Friday, January 24, 2014

An Affordable Frozen Birthday Party

As some of you already know, I'm obsessed with Frozen. I've written about it in previous posts and I sing the songs with my kids almost daily. As a matter of fact, my youngest, day in and day out, screams "WRET IT GAAA, WRET IT GAAAAAAAAAA!"

Naturally, when the time came to decide on a theme for my oldest's birthday party, our minds simultaneously went to Frozen. We're both January babies. We love snow and we love the cold. We once took a hike, just the two of us, through miles and miles of snow-covered hills in the dead of winter. We found cat pawprints, saw a herd of deer, and rolled down hills together. One of my favorite memories. We get excited when the plows come down the road. We get pumped up about icicles. We're really into snowmen.

So you get it. We like snow.

Like any good mom, I immediately went on Pinterest to get some ideas. I had to check out what all the uber-party-planners had already come up with. You know the ones I'm talking about.....they create themed snacks, games and prizes, and goody bag treats before the movie even comes out on DVD. These people are party gurus...and Pinterest was their temple. All hail!

I found a ton of ideas, many of them featuring Frozen dolls or costumes. I wasn't really into buying toys .... I mean, I'd just purged my household of the things. Plus I'm cheap. I didn't want to spend more than $100 on the party - total. That means food, decorations, games, and favors all needed to be no more than $100. Pretty tall order considering.... big girl wanted to invite her entire class and Girl Scout troop.

That's right. 34 kids. At my house. For a party. Did I mention these were 8-year olds? The standard for this age group is to "drop and run"....parents weren't going to stick around.

Now before you go questioning my sanity, know that the main reason I considered such an unlikely form of self-punishment is because my big girl has been with these kids for two years. Her school does this amazing "bridging" thing for 1st and 2nd grade (critical reading years). Each kid is given the option to remain in the same classroom with the same teacher for both years. It's like an extra layer of security and stability during one of the most difficult learning periods of human development. This is my big girl's last year in the class. She will be moving on to another teacher and group of kids next year...and I can tell already, she will miss the class she loves so much. 

So Mama said yes....with one condition. We really had to brainstorm how we could make this a fun, affordable party for potentially 34 kiddos. 

After debating indoor activities, renting out a party space some place, and even heading to the local sledding hill, the solution kinda hit me like a snowplow. We have a HUGE backyard....over half an acre. We've gotten tons of snow this year. Bam. Frozen party.

We'd have a few recognizable elements from the movie, but more importantly, we'd have a unique, fun environment with fairly little planning or financial commitment from me, the laziest mom on the planet. After deciding on the "venue," the rest of the details fell into place.

We used Disney Frozen invitations but crossed off the word "Royal" and wrote in "Snow" .... then we told everyone to come in their snow gear. We added some glitter because ... well because it's glitter. Pimp my invite, yo. Out of 34 invites, we had 18 kids RSVP. Good enough for me!

The kids showed up at 1PM. As I expected, all but one parent fled like they were on fire. I told them the party ended between 3-4 as they hauled-ass out of there. We had three hours with these kids and as they started to climb every tree in my front yard, I quickly formulated a plan:
1 hour outside - snow angel contest, sled races, fort-building, and snow swinging
1 hour inside - subtract the 20 minutes to take off all the stuff and then another 20 to put it back on, and we've got just enough time to make our favors and eat some cake. Boom.
1 hour outside - free snow play. This was perhaps my favorite part of the party. But more on that later.

(the highlighted links in this list indicate ideas swiped from Pinterest - minus the crazy professional look and feel - think tupperware instead of milk glass)
1. Olaf's Nose and Snow Dip - carrots and a bottle of ranch dressing
2. Ice Blocks - blue Jell-O
3. Anna's Frozen Heart - yogurt-covered strawberries
4. Banana Olafs - The link has the real nice ones. My version - bananas cut into pieces and served with pretzel sticks haphazardly strewn alongside
5. Melted Snowman - Straight up water in a bottle. FOR REAL.

Snowglobes - I went to Menards and bought a couple cases of those jelly jars - the ones that have the "crystal" design on them. Did you know they come with these pretty little sticker labels and an area on both the lid and side to place said sticker? Rad. I found some snow confetti, fake snow, and glitter at a craft store for like $1 each. Fill the jars with water and add the stuff. Whammo - snow globes.

This one was hard for me. I didn't know what I was going to do until the morning of the party. I'd gone back and forth about the cake. I'm not big on cake and a ton of crappy foods - especially with my kid and other peoples' kids. Judge me all you want, I'm just not a fan. There had to be a better way...but to make it "Frozen?" I was at a loss. ... ..... UNTILLLL my super incredible girlfriend (featured in one of my earlier posts) suggested making snow ice cream. I'd never heard of it.

I checked out this blog post and kinda wung it. We stuck a number 8 candle into this huge bowl of snow and sang to my big girl. Then I drizzled on a little mixture of milk, sugar, and vanilla extract. The kids freaking loved it. So there ya have it. Instead of buying  cake, I served an entire house full of kids snow from my own backyard.

The absolute best part of the party was the last hour. I didn't have anything else planned for the kids. I asked them if they wanted to go back outside or just chill in the house and play hide-and-seek again (literally had kids coming out of the pantry, bathtub, and closets - more hysterical than scary, surprisingly). Everyone screamed in unison "OUTSIDE!!!"

So away they went.

They never stopped smiling. Every single kid found something fun to play, something exciting to do, something to enjoy with their classmates. They climbed our backyard climbing tree. They built little hills to sled down. They pulled each other around and played snow castle. They formed a slide out of my porch steps. They didn't have anything fancy - we had three sleds and some rope. It was awesome to watch and I couldn't stop thinking - WOW. This is what it's all about.

The beautiful Pinterest party ideas I found were stunning...the party gurus always have creative ideas any kid would be thrilled to see.....but just in case you're like me, (kinda broke, kinda tired, and kinda old-school) know this:

I asked my big girl how her birthday was, long after the kids left and the floors were mopped....

Mama, she said, I don't have the words to tell you. Super, great, wonderful...none of them work. It was the best birthday I've ever had. I had so much fun. It was INCREDIBLE! 

Not bad for a bowl of snow and some rope, eh? I think Walt Disney would be proud.

Have a great weekend everyone and as always, thanks so much for reading.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Green Smoothies Aren't Disgusting Jars of Scum After All

Celebrated a birthday yesterday. With every passing year I notice another weird thing going on with my body.

Take today, for example. Today I realized turning 30 has done nothing for my skin. It's still as acne-prone and hormonal as ever. I've dealt with bad skin my whole life and tried just about everything to fix it:

....over-the-counters, behind-the-counters, around-the-counters, under-the-counters...creams, pills, gels, lotions, powders, washes, astringents, foams, buffers.....

I've even tried the good ol' fashioned "sunburn peel" know, the one where you go out in the sun for a few hours wearing a low-SPF sunscreen on your face, and then let the sun blast you like Little Boy, giving you that nice, even redness that somehow balances out your complexion. Added bonus? Free exfoliation in the form of peeling skin. SHAZAM - clear skin for three days. I can't be the only one who's used this method. There's others out there. You know who you are.

So you get it -I've got bad skin. After trying a high-end, expensive skin product last month and attaining the same lackluster results, I decided I was going to try something new. Something.....crazy. Something I've never considered before.

I was going to try and eat right.

Yes, I'm that girl. The one who thinks up innovative treatments like "The Sunburn Peel," but doesn't have the sense to just try eating healthy. Welcome to Flaws, Forgiven!

In all fairness, I'm not that terrible of an eater. I eat loads of delicious dairy, whole grains, fruits, and sustainable, responsibly-raised meat.

Didja catch what I was missing there? You've got it people, I'm just not that into.... veggies. I'll eat some frozen fixed ones with dinner and love a good hummus and carrot combo, but other than that, I just don't get around to eating them. I like the flavor, but I hate the prep time. Steam this, wash that, spin this, peel that. I love pears, apples, bananas, and other fruits because I can just eat them. That's it. Not like that huge giant globule of cauliflower that requires me to clean it, steam it, cut it, and then eat it. Ain't nobody got time for that. Plus kale is just horrific. It tastes like mold-covered tumbleweeds all up in my mouth.

So how was I going to make this work? Well, instead of eating my veggies, I was going to try to drink them. Just watching a V8 commercial makes my nose bleed, so that was out. I didn't want to buy a juicer or some crazy NutriBlammo. I also didn't want to drive to my grocery store every day and buy things I'd never heard of before like Organic Panda 100% Raw Bamboo Root Shavings or something. I needed something easy, fast, affordable, and most importantly, delicious.

Where does this Jen go when she needs answers to life's most challenging, earth-shattering, life-changing questions?


I scanned a few boards and ended up finding a site called Simple Green Smoothies. It's run by these two chicks who seem nice enough. I don't really care about them but I DO care about their insanely easy way of smooshing up veggies into delicious liquid batches of goodness.

The recipes are basic and include things I BANANA, ORANGE, APPLE, GRAPEFRUIT, and ALMOND MILK.

They toss in a few optional add-ins, some of which require a special trip to the tree-hugger store....but like I said, those ingredients are optional. They also have this awesome feature where they'll email you a weekly shopping list when you sign up for their challenge. Too easy.

So I've almost completed an entire week with one green smoothie a day and I can tell you, I've never had this much energy without significant amounts of caffeine. I feel like a powerhouse. I'm not normally an energetic person. I drag around once 2PM hits and literally have to smack myself to get motivated for a workout (picture THAT as you pull up to the gym....some chick in a silver Malibu just smacking the absolute crap out of herself in the parking lot....priceless). In two days, I felt my energy increase.

I'm not talking an "I-slept-more-and-thereby-botched-any-significant-results-I-may-have-received-from-the-smoothies" energy increase. I'm talking a straight-up "time-to-burn-the-house-down-with-my-power-cardio-blast-moves" energy increase. And it was, so easy. 

The formula Simple Green Smoothies uses:
2 cups of either spinach or kale
2 cups of a liquid, normally water or almond milk
3 cups of fruit
whatever add-ons you want, like almond butter, ch-ch-ch-chia seeds, or coconut flakes

This is how I prepped and made smoothies this week:

Saturday - Shop with handy-dandy shopping list. Feel great and better than everyone while loading insane amounts of produce onto checkout conveyor belt. Knock yourself down a couple pegs after hefting a liter of rum onto the belt, immediately following two bottles of wine and some peanut butter cup ice cream.

Sunday - Wash and chop all produce. Jam appropriate amounts of each ingredient into freezer baggies and label with recipe. Blend Monday's recipe and sploosh into mason jars.

Every night thereafter - Remove overstuffed freezer bags from freezer and blend next day's smoothie. Sploosh into mason jars.

I drink them in the morning, kinda like a breakfast supplement. I still eat my popcorn and string cheese (breakfast habit that started while pregnant....and let's face it, I truly just don't want to give such an incredible breakfast habit like that up), but now I have this delicious green smoothie to round out my meal. Plus the looks on my coworkers' faces are priceless.

Perhaps the most encouraging element of these smoothie shenanigans is the taste. These things are not terrible. I thought for sure they would be terrible. I had wheatgrass once. It was absolutely terrible. These are not....and that's coming from a picky person.

Obviously no changes to the skin problem yet. I'm hoping this is the golden answer I've just been too lazy to try before. Only time will tell! I will keep you updated, so check back here in a few weeks. Happy Friday everyone :)

UPDATE - June 2014: I've been on smoothies for close to six months now. I must tell you - my skin is FINALLY improving. If I skip my smoothies, I break out like a mofo. When I adhere, my skin stays clear and any breakouts I do have clear up in days instead of weeks. It is soft and I can honestly say for the first time in years that I am leaving the house WITHOUT makeup. None. Not a smidge. It's wonderful :)


Friday, January 10, 2014

How I'm Trying to Keep My Kid Off "Hoarders"

My kid likes stuff. I'm not talking normal, kid-like excitement around Christmas or her birthday...I'm talking a full-blown, crying-her-eyes-out-when-a-pencil-with-a-dolphin-eraser-breaks obsession with things.

One time she got this teeny little stuffed dog thing. I can't remember if it was from a goody bag or a reward from school or what, but she was crazy about it for a good fifteen seconds. I found it in a pile of dust under her bed one day, almost a year after she brought it home. The thing was creepy to begin with, but smothered with dust and death? Horrific. It had to go. I can barely match socks, let alone muster up the effort required to clean teeny vending machine stuffed creeper dogs. No way. Sayonara, freaky dust dog.

And then, she came out of nowhere, appearing like some sort of insane, wide-eyed little jackrabbit.

Whatca doin' with my doggy, Mama?

.........Uhhh, well, I found the doggy under your bed....nasty, full of dust and who even knows what else. Doggy is going in the trash.

***lip quiver***You're going to throw him away? The puppy I got that looks like Zeus? You're just going to throw him away?

Uhhh...... yea. You kinda left him under your bed for A YEAR. If he were that important I wouldn't be carrying him between two fingers like a toxic, rabid carcass someone ran over with their car.


And this, folks, is where it gets tricky. I love my big girl. She is the sweetest, most sensitive, most compassionate and loving little thing in the world. I truly believe she loved the disgusting little toy. Didn't doubt her for a second.

But that is the problem.

I don't want my kid to love things. I've loved things. I still love things. It makes me miserable, because you know what? There's always more things. There's always more things I want. That feeling of "yay new stuff" never gets old and neither does the desire for more, better, faster, stronger.....

Why has my kid has lost sight of what's important?

When babies are born they don't care about things, right? They care about people (Mama, Dada), experiences (breastfeeding, going outside), feelings (I'm pissed off, I'm really happy). Somewhere down the road, something happens. They start to play with things. They start to prioritize....this is important, this is not, this needs attention, this does not. For a while all is good - the carpet is cool, curtains and wooden spoons are like the Holy Grail of infanthood.

But then the focus shifts. Kids get bigger and before you know it, you're looking at a three page list of things they want from Santa.

I mean, I get it. America has some incredible marketing geniuses. They know what kids like. They get paid to know what kids like. But commercials and ads aside, how did my kid develop this attachment to things?

Well, to begin, when Momma was preggers, she was literally showered with toys for her baby. Not only was I up to my super massive tatas chest in presents for my unborn child, I was constantly blasted in the face by BabiesRUs "sale fliers" telling me I needed coordinating bedding sets, strollers, play mats, wall decals, and about 1000 other things. I'm not going to sit here and tell you I didn't want those things. I wanted those things. I wanted them real bad.....

....because we all want what's best for our kid. For some reason, in this country, what's best for our kid often equates to what can be purchased for our kid.

From the day she was born, my big girl was surrounded by stuff. Once her eyesight really kicked into gear she began to notice how excited Mommy would get when MY BABY LIKES THE DANCING PIZZA ELMO?? OOOO MOMMY LIKES THE DANCING PIZZA ELMO TOO!!!

No wonder my kid learned to love stuff. I encouraged it. I'm not saying my encouragement was wrong. Heck no. Toys help kids learn and my kids are both fortunate to live in a place where they have access to such resources. And there's nothing wrong with getting excited about a dancing pizza. Nothing. 

But then you need to add in the fact we spent the first four years of her life overseas. She didn't see her grandparents, she received presents from her grandparents.... boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff. She received more mail than I did. The kid was constantly opening presents and, in part because I encouraged her, associating the gifts with those who loved her. She didn't get hugs, she got things. Nobody's fault. It was just the way things were.

But now we have a little problem. You see, we've been stateside since 2010. Almost four years. My big girl no longer gets boxes, but is still showered with gifts on a regular basis. She is blessed to have one set of grandparents living very closeby. We visit often and, like most grandparents, they love to give her things. At one point, to my absolute dismay, I watched her walk right into their house and ask to go "into the closet"  where they keep the random little presents they pick up for her. No, "So happy to see you!" or "GRAMMIE!" or even "Hi!"....just right into, "what do you have for me?"

Now some people may not take issue with this.

I am not some people.

I was mortified. I don't want my kid to treat people like that, especially people who love her as much as her grandparents do. Do I think her grandparents buy her too much stuff? Heck yes. But they also buy her things she needs, like boots and coats and clothes. Who am I to tell them not to buy her things? That is their choice, it's their money and Lord knows they earned the right to spend it the way they want to.

So the problem remains. She is turning 8 in a few weeks. She still gets all crazy if we throw something out. She still, like me, develops strong attachments to things. She'll associate the object with something real, like when she said the dust dog reminded her of our dog Zeus. The association creates this super-sensitive bond... and then she doesn't want to give up the object because in a way, she feels like she is losing a part of the real-life love she's associated the object to. Like she's throwing away a part of Zeus. I know this, people. I know this because I do it myself. All the time. It's no way to live. You can't take stuff with you when you go. I need to invest my time in the actual, real-life loves...not the objects associated with those loves. And I want that for my kids.

So we're making a change. I'm not going to take credit for the idea. It wasn't mine. I read this blog post and thought - huh! Now here is a woman who struggled with something similar and look, she was able to make it work. Maybe it will work for us.

We didn't do it exactly the same way as Ruth. We didn't get rid of every toy. We cut back.

Not super impressive from these angles but I swear, it was a nice overhaul.

We removed anything that didn't add educational or creative value, like old baby toys and pointless checkout-line toys. Vending machine bouncy balls and about three-hundred random bookmarks. Those terrible plastic stencils that don't even work. A mousepad. Old, used-up coloring books. Contrary to how it might look, we got rid of a ton of stuffed animals. We made a "toy library" (another idea swiped from Living Well, Spending Less and a comment thread on her Facebook). The toys we kept were boxed up and stored. To get one out you need to return the toy you've got.

Luckily, both my girls are obsessed with books. We kept every single one of them....and wanna hear the best part? With all the space we gained in their closet, I was able to rig up this little reading nook:

It's been six days since we went through their toys. So far, so good. Each kid is allowed one toy out at a time. To get another toy down is a huge pain in the ass, so if they want to change toys, they need to wait until Mommy or Daddy has a minute. More often than not, they'll get distracted doing something else and they forget all about wanting another toy. Their room stays clean. They are entertained for a longer period of time. I think *gasp!* it might be working.

We haven't tackled the playroom yet. That's this weekend. I'm nervous. Tossing toys is much harder than I thought it would be. I see the toys and I think of them when they were babies, or I think of my own childhood. I get all weepy and the roots of my attachment issues really start to shine through. Luckily, Aaron is pretty cutthroat and balances me out. That and maybe one or two cocktails. No big deal.

I will fill you in on what happens this weekend. Here's to a happier, healthier home! :)


Friday, January 3, 2014

Stop Complaining and Change Already

A really good friend of mine absolutely hates self-help remedies. She waves away self-help books, programs, challenges, and seminars. She scoffs at "The Secret" and doesn't believe stories or testimonials from those who state otherwise. She thinks pop-culture psychotherapy has one purpose and one purpose only - to make money. I respect this woman's opinion....she holds a Master's degree, has studied the human brain and psychological development for years, and argues her point with valid, poignant facts. She tells it to me straight....

"Jen," she says on a regular basis, " are ridiculous."

You see dear readers, I am what some would refer to as a sucker

I love reading books about self-help, self-awareness, chakras, laws of attraction, feng shui, meditation, mystical creatures, or spiritual awakenings. I once spent an hour just gazing at various geological substances, trying to decide if any of them "spoke" to me and could invoke an undying passion for tigers eye or amethyst. I like learning the folklore and ancient mysteries of the world....from faeries to angels, spirit connections to auras, I willingly fall headfirst for any sales pitch - provided it tells a good story.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not gullible, per-say. I can, like my good friend, find the profit push behind all the smoke and mirrors. Take the Nutrisystem, for example. That guy is on my TV every Saturday and, like clockwork, I sit there, drinking my tea, wishing like heck I had a uber-powerful blender to whip me up some health and happiness in a glass. I fall for his story every single time....yet I never buy a thing. It's inspired me to buy more fruits and veggies. I've tried a few drinks with my $12 clearance Target blender. It's no NUTRI BLAST IN YO FACE EPIC POWER SMOOTHIE, but it's an improvement.

What I chose to do with the information shoved in my face made all the difference.

This week we had a crazy snowstorm. It dropped about 14 inches over the course of two days. 

I sat in my house on New Years Day and went over my list of to-dos. I couldn't go outside, so visiting friends was out, as was running errands. I had to complete a few writing assignments, my closet needed to be reorganized, and there's always work to be done on the house. At about 9AM Aaron sat me down in front of the computer, turned on my favorite video game, and told me to start playin. He told me today was the day I was going to do nothing. I would do absolutely nothing productive for the first time in a very, very long time. 

I was terrified. 

Everything I've read, everyone I've talked to, everything I've heard tells me that in order to succeed, I need to push, work, go, go go. Yet here I am, week after week, complaining about stress, being overwhelmed, and feeling unbalanced. How do these super bloggers do it all? How does that adorable Pioneer Lady make it work so well? I'll tell you what, I doubt she spends an entire day just chillin in her pajamas, playing video games and tickling her kids. I bet that's not the way to success. It can't be, right? Right?

Well let me tell you sumthin. I need to read a few more books on healing folklore because this beautiful, mystical thing called deep relaxation? It worked. 

I sat there, on my butt, stressin out about doing nothing. It took me a good hour or two to really let it go and relax, and when I finally did, I realized I've been jacking this up. I've been complaining and complaining about my circumstances, making myself sick, testing the patience of family and friends who put up with my chaotic attitude.....for what. To aimlessly follow the advice and words shoved in my face by websites and market leaders? C'mon now, Jen. Don't be sucha sucker. 

That's the beauty of human have the power to choose and change. I, and you, have the power to literally change just about everything in our lives, from finances, to relationships, to health, to ideals and attitudes. It's a gross summarization to say everything can be changed - some aspects of life are completely grounded in an unwavering, immobile fate. But those little things? Those little things I complain about? Stress, sickness, time management issues? They can be changed. It can all be changed. I just need to get over myself and get moving. 



...all the feel-good words.

I'm blessed to be a born-free American who's protected by the fiercest Army in the world. That alone sets me lightyears ahead of the women and men struggling to retain themselves in countries ravaged by war, famine, and devastation. 

You'd think a chick who loves to read about faeries would be a bit more motivated to keep the faeth. Get it? See what I did there?

So while you're setting your goals for the new year, consider this:
Soak up the ideal...soak it in and let it saturate your imagination.....but then take some time to pull back, be my cynical friend, and set some realistic expectations. You have the power to change your situation - for better or for worse, you're eternally wed to yourself. Make it a healthy marriage of dreamer and cynic, airborne and grounded. Create within yourself the awareness and willingness to change whatever it is you're struggling with.

And don't worry, if you still want to complain every now and then, I'll forgive you. Where would this blog be without a little forgiveness...;)

Thanks for reading and I hope you all have a wonderful weekend.