Monday, January 31, 2011

Elizabeth's American Girl Party

Elizabeth turned six earlier this month, which around here means party time! Elizabeth tossed different party ideas around for the, oh, six or eight months preceding her birthday, but sometime in the fall she settled on an American Girl party, and she never wavered from that. With "American Girl" being the main directive, I considered a half-sleepover kind of pajama party, or a tea party. I ultimately decided that we have lots of half/whole pajama parties ahead of us, but our tea party days may be numbered, so we went with a tea party. Elizabeth was thrilled! I knew this party would be larger than any other kid party we'd thrown at the house, so I was kind of nervous, because managing large groups of children {or small groups of children} is not my strength.

I kind of toned down the "American Girl" aspect of the party -- shhh, don't tell Elizabeth! -- because I had no idea who had what dolls, and I knew that some of Elizabeth's friends are not really "doll girls" at all. So the invitations invited the girls to bring their favorite doll or stuffed friend. That seemed to do the job -- our tea party guests included an eclectic mix, from Felicity in her finery to stuffed birds and unicorns.

Before I go any further, I need to thank my AWESOME FRIENDS Amanda and Heather for helping me with this party. Heather and Amanda, both excellent amateur photographers, came over on party day to help me take pictures -- I can't even tell you how wonderful that was, as I did not take a single picture after guests arrived because I was running around doing a poor job of managing the large group of children. So I cannot take credit for many of the pictures below. Amanda also spent hours with me the night before the party helping me make the cupcake pops and the teapot balls, which are among my favorite little treats ever. She is the one who convinced me to try the teapot balls in the first place, and they were definitely a huge hit!

Okay, here goes. The party room:

{Most of the year I sit staring at that empty sunroom and scheme about ways to finally furnish it, but when it's time for a party, I love having this big empty room!} Most of the party paper goods (the banner, cupcake toppers, invitations, assorted tags and labels, etc.) are printables from etsy. And David spent nearly two hours in front of the TV the night before the party making tissue paper pom poms. I swear, every day he gives me a new reason to love him.

Dessert table (cupcakes, cupcake pops, teapot cake balls, and dipped pretzels):


Teapot cake balls:

Cupcake pops:

The girls' tea party tables (hmmm, the "Elizabeth" sign got a little askew, wish I knew how to photoshop a fix to that!):

About those polka dot espresso cups -- I'm a tableware kind of girl, and I can honestly say that have not fallen in love this hard with a frivolous piece of tableware since I first saw the ceramic scalloped ice cream bowls in the Summer 2009 Sur la Table catalog - just saying.

Birthday girl at the tea party:

Caroline eating a cupcake pop:

The main activity for the girls was decorating these cute craft wood doll chairs. {UPDATE, 5/2014: several people have asked where I got the chairs; I ordered them from here. And we've since had a second American Girl party and ordered a second set of chairs, and have been thrilled both times!} Big thanks to my dad for painting 15 cute craft wood doll chairs! I just closed my eyes and thought of the most patient person I know -- Dad! --- and luckily he generously agreed to paint them. Thanks Dad!

Doll chairs:

Behind the chairs were buckets of jewel and other stickers. I originally bought the dreaded glitter glue pens to offer as a decorating option, but then I thought: "if glitter glue pens in the hands of 3 children cause me to twitch, what will glitter glue pens in the hands of 16 children do?" I then put away the glitter glue pens {BTW - I was at the eye doctor the other day to get new contacts, and as the doctor was examining my eye he said: "Huh. That's funny. It looks like there is something like glitter in your eye." I said, "oh, that's probably just glitter" and he proceeded with the exam. But seriously - my dislike of glitter pens is not unwarranted!}

Caroline decorating her chair:

Caroline showing off her doll chair:

{By the way, no, Caroline does not have a twin. She just goes through more costumes in an hour than Marilyn McCoo in her prime}.

Once the girls finished decorating their chairs, the chair decorating activity table turned into the doll tea party table with a couple of quick moves:

Checking out the doll tea party:

Jacob spent most of the party running around with his cousin and a buddy/brother of one of Elizabeth's friends, but I caught him quickly before the party began:

The girls also made necklaces from little teacups full of wood beads:

And they decorated mini cupcakes for their dolls:

Grammy was a big help with this activity - thanks Grammy! There is not much scarier than a bunch of 5 and 6 year olds wielding a can of Pillsbury Easy Frost Frosting, and thanks to Grammy, we were able to avoid that.

Grammy & Caroline:

Girls decorating their doll cupcakes:

Elizabeth decorating her doll cupcake:

We also had that perennial favorite, a pinata. Here's Elizabeth taking a whack at the teapot pinata:

And the treat bags that held the pinata loot, the doll chairs, and the necklaces:

I thought we had plenty of activities to fill a two hour party, but the girls tore through all this in a little over an hour. I had kind of a "major party fail" moment or two there when I realized that I was completely out of ideas and we still had 45 minutes of party left, but as I saw the girls gleefully running around outside, I figured they were having at least as much fun as they would have been having if I had gone ahead with "Pin the Hat on the American Girl Doll." Elizabeth told me that it was the best party ever and asked if she could have the same party again next year. Seeing my sweet birthday girl happy is what it is all about.

Happy 6th Birthday, Elizabeth!

Project 365 - Day 30

I've done a bunch of things so far this year in my attempt to get organized. I've tackled my closet and sorted my bags by size and type. My sweaters are neatly stacked and separated by shelf dividers. Birthday candles, skewers and coozies no longer fall on my head when I open the cabinet over the refrigerator, because those items are now in clear labeled bins. My food storage container project has been life-transforming. Pantry - check. Laundry room - check. Basement playroom - check. Kids' closets - check. There is still tons to do, but clear progress is happening.

But I know that no matter how many bins I label, no matter how many school papers make it into clearly marked folders, I'm still exactly the same scattered mess I always was, as evidenced by the fact that I can never find my keys. Ever. As in, I pretty much have to look for them every. single. time I need them. If I keep track of all of the time I spend looking for my keys, I figure by the end of my life I will have lost at least two or three months. Years ago David bought me one of those remote beepers so I could page my keys when I couldn't find them -- I don't remember how it worked or what happened to it, but here I am, years later, still losing my keys. It is awful and inexcusable. I'm pretty sure there is some kind of diagnosable condition at play here. I'm positive that truly together people always know where their keys are. The solution that David (who never loses his keys and is always terrified to loan his to me) always suggests to me: "just put them in the same place every time," sounds so simple and reasonable, but for whatever reason I can't seem to do it. I'd love to blame the kids and the general chaos that surrounds our comings and goings for this, but sadly this was a problem long before they arrived on the scene.

Anyway, so I figured that I'd close this month by snapping a quick picture of my keys while I actually know where they are.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Project 365 - Day 29

Hello, My Precious.

Caroline is mesmerized by the sight of the wash washing in our new washing machine, which was delivered today, along with a new dryer. It was a day of great joy and celebration here at the Blue House. No tears were shed as our old, leaky, non-agitating washer was hauled away by the Geek Squad. But the washer had at least generally done the job until very recently. In contrast, our pathetic excuse for a dryer had not dried clothes worth a darn since 2007. We had a repairman out to look at it when we first moved into this house (which is when it stopped drying) and he couldn't find anything wrong with it. We had our handyman, David Beckham, clean out the dryer vents, but it still took two or three cycles to dry a load of laundry. The fact we lived for three years with this serious hindrance to our 15-load a week laundry habit is a testament to our extreme aversion to buying major appliances. The delivery guys were very nice or I would have given the front door an extra slam as the dryer left the house for the last time.

The moment of truth came just minutes ago, when our first load of laundry came through the first cycle in the new dryer. I was shaking a little as I opened the door. I had completely forgotten what it was like to open a dryer to dry clothes, and I just had this horrible feeling that the clothes would still be damp. But . . . DRY!! Yes, dry!! Life is good.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Project 365 - Day 28

Hanging out in the minivan, our home away from home.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Project 365 - Day 27

Jacob grinding corn in the colonial kitchen at Colonial Days. The third graders also made candles, cut silhouettes, learned about quilts from the local quilting guild (and then watched them make quilts), made their own butter, practiced calligraphy (with actual quill pens), square danced at a Colonial tavern, and did tin pressing. I worked the corn grinding station, where I donned an apron and bonnet and tried to remember to go heavy on the "thees" and thous" while discussing the importance of corn in Colonial America.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Project 365 - Day 26

A little Pinewood Derby action from last weekend. Jacob's is the cool silver car with navy polka dots.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Project 365 - Day 25

The kids and I have a standing weekly after-school date for frozen yogurt. There has been a proliferation of "serve yourself" frozen yogurt places around here lately, which the kids love. These places are a total racket because they charge by the ounce and provide these ginormous cups that hold a ton of yogurt. Therefore, a normal-sized portion seems puny in the cup, and there's a natural tendency to overdo it. Here's Jacob, overdoing it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Project 365 - Day 24

Caroline with the glitter glue pen (hmmm, I thought I hid those) while things are still relatively neat and under control . . .

Monday, January 24, 2011

Project 365 - Day 23

Elizabeth counting out 100 jelly beans to share with her class as part of the 100 Days of Kindergarten project.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Project 365 - Day 22

A rare photo of Caroline in regular (i.e., non-princess/ballerina) clothing.

Project 365 - Day 21

Happy 92d Birthday, Grandmini!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Project 365 - Day 20

Here's one from the archives:

Oh, how I love these Jacob & Alex pictures.

Big excitement on the food storage container front!!

In addition to Project 365, I have also undertaken Project Get My Act Together, and while the results so far are decidedly mixed (e.g. I totally forget about a very important meeting at church for Jacob which was on my calendar, my mind, and for which I received numerous reminder emails and alerts from the church and my own calendar system), there have been certain small victories along the way. {drumroll please} . . .

Behold, my food storage container cabinet!!



Made possible by these {which were on sale for $9.99 when I bought them}. As an aside, I'm not sure how I survived before Amazon Prime, but I sure hope I never have to again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Project 365 - Day 19

Taken during the Colonial Days journal cover photo session (Jacob will be a long hunter for Colonial Days). Be careful kid, you'll shoot your eye out.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Project 365 - Day 18

In which I attempt to get organized . . . again.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Project 365 - Day 17

Same picture, B&W conversion:

{I am really trying to post photos the day (or close to the day) that I take them, in keeping with the spirit of Project 365. But I didn't want to post this earlier because this picture was supposed to be a surprise for my parents for their 40th anniversary, which was just last weekend - happy anniversary mom & dad!}

Ever find yourself launching into a story that you KNOW will be horribly boring for everyone else, and even as you hear yourself talking you are thinking "shut up. shut up." but you just can't stop telling it? Well, I'm about to do that right now -- you've been warned. Poor Heather and Amanda have already lived the drama of this picture in real time and I offer a special apology to them for subjecting them to this again. Anyway, as noted, my parents just celebrated their anniversary, and I REALLY REALLY wanted to get a great picture of their four grandchildren together, blow it up big, and have it framed for them. I thought about hiring a {real} photographer while Alex was visiting, but (1) a lot of the talented photographers around here take off a few weeks in December to recover from the holiday madness, and (2) the thought of wrangling these four kids for a photo session during the short post-Christmas visit just wasn't appealing on any level. So I decided that I would make it a priority to try to get a usable photo myself. I tried several times during the course of the visit, and we got some cute ones, but none that seemed to be The One. We tried again on Alex's last day here. It was pretty cold outside, but sometimes you just have to play through pain to get the picture (and the kids didn't seem to mind it in the least). We got some in the backyard that seemed promising, but they were kind of backlit, and a little hazier than I was envisioning. So we moved everyone to the front porch. Keeping these kids still is not easy. Alex is a busy one year old who has a lot of exploring to do - no time to rest! Caroline is likely to declare "no more pictures!" at any moment, and there's no going back once that happens. Elizabeth loves her a good goofy face, and Jacob tends to get frustrated when the rest of the gang won't just sit and smile for 2 seconds so I could get my stupid picture and he can get on with his day, and his frustration translates into a scowl on camera. All in all, I figured that IF I could get these kids sitting together, I had about a 10 second window. I had NO time to tinker with camera settings, or it would be over. So I set up my camera before I set the kids up and then got them on the bench. They were already fidgety, so I started an extremely loud and obnoxious half yodel/half wooOOOoowooOOoowooOOoo noise, which froze them in their tracks. And then they started laughing. I couldn't believe it -- I just kept woooing and snapping, woooing and snapping. I glanced at my LCD screen and I could see that the exposure was correct and that the kids looked cute, but I didn't have time to zoom in on a picture to check it closely -- as soon as I did that, the moment would have been gone.

We all went back inside, and I couldn't wait to check out these pictures. I uploaded them from my memory card, and I immediately wanted to cry. I missed focus. Totally. I could not even believe it. I originally set my aperture to f/4 in order to be sure that everyone would fall into focus, but then the light changed a little and I opened it to f/3.5 to let in more light. I really thought that would be fine as the kids were all basically on the same plane, and I didn't want to increase the ISO because I didn't want noise. That was a HUGE mistake and one that I will never make again when photographing more than 3 people. Digital noise is tolerable, but out of focus pictures are not. In any event, I thought I missed my last chance to get the picture, and I was so upset.

I have had Scott Kelby's book on Photoshop Elements 8 for a while but have never used it much. But I so desperately wanted to save these pictures that I started pouring over it. I played with some of his sharpening techniques, and they didn't seem to be doing much. And then I used a technique that he reserves for "photos that are extremely out of focus and need a miracle" or something like that. And when I applied it, I couldn't believe my eyes. The transformation was nothing short of amazing. In my original, Jacob and Caroline were soft in the face. After the sharpening, it was really hard to tell - I could tell, because I'm the one who screwed this up in the first place, but I think it would be really hard to tell that there were such serious problems if you weren't looking for them. There was no way I was going to try to go as big with the print as I had originally planned (16x20) but I suddenly had hope that it would work as an 11x14. I ordered one color and one black and white in 11x14 from a pro lab, and was so thrilled when I got them back -- they looked good! I knew they would work for the anniversary. Another happy ending made possible by Photoshop!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Project 365 - Day 16

Jacob finally got into a groove with his Colonial Day project (proof above) and made lots of great progress this weekend. I did not miss the sound of my nagging voice (or David's).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Project 365 - Day 15

Here is Elizabeth making a pot holder on her new weaving loom, one of the many fun crafts she received for her birthday. Seeing this pot holder kit brought the memories flooding back for me -- I LOVED weaving potholders when I was a kid and remember doing it for hours (I'm sure I actually only did it for three minutes and then started pestering my parents again, but I swear I remember doing it for hours!!) She caught onto it pretty quickly -- pretty soon she'll be weaving potholders together into placemats (it's what every pot holder weaver aspires to do -- trust me).

Before she went to bed tonight we made a mouse out of her new Bendaroos. She made me laugh when she said: "You like this craft, right mom? No glue, no stains, no mess!" I looked at the Bendaroos box, which sure enough proclaimed it to be a "no glue, no stains, no mess!" activity. Apparently I've done a poor job hiding my disdain for crafts from my children. I'll bake with them all day long, and we'll douse the whole kitchen with flour and buttermilk while we do it, and that doesn't bother me in the least -- but as soon as we break out the glitter glue and paint, I immediately feel my blood pressure start to rise. Watching Caroline mix the paint colors together. Wondering if that glitter paint really is washable (because invisible ink is actually visible on white fabric -- FYI). Seeing all the capless magic markers rolling off the table. Sweeping up the Moon Sand. It is just really not my thing. At all. And because my kids do crafts galore at school, you'd think they would not feel compelled to make a beeline to the neon finger paint as soon as they get home, but for some reason they are just not done creating. And because I love them, I try to roll with it, but boy, I sure was excited to see these various no glue, no stains, no mess activities added to our craft collection.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Project 365 - Day 14

My single favorite item to ever emerge from my kitchen - teapot cake balls! A HUGE thank you to Amanda, who found these and convinced me to try them, and who spent several hours the night before Elizabeth's party helping me make them, and to Bakerella, for inventing (as far as we know!) the adorable cake pop/cake ball concept in the first place!!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Project 365 - Day 13

Jacob received an award at school, and to celebrate it, he got to have pizza in the principal's office with the principal, assistant principal, and a couple of his buddies. He has been SO excited about this, and I was thrilled when the principal invited me to come and snap a couple of pictures. I did not want to interfere with the dynamics, so I only stayed long enough to say hello and take advantage of the photo op. Here is Jacob sitting at the principal's desk, looking very busy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Project 365 - day 12

Santa brought Jacob an iPod for Christmas. He'd been asking for one since his 7th birthday (when he didn't even listen to music). At first 8 seemed really young to me for an iPod, but when I thought about it, I'm sure I had a Walkman when I was 9 or 10, so adjusting for age inflation over the past 30 years, eight is probably about right. The other clue was that all of his friends already had iPods or some kind of music playing device -- NOT that that was a compelling reason for Jacob to get one, but since he's our first child, it was somewhat useful information in figuring out the social norms for such things. Anyway, he loves it, and, in typical Jacob fashion, is more likely to plug it in to a speaker so that we can all hear his tunes. Let the music play!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Project 365 - Day 11

Happy 6th Birthday, Elizabeth!