Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gifts to date

I have been so super sick this month -- bronchitis. I used to get bronchitis once a year in college, but hadn't suffered this kind of misery in some time. Of course this was the worst month ever to be down and out. I modified my list of to dos as best I could, but certainly couldn't do my usual December late night crafting marathon. I still am not 100% -- maybe 70%? Hoping I can still pull through on a few more things before the big day, though likely will be late on some things.

Here are some of the gifts I have assembled to date -- homemade to come (I hope!)

For my friend's daughter, Natasha -- an art can. The clear paint can was purchased at the Target dollar section around Halloween. Most of the contents were also purchased at Target.

For the co-workers, I assembled "urban mess kits." Since we work in the field of waste reduction, we try to practice what we preach and not bring disposables to our off site events. Some of us have a hard time remembering to bring our "mess kits," so I put one together for each staff person. The colors were so fun! There is a bento type box that can be used during eating and also storing extra food. I also included a Light My Fire spork -- love these so much!

For BT's siblings, a movie package. I purchased the DVD last year on clearance at Walgreen's for $6. Everything else was purchased at Dollar Tree, so all told this was a great gift for about $12. I was so happy to find all the holiday themed candy at Dollar Tree. I mounted the items on skewers to make it look nicer than just a bunch from the dollar store thrown in a box.

For the Bluebird girls, a notepad from the Target TOMS collaboration, some rustic pencils, and a flannel pouch from Daiso.

For the teachers this year, we went the gift card route. Especially for Everett's teachers, we felt we owed them more than a tchotchke as they have had their hands full with the cast (it's been raining a lot here -- try keeping a toddler out of the mud). I put these together, though, for the aides at his school. They use the EOS lip balm, which I bought on clearance throughout the year. So cute!

Well, tomorrow is cookie making day -- fingers crossed!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

We had Thanksgiving at my parents' house this year. It was nice to be in a decent sized kitchen with room for enough bowls that we didn't have to keep washing the same two over and over again, and when we were all done it was nice to have a DISHWASHER!

I did a take two on the Peanuts Thanksgiving snacks, as I found real melba toast.

We did a few experiments this year - the family tolerated them. That included making a Brussel sprout dish versus green bean casserole. I also made pumpkin mousse parfaits versus having pumpkin pie. It was quite good.

Hope everybody had a good day reflecting on the things we are all thankful for!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy 2nd birthday, Little Stinker

As mentioned in relation to Everett's Halloween costume, the theme for his 2nd birthday party this year was skunk, aka Little Stinker.

This party was my main inspiration. We were fortunate to be in Iowa with family a few days before his birthday, so I asked my aunt if we could have a little dessert party for Everett one night.

It was a school night, but a few of my cousins and their kids made it. I had packed a separate suitcase with all the party items -- hands down the easiest party I've ever done. Both banners are from Target. The lower one was embellished with chipboard letters also from Target. I had even brought the balloons, and just had them filled when we picked up the food. Yellow is the birthday boy's favorite color, so it was used as the accent color for the party supplies.

The food was super fun. My mom made the Oreo "cake." And yes - the cake plate was packed in the suitcase, and made it both ways. We also had Hostess cupcakes. I wanted to unwrap them, but wasn't sure how many would be eaten, so left them in the wrappers. A chocolate creme pie was presented on a cut wood piece borrowed from a friend.

Lemonade was served, and little striped bags were provided to take home the cookies. I re-purposed the party supplies to have a little party for Everett at school, including using the striped bags for Oreos. I made a little sticker to put on the bags.

Unfortunately Everett received a not so nice birthday present from big brother the following morning -- the boys were running through the hotel we were staying at, and Hank tackled Everett from behind, and broke his foot. Toddlers have so few actual bones in their feet, but the fracture showed up clearly on one of them during our visit to the ER.

The hospital recommended he get it casted at home, so he wore a splint the rest of the trip. He ended up getting the cast put on on his actual birthday, poor guy.

We still typically do a little party at home on the kids' actual birthday. I decorated the table in red and blue and put out Everett's Thomas trains. He is adapting fine to his cast. He can take a few steps holding our hand. It's like raising a baby all over again, the excitement we express when he accomplishes a new feat, lol. Big brother hopefully finally learned his lesson that little bro is not a toy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

6th Birthday - Plants vs. Zombies party

There are definite lines that emerge at Kindergarten in terms of what interests kids. You start to see who are the thinkers versus the doers, the followers versus leaders, etc. You also see who has the same philosophies that you do at home. We are pretty up to date on kid-oriented movies, watch a good variety of cartoons, and, though rare, do allow Hank to play video games. We likely would let him play more, but for some reason when we allow him to play the games, his mood goes in the toilet. So we take them away -- for months. And then they are reintroduced and the cycle starts all over again. If you spoke to him, you would think he plays games non-stop, but really he just binges for a couple of days, and then eagerly looks for opportunities to watch Minecraft walk-throughs on TV, look over a stranger's shoulder at a restaurant as they are playing a game, etc. -- anxiously awaiting the time we give in and allow him to play once again.

At school, Hank is part of the group that orients themselves around video games, collectibles, and cartoons. Their interests shift from Pokemon to Bakugan to Bey Blades to Minecraft, and we some how keep up with each new thing. In between, the previous interests are deemed "stupid," but eventually each one comes back around and is the best thing ever again. This is the group that can play a seemingly endless game involving some kind of battle and a ship that takes about an hour and a half to finally explode. The boys make pew pew pew noises. They get rowdy, but you can usually regain control by redirecting towards a quiet activity like drawing -- which inevitably turns to drawing more bad guys and explosions.

For some reason in his after school class last year, there were a greater number of these boys. They are still at the school, but in 1st grade now, so Hank only connects with them later in the day. He has only found one pew pew pew friend in his current class - and they are inseparable. The other little boy apparently won't start playing until Hank arrives at school, and then they immediately start talking over each other, ready to share some new concept they have thought of to create out of LEGOs and then blow up. My heart aches for the boys who watch these interactions, but don't seem to know how to be a part of them, and wonders at the kids who seem to have no clue about any of these games/activities. I think the grown up kids in the house have a strong influence over what interests the kids, and this is evidenced by the ease of talking to one of the moms of a pew pew pew kid versus attempting to find common ground with the ones who allow their kids to watch little or no TV, or limit to watching younger shows.

For his 6th birthday party, Hank chose Plants vs. Zombies. It is a phone/tablet based game that has a guy who fights zombies with a collection of fighting plants. The most famous is the pea shooter, and there is also a cute sunflower. The zombies are goofy rather than scary. It was fun to look for other PvZ parties, and add our own spin to things. This was Hank's first small scale party. He was allowed to invite 6 friends. He only ended up inviting 5, and unfortunately only 3 were able to come. It was nice to have a smaller group to entertain, but I don't think I saved too much time on the preparations, and still fussed more than I should have on details, lol.

When the boys arrived at the party, they could sit down and color in PvZ drawings. I had also considered having them make paracord bracelets, but think 6/7 year olds are a little young for this. I made the bracelets myself for them to take.

The food table's highlight was zombie themed cake balls that I had made at a local bakery. The picture I gave them looked a little more like the zombies from the game, but they were so super tasty, it was hard to complain. My mom and I made almond butter and jelly sandwiches rimmed with golden raisins to look like the sunflowers from the game.

The rest of the food was standard party fare -- fruit, veggies, chips, etc., but elements such as sweet mini peppers, snap peas, and veggie chips were purposefully chosen reflective of plants from the game.

We also had Zombie Juice -- which was the same recipe as Swamp Juice from Hank's 4th birthday party. A few PvZ figures were included on the table for decor as well as some solar powered sunflowers from the dollar store. This was a drop-off party, but for my parents, BT, me, and one couple who did stay, we had tacos, reflective of the game's main human character (Crazy Dave) and his love of tacos.

For favors, I found the cute polka dot boxes at a party store. They were filled with a zombie toy also from the dollar store, a packet of pea seeds, some cherry flavored fruit snacks, and two gummy zombies.

There was a very popular candy station with chocolate zombie eyeballs, candy corn corn kernels, cherry gummy cherry bombs, and chocolate candy coated peas.

The "new" element we don't usually include with our parties was games. We had four games set up in the driveway. I only found one PvZ game idea online that we wanted to use, and the other games I hurt my brain over trying to develop. There's a zombie joke there, but can't think of it.

Anyway -- The first game was a bowling game using food cans wrapped in printouts from etsy. We had the astroturf left over from the Zim house, and the play lawnmower has been used by both of the kids (in the game, a lawnmower is your last defense against the zombies). I found 3 green balls, aka peas, at the dollar store. I was worried this would be too easy, but it turned out that the kids usually did need to use all three balls to knock all the cans over. The astroturf made it so the cans could fall versus just sliding as they would have on the concrete. This became Threepeater Bowling (a Threepeater is a three-headed pea shooter you obtain as you advance in the game).

The next game ended up being the favorite. I printed pictures of zombies from the different versions of the PvZ game on transparency slides. I have had these transparencies since college, and the box was just kind of staring at me when I was trying to think of what to do for the games until I finally landed on this idea. The slides were taped to the wall, and the kids threw water balloons at them. This game was called Cherry Bomb Toss.

Each kid was supposed to get 5 balloons to throw at the pictures, but this just ended up being a melee of kids tossing the balloons as quickly as they could. Overall the games were supposed to take some time, assuming everybody waited and took their turns individually, but it was pretty much just 10 minutes of mayhem and then questions about what they were supposed to do next.

An easy game to add in was Squash the Zombie. I drew a chalk line on the ground, and taught the kids how to do a broad jump. Of course, wild pew pew pew boys could only do the jump correctly one time, and then one of them rolls after his jump and claims he got to 10 feet, and they all follow suit.

The most difficult game to finalize but ended up being the most fun we called Peashooter Race. I had randomly bought some ping pong balls at the dollar store. I figured they would also be part of some type of peashooter activity. We looked up ping pong ball games, and saw one that you would blow the ball around on a table with a straw. We ended up setting up cups for the balls to be blown into, and added zombies at the top of the cups. I figured this would be really difficult for the kids, and they would be blowing the ball off of the table, etc. It turned out that this set up, using a 6 foot table, is good for the kids to master blowing the ball the entire length of the table straight into the cup! We were so amazed -- all of them were eventually able to do it, so this game was even more successful than I thought it would be.

Finally, for decor, there were a few red balloons with the flying zombie from the game tied on. He weighted the balloons down too much, so I bought additional balloons to hold them up inside. Outside we had a few zombie-themed signs from Halloween,

orange cones, and caution tape to block off the party area.

Mom made my shirt using a drawing of zombies I made before I even heard of the game Plants versus Zombies!
Overall it was a great party. I know I need to tone things down even more, and just stick with pizza and a movie or something, but I really do enjoy putting parties like this together. I was just glad that by the day of the party Plants vs. Zombies hadn't been deemed stupid by the pew pew pew boys.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hank is 6

Hank turned 6 today. He and I had the day off, and he said all he wanted to do was stay home and play. Unfortunately we had some errands to run in relation to a home improvement project, but he was a trooper and managed to have an "ok" birthday (his assessment).

Yesterday we brought cupcakes for his after school program friends. We will have a different video game theme for his birthday party at home this weekend. On a whim I grabbed some Super Mario themed napkins at the party store to use for the school party. I ordered red cupcakes from a grocery store bakery, and then added white candy melts to look like one of the mushrooms from the game.

I wasn't really in the mood to make favors for the class, but then I saw gold coins at the dollar store, and thought they would go nicely with the theme. I covered a small square box with printouts of brick and a question mark -- the scale of the printouts was exactly the same size needed to cover the box, and 3 bags of the chocolate coins fit in the box perfectly. I never have crafting serendipity anymore, so it was much appreciated in relation to all the other stuff currently going on.

You never need to ask Hank how he is feeling, as he is constantly expressing his emotions. That includes manic swings from down in the dumps to full of energy running through the house. I have become an amateur psychologist working through things with him. I see little glimmers of hope, but raising Hank is so very different from what I thought it would be like to raise a now 6-year-old boy. His teacher describes him as an old soul. Think of a crotchety old man sitting on a porch complaining about the sun, moon, stars and everything in between, and you have Hank. Anyway, Hank did not want cake, ice cream, or really anything to celebrate his birthday. I told him we needed something so we could sing to him. He said hot chocolate. So we had hot chocolate. Tomorrow he will likely hate hot chocolate, but it was nice to see him smile while we sang to him.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Trunk or Treat 2014 - Invader Zim

As mentioned, we participated in the school Trunk or Treat event again this year. Last year I kind of regretted signing up to have a car at the event, as we were kind of still adjusting to our new school routine, and all the other work craziness and things that were going on at the time. This year I found the time to help with the planning committee, assembled a room basket, took off a day to help set up for the Trunk or Treat event, and host a car. I guess you make time for things that are important to you, and we collectively have determined that this event is important to us.

So I was tasked with making costumes. We were using one of Hank's favorite shows as inspiration - Invader Zim. The show is about 15 years old now, but he has been watching it through Amazon Instant Video. Just putting it out there, as we encountered somebody tonight who has Amazon Prime, but didn't realize that entitles them to a good amount of free content through Amazon Instant Video. It does, and, well, between that and what content we buy or rent through Amazon, we are even considering dropping Netflix, so yeah -- check out Amazon Instant Video if you have Amazon Prime!

Hank was Zim (in his true Irken form), Everett was GIR (dressed as a dog), I was a girl from "skool" named Gaz, and BT was Gaz's dad, Professor Membrane. For all the costumes, we tried to buy what we could to fit with the concept, and then embellish. For Hank, I bought a maroonish striped t-shirt, black pants, and black hi-tops. Zim wears pointy boots, but figured these would get more use afterwards. I made him a hat to wear instead of opting for painting his face green or something. I winged it on both of the hat patterns -- the backs look kind of funky, but overall I think I did a good job capturing the head shapes of their characters. For Zim's eyes, I found clear plastic eggs filled with slime at the dollar store, and colored the inside of the egg halves pink. There are pipe cleaner antennae on the hat -- hard to see in any of the pics.

An important element for Hank's costume was the Irken Pak. You can read way more than you would ever need to know in everyday life about this pack by following the link. The pack stores the Irken aliens' knowledge and personality, and is filled with an endless supply of cool gadgets. I made a round bottom drawstring backpack with straps. I attached whatever the pink triangle things are from Zim's outfit to the pack. Finally I made a pink collar for Hank to wear. Since hardly anybody recognized us, you can imagine the pink received some looks and comments. I for one am ready for all the gender bias bs to be filed away with all the other outdated stereotypes and discriminatory behaviors our society has perpetuated for far too long. Stepping off soapbox now.

For Everett's outfit, I bought a long sleeved black shirt and black pants. I used his skunk costume to make the pattern for a GIR body suit to be worn over the pants and shirt. I used duct tape to add the zipper detail. His hat was made in a similar way to Hank's Zim hat. The eyes were made from a styrofoam ball. Couldn't be happier with how his costume turned out!

I don't have any pictures of me dressed as Gaz yet, but I know some folks took them, so will add when then become available. I wore a purple wig, a black and white striped shirt under a black sleeveless dress, and purple and black striped tights. I added a felt skull to a necklace to complete Gaz's outfit.

BT had a lot of fun putting together his Professor Membrane costume. He bought a lot of "real" elements for his costume (rubber boots, rubber gloves, goggles), and although they seemed like big ticket purchases, they weren't that bad in terms of price. Definitely shows that assembling a costume can be cheaper than buying the poorly made costumes available today. He bought a lab coat that I modified. This was the hardest part of the costume figuring out that I had to do. Unfortunately I was doing it the night before we needed it. If we had just one more night, I would have been ok, but stayed up most of the night, with my model unable to assist in fitting as he was asleep. In the morning, when I basically threw the coat at him to try on, I figured there was no way it would fit. It actually did! My only mistake was that I should have made the buttons for use with real buttonholes, versus just using velcro. Everything would pull apart when he moved. I hadn't done the buttonholes because I wasn't sure how the whole thing fit -- again, just one more night!

As a final element for BT's costume, I made Professor Membrane's signature lightening bolt mohawk thingy by attaching a felt zigzag piece to a plastic bald cap from Daiso.

While I was working on costumes, BT was making a wonderful replica of Zim's house. I was thinking it would be my height or so. BT measured the back to the truck, and figured out the dimensions that would maximize the width of the truck. Yet again, we ended up with a structure taller than our house, lol. He built the frame with 2x4s, and the covered in cardboard we scrounged from a furniture supply store. He figured out a way to highlight the windows, and allow for dollar store clip lights to be included behind them. Electrical tape was used to make the roof opening at the top.

He bought a few ducts to stick out of the house, and made a satellite dish on the top using a dollar store candy bowl and oil collection kit. You can imagine everybody was impressed with the huge scale of the house, even if they had no idea what it represented.

I made all the extras -- the camera fish were made from pink balloons with paper features added on. I made a men's room sign for the door (Zim tries to fit in to life on earth, but doesn't understand all of the elements he is imitating when he builds his house). The front porch light had a tap light behind it. The gnomes are a distinctive part of the front yard decor -- I added red lights for their eyes, as they, too, serve as security for the house. And -- it wouldn't be Zim's house without the I heart earth sign!

There were some specific categories for the contest portion of the event, and we knew we weren't going to fit in any of them. Next year we were thinking we would do something more recognizable, and try to do something interactive and with animation. Hmmm....