but I think only one kid actually did (the hobby horses took up a lot of time), lol.

I went very light on party favors, since the kids were already taking home their horses and the prizes they found from the hay hunt. I made up some trail mix (hit up the bulk section of my grocery store for all the ingredients and put it together myself), put about a cup each in cellophane bags and tied it with a ribbon.

And, there you have it! I think this was one of the least expensive parties I have thrown (I don't have any exact figures, but definitely under $100, maybe close to $50) but I didn't have to sacrifice anything.

Again, here are some of my party-planning money-saving tips:

Use what you have! You might be surprised at what you have laying around that would be perfect for your party. If you are a scrapbooker or crafter, you may have all the paper, stickers, glue, etc you need. You really can save a ton by simply checking your supplies first!

Decorate simply! You don't have to spend a fortune to make your party look nice. One of my favorite decorations are pictures. Pick out some faves and send them to your favorite printer (I like Costco, because they're cheap and fast) And, I guarantee everyone loves looking at pictures of the party gal or guy! Use two, 20 or 200; make them into a banner, put them in frames, make some posters. Be creative!

Make your own! You don't have to spend a fortune at the party store (do you know what I bought at the party store? The balloons and some clearance napkins. That's it.) buying all kids of decorations. Get out your scissors, tape and paper and make your own. Even if you don't have a Cricut, you can still make some great stuff (but, maybe check around, because you might have a friend who does have a Cricut you can borrow or even trade services!) by hand or using your computer. Raid your kids' coloring books and reading books for pictures you can use. The decorations are so much more personal when they're done with love, by hand. And, of course cheaper!

Do it at home! It really is so much cheaper to host a party in your own home. Renting a place is expensive, plus you usually have to add food into that too (pizza, etc). You can also control everything much better in your own environment. If you can have it at home, do it!

And, finally a word to those people who scoff at my attention to detail when it comes to planning my kids' parties. People will often hint, or downright say, that I'm going overboard. They say it's silly to plan parties like this for kids because they can't remember them later or that they really couldn't care less. To them I say, look at my girl.

She is happy. That's it. It's all that matters to me.
I don't spend a fortune on my parties, and in fact, I've just shown how you can save money. I do put a lot of time into them, but I also put a lot of love too. It's personal to me and I consider my kids in every aspect of my planning (from how may people to invite so they don't get overwhelmed to food appropriate to eat for them and their similar-aged friends).

Will she remember her 3rd horsie party in five, ten, 25 years? Probably not. But, she can look back on those pictures and say, “Wow, I looked really happy. I looked like I was having fun.” And, I'll tell her, “You were. You did.” :)

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