Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Oh, Christmas Tree

 We had to replace the turkeys with some Christmas trees to hang on our chandelier.  These are pretty easy and look really cute.  It's kind of hard to see in a picture, but the effect is that they look 3D.

My secret to making perfect Christmas trees?
I used a cookie cutter!
I traced two Christmas trees on cardstock and cut them out.  I also cut a yellow star out of cardstock.  I gave two trees each to my Superhero and Angel and let them decorate them with markers.  They need to be decorated on both sides.  I then cut one tree in a line up from the bottom to the middle and the other tree down from the top to the middle.  I taped the star to the top of the tree that has the bottom cut.

 I then slid the two trees together--the top line of one tree going through the bottom line on the other.  I used a tiny bit of tape at the top and bottom to make the trees stay in the perpendicular positions where I wanted them.  For the bottom part, I put a piece of tape on each of the four corners (as in the picture below) to secure it.

 End result

 I then taped a piece of string to the star to hang it from the chandelier.

Friday, November 30, 2012

From My Christmas List to Yours

I'm rather obsessive about finding the perfect Christmas gift.  I'm also obsessive about finding a good deal.  I want to give adults gifts that will be meaningful to them, and I want to give children gifts that they will enjoy longer than a week.  It's always been helpful to me to know has worked for other people.  I'm really good at borrowing good ideas from others.  

So do you want to take a peak at my Christmas list?  The best part is, many of these things I bought last year, so I already know they're keepers!

I may post more later (especially about toys :)), but for now, I thought I'd stick with one idea per group.  I also tried to choose things around the same price range.  Warning:  If you are a member of my family, these ideas are off-limits, and you must pretend you never saw this post!

The Baby
An Ornament for Baby's1st Christmas
$7.99-$17.95 (price varies widely, depending on store)

Growing up, I always loved to hang up my special first Christmas ornament.  I've continued the tradition with my own children, but I've tried to choose a different, unique ornament for each one.  Kids always like to hear stories about when they were babies.  This way, when they hang their ornaments, I'll also be able to include the story of why I picked that particular ornament for them.

I scoured the Internet, and oh my goodness, there are some expensive ornaments out there!  This one is my pick, and I found a really good deal on it!  I wish it said the year; there are a lot of ornaments that do, but I like this one too much to pass it up. There is a boy and a girl version, and this website is running a deal for 50% off the girl ornament and free shipping on orders over $39.50.  You can also find this ornament other places, such as on Amazon.  The above link will take you to the site where I found the best deal.
The Toddler
$14.00 at Walmart and Amazon
This toy is so cool, my husband and I have fun playing with it!  Each face of the cube is a button that represents a different instrument in the orchestra.  You can press the buttons to turn each instrument on or off and hear how the music sounds differently.  I actually bought this several years ago and my kiddos still like to play with it.  Now they turn the music on and dance around it!

The 3 year old
$13.88 at Walmart

3 year olds can be tough to buy for.  They aren't babies, but they aren't quite old enough for big kids toys with lots of small parts.  My kids love their doctor kit.  This Fisher Price version is great and has stood up to a lot of play.  We even played vet hospital once and used the kit to treat all of their stuffed animals.  And the kit must be good because all the patients survived!

The 4-11 year old
$29.99 at Toys R Us
Note:  You can sometimes find this cheaper elsewhere.  Zing also makes one that is very similar.

Shhh, this is what I'm getting for all my nephews AND my niece!  I know this is a large age range, but this is a fantastic toy.  Any kid in this age range will be upset if you get one of these for one and not the other.  Yes, even girls will want one, especially with the popularity of 'Brave.'  We got this for my Superhero last Christmas.  He was five and requested a bow and arrow (after seeing Disney's 'Robin Hood').  He LOVED it, and it is still one of his favorite, if not THE favorite toy.  Every kid who comes to our house loves the bow and arrow.  When he took it to preschool for show and tell, he had a roomful of envious preschoolers wanting to try it out.  And the best part is, the arrows are really safe.  They don't hurt if you, by chance, should be hit with one, and trust me, I should know.  They haven't caused any damage to my house.  And, you can get extra ones if needed.  After a year of use, a couple of his arrows are showing signs of wear, so guess what the Superhero is getting in his stocking?!!

The Teenager
An Experience

I don't have any teenagers on my list this year, and I'm not really looking forward to when I do.  But if I did, I think I would try to give them an experience as a present.  I get tired of stuff.  If I could get by without giving my kids a new arsenal of toys for Christmas, I would.  But by the time they're teenagers, I'm hoping to give it a shot.  If I think about the toys I received for Christmas growing up, I can remember very few.  What I remember most, and what is special to me is the things I did with my family.  I remember the vacations and playing games together.  I remember the laughter, the fun, and the times I felt special.  So, if I had a teenager to buy for, I would get him or her a movie gift card, concert tickets, tickets to an amusement park, or a special date with mom or dad.  I can just picture my boys loving to go to some kind of professional sports game with their dad.  I've heard of families saving their money and going somewhere like Disneyland as their Christmas gift.  I think that's a great idea.  Instead of more stuff, I would rather my kids have memories.

The Adult
 A Charitable Donation

The adults in my family have decided not to give each other Christmas gifts this year.  Instead, we've decided to pool the money we would have spent on those gifts and give it to someone in need.  I think we've decided to go with Compassion International.  They have a Christmas catalog where you can choose specifically where you want your money to go.  For $4, you can protect a child from malaria, and the prices for gifts go up from there.  We are leaning towards paying for the care of an at-risk child for 3 months.  We also like the gift that gives an entire family clean water for life.  We like the idea of doing something both short term to help and something that would change someone's life forever.  It's very humbling to think that while I'm trying to decide if I should get an iphone, someone else in the world doesn't have clean water or enough to eat.  I, for one, have enough stuff.  And if I have the choice of getting some THING for myself for Christmas or changing a family's life with something like clean water, I don't need another Christmas gift ever again!  If someone gave me a card that told me they'd provided money for something like that as my Christmas gift, I would probably be so very touched, I'd start crying right there!

I know I spend far too much time obsessing over finding the perfect gift.  But when I give a gift, it's more than a gift; it's a token of my love.  It makes me feel good when I see someone enjoying what I picked out for them.  It is very, very true that it is more blessed to give than receive.  And I'm looking forward to a lot of blessings this Christmas.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tips for Online Retail Therapy

Once upon a time, I loved to shop.  Then I had kids.  Now I hate it.  End of story.

Well, maybe not quite the end.  I shop now out of necessity, not for fun.  A terrible day for me is taking three kids for a day of shopping.  And usually I'll drive an hour, go to multiple stores, and then not find what I'm looking for.  Then I have to drive another hour home and try to find things online anyway.  So, by necessity, I have learned the art of online shopping.

I am very frugal (aka thrifty, economical, cheap,tight--whatever you want to term it).  I love a good deal, and I can at times almost obsess about finding one.  One of the best things about online shopping is that you can sometimes even get better deals than if you went to the store, AND your purchases come directly to your door.

This Christmas, I'm hoping to get in one shopping run (which I'm sure I will regret).  But the vast majority of things I'm going to buy online.  Here are a few tips I've learned along the way.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.  In fact, there are probably still secrets to be found, but here are a few things that have helped me find great deals.

Friends With Benefits

There are an ever-growing number of couponing sites dedicated to doing the work of saving you money.  They do the work of finding great deals and share them with everyone else.  You can even 'like' or 'friend' some of these sites on Facebook.  Then you receive notices in your newsfeed when they post good deals.  The downside is that sometimes the deals can go very fast, especially if a large number of people see the same post and want that same deal.  The other downside is that these sites tend to post things a lot, which can clutter up your newsfeed.  I have purchased t-shirts, nursing covers, and toys based on tips I have received from my 'friends.'  As I said before, there are a lot of couponing sites out there, but the two I use are The Krazy Coupon Lady and Fabulessly Frugal.  You can find them at their website (click on the previous links) or on Facebook.

Coupon Codes
I take for granted that everyone knows about coupon codes.  When you are making an online purchase, most sites have a spot to apply a coupon code.  This is an online coupon that gives you a discount or a special deal.  Websites and stores frequently run coupon codes as part of promotions.  My strategies for finding coupon codes are to Google the name of the store along with the words 'coupon code' or use a website whose job it is to gather and publish coupon codes from around the web.  My favorite website for coupon codes is RetailMeNot.  If you type in the name of any store, the website gives you a list of available coupons.  Some of the best stores I like for coupon codes are Kohls and Payless Shoes.  They're always running some kind of coupon code for a percentage off or free shipping.  Walmart and Amazon are not very good for using coupon codes, but they can sometimes run good deals without them.  For instance, Walmart frequently has 99 cent shipping on any item and Amazon always has free shipping on orders over $25.Did you know that even airlines and computer companies offer coupon codes?  Don't ever think your purchase is too big or small.  You may not find a coupon code, but I find it's always worth checking.

The Extras
Once I find a fantastic deal, I try to make it even more fabulous by using a website that gives me a percentage of cash back on every purchase.  Ive heard that Ebates is a similar rewards site, but I haven't used them personally.  I use Shop At Home.  It really is simple.  All you do is create an account and then whenever you want to purchase something, find the store in their database and use their link to open the website in a new window and make your purchase.  Shop at Home will then give you back a small percentage of whatever you spend.  The money stays in your account until it reaches a minimum amount, then you can choose a pay-out method.  Now I've never gotten a lot of money from using this method, but I figure every little bit helps.

Yes, Amazon is so amazing for online shopping that it gets its own category.  When I need to buy something, such as a gift, I tend to get a little obsessive.  I find what I want, and then I search the Internet to compare prices and find the best deal.  While Amazon doesn't win 100% of the time, I would say they do win most of the time.  And you can find just about ANYTHING on Amazon.  I might be able to find a product cheaper somewhere else, but when you factor in the fact that Amazon will throw in free shipping on any order over $25, then Amazon can usually easily beat the competition.  Another feature I like on Amazon is that I can put things in my cart and purchase them later.  Most other sites empty your cart after a certain amount of time has passed.  If I see something I want, I put it in my cart.  When my cart reaches $25, I decide if I really need all the products and if I should make the purchase.  The only downside to this method is that prices can change or go out of stock on the items in your cart.  It in no way reserves them for you.  So if you see a really good deal, don't wait!

I should mention that Shop At Home doesn't usually offer cash back on purchases made at Amazon.  Also, coupon codes are not really useful for this site.  The coupon codes Amazon does offer are usually very product specific and generally not at all helpful.  But I love the selection and the free shipping.  If I can find something on Amazon, it is usually well worth it to save the gas money and stress of trying to purchase elsewhere.

Although I don't have personal experience, I've heard very good things about the Amazon Mom program.  My sister-in-law gets a great deal on diapers and other things delivered straight to her door through this program.  I just haven't had the chance to check it out very thoroughly, but it's definitely on my to-do list!

Happily Ever After???
Online shopping takes both patience to find the good deal and smarts to get the deal while the gettin's good.  Maybe someday I'll enjoy shopping in a store again, but I doubt it.  Happily ever after for me would be everything, including grocery shopping, done online; free shipping and returns on all purchases; and never having to set foot in a store again.  Happy shopping!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Let's Talk Turkey!

My Superhero isn't really a craft-type kid.  When I try to do a craft with him, I usually end up doing it myself.  However, he does like to decorate for whatever holiday is closest.  If the craft is easy and doesn't take a lot of time, he's very happy to help make decorations.  This turkey definitely qualifies as fast and easy.

brown and white construction paper
fall leaves (I got a package of 32 at my local grocery store for about$0.89.)
scotch tape
glue stick

I used a can of beans to trace the circle out of construction paper.  I then taped three leaves to the back of the circle.

I wanted to hang my turkeys up, so I wanted the to have faces on both sides.  I taped another brown circle on the back of the turkey so they looked the same from both front and back.

I cut out eyes from white construction paper, and then cut out a beak and a a wattle for each side from orange and red leaves. (For each double sided turkey: 4 eyes, 2 beaks, 2 wobbles.)  And yes, the red hangy-down thing on a turkey is called a wattle.  I googled it. :)
You can use a glue stick to put on the face.  I didn't have a glue stick (that wasn't completely dried up), so I used glue for the eyes and doubled over pieces of scotch tape for the beaks and wattles.

This is my Superhero's turkey.  Isn't he cute?
 I then used yarn to hang the turkeys on the chandelier over our table

Now our house is decorated, my Superhero and Angel are happy, and the turkeys can knock my husband in the head and drive him crazy!  That's a win on all counts!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Epic Angry Birds Party

The Plan

My Superhero loves Angry Birds.  We actually don't have the game at our house (He would drive me insane if we did.), but he plays it at Grandma's.  With his sixth birthday coming up, there was no doubt what kind of party he wanted.  This was his very first themed party with school friends and everything, so I wanted to make it special.  Unfortunately, most of the time I was preparing for it, I was seriously doubting my own sanity.  Who hand paints 16 balls to look like Angry Birds and Pigs?  A mommy who is absolutely crazy about her little boy, that's who!

I purchased the invitations, along with plates, napkins, cups, a table cloth, a couple party favors and thank you cards at Zurchers online.  They also have supplies at Amazon, but after obsessing and analyzing the prices, I found Zurchers was a bit less expensive (and I'm all about saving money).

My Superhero and I filled out the invitations and mailed them.  At his insistence, we went immediately to the post office to mail them to his guests.  My kiddos love to receive mail, and it was well worth it to send the via the official mail truck.
I had a fantastic idea for the party, and when I get a fantastic idea, I can't settle for anything less.  So the next few weeks were filled with much obsession, online ordering, and late nights.  And the end result of my insanity . . . absolutely fabulous!

The Decor

I put so much effort the rest of the party, I wanted to keep the decorations simple.  I found these great FREE Angry Birds templates online (HERE)  I printed, cut them out, and taped them to balloons.  I added a few crepe paper streamers and I was done.  It looked great, especially with the cake and table decorations. (More on the cake later.)

The Epic
My Superhero has a fantastic imagination.  It's one of my favorite things about him.  For his birthday, I wanted to do something that would appeal to his imagination.  So, as his guests arrived for his party, I put  all the presents in a box.  When everyone had arrived and he wasn't looking, I had Daddy sneak the presents out.  Then I handed my Superhero this note:
I gave a few guidelines:  Pigs were dangerous so we all had to stick together and only fight one pig at a time.  I then gave the kids their weapons.
Yes . . . to both questions.  Yes, I did paint those all by hand.  And yes, I am CRAZY!!!  I obsessed over finding inexpensive playground balls.  After scouring the internet, I found them at for $2.95 each, which was by far the cheapest price I could find.  They are 8 and 1/2 inches and were the perfect size.  To paint them, I used the same templates I used for the balloons to trace the outline on the ball, then I used primer, paint, and finally sealed it with a gloss.  (Note:  the painting didn't stand up the the activity as well as I would have liked.  Some of the paint on the balls chipped off.  They still served their purpose and the kiddos absolutely loved them, but I would have liked for it to stay better.  If I did it again, I think I would try to paint them without primer, as the one ball without primer seemed to hold up the best.  If anyone else has an idea for how to get paint to stay permanently on a textured ball, please let me know!)

Each kiddo got an Angry Bird.  My Superhero got the only bomb bird.  Bomb bird is his favorite, but since I couldn't find a black ball to order, I painted one of the blue balls black.  All of the kids were thrilled with their Angry Birds, especially when they found out they were going to get to keep them as a party favor! :)

(Note:  You can purchase playground balls that are already made to look like Angry Birds.  They are just really expensive.  But, if money is no object, take the shortcut and check them out on Amazon!)

Then, we went outside to get those pigs and rescue the Birthday Boy's presents!

The Battle

Pig #1
Ready, Aim, Fire!
Special thanks to my brother for parking his car right in back of the pig and providing a convenient block so the Angry Birds couldn't escape! :)
After the pig was knocked off and defeated, the kids found a note that he'd left.

Pig #2

 After Pig #2 was defeated, the victors found another note.

Pig #3  
My favorite!  Love the pig trying to steal the car!

Pig #3 successfully vanquished, the kids found the scariest note yet.

Cue the Pinata

The King Pig
Yes, I did make the pinata.  I think a homemade pinata is something a parent does for a child once, and that's it.  It was such a messy project that my boys, who are normally thrilled to get messy, wouldn't even help me.  You can find a lot of tutorials on making a pinata online, so I don't think I'll go into details here.  What helped me probably the most was this site. HERE  If you want more info, just ask.

The brief summary is that I used a punch balloon from the dollar store, newspaper strips with a flour and water mixture.  To make the nose, I used cardstock as the base.  I painted it with a primer before painting it green.  I had a hard time deciding how to hang it.  After the first layer, I tied the thing up with ropes and then put other layers on top so it would hang from the ropes that were now inside.  It worked great!  I also found different opinions on how many layers to use.  I did four, and it was just about perfect.  
The pinata pre-paint.

That pig took a serious beating.  Every kid was able to hit it multiple times, and they were finally successful in defeating it and retrieving the candy and the final note that was hidden inside.
The Fortress

As you can imagine, when the kids came around the corner of the house and saw the 'fortress' in the front yard, they were super excited.  We'd been saving boxes for a while.  I stopped short of actually painting the boxes (I'm not THAT crazy, and I ran out of time :).  We used the green playground balls I had painted to look like pigs (there were five pigs total).  My husband built the fortress after all the guests had arrived, so it was a complete surprise.

When I originally had the idea for this party, I told my husband that he had one assignment:

The Slingshot
Though he made me extremely nervous by waiting until the night before the party to put it together and test it, he came through and the end result was fantastic!  We found that a spider bungee like you use on the back of a truck worked the absolute best for launching the Angry Birds.  Let me know if you want specific instructions for the slingshot, and I'll talk my husband into sharing.  As you can see, it's a relatively simple design.

After the fortress was demolished and the pigs defeated, the kids were able to rescue my Superhero's presents that had been hidden behind the fortress.  We then went inside to open the presents and eat . . .

The Cake
I saw a lot of fabulous Angry Birds cakes online.  I am not a prize winning cake decorator.  I have never even attempted fondant.  It honestly scares me.  This cake was a bit time consuming but was very easy by comparison.  

My Superhero wanted an actual cake, not just cupcakes.  So the background is two sheet cakes frosted together.  The wood pieces are chocolate covered vanilla wafers.  You can buy some of these at a store, but, wanting to save a little money, I got cheap wafers and dipping chocolate and made my own.  

The birds and pigs are cupcakes.  Here's how I made them: 
The eyes are all miniature marshmallows that are slightly squished.
Pigs: green gumdrop cut in half for the ears, frosting snout and black frosting detailing for eyesballs, eyebrows, and nostrils.
Red Bird:  orange gumdrop cut in half and shaped slightly for the beak, black licorice bites for the eyebrows, black frosting detailing for eyeballs and beak
Yellow Bird:  orange gumdrop cut in half and shaped slightly for the beak, pretzel sticks for the eyebrows, black frosting detailing for eyeballs and beak.
Black Bird:  same as Yellow Bird.

After cake, the kids found that those naughty pigs had rebuilt another fortress. (Pigs are, after all very industrious.)  They went back outside to battle them again.

Party Favors
As the party ended, each guest was given a bag, along with their Angry Bird ball, to take home.  The bags are ordinary brown paper lunch sacks and those same Angry Birds templates from above that I used for the balloons.  I would recommend printing these on cardstock for this purpose, if at all possible.  Otherwise the little hats and feathers at the top tend to curl.

Each sack contained a sheet of Angry Birds stickers and a party bowout (purchased at Zurchers--see above).  It also contained candy from the pinata and some Angry Birds Food.
I saw somewhere online where you could buy gummy worms prepackaged as Angry Brids food.  I decided to make my own.  I made the label and then attached it to a ziplock bag with gummy worms.

The End
In the initial planning stages, I did a lot of research about Angry Birds parties.  Some of the things I saw were incredibly elaborate or terribly expensive.  Overall, this party was a simple idea and relatively inexpensive.  From what I saw online, a lot of moms are going to be stressing to plan an Angry Birds party just as I was.  I hope this helps.  If you have any questions about any of the activities, just leave a comment or use my Contact page

It probably goes without saying that the kids LOVED the party!  They got so wrapped up in the excitement of defeating those pigs!  The party as a whole was a fantastic success and worth all my hard work to see the kids have so much fun and watch the absolute joy on my Superhero's face.  However, nothing made me feel so good as when my Superhero told me his favorite part was when the pigs stole his presents.  That was when I felt successfuMy purpose when this party was to capture my son's wonderful imagination, and I had accomplished that.  He tried to talk his daddy and me into having the pigs steal his presents again the next day!
I won't lie; this party was A LOT of work.  In the end, as successful as I feel and as happy as I made my son, I'd be very pleased if I never saw another Angry Bird the rest of my life.  And how does my Superhero feel?  "Mama, I want an Angry Birds Party again next year!!!"