Jan 182017

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It was decided – we were going to have a party George’s birthday.  Even though we were in the middle of finishing our home remodel and preparing to move.  It was not like I was doing anything else, or had any other details to plan. (Part 1)

With the theme now decided, party favors found, I moved on to games and decoration.  We were taking a risk by having the party at the local park.  However, it had been a mild autumn so far and I hoped it would continue as such.

In the spirit of keeping things simple, I looked around for items we already owned to reuse.  If it had been solely up to George, the whole pavilion would have looked like an aviary, live birds and all.  For decorations, here is what came about instead:

  • Reused a birthday banner , hanging it up high along the side of the pavilion, facing the parking lot. It is similar to the one linked, but not that exact one.  We picked our up from the dollar store a few birthdays ago; this was it last time to be used.
  • Gathered up large limbs, tying them around the support posts.
  • Placed various stuffed plush birds of George’s in the branches of the trees.
  • Used table clothes, previously acquired at an end of holiday sale, and various colors of crepe paper.  This was one of the great benefits of not having a color theme.

As for games and snacks, we began with the game – Hawk and Sparrows, a.k.a. freeze tag.

Then a horrible thing happened – the fox got into the hen house and stole all the eggs.  Each team had to go find their own specific color of eggs, a.k.a. an egg hunt using easter eggs.  The kids were great about finding their eggs, even calling out the colors if they found one that did not belong to them.  In the end, all but one team could not find their last egg.  It turned out that I hid it too well, even I could not remember where they were.  We finally found them, in a circle out in the grass, in plain sight.  The point was not to make it a hard ‘game’, but to make it a fun one.  That being said, as you can see by the pictures below, I had to get a bit creative in ‘hiding’ them around the area of park we were in.


Once all the eggs were found, we gathered the kids together to make bird feeders using peanut butter smeared on cut up paper towel rolls/toilet paper rolls and rolled in bird seed. (note: if are you dealing with peanut butter allergies, shortening could be used as an alternative.)  Each kid had a plate in front of them which began with one roll and a glob of peanut butter.  Once it was smeared on, bird seed was added to the plate, allowing the majority of see to stay contained and making clean up extremely easy.

The kids were not too sure about spreading the peanut butter till I demonstrated that it really was okay to take a bunch on your fingers and smear it around.

A string looped through the rolls meant they would hang it up once they got home.  A paper lunch sack meant transport home would be mess free, which I am sure the other parents were thankful for.

The kids were beginning to wind down, it was time for snacks.  Prior to the party we had made birds nests, a.k.a. haystacks made with chocolate chips but no nuts or marshmallows, leaving them in the muffin tins for transport. Each kid was given their “nests”.  Small bowls of jelly beans were sat out along the table, allowing the kids to choose which eggs they wanted to place in their nests.

The birds’ nests had all been made inside cupcake tins, with paper liners.  This made it very easy to transfer them to the table for each kid, then to a paper lunch sack for the kids to then take home, if they did not eat them at the party first.

Next up were cupcakes, drinks, and opening gifts.  Once everyone was done, they were off and running, making use of the nearby play equipment and open space.


My lack of photos for this post has nothing to do with me being frugal with my time or pictures.  It has everything to do with my mom taking most of the photos for this day, while I was helping direct the kids.

In the end all had fun helping George celebrate his birthday, which was the point of the whole endeavor.

P.S. I have enjoyed using the remaining erasers we acquired from the party.  Not only are they cute, but they work very well and are of a great size for hands, both large and small.

Jan 292015

Super Bowl is not a day that I want to spend time in the kitchen while everyone else is enjoying the game and each other’s company.  I prefer to have recipes that I can make ahead and just keep warm, or cool, to serve up when the time is right.  Here are a few recipes from Abe’s Market to help in that goal.

The use of an all-natural slow cooker sauce made entirely of vegetables and seasonings speeds up prep time considerably. Using lean ground beef, turkey or all vegetables ensures a low-fat delicious meal! Take an extra 25% off Jesben Slow Cooker Sauces with code SNOWDAY until 2/1!

Super Bowl of Chili – Three Ways! Beef, Turkey and Veggie

1-2 lbs lean (90%) ground beef
1 jar (24 oz) Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce
1 can (approx. 15 oz) red kidney beans (rinsed and drained)
1 can (approx. 15 oz) pinto beans (rinsed and drained)
3 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin

Place meat in slow cooker.
Add beans.
Sprinkle spices over beef and beans.
Pour entire jar of Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce on top of meat, beans and spices. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours or until meat is fully cooked.
With large spoon thoroughly stir cooked chili, breaking up ground beef into chunks and then into smaller pieces with back of spoon.
Serve in bowls and enjoy!
Makes 8-10 servings

1-2 lbs ground turkey
1 jar (24 oz) Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce
1 can (approx. 15 oz) black beans (rinsed and drained)
1 can (approx. 15 oz) yellow corn kernels (rinsed and drained)
3 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin

Place turkey in slow cooker.
Add beans.
Sprinkle spices over turkey and beans.
Pour entire jar of Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce on top of turkey, beans and spices. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours or until meat is fully cooked.
With large spoon thoroughly stir cooked chili, breaking up ground turkey into chunks, and then into smaller pieces with back of spoon.
Serve in bowls and enjoy!
Makes 8-10 servings

1 lb chopped portobello mushrooms
1 lb diced extra firm tofu
1 jar (24 oz) Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce
1 can (approx. 15 oz) cannellini beans (rinsed and drained)
1 can (approx. 15 oz) dark red kidney beans (rinsed and drained)
3 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin

Place mushrooms and tofu in slow cooker.
Add beans.
Sprinkle spices over veggies and beans.
Pour entire jar of Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce on top of vegetables, beans and spices. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.
Stir thoroughly and keep warm in slow cooker until ready to eat.
Serve in bowls and enjoy!
Makes 8-10 servings

Note: If you prefer less heat, chili powder can be reduced in any of these recipes by 1 tablespoon. On the other hand, if you like your chili hot, add a dash of hot sauce or cayenne pepper to taste. Also, feel free to get creative with your ingredients!


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Jan 132015

George turned 7 recently.  When given the option of where to have the party he chose an out-of-home place. I may have tried to sell him on that option a bit, as I did not have to clean the house, there was a lot of room to run, and most ‘games’ could be basic, giving them ideas of what to do, then letting them run and play.  Using their imaginations.  :gasp:  My kind of party.

There was some planning involved but not a lot.  We also were not planning on spending a lot for the party.  Now, “a lot” is very subjective.  We could have spent less by having it a the park, though with the weather being down right cold I’m pretty sure no one would have come.  We could have it at home, like years past, and invite family/pseudo family only.

The last option was my thought till I considered that George has been planning this for 10 months.  He is very much a social creature, something this inverted Mama has trouble understanding.  So we chose to put him before the little bit of extra money it would cost to rent the gym at a local school.

Knowing we had a large space, decorating was out of the question.  Instead, I had George choose a theme.  The cake and games would be focused on this, as would the invitations and Thank You cards.

Using a Dogs & Cats theme, here is what we did and a few ways we saved money:

dog and cat birthday cupcake cake

Homemade themed cake/cupcakes – I had grand ideas of cakes in my head, all being extremely difficult and fully worthy of a show on T.V.  After a few moments of freaking out, I took to the internet.  A quick search of “dog theme birthday idea” lead me to a Pinterest board that had many very doable ideas.

I found two different cake ideas, presented them to George and away we went.  He chose to have a Dog Bowl Cake.  I did a bit more searching and found directions.  This was probably the easiest cake I have ever ‘decorated’.  It was also tasty.  FYI: if you use cereal, do not put it on the night before as the cereal will get soggy.  Also, kids will stick their fingers in it to see what it is, not realizing there is icing underneath.  🙂

decorating cat dog cupcake cake

George also said he wanted to have cupcakes, in addition to a cake.  While looking through the same Pinterest board, I saw two different designs I liked: one for a dog and one for a cat.  I showed them to George and he agreed.  (This whole agreeing thing works so much better when your child has been thinking on things for 10 months AND can vocalize what it is he is wanting.)

The ‘Dog’ cupcakes were easy to make and I would do it again.  Again, I would make these the morning of, or else the cookies will get soggy.

The ‘Cat’ cupcakes turned out to be the hardest.  Tip: it is easier to cut a marshmallow with a warm knife.  Run you knife under, or dip it in, hot water before trying to cut.  If there is marshmallow on your knife, clean it off before starting on the next one.  This quick tip will save you from wanting to throw the cupcakes across the room out of frustration and smooshed marshmallows.

cat nip

Themed snacks – again I presented George with choices.    I was afraid the kids would get munchy, as the party was in the early afternoon.  ‘Cat Nip’ was an easy fix, that could be used for our snacks at home later if it was not all eaten.

Decor and props –  from the dollar store (where everything is $1).  From the dog food bowl for the cake to the pet toys for games.  This one stop resulted in everything we needed.

Trying to make items do double duty – decor/props are part of his gift from us, either to become his toys afterwards or be donated to local shelter, his choice. Update: he decided to keep these for his “dog”.  A week before the party, I came across a stuffed dog with a bed at a local consignment sale.  I knew immediatly it would be something he would love.  This stuffed doggie is living the high life now, with its bed always next to George when he goes to sleep.

In case you are wondering, no worries about the local shelter, George’s school does a donation drive in the fall for them and of course we HAD to get stuff for them. As the CFO of the operation, I did limit them to one item we already had at home and one item from the store, which they bought with their own money.  I may or may not have also promised helping him shop at Christmas time for the shelter.

No party favors – at first I felt odd not taking something to give to the other kids, as that seems to be the ‘thing’ to do lately.  Once I put that guilt away, I remembered that we NEVER did this when I was a kid and we all survived just fine.  At the party no one missed them and I am pretty sure the parents were happy not to have more stuff to cart back to their house.

Using some items we already own – I keep a tote of party items, many of which I find on sale throughout the year.  I try to get solid colored items so they can be used for multiple purposes.  I also took along our Frisbees and soccer balls.

Prioritizing – Leaving out some details George mentioned (we do NOT need a piñata, sorry kids), but allowing him to invite almost whomever he wishes, even his teachers. His friends are a more important aspect than those details.

Games – This is one area that I thought through, but not enough.  Thankfully one of the families had a teenager who stayed and thought of a few more I had not considered. (Sorry, no pics for this as it involved a lot of kids and their faces.)

Cat, Cat, Dog – along the theme of Duck, Duck, Goose.  After all, Dogs chase cats, right?  The ‘Cat’ got to hold the cat toy while running around.  They loved the variation.

Cat Chase – again, ‘Dogs’ chase the ‘Cats’ and try to tag them.

Another variation had the ‘Dogs’ chase the ‘Owner’ to get the squeaky dog toy.  Not sure who had the most fun, the kids running or those squeaking the toy.

Fetch – yes, we played ‘Fetch’ with other people’s kids.  Granted, once we threw the first few Frisbees, the kids wanted to do it themselves.  This is where having several to choose from helped keep (most) squabbles down.

Be a Cat – All the kids lined up, each with a ball.  On their hands and knees, they used their ‘paws’ to hit their ball several yards to another line and back.

Freeze Tag – I don’t have a cute name for this one, sorry.  The ‘Dogs’ stood in the center and the ‘Cats’ had to keep away from them.

With so many active games, the break for cake and ice cream came naturally.  There was also a lull about 1.5 hours into the party where the kids were just tired.  This is when the teenager stepped in to help get them excited about another game.  I expressed my thanks afterwards, because by this point I was also tired and out of ideas.

For all of the parties we have had for the kids, entire families are invited, not just kids their age.  I like getting to know the parents and siblings, and my kids have fun with other kids of various ages.  Not everyone agrees, which is how we ended up with only one other family hanging around for the party.  It gave me a chance to visit with this friend, though, so I am glad they decided to stay.

Also, several of the kids were actually Jack’s age, but again we are friend with kids of all ages, so they were George’s friends as well.  The one friend was a new one to me and the Mom admitted to being a bit confused as to why her child was invited, since she was not in George’s class nor grade.  I explained that while her kid and George were not the same age, we encourage them to be friends with everyone.  (It also helped that there were other kids her kid knew there, so it was not completely awkward for her kid.  I also got a chance to talk with this mom, as I normally would not know how to even start a conversation.)

Looking back, this was my favorite party so far.  George even thanked me afterwards for “having the best party ever”, without being prompted to do so.  He actually did it twice.  Something must have gone right then …. of course, a week later, I had to remind him to: live for today, not “when I am 8, I will ____”.  At least he is forward thinking.  🙂


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The Deliberate Mom
Oct 292012

I always have great visions of how a party is going to go, but it never seems to work out that way.  It is the morning of the get together and I am running around finishing up last minute details.  It always works out in the end, but I never seem to get to enjoy the party as I feel like I’m running in a million directions. Take the picture above, for example.  This was from a tea I did this past spring.  All the food worked out great … it was only an hour late being served.  All the sandwiches were being finished at the very end and I had not judge the time well.

My goal for the one this week is to change that.  I really should have started on this last week or the week before, but I didn’t fully realize that I only had 2 or 3 weeks till the party.  “Surely November isn’t that close yet!”

Well, here we are.  I thought I would write out my thoughts on planning this, to show how I am going to accomplish this goal.  As the week progreses I’ll adjust this as I remember things to do, or get other items done earlier.

FYI: this is in backwards order.  The things you see first will actually be done last.

– Eat cake

– Serve supper.

– Set out deviled eggs right before serving supper.

– Open gifts.

– Begin Party

– Set out cake

– Have kids blow up balloons and tape around area.  Have the kids decorate with crepe paper as they wish (the older kids)

– Start coffee pot

– Put hot cocoa crockpot out. Place cups beside crockpot, along with ladel.

– Set up tea station – hot water kettle and assortment of teas, honey bottle, sugar bowl; plastic spoons for mixing; cups for drinking

– Set up for party – set up tables, cover with tableclothes; set up chairs; set up tent, if outside; turn on music.

– Arrange veggies on platter, set out.

– Place muffin on platter, set out.  Put butter or margarine  nearby, along with some jams.

– Place soups in crockpots, or on stove, on low

– Morning – empty trash

– Morning – take frozen chili out of freezer, remove corn bread muffins from freezer



– Decorate cake and place in fridge

– Make deviled eggs

– Cut veggies, place in bags, for veggie tray

– Gather chairs and tables in one place

– Bring party bin upstairs, or bring items needed from it upstairs

– Vaccum and sweep

– Pick up and declutter the main living areas



– Bake cake; cover and place in fridge



– Mix up  iced tea and lemonade, place in fridge

– Vaccum and sweep

– Declutter and pick up the dinning room and kitchen

– Make haystacks; place in air tight container.



– Grocery shopping

– Make chilis; freeze

– Find a few games for people to play



– Practice making cake

– Make cupcakes and place in fridge

– Make corn bread muffins; freeze.

– Do a quick clean up of the bathroom



– Buy eggs to make cake

– Put together rough estimate of number of people attending (= 35)