The first 3rd birthday that really never was

There is a part of me that did not want to post this blog.  My youngest son was turning 3 and he was getting a birthday party for the first time.  I had the theme all ready and ideas began swirling right out of the gate.  I was so excited to be throwing another event since it had been almost a year, excluding the last minute Back to School get together I threw a couple of weeks ago for my eldest.  I thought I had so much time to get set up, I even became cocky about the whole thing.  I had counted my chickens, planned out how they would be cooked and everything.  The preparation week was off to an amazing start.  I had designed all of the signs and labels.  Two nights out I made the jellyfish which I thought looked awesome.  The afternoon before, I made the corn dogs, the cookies and the cupcakes.  Oh yes, this was it.  This was the party where I was finally going to execute every little detail that I had conjured up in my brain…….or so I thought.

Party day came out of nowhere, I overslept by 30 minutes and while hanging up the balloons (don’t get me started on those things) aka bubbles, a random wind decided to grace me with its presence.  I never thought I curse at the air, but on August 13th I was fist waving and cursing to the heavens.  For a brief moment, when the wind was soft and intermittent, I was able to bask in the joy of my creation then mother nature thought she’d have a great laugh and blow the bleep out of my under water paradise.

If that wasn’t challenging enough, the tablecloths I purchased created more like a tacky 80s wedding scene rather than an underwater explorer vibe you would expect from an Octonauts party so I had to run to the Dollar Tree.  Oh no, it gets better, of course it was 8:30 am and Dollar Tree doesn’t open until 9:00 am….of course.  I literally sat there calculating which option (running back home or staying and waiting) would maximize my time the most.  I decided to wait and stand at the door looking pitiful so maybe they would open it a bit earlier and it worked.  At 8:57 am, I found pity.  I ran through the store like a Super Market Sweep contestant and was out of there by 9:01 am because the register wouldn’t allow scans until 9:00 am. Ha!

Fast forward to about 1 hour before the party and I knew, at that point, I had been defeated.  Before I could capture a good shot of the underwater paradise, the wind blew my “bubbles” and jellyfish all over the place and I had given up on rearranging them.  My table settings blew onto the floor and somehow my “clear” (and I use that word loosely) balloons had turned opaque or freakin’ white and my cupcakes weren’t frosted. Ahhhhhh!

The good news, I still managed to play hostess.  The kids played the games.  My husband had finished enough of the playset for the kids to play and the kids seemed to have a great time.  But don’t worry, things didn’t turn fully around….Wal-mart sent us poison paper cups.  Yeah, the kids started complaining about the drinks and I decided to confirm with a taste test and almost puked.   Anyway, I did manage to capture glimpses of my creations so I thought I’d share.  The moral of this story, HIRE HIRE HIRE help and don’t order paper cups from Wal-mart!

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You can see my jelly fish hiding in the bubbles.  They were actually super easy to make and I chose to go with a more natural look rather than the colorful options you find online.

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I bought a bubble maker from Amazon which was a big hit.  It was one the few things that worked perfectly.

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The tablecloth and plates came from the Dollar Tree.  I actually screamed out loud when I found them.  The printing was shockingly good quality.

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This one is my favorite because Amazon had actual Octonaut themed goodie boxes that were like $7.99 for 4 and we know that wasn’t going to happen and I guess Amazon knew as well because at the bottom of the screen when you open the file for details, it suggested these plain white boxes that were  $7.50 for 12.  I bought those and printed the Octonaut emblem and a stick of glue later we have $0.70 boxes instead of $2 boxes.

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These are the items of which I am the most proud.  Esty, offers amazing printables for Octonaut themed parties, but when I got to this point, I was done spending money.  Fortunately for me, some awesome individual posted this image on Pinterest and I printed them out, took the advice I found on a forum and taped them right over the Aquafina label without batting an eye.  Side Note:  when printing things like this and the Octonaut logo, it is really good to create a table and insert the images.  It makes cutting much more simpler and uniform.

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I made the daring attempt at organized games and it worked a little bit.  It was more of a temporary distraction from the swing set.

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These are homemade.  I actually love making them especially since I know what type of meat (I use Oscar Meyer Selects) is being used and the contents of the breading.  Here is the recipe.  I used the cake pop sticks I bought from Michael’s.

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This is actually a toy.  I saw an amazing Octopod centerpiece online and thought, uh no.  I do not have the skill, time, nor the resources to make that so I went with a toy which serves as both a cupcake stand and his birthday gift.

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Typical 3 year old, stole a jelly fish.

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Happy 3rd Birthday C3!

An Old Fashioned Treat Gets a homemade maker-over

In an attempt to have one last get together for my son and his kindergarten mates before they transition to 1st grade.  I wanted to just do a little something with no bells and whistles.  No days and days of little sleep trying to execute some insane design my meddling brain created.  Just playing with water in the backyard or whatever they find around the house, pizza that will be delivered and homemade ice cream sandwiches.

I tried sooooooooo hard to be simple, but I mean, there had to be multiple flavors of ice cream and there HAD to be different cookie options so that there can be different sandwich combinations and how could they possible know what to pick without a menu and what kind of menu would it be if it wasn’t a chalkboard menu and how would they know it was a menu if I didn’t give it a title.  That is pretty much how my brain works and why things constantly spiral out of control.  Oh well, what’s done is done.  I kept it as simple as I am capable of keeping it and the kids had a blast.

Oh don’t worry, I will not conclude this post without talking about the treats that inspired this whole thing.

I am quite particular with the quality of food that my little monsters consume (until I am exhausted and you hear “Welcome to McDonald’s, may I take your order”) so if I allow ice cream in the house, it is only with a label that says cream, sugar, and maybe 2 or 3 more ingredients that I am able to pronounce and don’t recognize from a reagent label at work.  Harris Teeter was having a buy 2 get 3 free on Turkey Hill (don’t ask me, it’s a brand they carry here in NC) so I thought, this is totally a sign that ice cream sandwiches are the way to go.  Next was deciding on which cookies, but before I even went there I had a matter of business to resolve.  My cookies have not been performing as well as I would like so I Googled and found some awesome tips that had my cookies looking and feeling like something from a professional bakery (taste has never been an issue).  Here are the tips:

  1.  All ingredients must be at room temperature (I have shared that one before)
  2. Beat butter and sugar for 3 – 5 minutes.  This is for real.  It gets that air inside so you have nice plump, fluffy cookies.
  3. Rotate you pans midway through cooking (change racks as applicable but also a 180°)
  4. Parchment paper!  – This is the best and most important tip I have ever used.  It made clean up a sinch.  Helped the cookies have a gorgeous color on the bottom, but also helped speed up my process as you are able to set cookies up on the parchment paper while one/two batches are in the oven!

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The cookies turned out the best I ever made.  I chose my go to chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies although no one chose that one, sugar cookies, and brown butter cinnamon with white chocolate chip.  You can see the combinations on the menu.

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The menu was such a fun touch, the kids were so excited and perplexed trying to decide which to choose.  One of the moms who stayed took orders and it was really like an Ice Cream Shoppe (what the h is a shoppe?).  I am pretty sure I enjoyed it the most as I, for a brief moment, got to experience having my own bakery without leaving my own home and the kids got a nice end to their summer break which I hope goes in their history books.

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The $4-1 hour Make-over I cannot believe!

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Every time I pull into my driveway, I would consider knocking down my lamp post.  I would literally stare it down like it was taunting me saying “ha ha, you don’t have time…you are going to have to deal with my atrocious appearance forever!”  I drive around  my neighborhood and I see these ebony black lamp posts with a flawless sheen.  It can add such a sophisticated glamour to your front yard, but if it is not well maintained, it can turn into a prop for a scene in a horror film.  You know, the broken down home that houses ghosts.  O.k. maybe I am being dramatic, but my lamp post had morphed into this strange grayish pole with a rusted gold top and bugs and dirt had built their dream home within the glass casing.  It’s a miracle that light was even able to illuminate from that thing.

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One random day when I went to Wal-mart to buy supplies for another project, I grabbed a can of spray paint.  When I finally got home, I barely had any time to start my other project and I had just drove past that eye sore yet again.  I had only a few minutes to decide what to do with the little time I had left so I chose, to revamp the lamp.  Ha Ha.

First I disassembled the lantern and washed the glass.  I grabbed whatever I could find to protect the surrounding areas and commenced to spraying.  I am not kidding, I had only a few minutes before I had to get dressed for work so I sped through this like I was in a race.  It took me less than 1 hour and yes, there were a few flaws which I plan to fix later, but I do know that I now pull into my driveway with a huge smile.  I cannot believe how quick and cheap was this project.

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What To Do With That Turkey?

Halt, stop what you are doing!  Do not throw away that leftover turkey or take it out of the freezer, I know what you can do with it.  Before I begin, let me give you a moment to grab a napkin to wipe off the drool that will inevitably ensue after reading this recipe……O.k. I hope you got it.  I found this recipe for Turkey Enchilada on Pinterest, of course.  The image alone had me falling out.  I mean, whaaaat, cranberry salsa!  I made this and found myself scrapping the plate.  The Enchilada is delish and, if you have flavored you turkey to perfection, you won’t be able to stop.  The cranberry salsa, with that cilantro bite just pushes you to the edge of flavor country so be prepared to start scraping pots for any leftover turkey you can gather.

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I did make a couple of changes to the recipe.  Instead of butternut squash, I used sweet potatoes, because of course that is what I would have leftover after my favorite holiday.  I also did not have any Gouda on hand so I replaced that with mozzarella cheese.  I wanted the kids to be able to enjoy it so I stuck only with the more mild green sauce as the red can get a little spicy for miniature taste buds.  Other than those few swaps, I pretty much stuck to the recipe and it was heaven.  Now if you will excuse me I need to do the, I-ate-too-much side lean to make space for my fully belly. Enjoy!!!

Cooking Tip That You Should Not Ignore: Don’t take the shortcuts in baking

In my post last week, I kind of pretended like this didn’t happen, but this time I will bring it up.  I have been gone for quite some time which according to successful bloggers, is not a way to keep interest.  I was transitioning back to working mom and it has not been easy to say the least.  Yet, I have made it my goal to at least post one blog per week in the thick of all the chaos that is my new life so I am hoping that I am  not being overly ambitious.

As you may remember from last week I am implementing a series of posts on cooking tips I have read about and am trying and that work.  The first part of this tip comes from internet posts, cooking channels and you name it.  The second part is my own spin on what I have heard previously and seen recently.  Have you heard or read about the room temperature demand in recipes?  Well, I have and I took it like more of a suggestion.  I mean, I am normally baking spontaneously or (the norm) I am rushing and trying to squeeze it into a small window of time so who in the world would remember to take out the butter, eggs, or whatever to bring to room temperature.  I mean, this has to be a suggestion, right?  Wrong!  For the first time I actually decided to bring the eggs, liquid and butter to room temp  and let me just tell, it made a world of difference.  My cupcakes came out so even and beautiful.  I just stared at them through the oven door drooling.  Another contributor to the beautiful specimens that were my cupcakes was the ice cream scoop method.  I have watched countless baking shows or shows that interview successful bakers in house and they all were using ice cream scoops to dispense their cupcake batter into the liners.  Once again, I ignored it because, well I don’t happen to have an ice cream scoop.  One day, recently  I saw the owner of Magnolia’s (if you haven’t heard about it, Google it.  It looks awesome) level off her ice cream scoop of batter before she put it in the pan so I thought hmm and the light bulb went on.  The next time I baked, I grabbed my 1/4 C measuring cup and went to town.  Just scoop up the batter and level it off with a butter knife and voila.  Incorporating those tips produced cupcakes I had never seen before outside of an expensive bakery.  They just looked so pretty and of course, as always, they tasted delicious!

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I am telling you when you are looking at recipes, don’t write off the tips and preparation.  It can make something go from pretty good to something amazing!

Cooking Tips That You Should Not Ignore: Making It Last

How many times have you spent 10 billion dollars on produce, usually herbs and berries only to have it become engulfed in mold or wilt before you have a chance to use it?  O.k. pricing is no where near 10 billion dollars, but some produce pricing is just as ridiculous.  Despite the cost, I found myself having to toss nearly half a container, because you know I don’t really like my produce with a side of mold.    My initial attempts at preventing this waste, eating it super fast or  putting it with all of my children’s meals since they are the berry lovers, never worked.  I could never eat it fast enough.  I got to the point where I was accepting that only the top layer (referring to the plastic container in which they are stored) would be eaten.  I mean, it was molding around two days after purchasing.

I began to look up options on saving them since they are so healthy and my kids love them, but internet searches would bring me to processes that I believed were preposterous. I imagined some no shoe wearing (I have a thing about bare feet, but that is for another day and another time) pixie frolicking in a field of produce making a meal right out of their own garden.  You know the person that grows all of their food, uses organic cloth diapers, has never touched a piece of processed food, etc. etc.  I am not trying to bad mouth those people at all.  I actually think that is awesome.  I just have always felt that their way of life was impossible for the average person and by average person, I mean yours truly.  Anyway so I ignored those tips until one day cilantro was nowhere to be found due to a recall and when I finally did find some, it was organic and cost a mint (well it was expensive to me).  I decided to buy it since I really wanted it.  This time I was like “I’ll be damned if I am going to let this golden cilantro wilt and spoil in a few days” so it pushed me to try, what I thought was, some hare-brained scheme.  Treat the cilantro like a plant…that you have to keep in the fridge.  When you bring it home, rinse it and dry it thoroughly.  Next place it in a cup filled with water and cover it with a ziplock bag and put in the fridge.


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It freakin’ worked!  My cilantro lasted for ever!

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And once that worked, I decided these food tips are not crazy after all so I tried the berry trick and that worked as well.  My cilantro lasted more than 2 weeks and my berries lasted a week or at least long enough for us to finish it at our own pace.

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  For the berries instead of just rinsing it with water.  Rinse it with vinegar. Yes, vinegar!  For every cup of water, use about 2 tablespoons of vinegar.  I do not have a particular amount of time to rinse in the solution, you just don’t need to soak it long (30 seconds should be sufficient).

I could not believe it actually worked and so well.   Shows me to judge.  So I say, do not ignore tips, try them out.  You never know what might happen.

A 5th Birthday Celebration, Star Wars Style

O.k. before you gasp at the fact that Star Wars and 5th Birthday are in the same sentence, let me preface by saying he has never watched the movie.  I learned very quickly that you cannot possibly have control over what your kids will be exposed to at school.  One day my four year old comes home from school and is giving me details about Star Wars that I didn’t even know and fast forward through the anger then acceptance and my husband taking the opportunity to Geek out with his son and a Star Wars obsession and birthday party are born.

Now I have to say that, after that dramatic intro, I was actually excited about the decoration potential in a Star Wars themed party so I did a secret happy dance while tossing out my original “Planes Fire and Rescue” birthday for which he had previously asked.  One of the first things I learned about a Star Wars party is it can go in so many directions so you need a sub theme.  Yes, it is that serious.  There are Lego Star Wars Parties, Jedi Parties, etc.  I went with Jedi Training to keep it more on the not so scary side.  I did my usual process starting with the food and decided to keep it simple.

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But first I must bring up the invitation as it is the part of which I am most proud.   I designed it from scratch and used Celebrations.com to send out the invite.  I noticed a lot of people searching for a website that allows you to fully customize your own invitation and use a site to track guest responses.  Turns out there is no such site, at least not free, but my IT department aka my husband helped me find a way to use Celebrations.com with my own invite.  He turned my word doc into a jpeg and the site allows you to upload an image for your invitation.  My good friend Zanique, who told me about the site, takes an actual picture of her custom invitations so that is another option.  The Star Wars fonts can be downloaded via Dafont.com.  It is so easy and it automatically imported the font to my MS Word. I also used those fonts for all of my printouts.

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Now back to my favorite, the food.  For the dessert, I saw these amazing Storm Trooper cupcakes on Pinterest and decided to do assorted cupcakes. I prepared them 3 days in advance and froze them so they wouldn’t be an issue later.  That’s a tip that I will use forever.  Turns out, bakeries do it all the time.  Who knew.  For food, I decided basic cold cut sliders with a delicious twist using homemade Molasses Rolls as the bread.  Just so the adults felt appreciated I made pulled bbq chicken.  I will post the recipe later since I added my own twist.  I made mac & cheese and put it in tiny little tins because everything tiny is cute and my favorite.  I also had llittle corn on the cob skewers and the standard fruit and veggies.

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For the decor, and there was no shortage of ideas online, I had to start with light sabers…light sabers, light sabers everywhere!  I am telling you people can be over the top when it comes to Stars Wars, even if it is just a kid’s party (no names).  I chose to go with the light sabers that were the cheapest and easiest to make.

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I purchased pool noodles from the Dollar Tree.  I ended up going to a couple to get 3 different colors.  One $1 pool noodle makes two light sabers so that is amazing.

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Once I cut them with a bread knife (you need the cerrations to get through the foam), I put the duct tape (purhcased from amazon) on the bottom to begin the process.  Side note, duct tape is extremely hard to work with and not easy to cut into shapes.  I ended up making patterns by organizing the layers of tape like a puzzle.  It uses more tape, but it worked. and was less stressful.

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I also saw some cute paper napkins shaped like light sabers so I had to use that idea, but true to my nature I chose to get the computer involved.  I have a creative mind and a not so creative hand as I always say so I actually used MS Word table to create the paper wrap for the napkins which were also purchased at the Dollar Store.

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I bought an industrial roll of black construction paper and had the harebrained scheme of creating outerspace, in my formal living room aka library aka Green room (literally, I painted it green).  I bought a white paint pin which I totally recommend to use as a white chalk design alternative which I proceeded to use to draw my version of Star Wars ships.  I also used regular white chalk to create stars.  That was fun, because I just got to walk around the paper tapping it in different places like I was playing checkers.  You know when you jump the other guys.  Or like on “Good Will Hunting” on that scene when they are solving a math problem and it seems like they are just tapping on the chalkboard….no?  Too much of a stretch on the reference?  Anyway, that project showed my true commitment as it took about 2.5 hours to create and 3 hours to hang up with the help of a good friend.  Actually, the testament to how truly serious this was is that my husband made Tie fighters from cardboard which we still have hanging up.

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I used silver balloons purchased from Oriental Trading Co. (an online site that is a must use for any party) and silver circular stickers to create that laser ball from the movie used in Jedi Training.  Oh yes, I was serious.

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For the activities I came up with water park training center and the weather man came up with rain.  Now I am originally from California so a week or so out from party day I was still in denial that my summer birthdays could be foiled by bad weather.  I mean I bought this amazing slip and slide from Wal-Mart that looks like some sort of Sci-fi item so it had to be used.  It wasn’t until the day before that I decided to come up with a back up plan.  Well the moment I gave up and decided I have to start coming up with a backup plan, rain was not going to happen during party hours.  Unfortunately my plans were crossed between both activities so nothing was ready for either option.  Fortunately for me, that slip and slide a water activity table we already had and water balloons saved the day.

The party turned out amazing, I impressed my oldest son and I finally got to sleep after about a two day decorating marathon.