Top 12 Tips for Throwing An Awesome Birthday Party on a Budget

I love throwing birthday parties for my kids. L.O.V.E.

There is fun, craftiness, connecting with my kids, watching their faces light up when they come downstairs to find a salon in our living room or a jungle in our kitchen.

Every time I come up with a theme, I do extensive research and planning beginning at least a month out. It always surprises me to find how much money people spend on birthday parties (like several hundred to a couple thousand- no joke), but it is actually pretty fun for me to figure out how to do pretty much the same thing on a budget. Granted, my Dora backpacks are paper bags instead of actual backpacks, but hey, that alone saves me about $90. I will do a few posts in detail about my birthday party ventures, but first, I’m going to talk a little bit about my process.

1. Budget! Figure out how much you can afford and know that someway, somehow you CAN make a crazy awesome birthday part with whatever you can come up with. And remember, even if you can’t go to extremes or you don’t have a crafty bone in your body, all your kid really cares about is having some fun with family and friends.

2. Pick out a theme. I keep an eye on the birthday kid about a month or two before I know I will need to start planning their big day. What t.v. shows, games, or activities do they enjoy the most? Even if you decide not to do something specific, still pick a general color scheme and have a general idea of what your kid will enjoy. I know- of course we moms and dads know our kids, right? But trust me- they can drop Blue’s Clues and become Dora’s biggest fan pretty quickly, so just pay extra attention to their interests around their birthday.

3. Research. The internet is your friend. Pinterest, Google images, and even amazon can be helpful to find ideas. I’ve found that I can put together a pretty complete list of games, snacks, desserts, food, decorations, and party favors. I print out or write down every idea that pops. Here are a few sites that are helpful:

birthdaypartyideas.com , marthastewart.com/276960/kids-birthday-parties , nickjr.com/parties/ , karaspartyideas.com/ , www.birthdayinabox.com/

4. Make an invitation list, and let your research cool for a day or two. Figure out how many kids your little one can handle. Ideally, you would invite your child’s age plus one more child, but hey, if your kids popular, what can you do? Just make sure you feel comfortable with the amount of kids and adults that will be attending.

5. Pick a venue. I pretty much always choose my house. It’s not huge, but it’s free. If you feel like you need more space and you are on a budget, solicit family and friends for their space or have an outdoor party at a park or include your own backyard in the festivities.

6. Narrow down your list of ideas you like. For food, I decide how much I want to make. I enjoy finger foods and snacks as opposed to a full meal, like pizza or grilling out, although cheap pizza did save me once when I didn’t have time to fix a ton of homemade stuff. For decorations, choose ideas that go together, and remember you can change the color of everything if you make your own homemade version. Here is where you pick out your invitations. There are a ton of nifty free printable invitations on sites like nickjr.com. I normally end up copying something I’ve seen on Google Images. Note: Don’t forget to actually send out your awesome birthday invites. I literally forgot to send mine out once. Luckily I had verbally told everyone and it was a success, but it was a close call.

7. Take your list and figure out how much of it you can make at home with cheap stuff from the dollar store and Walmart. For instance, for my daughter’s princess party, we played Kiss the Frog Bean Bag Toss, but instead of a wooden frog, I had a friend of mine trace the picture from the internet of the frog onto a fold out presentation cardboard poster, and then I cut out the mouth and painted it. Know what you can do and figure out how to re-create your favorite ideas to fit your talents, budget and time.

8. Make a schedule for your party. My parties normally last two or three hours max. We have food, a game or two, sometimes a craft, and time to open presents.

9. Buy your supplies! My favorite places to go in the past have been Hobby Lobby, Walmart, The Dollar Tree, and Home Depot. I normally hit up the Dollar tree before anything else. You’d be surprised the things you can find there. Walmart always has an abundance of free cardboard boxes (call ahead) and they have fabric (if yours has a craft section) for $1/yard or less. Hobby Lobby can get a little expensive, but if you sign up for their emails, you will get 40% off one item every few weeks at least. So, if I have a couple things I can only get at Hobby Lobby, I literally just go to get one thing every week with my 40% off coupon.

 

10. Find your inner craftiness and break out the glue, scissors, paint, and cardboard. Now comes the fun (and time consuming) part. Here is where you might have to spend a few nights up late working on that poster or painting that frog or putting together those party favors.  Just hang in there! Enlist your significant other, friends and family to help you cut, glue, paint, tape, and sew.

11. Make as much of the food as you can the night/day before and have close friends and family sign up for an item or two if they can, such as drinks, ice, paper plates and cups, veggie or fruit trays, etc. Here is where I ease up on the homemade stuff. I normally make a few homemade things and buy the rest. I’m not a cake decorator, so I generally order my cake. It takes up quite a bit of my budget, but for me, it’s worth it. If you would rather spend all your time on decorating an awesome cake- go for it. But try to make your load a little easier by buying pre-made snacks or go for Little Caesars $5 pizzas.

12. At this point, all you’ve got left is to do as much decorations set-up the night before (or the few hours before, depending on location/time of the party) and enjoy!

This might seem like a lot of work, and you’re right. It is. But you save money by doing everything yourself (or almost everything). And when your kids and your kids’ friends are smiling and laughing and having fun and your kid says, “Mom, you’re the best Mommy ever!”, you will know it was worth it. Above everything else, remember to keep it as simple as possible, to ask for help, and to give yourself a day of rest asap to recharge and take a breath. Good luck and have fun!

 

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Seven Years a Mrs.

Today is my 7th year anniversary with my husband, Tony. In some ways, that seems like forever. It’s hard to remember what life was like without my husband. Part of that could be that I’ve been with him since I was just barely 16 years old. My entire adult life has been spent in love with one man- my husband, the father of my kids, my best friend. To me, that’s true blessing. That’s what happiness and real love is made of- commitment, friendship, forgiveness, and a little (sometimes a lot) of hard work and growth.

It hasn’t been an easy seven years. We’ve had our fights and disagreements. We’ve gone through a week or two of not really enjoying one another’s company. We take out our frustrations on each other sometimes. But honestly, for the most part, we have really just been happy. We laugh a lot. No one can make me laugh like Tony can. We dream together. We grow together. We bring out the best in each other. I’m sure I have a lot more to learn about what makes a marriage happy and successful, but here are a few things I’ve learned in my seven years of being a Mrs.

1. Always seek Jesus, both individually and as a couple. Now, my husband and I have fallen short in this area. We’ve gone through times when we were both doing great spiritually and times when we have not, and we can tell the difference in our marriage. But even when we’ve fallen short, Jesus has met us where we were and kept us afloat. He reminded us of our convictions, our faith, and His power to heal and change us and our marriage into something better. So that said, Jesus is the source and foundation for everything else in this list.

2. Don’t expect your spouse to always be ‘the person you fell in love with’. People change. You change. Don’t think your spouse won’t change. I can’t ever fully know my husband because he is constantly changing, constantly growing, constantly becoming and being made by God into something new. It is part of my job as his wife (and vice versa) to wake up in the morning and pursue an ongoing relationship with him, to search out and learn who he is today and who he is becoming.

3. Be willing to accept constructive criticism from your spouse. I’ve found it’s really easy for me to see my husband’s faults, but when he sees one of mine, I get pretty defensive. I’m not saying anyone should take verbal abuse or constant nit-picking criticism. However, when your spouse comes to you with a concern about your behavior, listen and work on it. After all, isn’t that what you want from them?

4. Communicate. No, really. Don’t let kids or jobs or projects or school or church or friendships or whatever it may be get in the way of the communication your marriage needs to thrive. Even when the other person doesn’t want to communicate, keep at it. Talk to them about your day. Ask specific questions about theirs. Be interested in who they are and what they want. Even when it comes to silly stuff. For instance, I know way too much about super heroes and Star Trek. Every time we see a super hero movie, I get the break down of what that character is like in the comics versus the movie and whether or not the movie portrayed the character and story accurately. I’ve watched (and surprisingly enjoyed) every Star Trek series except the original series from start to finish. And guess what? I’m still alive. It didn’t hurt me to choose to enjoy something simply because my husband enjoys it. Not only that, but tell your spouse about the changes and growth you are experiencing. Let them in on your desires, your dreams, your struggles, your pain. Seek to know them, but also seek to be known by them.

5. Be involved in a community of people that will speak into your marriage when invited to and when you would rather not hear about it. This one is hard. It’s hard to allow other people to see your marriage when it’s not doing so great. It’s hard to admit in front of other people that part of it is your fault. It’s hard to ask for help. It’s hard to listen when someone brings something negative to your attention about your own marriage. It’s hard, but it’s essential for a healthy marriage. Like it or not, you don’t always know you the best. Things in a marriage can go downhill slowly over many years without either husband or wife really knowing what is wrong or even being aware that there’s a problem. Having a community of people that can put their finger on the problem and then support you in your attempt to make things right can dig out the weeds in your marriage before the garden is gone.

I’ve learned much more than these five, but I think these are the most important ones. Thank you, Tony (my own personal super hero) for being the best husband a girl could ask for. Thank you for growing with me, for showing me patience and grace, for being willing to lead me when I am content with ‘less than’, and for being my best friend. I’m looking forward to many more years of being with you. This heart is yours, now and always.

Rejoicing Even in Sorrow

Over the weekend I left my home and family to travel to northern Indiana for a funeral. My Grandma Judy (affectionately called G-ma J) suffered the death of a husband for the second time in her life. Nuelan “Nute” Rehlander passed away June 11th, 2013, unexpectedly.

Now Nute had only been a part of my family for a short period of time. He married my grandma only about three years ago. But in that time, Nute became one of us. We loved him. We loved how happy he made my grandma. He cared about us, checked in on us, prayed for us, and showed interest in our lives. We were all looking forward to getting to know him better.

I could talk about his service in the Navy, or his faith, or his family, but honestly, I’ve been thinking mostly about how I’ll miss his youthful confidence, sense of humor and his genuine love for people, especially for my G-ma J. I’ve been thinking about how he courted her with flowers and a teenage like excitement. I’ve been thinking about how he always wanted to know how my family was doing, and not just “Hey how have you been?” but asking deeper questions and really wanting to know. I can only pray that I can leave behind such sweet memories and such a positive impact in the lives of the people around me as Nute did with all of us.

Spending this past weekend with Nute’s family was a blessing (please keep them in your prayers). He was remembered fondly. They told stories of his steadfast character, his wit, his humor. He was a great father and husband. He was celebrated, and the end of his life brought people together and glorified the God Nute loved. There was rejoicing in our sorrow. Rejoicing in the life of Nute, in the privilege of knowing him, and in God’s mercy to give us the comfort of knowing that Nute is at peace with Him.

There was one verse that God used this weekend to remind me of where Nute is now and where I will one day be, and I’ll end with that. 2 Corinthians 5:1-10:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Genetix Program: 5 Weeks In

I am using the Genetix Program to loose weight, and I plan to give updates and reviews of the program every month or so. Now, I did get a great deal on Groupon for a six month run in the program, so I got a significant discount.

Ok, so 5 weeks in, I’ve lost about 11 pounds. And that’s not water weight. I cheated for the last few days of my trip to Indiana, and that weight stayed off. That’s a little more than 2 pounds a week as an average, but like I said, I wasn’t able to be 100% faithful during the week I was at my parents. Considering that the program is supposed to encourage healthy weight loss, I would consider 2 pounds a week acceptable. I am hoping, however, that I will have a better average next month if I am able to stay faithful.

So far here are the positives:

1) Having to call my counselor/nutritionist/nurse Katie every morning and tell her what I’ve eaten the day before is great motivation to eat right.

2) Katie has helped me on a few occasions figure out what I can eat out, and I’ve been able to order food at a restaurant guilt free.

3) I feel better, and the problems I have with swelling have stopped. Last summer, I couldn’t wear my wedding band or engagement rings because my fingers were too swollen. I had already had several days before I began the GXprogram where I had to leave my rings on the dresser because they had swollen. Since being on the diet, I’ve been able to wear my rings every day and my body feels better now that it’s not as swollen. Note: I didn’t have very much energy the first week. My body did have to get used to the diet, but once I did, it was all good.

4) It’s pretty nice not to have to worry about planning out everything or reading some book or watching a video and trying to figure out what to do. Katie just tells me, and it’s simple. For instance, generally, Mondays and Fridays are vegetarian days. Tuesdays and Thursdays are one protein days. Wednesday I can eat two proteins.

5) I am encouraged to do things the healthy way. If it were up to me, I would be eating less. My daily intake on this diet is about 1200 calories, so eating less wouldn’t be a good idea. However, I have this tendency to want to go crazy for a couple weeks on super low calorie diets and then I get sick of it, cheat a few days, gain a ton, and then just quit. Katie reminded me that eating less would slow my metabolism and make the weight loss unsustainable when I asked her if we could lower my calorie intake. She was able to remind me and explain to me medically why I should be doing what I’m doing.

Ok, now it’s not all roses. Here a few negatives:

1) My counselor, though awesome, has like 50 people she is working with. Some days I can’t get a hold of her or she doesn’t get my missed call and doesn’t call back. Normally, that doesn’t happen, but sometimes it does. Now, Katie is a real life person. She has a life. She has kids. I am not her only priority. So, I get it, but at the same time, the way the video pitches the program makes it seem like you would have access to your person or a person at all times.

2) I have not received my login username/password yet. Now, this is due to the person who normally takes care of these things having their child die, so obviously I am not necessarily upset. I understand. That’s unexpected. That’s rough stuff. But, Genetix, as a company should have had someone else trained in how to do this. Apparently, they didn’t, and I am over a month into the program and haven’t been able to utilize the website. Maybe they just had a boom in business and they weren’t prepared for anything bad to happen. Again, I get it. I understand. But I would really appreciate my username/password.

Overall, the good outweighs the bad…so far. I am happy with the program, and I’m happy with how I feel and the weight I’ve lost. And the bad, I don’t think is necessarily all that bad. It isn’t effecting my progress in any major way. For anyone considering the program, I would say, if the cost doesn’t seem too crazy for you or if you catch a groupon, go for it. It is helping me. Good luck to all those out there trying to loose the weight. It’s hard, but it will be worth it.

Kids: Clever, Funny, and Potentially Great Characters

It annoys me a little bit when I read a story or a novel with a child character who is either dumb or acts way to old or way too young for their age. Kids can be a great addition to a story, to bring emotion, to bring humor, or just a touch of innocence. Here are a few examples of stories and quotes from my kids that have made it onto my Facebook page. 

Writers: Consider how small children (mine are both under 5) can be clever and funny and even manipulative. They take things very literally and find joy in simple things. 

Everyone else: Enjoy. My kids are hilarious. 

NOTE: For all of you who know my kids: I’ve chosen not to use their names. This blog is not just for family and friends, so my husband and I feel it’s necessary to keep their names from floating around on the open and free internet. We will refer to our daughter as Girly Girl (GG) and our son Little Man (LM). Remember this in your comments!

On the way to my parents, Girly Girl asked me if she could go camping, and I told her she might not like it because she would have to sleep outside and pee behind a tree and there would be bugs. Fast forward to my niece’s first birthday party. I go to look for her as we are about to do cake and sing. Suddenly I hear people say, “what is that little girl doing without her clothes on behind that tree?” yep. That’s right. GG sat down butt naked behind a tree in the middle of the party and peed. And when we asked her why she said, “well mom, you SAID that sometimes you just have to pee behind a tree!”

***

Hubby: I guess I can’t get popcorn at the movies tonight.

GG: Why not?

Hubby: We don’t have the extra money.

GG: Well, you can just make it. We can get some paper and plastic and we’ll decorate it and then you can get popcorn!

Hubby: Do you think I could buy popcorn with that?

GG: Yes.

***

We met Daddy for lunch today at Hy-Vee. We pulled up and parked and Girly Girl asked what the sign in the window on the second floor said.

Me: That says, ‘Go Tigers’

GG: There are TIGERS here? Mom, tigers don’t live here.

Me: No, that’s not what it means. The Tigers are a sports team.

GG: You mean like at the gym?

Me: Not exactly. They play basketball or football or something (haha-shows how much Mommy knows).

GG: So do they all wear tiger costumes?

Me: No.

GG: I don’t get it.

***

Girly Girl: I want to collect rocks- a rock collection with sticks and old tires.

***

Girly Girl has been talking a lot about who she is going to marry and wanting to know who it’s going to be and taking guesses. It’s been pretty funny, but this was the best marriage conversation with my now four year old girl.

GG: Mommy, when you and Daddy and Little Man die I can get married. But not until then.

Me: We don’t have to die for you to get married.

GG: Yes, you do. You all have to die.

Me: No. We don’t. Why do you think that you can’t get married until we die?

GG: Well…what would guys do all the time without ME???

***

Girly Girl was building with her blocks.

Me: Oh, I love your house, GG!

GG: Mom. This is not a house. This is a temple where the golden water can’t get through.

Hubby: Of course that’s what is, Mommy. Are you blind?

Little Man: Um, I’m just building a house.

***

GG: Mommy, do you love me?

Me: Of course I do!

GG: Will you say it? Say, GG I love you!

Me: GG, I love you SO much!

GG: I want one of these jelly beans.

Me: No, not right now, hon.

GG: But we love each other!

Me: No jelly beans.

GG: Grrrahh! (stomps her foot and goes away)

***

Girly Girl playing with a sleeping beauty figurine and a power ranger:

SB: daddy I love him!

PR: you can’t marry him! He isn’t the kind of guy you can marry!

SB: I love you Dad, but I also love him! He’s a good guy to marry! He killed a dragon.

PR: he did?

SB: yes!

PR: okay, you can marry him.

 ***

Me: GG, do you need to go to the potty?

GG: No. My pee is sleeping for the winter time.

 ***

GG: look at the pretty butterfly!

Me: that’s a moth. They are different than butterflies.

GG: how?

Me: well, like they are out at night and sometimes moths eat clothes!

GG: they eat clothes! Oh no! That would be bad because then people would see our hips!

***

GG: Magic means…ummmm…magic means I’m Spanish. Yeah. (I think this one has something to do with Dora the Explorer.)

 

 

 

Character Development in Life and Fiction

Recently I read this blog on The Story Mavens: http://thestorymavens.com/2013/05/20/visionary-villains/. It was written by a friend of mine who has had quite a bit of success in her career as a writer. It’s basically about developing all your characters, even the “bad guys”. My (other world fantasy) novel takes place in a society where slavery is essential to their way of life, the worship of country and self is prevalent, and severe military training is enforced on very young boys. It’s a harsh place, but there are still families who love each other, compassion, art, rich history, and good things, even among the oppressors. Because that’s how real life is.

While I was trying to get to know the “bad guys” in my novel as whole characters (i.e. not just evil villains), my four year old started asking me questions about good guys and bad guys. She’s been watching Justice League with my husband for a while now, and the concept of bad guys on t.v. is normally that there is nothing good about them, that they are just pure evil, especially in cartoons. She was asking me about real life bad guys and if we should “get them”, meaning (I guess) beat them up Green Lantern style and either throw them in jail or shoot them into space.

While I did tell her that when people do bad things, there are consequences, like jail or getting hurt or in her case time outs or being grounded from her iPod or whatever, I also told her that Jesus loves everyone, and so when another kid hits her or yells at her or takes something from her, while that kid’s mommy might have consequences for them, she should remember that Jesus loves them and therefore so should we. I told her that love doesn’t mean that we tolerate the actions of “bad guys”, but rather love is showing them care and hoping that Jesus changes their hearts.

As is the case often, my conversation with my four year old made me take a look at myself. How many times do I forget that Jesus loves the bad guys and wants their hearts to change, for them to become loving people who live for His glory? How often do I forget that they have families who love them? That they are somebody’s brother, sister, son or daughter, husband or wife? That when someone is killed in a police shooting or put in jail for life or put on death row, that while those may be their consequence and might possibly be necessary, someone is grieving them while the whole world is hating them? Maybe, just maybe, instead of celebrating their downfall, even if it is deserved and just, I should mourn the condition of the human heart. Maybe I should mourn the condition of my own heart and be grateful for the grace and forgiveness and the change of heart I receive from Jesus Christ.

As a writer, my characters have to be realistic. They can’t be purely good or purely evil. Because real people aren’t that way. They are complex and multi-layered.

As just a person – a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend – who loves Jesus, I hope that I can see people, all people, with compassion and grace and forgiveness. I hope I mourn sin and pray for the sinner, and thank God that He is saving me every day from my own sin.

Write or DIE!!!!!!

I recently hit the 10,000 word mark on a novel I’ve been working on. It took me FOREVER. And now for the other 90%…

Anyway, I’ve been working on turning off that pesky “internal editor.” She’s plagued me through many writing projects, papers, and assignments. I get out a paragraph and have to go back over it again and again…and maybe one more time.

But everything I’ve read and everyone I know who has published keeps telling me that Ms. Editor needs to shut her mouth during the first draft. I’ve got to get out the story. A beginning, middle, and end. It will probably be a far cry from what I want it to be, but I’ll have the bones I need to flesh out the story I’m looking to tell. Some writers never actually finish their work because of their own internal editors, and I don’t want that to be the case with my series. I feel like the story that’s been spinning itself from my mind and heart down through my fingers onto the computer screen is worth something. I want people to be able to read a finished product.

Recently I ran across a website that I believe will help me kick Ms. Editor to the curb (or at least make her comfortable in the deep recesses of my mind until that second draft, where I will need her desperately.) It’s called WriteOrDie.com.

I gave it a try and in an hour I was able to pump out almost 1500 words. For me, that’s pretty awesome. So what is Write or Die?

First, you choose a time goal. I chose an hour. Then you choose a word goal. I chose 1,000 (which I accomplished in about 40/45 minutes.

Then, you choose your grace period. Forgiving, Strict, or Evil. I chose strict, which I think gave me about 30 seconds before the consequences kicked in. (Forgiving I think gives you closer to a minute and Evil gives you about 10 seconds.)

And then there are the consequences. Gentle, Normal, and Kamikaze. With each consequence the outer screen slowly turns red so you know it’s coming. Gentle is just a box that pops up reminding you to keep going. Normal (which I chose) counts down to screaming babies that just get louder and louder until you continue to type. Now, Kamikaze scared me to death. It begins UNTYPING your work if you stop for the allotted amount of time.

So, if you do well under extreme pressure, Evil + Kamikaze=Crazy Cakes Production. I work better being annoyed, so I think I’ll stick with Strict + Normal. Crying babies can apparently do more for me than make me feel like I’m about to loose my mind.

Check it out all you writers! (And students, too, if you think it would help!)