Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fourth of July weekend... Camping & Fireworks!

Can you still call it Fourth of July weekend, if the fourth is on a Monday? Hmm...I don't know. But, I've already written the title and it's saved like that, so we're going with it!

Last year during our big family campout, my cousin was telling us about a campground that had camped at earlier in the year. It was small enough that they watched their daughter ride her bike around the entire campground, had a river for fishing and just sounded all-around wonderful. I knew I wanted to go camping there this Summer, especially since we actually had a vehicle we could fit us and camping gear in now (still lovin' our Yukon!).

After checking our schedules, it turned out the only available time we could go between all of our other activities, was the day after our anniversary (nine years, baby!) and the weekend before the fourth.

So, the morning of we headed out early, and made a couple stops for groceries. We had, of course, gotten the address and an idea of where we were headed before we left. Hubby was using the GPS on his phone, so we were set. We wanted to get there kind of early, since this particular campground didn't take reservations (which made this control-freak a little nervous) but after the grocery stop, a potty stop (which luckily occurred at a KFC so we could also get lunch) and two more stops (for roasting forks...oops, nobody was apparently in charge of packing those...! and firewood) it was taking longer than expected And, it was further than we anticipated too... It seemed like we just kept driving and driving, and the kids' “Are we there yet?” from the backseat certainly didn't help!

But, finally we saw the sign for Salmonberry campground (in Alsea, OR)! We pulled in and were impressed immediately. The campground was beautiful, small and cozy and all the tent sites were settled back against the tree line, giving a nice big grassy area to play, sunbathe, etc.
We picked out a site and before we could even get the tent, aka vacation home (our tent is huge) up, Z was already begging to go fishing.

He and Avalee were quickly distracted by a cute, fuzzy little caterpillar, which gave us the time we needed to get set up. ;o)

After getting settled in we headed to the boat dock so Z could get in some fishing.

As I expected, his impatience got the better of him and not much fishing was had.

The kiddos still had lots of fun swimming in the river, digging in the mud and chasing butterflies.
Avalee decided she wanted to try some fishing too.

After we got back to camp, we discovered why we were seeing so many butterflies! This cocoon was huge and full of (probably hundreds!) of caterpillars! I've never seen anything like it, and we were all just fascinated with it!

Dinner that night consisted of roasted sausages, salad and chips.
We decided, in order to save space (since Grandma was coming with) we would leave the grill at home. I was a little nervous that we would be relying on just the campfire, but packed bread and PB&J, just in case. Haha!
Dessert was, of course, s'mores. Unless, you're Avalee and just want the marshmallows!

And, even camping, you still have to get bedtime stories from Daddy!

After Avalee went to bed, Z was "bored" and decided ton put on a show for us with glowsticks (it was much cooler in the dark, but the flash on the camera lit him up). Silly guy!

In the morning, we managed to heat up water over the campfire for hot chocolate, which is a very important aspect of the camping trip. Unfortunately, I forgot cereal bowls, so we had to wing it and use plastic cups...oops!

Then, it was onto our next showers! When it says on the website to bring lots of quarters, you should probably do just that. We kind of put it off, and once we got there realized it was $.25/minute...yikes! Colin and I decided to take kids in together and each take one. It went, eh, okay, but lets just say there was a lot of furious scrubbing going on!

After a nice afternoon of swimming in the river, some more fishing, riding bikes, etc we realized we were getting pretty low on wood. And, since dinner was going to be hobo stew, we decided to go back into town for wood.

After a very interesting interaction at the all-around general store (grocery/hardware/deli...) with the locals, we were told there was no wood available. do you not have wood??
Yet, we somehow found ourselves following one gal to her house where her dad agreed to sell us some of his wood. Sure, enough when we arrived at the (kind) stranger's house, there was a boy outside chopping wood for us! And, we ended up with an entire back end of wood plus kindling. Wow, such service! Love that small town feel!

So, we ended plenty of wood for our hobo strew dinner that night...haha! And, let me just say that was some gooood hobo stew! I remember when we were kids and we made the traditional style, with a hamburger patty, carrots potatoes and onions. I decided to go with something different, so did mine with a chicken breast, sliced red and green bell peppers, onion, potatoes with olive oil and salt/pepper. After they cooked on the coals, I topped it with a slice of swiss...yummm!

After dinner, the kids each found new camping friends to hang out with. Z's was a little boy about a year younger than him, but who was riding without training wheels. This proved fascinating for Z and gave the other boy a bit of the advantage in adventurous riding. Avalee's new little friend happened to be a boy. Ohh, and not just any boy, but a boy wearing cool goggles and wielding a plastic ax. A very manly boy that of course was trying to woo her into eventually marrying him and moving far, far away.

At least, that's what Avalee's Daddy thought...hehe!

We were sad to depart the next day, but vowed to make return trips to this beautiful campground very soon!

Of course, one has to make time for one final cup of hot chocolate. And, how cool is this dude, right??

Little Miss A got her hands on a doughnut!

Since we had discovered on the long ride in that we were only about 30 miles from the coast, we decided to head back that way and take advantage of the beautiful Sunday afternoon.
We ended up stopping at Nye Beach, which is an area we don't often venture, since it's usually further South than we go, but it was a great area.
The only hitch was where we decided to actually go down to the beach. It was a bit of a descent, or so we thought...until we started down. We quickly realized it was almost straight down! It proved to be a little more difficult than we first thought, and let's just say we had Colin go back solo and drive down to the pier to pick us up!

The beach itself was gorgeous and we had perfect weather (perfect weather in Oregon coast terms means little wind, some sun and no rain...haha). We also enjoyed all the rock formations, some of which were perfect photo spots and all the jellyfish.

We spent some time there gathering shells, digging in the sand, chasing birds and being chased by waves, and then decided it was time to head back home.

It was definitely an amazing, much-needed stay-cation and we all went back home happy and relaxed. :o)

The next day was the Fourth of July, of course, and we realized we had no fireworks. Oops! So, we headed off to find a few fireworks to buy, and after visiting a couple different stands finally had some of our favorites. Then, to the store to grab some eats and back home.

After dinner, we headed out to let the kiddos do some snakes (why do they love these so much I'll never know!) and sparklers. Once it got a little darker, we started some of our goodies.

We don't buy too much, because our neighbors always put on quite the display of (illegal) fabulous fireworks all evening (and sometimes the following day) so we don't want to miss out on those. This year was definitely not an exception, and we enjoyed fireworks all evening!

We actually lost track of the time, until Zavion dragged himself over to me and said, “Mom, can we just do my baseball (we always let him get one 'big' fountain as the finale...this year it was a baseball one) because I'm cold and tired.” I checked the time and it was 10PM! Two hours after their bedtime...oops!

So, we did his fountain and took two tired kiddos inside for bed (of course, they fell asleep immediately) and called it an evening.

It was a great evening following a fantastic weekend, and I could hardly believe the end to our little vacation (since our anniversary was the day before camping, Colin had been off for five whole days!) and back to reality the next day! :)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Graduation Party!!

Every year, we usually have to add in at least one wedding or graduation to our busy Summer schedule. With all of my family living in the general area, it always seems like there's one cousin or another graduating, which usually means a party to attend.

Well, this year it happened to be my little sister (and, yes, in case you were wondering there is 15 years difference between us)!

Being the party planning nut that I am, I of course offered to throw her a big graduation party. We also decided since she turned 18 just a few days after graduating, that we'd celebrate that too!

This was definitely one of my favorite parties to throw! I know I say that after every party (haha), but I really enjoyed putting everything together and really staying within my budget here. Also, it wasn't like my usual kids parties or showers where there would be a big theme to tie it all together. I was really just relying on the graduation aspect of it to make everything work.

Thanks to Pinterest I found some really great ideas and combined with some of my own (hey, I do have a few moments of genius myself from time-to-time!) came up with a great plan!

Besides being on a pretty strict budget, I also wanted to try to keep things low-key (hence the lack of theme) because my sister is a pretty low-fuss kind of gal. The one thing I wanted to try incorporating, at least minimally, was an artistic aspect to the party. Mercedes has always been very much into art, loves sketching and drawing, and is even thinking about attending The Art Institute.

So, one of the first things that popped into my mind was a way to use that in a fun way.
I decided instead of a guest book or the now-usual picture with mat frame for guests to sign, I would have them get in touch with their inner artist!

Something I tried doing, since I was on a tight budget, was to use things I already had.

I put together this little sign and added it to a frame ($.99 at IKEA!) I had had for a previous party. I and added some blank notecards my mom had laying around and raided my party favor stash for crayons. I set everything on the gift table for the guests to use, and it turned out perfect! The guests really got into writing, making up limericks and drawing and Mercedes loved all the finished 'pieces.'

I decided to take the art idea one step further, and also decided to add butcher paper to all of the tables for guests to doodle on. I placed little buckets (these were also left over from another party) of crayons out the tables as well. The guests really seemed to enjoy drawing on the tables and Mercedes even took home some of the art after the party.

When I saw the vellum insert that went into her graduation announcements, I knew I had to find a way to use it! I love vellum, and this was basically a free decoration (and free is always welcome!)!
I had a couple green (the school colors were blue and green) picture frames I borrowed from my daughter's room, added that to one and a picture of my sister on graduation day in the other. Then I just scattered other pictures around. It looked great and really tied everything together!

Oh, and the 'M?' I bought it at Michaels for $1 and had planned on modgepodging it to match everything better. Then I forgot about it and found it at about midnight before the party! So, I broke out my trusty double-sided tape and voila!

I also knew I wanted to display a lot of photos of Mercedes through the years and wanted to display them in a unique way. I toyed around with several ideas, but the one that kept coming back to me was the idea of stringing them up somehow. To me, that seemed like a carefree kind of way to show them off, which was what my goal was for the day. :o)

I had seen some different pictures of people doing something similar for other parties, but they usually used a tree to hang a line for the pictures. Since our party was in a public park, I didn't really want to go around stabbing all the trees.
So, after a field trip to Lowes I came up with an idea of using wooden dowels and the hubby said he would make some blocks to screw them into.

In the end, we had to scrap the blocks and just stick the dowels into the ground (thank goodness it rained a few days earlier!), so they could be seen above the tables. Usually these kind of last minute changes stress me out and I end up unhappy with the result, but this turned out perfectly! I really liked how nice they looked without being formal. The only thing that disappointed me was not having enough space for all the pictures I had gathered. I should have bought taller dowels, so we had more space for extra line, but I think all-in-all it looked great!

I tried to keep the decorations kind of simple, especially since I wasn't sure exactly where everything would go with the party being outdoors.

I fell in love with the idea of using paper chains as a party decoration, after seeing it at a party online. And, it seemed like the perfect cost-effective, understated idea I had been trying to go for. So, after raiding my scrapbooking supply, I came up with blue and green cardstock. Then I bought a couple sheets of gold (part of the school colors) to go along with it. I ended up with three paper chains; two were a mixture of the blue and green and one was a solid gold. Once we got out there though, we realized we needed to once again improvise, so my awesome party planning partner, Liz, split them up and hung them from all the tables. It looked great!

I decided to go for a simple banner saying, 'Congrats Mercedes' to hang from the main table. I used a fun background in my Printshop program that looked like notebook paper and backed that with some blue scrapbook paper.

Since the banner was pretty simple, I decided to add some other aspects of the party into the cupcake toppers.
I made two different styles; one went on the mini cupcakes and one on the regular cupcakes.
For the minis, I used a circle stamp I got from Michaels then put a sticker in the middle.

The regular cupcake picks, I used scrapbook paper and printed, 'Class of 2011' and 'Congrats Mercedes' on them then cut them into pennant shapes.

Something pretty simple I also did was to use regular dessert napkins and stamp directly on them. I found a ($1) graduation stamp at Michaels and stamped a graduation hat into the middle of each napkin, then rolled them up with some plasticware inside. I finished them off with a piece of ribbon tied around the middle and they looked really cute (and, a lot of guests complimented me on making them look like diplomas which wasn't even my intention!). I then added some chick peas (got in bulk at my local grocery store for under a dollar) to the bottom of one of my vases, and placed the rolls inside (the chick peas allowed for extra space in the top of my hourglass shaped vase to fit more of the rolls). Super-simple, super-cute and super-cute (less than $5 since I already had the vase, napkins, ribbon and plasticware and just had to purchase the peas, stamp and inkpad)!

And my favorite aspect of the (well, most party...the food!
We really wanted to keep the food simple, so decided to do an open house style from 2-5, in between meal times.

In keeping with the arty theme, I wrote the food labels directly on the butcher paper that covered the tables. This was another original idea I had, and one that I was set on making happen. It looked cute and save some time and effort from having to make labels!

We opted for turkey and ham wraps wraps (did you know Trader Joes has square tortillas?? Perfect for wraps!) with various other fillings. My mom was in charge of them, and they turned out so great!

We also got different chips and dips and had some fresh fruit (strawberries were just picked by us two days earlier!) with dip (we put the fruit dip in the bottom of some mini plastic cups, then added the fruit to the top...they were very popular!).

And, the desserts were the best part...!

I got the inspiration for these fun treats from Bakerella.
These certainly requied a little extra work, but they also turned out better than I expected.  Despite the tediousness, they so were so worth it and ended up being the hit of the party!

I found another fun idea on Pinterest of using pirouhettes with a candy tie around to look like diplomas. These also proved a bit tedious, especially since I had to cut apart the color 'ropes' from the rainbow candy belts (bought at Target in the dollar spot). They also got rave reviews and were gone before I knew it!

And, of course we had the cupcakes plus a birthday cake (Costco) too.

Since the cake was really the only birthday part, I made an outline of '18' in birthday candles then made a mini pennant to go on top of the cake (using TomKat Studio's free printable!)

It was a very successful party and the party girl was happy with the outcome! I was happy that everything turned out how I wanted and I kept myself under budget!

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