good week

It’s been a good week around here, and it feels good to get back to normal after last week.  It seems like every single week day brings some kind of milestone lately. This week was no exception with someone’s 15 month check-up.

365.227  15 month check up!

He was mobile as ever and all over the pediatrician’s office, but he also got super shy and buried his little face in my chest when she came in.  It’s this new behavior he does a lot lately, and it really makes him seem older.  How does he know to be shy around strangers?  It’s evidence that the baby is drifting away and the toddler is here for sure. He’s almost 25 pounds and just over 32 inches which puts his weight right in the middle and his height at the 90th percentile.   Next month also marks one whole year since we’ve visited the pediatrician for anything other than a well-visit!  There hasn’t been an antibiotic in this house at all, and I know that is part luck, but he does love his green veggies and had mama’s milk for a long time, so I know that helps us, too.  God knows we’ve passed various bugs around the house and he’s played with some sick playmates and cousins without getting anything, and I really hope this health streak continues through the cold months.

Another milestone?  Guess who finished her first ever knitting project?

365.229  first finished knit EVER

Luckily some patterns out there are super fast and hide newbie mistakes. All in all, I actually enjoyed it. A history of knitting and me:  I taught myself from a book just as I was starting graduate school eight years ago.  It probably wasn’t the best time to start something that requires patience, and I began with a scarf which took soooooooo long, so I decided I hated knitting.  I wanted to give it another try though, so this year for Christmas, I have knitting classes as a gift.  (First and foremost, it’s nice to be out of the house and on my own and learning something new.)  As it turns out, I am liking it for other reasons, too.  Sewing is abandoned lately since I have to banish myself to another room for it, but I love that I can sit next to Scott and knit away while still hanging out with my boys.  Bonus:  I think I will actually wear this cowl.  I’m excited to try some other projects soon.

On the food front, I’ve tried some new things, too.  I got a really great cookbook recently that I love.  There’s a whole chapter on breakfast-for-dinner, and it suggested pairing garlicky swiss chard with eggs and grits.  And y’all it is the perfect dinner with the husband is away and I am on my own.
<untitled> 827This is sort of a crappy photo, but I couldn’t manage to try another one and wanted to dive in.  It’s becoming a favorite of mine, and of course I add a dollop of heavy cream and a pat of butter to the grits because, I confess, I like my food as sinful as possible.

Speaking of confessions, I sort of like hamburger helper, too.  I know it’s low-brow and out-of-fashion, but for real, I do.  It’s done in one skillet, it’s inexpensive, and sometimes it just hits the spot.  When we gave up all processed foods and packaged seasonings a year ago, I really started to want some quick comfort food back in my life, and I found a few beef and noodle skillet recipes online that were so-so, and I’ve adapted it over time.

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Beef & Mushroom Noodles (“real food” Hamburger Helper)

1/2 pound ground beef (We use grass-fed ground sirloin, but you could use ground chuck or even ground turkey.)

1 large onion, sliced

2 cloves of garlic (less if you are not as garlic-crazed as I am)

8 oz sliced mushrooms

3 tablespoons butter

3 cups of egg noodles

beef broth – I start with about 2 cups and add more as it needs it and the noodles are cooking.  You can add a little water as well.

Brown the ground beef until done add onions and garlic and cook until the onions are done as well.  Drain it, and set it aside.   Using the already dirty pan, (less dishes, yay!) melt butter and add flour to stir until you have a roux.  Now pour in the the beef broth and use a whisk to get rid of the lumps.  Put the beef mixture back in the pan, and add mushrooms and noodles.  Simmer until the noodles are done, and keep checking to see if you need to add more water / broth.  It usually takes about 15 minutes to finish this up.  Add salt and pepper as you want, and you’re done!

When it’s cold outside, it’s exactly what I want.  I know someone else who likes it, too.

So that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to.  A little crafting, a little cooking, and also a lot of reading.  (Why am I so late to get on the train for Philippa Gregory?)  I hope your week has been great, and you’re staying warm.

weekend journal

I can’t believe we are less than two weeks away from Thanksgiving.  We just sat down and did half of our Christmas shopping from the sofa…. Thank you, internet.  I can’t wait to see someone’s smile on Christmas morning.  We are already indulging in things in a typical holiday way around here. Scott received some promising work news on Friday, and we celebrated with a sushi night where I ordered Jude his own little kid’s plate which still cracks me up every time we do it.   He shoveled the teriyaki chicken and rice to his mouth faster than either of us could finish the colorful sushi rolls in front of us.  My little pig.

He’s such a mama’s boy lately.  Clinging to my leg or whine-whine-whining that I pick him up.  Loading the dishwasher took close to an hour this morning as I’d only get in maybe three pieces and couldn’t stand the whining anymore so I’d pick him up to shush or to play or to read for a minute before trying again to accomplish the same simple task.  But these days are short, I tell myself.  Mama’s boy won’t be whining and clinging when he turns 16, so for now I’ll take it and drink it in for what its worth.  Which is a lot actually.

Saturday was the Georgia / Auburn game which is quite the rivalry around here with graduates of both in the family, so we carried on the usual festivities. Scott’s family brought the barbecue and dessert, and I might have gotten a little carried away with the side dishes around here. Roasted onion, mashed potatoes, peas, yeast rolls, collards, and homemade macaroni and cheese.

Grandmother's beautiful, home-canned peas

It’s so easy for my kitchen endeavors to get out of control.  I don’t always love being from the south, but in the kitchen I do. This book is my Bible, by the way.  I challenge you to not take a second bite of any recipe in here.  Gorgeous photos, delicious food.

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In the midst of meal planning and simmering and mashing and baking, we rediscovered the playground in my neighborhood on Saturday morning. I’ve lived here for over three years, and I completely neglected to realize that my boy was old enough to enjoy it.  We packed the baby in his little fleece sleeper and enjoyed the mild fall weather.  Something tells me we will be back here.  Often.

For the record, I believe “we” lost the game. But I didn’t really care. My women’s college self has absolutely no interest in football.  I know someone else who didn’t care either.

Loving every minute of this clingy, clumsy, smiley stage of new things and places to discover.  Happy boy, happy mama.  Happy Sunday!

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one of many reasons my son will need therapy one day

I’ve been posting a lot lately gabbing on and on about the things I love about fall.  And this might be the very best part about cooler temperatures these days.

How sweet are these?  Baby legwarmers.

I used them all the time last year during Jude’s tiny baby days, and I thought I would give them up this year since they are, ahem, a little feminine.  But really?  Girls wear camo and people think it’s cute, so I’ll ride this current as long as I can – that is to say until he is old enough to tell me mama, take these off.  I look ridiculous.

The charm of overflowing leg chub is undeniable but it’s not just that.  They are really convenient, too.  Diaper changes are essentially wrestling matches these days, and no pants to remove is one less step. Which of course means he can get back to fun stuff.  Like chasing the dogs.  Or finding and eating week-old cheerios on the floor.  Or getting stuck between pieces of furniture.

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This post is linked to Things I Love Thursdays over at The Diaper Diaries. Go see what everyone else is loving this week!

Halloween

Someone wasn’t so sure about Halloween this year.

But can you blame him?  It’s a lot of work when you can’t even really eat the candy. He was a cute little zebra anyway, and after we returned from the brief door-to-door routine, he was happy to get in his pj’s and answer the door for fellow trick-or-treaters.  The costume was on for maybe 20 minutes total, but we managed to get a few photos.

and by the way, he REFUSES to put anything on his head. anything.

Truth be told, I felt like crying as well. Because last year?  Last year, he looked like this.


Sigh.  His playing and “reading” and walking and his babbling attempts at talking and the occasional temper tantrums are all reminding me that we are sailing away from baby land soon and into the toddler zone. Good news?  Christmas will be so much fun, and I’m unbelievably excited about the holidays around the corner. Turkey and more turkey and pumpkin everything and cookies and Christmas carols and hanging stockings and lights and Santa and gift wrapping and hot cider……  He’ll only half get it this year, but memories will be made for his parents who were too dazed and sleep-deprived last year to even notice the date on the calendar.  Happy things ahead. Happy November, reader!

Carnival Birthday Party: Details and Decorations

It’s my last post about the birthday party; I promise.  Now for my favorite part of it: the details and decorations.  This part was SO MUCH FUN to complete.  Let me begin by revealing that I am really not the most creative person I know. I am simply good at stealing someone’s ideas and adding my own thing to it a little, and all of these little crafts are something anyone can do. So easy.

One simple thing was the sign near our mailbox that greeted guests as they arrived.  I actually made three signs but only managed to take a photo of one.  We live on a hill and our driveway is long and steep, so this one was at the bottom near the mailbox.
yard sign
As guests made their way up, there was one that said “Step Right Up” and further on, there was one that said “Almost There” because you sort of need a cheerleader to make it up our driveway.  We tied bright balloons to some of the signs and to the front porch, and I hope it set the tone for guests before they even entered the party.  Once they came inside, our guests saw this table in the foyer.

favors and guest book

I placed the favors here next to a book I ordered from Amazon that worked with the circus theme and could be signed by the guests as they left.  I know Jude will appreciate it one day as he reads the sweet messages left by all of our friends and family who celebrated with us.  For the favors, I used Oriental Trading Company for all of it.  Each bag contained some candy, a clown nose, some carnival-themed stickers, some circus-themed temporary tattoos, and a small box of crayons, so all of the kids at the party could leave with something fun.  I designed the little labels using my scrapbook program, and you can have a closer look at them by looking at this earlier post.

I also made a high chair banner using the free circus font I found online.  I simply cut circles and glued them to bright cardstock and then tied it all together.  Super simple but helped to bring the theme together.

high chair

Now for the bigger things.  I sewed A LOT of bright party pennants that we hung everywhere.  I sort of forgot to take photos of them, but you can see them here behind the table.
table details

I used cloth rather than paper so that I can easily reuse them in the years to come.  I figure boys are always having parties that use some combination of primary colors, so if we do trains or cars or superheroes or dinosaurs or whatever in the future, I can always use these flags and maybe just sew a couple of new ones to add to the mix and bring in something fresh.  If you don’t sew, you could use heat n’ bond or something and make the flags that way.

I also made a birthday onesie I’ve already written about in an earlier post. I used the leftover material I had from the flags, added a little freezer-paper stenciling, and sewed it to a onesie I found for $4 at Target. Birthday Boy looked so perfect in it.  He’ll continue to wear it this fall, I’m sure.

toy train
It's my birthday, and I love my new toy train!

Lastly, my favorite part of the party was the photo booth. It was incredibly simple and served as some great entertainment.  I simply used blue fabric as a background and strung some party pennants and lights over it.  I spent about $5 at the dollar store to buy  various funky Halloween type dress up things – a large tie, funny glasses, a feather boa, etc.  I also tossed a few clown noses in there and placed some balloons next to it so it looked bright and circus-like.  This photo booth idea could be great for all sorts of parties though.  I can totally imagine it with a fairy or princess theme for little girls with a pink background and wands and tiaras.  Or even an adult holiday party with a Christmas-y background.  So.  Much. Fun. In fact, my new problem will be avoiding the urge to have a photo booth at all my parties.

photo booth

As excited as I was, I honestly wasn’t sure how this would go over because sometimes the things you are most excited about are not so loved by other people, you know?  In the end, I think some of our guests did love it after all.  I hope to print out some photos and mail them with the thank you notes so guests can remember fun times.

So that’s it!  I think I’ve told you almost everything I can about our circus birthday party.  Feel free to recycle these ideas for yourself, and I hope you have as much fun party planning as I did.  If you want to read more about the details of this party, you can see my archives here and here.

Carnival Birthday Party: Food and Tablescape

So yesterday I wrote about what I learned throwing my first kids’ party, and today I’ll get specific on some of the details.  The most important detail, of course: FOOD.

I wanted to keep things simple, and the party was held at four in the afternoon so I wasn’t exactly responsible for feeding people dinner or anything.  Keeping with the carnival theme, we served all finger foods. I didn’t even have flatware on the table!  Here was the menu we decided on for Jude’s Big Top Circus Birthday Extravaganza:

  • hot dogs (We chose kosher, all-beef since that’s kind of where we are on our “food journey.”)
  • corn dogs (So not healthy or kosher, but I bought them from our warehouse store here and they were fast and easy in the oven.)
  • sandwiches – chicken salad; sunbutter & jelly (for 2 peanut allergy kids who were there)
  • Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies(First time I tried them and they were delicious!)
  • fruit sticks (just bites of melon, grapes, and pineapple on a skewer)
  • chocolate-covered pretzels (I used store-bought chocolate candy coating.)
  • cupcakes! (more on those later)
  • various classic and colorful candies to go with the circus theme

So for the general tablescape and basic look of things, I wanted to go bright and celebratory. I was also careful to use varying heights on the table with the cupcakes, pretzels, and the lollipops.  The cupcake stand is this basic one by Wilton, and I love it!  I can reuse it again and again for any birthday parties or showers I host and just redecorate it each time.  To decorate it, I used scrapbook paper I found on clearance at Hobby Lobby and simple blue grossgrain ribbon.  I had a hard time getting the ribbon to stick at first, but when I decided to use Elmer’s traditional school glue, it worked easily and washed right off.

table details

Food labels are necessary for me, and I know that allergy mamas especially appreciate them.  I hate being at a function and not so sure about what you are putting in your mouth.  I found a circus font online and downloaded it for free, and I used it on the invitations and all of the signs and food labels at the party.  There are a ton of free simple graphics and fonts if you look for them online.

table details

For the added color and backdrop to my table scape, I used bright red wrapping paper from the dollar store  and topped it with a blue tablecloth from the dollar store as well.  We folded that tablecloth like a runner and topped all of that with $1 confetti and voila!  Three whole dollars and the table is done.

the spread

We also had a candy corner because what carnival doesn’t have sweets?  I bought all of the glass containers from (you guessed it…) the dollar store, and I racked up on candy there as well.  I chose candy that was either colorful or nostalgic or both – Mary Janes and Sugar Daddies for retro flair; gumballs, jolly ranchers, and ring pops for color.  The oversized lollipops I found at Oriental Trading Company for pretty cheap. I set out a few treat bags I had from a shower I hosted once and encouraged guests to take some home.  Luckily, almost all of it disappeared and I am only left with about 10 lollipops, but I’m thiking I can use them to adorn birthday packages this year.

table details

table details

Lastly, the cupcakes!  I went back and forth SO MANY times about what kind to make because I wanted something different and a variety.  Because we took a trip to the apple orchards a couple of weeks ago and because nothing says fall like apple cinnamon, I finally settled on apple cupcakes with cream cheese icing.  For variety, I also baked Ina Garten’s chocolate cupcakes (my old reliable favorite!) and topped them with homemade buttercream frosting.  I baked them all the night before and iced them in about 15  minutes shortly before the party.  It honestly took the same amount of time as calling to order a cake and going to pick it up.  So simple.

table details

I also found some awesome toppers on Etsy that added a special touch.  Some of them even had his name!

cupcakes

Did you know that even a simple grocery store cake is something like $40?  All together, I would estimate the cupcakes and toppers were something like $20, and they were cute, tasty, and personable.  At the end of the day, we fed a crowd of about 35 people on less than $100 including tableware!  An accomplishment in frugality for sure.

Tomorrow I’ll post on details and decorations – my favorite part of the party!

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For other posts about this carnival birthday party, see my archives here, here, or here.

Lessons Learned: Throwing Kids’ Birthday Parties

Party: The word conjures up a few specific images for me.  Kitchen conversations.  A frosty beer on the porch with good friends.  That glorious I-ate-just-enough-but-not-too-much full feeling you get when you talk with friends around the table after a successful dinner.  Whether it’s a big shindig for a special occasion or a small impromptu gathering we threw together the night before, I love hosting and preparing for parties. My usual ritual is to designate a specific playlist on my iPod and stand over the stove with a drink waiting on that first knock at the door.  Just before a party is one of the few times that my house is in order and is one of those moments when the anticipation factor is palpable.  I love it.  Cleaning for it.  Planning for it.  Cooking for it.  Love it all.

But I found out last weekend that hosting a kid’s party is a little different.


The internet was a wealth of information for me when planning Jude’s first birthday party, and I have so much I want to write down before I forget it all.  Rather than posting one huge, long, overly wordy and photo-heavy post that nobody wants to read in one sitting, I’m dividing it up, so I’ll be writing all week to capture every little detail.  I figured a great place to start would be with some basic lessons I learned or things that surprised me because this was not a cocktail conversation, dinner-makin’, feet up relaxin’, before-I-had-a-child kind of party.  Not at all. It was still a GREAT time though, and I finished remembering why birthday parties seemed like such magic when I was a kid.  They are for sure a special kind of magic – and a chaos all their own.  So things I learned?

  1. In terms of party prep, everything takes at least 10 times longer when you have a kid around. I did the vast majority of prep work in the days before.  By the time the morning of the party rolled around, all I had left to do was clean my house, assemble sandwiches, and ice cupcakes.  Easy right?  Not so much with a toddler around apparently.  The party started at 4:00 and we were slapping sandwiches together at 3:56.  No joke.
  2. Once guests arrive, if you have more than a handful of children present, it will erupt to absolute craziness at one time or another. Deal with it.  Embrace it perhaps.  But there is no point in fighting it.
  3. The dollar store can be your best friend. I made numerous trips to the dollar store to get most everything we needed for details and decor – ribbon, the makings of my tablescape, candy, glass containers, paper plates…. I’ll be posting specifics on all of this later, but it seriously saved us A TON of money.
  4. They are SO MUCH FUN to plan. I am not the most creative person on the planet, so I really just scanned the internet for ideas and copied most of them, adding some personal touches along the way.  It was such a fun party to prepare for! I’m already contemplating next year’s theme. I shouldn’t admit that.
  5. Present opening, even if you don’t want it to be, will be the focus of the party for at least a good portion of it. Short of not opening gifts at the party, I am not really sure if there is any way you can prevent this. And you guys know how I feel about gifts and excess. I honestly didn’t even want to open the presents at the party simply because he is so young and can’t even open them and honestly wasn’t all that interested at that present moment (although he loves them now).  My husband said though, and it’s true, that if people did bring gifts, they’d want to see him open them, and I didn’t want to be rude.  Luckily many of our guests abided by my rude request and either did not bring a gift or brought a simple book or two.  We did get a handful of toys but nothing crazy large that I don’t have room or need for.  I enlisted some kids at the party to “help” Jude open gifts which might or might not have been smart because they got REALLY in to it, but at least they had something to do instead of staring at a baby and watching me open the presents.
  6. Be sure you take lots of photos, but most importantly, be sure other guests do as well. We got a ton of photos on our cameras, but we also missed whole portions of the party (like Jude eating cake for instance) because we were in the moment or right there with him.  Luckily, my brother-in-law was snapping photos the whole time, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s got.  It might be a good idea to even designate a guest as the “picture person” so that he/she keeps snapping and can give you all the images after the party.

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I feel like future parties will be easier now that I know more about what to expect, so for what it’s worth, that’s what I learned on this first go-around.  Tomorrow I’ll post on food and tablescape!