Everything Was Awesome: The Lego Movie Birthday Party

Could any party theme be more fun than Lego? The colors, the shapes, the endless activities…I had a great time putting this one together.

The kids started by coloring their own minifigures, but they clearly needed to do something physical, so I sent them out to the trampoline to burn off some energy. Then we came back inside to build with the giant Lego blocks I created out of cardboard boxes, wrapping paper and foam. I worked for weeks gathering and wrapping boxes, and it was totally worth it, cause the kids had a blast stacking those things up and knocking them down.

I’d come across a website that lets you download and print out masks for many of the characters from The Lego Movie, so the kids put those on and posed for the camera. I had them draw names to see who got which mask, but there were still some unhappy customers, namely Brayden, who really wanted the Batman mask but who ended up with President Business. But we got past that and moved on to the next activity: a team Lego building challenge. I split the kids into two teams, gave them each a bucket of Lego, and told them to design a spaceship. The idea was to build as a team, but most of the kids ended up doing their own thing anyway. It kept them busy for half an hour, so whatever.

Finally, we did a treasure hunt to find the Piece of Resistance (which I made by wrapping a toothpaste box in red wrapping paper). I made up nine clues and hid them in various places around the house, and the kids had to solve a little riddle in order to find the next clue. I wasn’t sure how this one would go, but it was actually pretty popular. And I designed it so that when we found the Piece of Resistance (in the fridge!) we were in the kitchen, ready for snacks and cake.

As for snacks…I made some adorable crackers and cheese that looked like Lego bricks. I’d read online somewhere that you could slice string cheese and it would be round like Lego studs, but I tried that and found that the studs weren’t really round at all. I ended up taking the lid from a marker and using that to cut circles in the cheese slices. They were labor-intensive (each cracker took eight studs) but they turned out great.

I was pretty proud of the cake. I ordered a plain white cake from Wal-Mart, then decorated it with Lego chocolates I made with a mold I got online. The chocolates look so much like the real thing that when I took a bunch to my autism moms group the night before the party, no one realized they were actually edible. Very cool.

So anyway, the cake — and the party — was a roaring success.

Happy 7th, Brayden!

An All-Star Hockey Party

This was one of the easiest birthday parties ever — at least for me. Justin had a couple friends over for burgers and cake, and then Chris took them to the hockey game. All I had to do was decorate a bit and make the food.

And even that was pretty simple. I used a white plastic tablecloth and red and blue electrical tape to turn the kitchen table into a hockey rink, with Justin’s Stanley Cup piggy bank as the centerpiece. I also bought black paper plates and used the extra ones to make a Happy Birthday banner (the first “H” kept threatening to fall down, prompting Dave to comment that an “Appy Birthday” would be OK too.) The overall effect was pretty cool.

As for the food…baking is not my forte, but I had an idea for a hockey cake, so I decided to give it a try. I made a round cake with white icing and stuck a Hershey’s chocolate Stanley Cup on top; I also bought mini Oreos to use as “pucks” around the edge. That was my “Cup” cake. Everybody ate it, so I’m calling it a success.

And now my first-born is nine!

The Back-to-Work Experience

It took two or three days to settle into things at work, but overall it really hasn’t been too stressful. It helps that I vaguely recall most of the key things about at least one product, and that management lives in LA and has no contact with me whatsoever, and that the person I work most closely with is a good friend of mine. Plus I’m only there five hours a day. It’s a charmed life.

A few observations from my first week:

1. Looking at the products and systems now after being away for so long, I’m appalled at how complicated everything is. In the old days I was so immersed in my little niche that I couldn’t see the big picture from an outsider’s perspective. Now I can, and it’s a real eye-opener.

2. I’m excited to have a role that is much more expansive than just copy editing. Everyone seems to have their hands in a lot of different stuff, and that’s cool. I’ve even been given the chance to review some user manuals, which is exactly what I spent the last two years doing in my tech comm program. Awesome.

3. A big difference between way back when and now is that now I don’t look to my job to be my whole world. I don’t go for office gossip, I don’t waste (much) time on Facebook, and I’m not looking for a new social circle. Why? Because I’m only there part time, and most of my life is outside the office. That definitely wasn’t the case last time around (I even met my husband at work). But things are different now. In a good way.

4. Having just come from a school setting, where I had to produce top quality stuff to get decent marks, it’s slightly surreal to now be in a situation where the project might succeed or fail, but either way I get paid the same. Fear isn’t even a factor, cause I could take or leave this job, and I’m not in it forever. It’s very liberating.

And so begins week 2…

Clearing the Cobwebs

I started a new job today, although Justin keeps insisting I was actually restarting an old one. He’s sort of right — I’m covering a mat leave for an editor at the company where I used to work. But things have changed enough that I think we can call it a brand new position.

It was actually a curious blend of old and new. There are many new products and systems to learn about, but for some things they’re still using the manuals I created 10 years ago. So it’ll take me a while to get comfortable with everything, but at least I’m familiar with some of this stuff. How they would ever explain it to a new hire, I have no idea.

My having a job makes absolutely no difference to the kids, however. I work 9-2, so I still drop the boys off at school and pick them up afterward, and continue on with our after-school activities (today was Justin’s social skills group, tomorrow is floor hockey…whew.) As far as they’re concerned, nothing’s changed.  But I’m exhausted. I know I’ll find my groove eventually, and I’m really not stressed about it, so it’s all good.

Plus, when I was leaving the office, I mentally calculated what I earned today, and that made me smile. I’ve been working hard for years without earning a dime. This will be a nice change.

Jedi Training: The Coolest Birthday Party Ever

Not to toot my own horn or anything…but this one was awesome. Brayden had long insisted he wanted a Pokemon party just like his brother’s, but when I suggested a Star Wars theme with a lightsaber battle, I won him over.

The awesomeness started with the super cool invitations, which were really more for the parents:

Technically I was Yoda, IMG_2612 but it was so hot behind the mask and I had so many other things to focus on that the role playing kind of went by the wayside. Chris was Obi Wan Kenobi, however, and amazed me by being willing to:

  • wear a costume made from a plastic tablecloth
  • lead a group of kindergarteners in lightsaber training
  • let said kindergarteners beat on him repeatedly with those lightsabers


When the kids arrived, the first thing they did was decorate their goody bags. I’d printed each kid’s name in a Star Wars font (a free download that came in very handy) on a paper bag, then gave them markers and Star Wars stickers and let them go wild. I had envisioned this as something for them to do while they waited for everyone to show up, but it was actually a very popular activity.

Next was fitness training. We set up an obstacle course in the gym and told the kids that each Padawan would have to prove he was worthy to become a Jedi. They had to jump through a few hoops, walk on a balance beam, crawl through a tunnel, negotiate a maze and guide a soccer ball around some cones. That kept them busy for a good 20 minutes.

Then it was time to suit up for lightsaber training. I bought $5 worth of plastic tablecloths and made Jedi robes for each kid. I also cut pool noodles in half and decorated the hilts with duct and electrical tape to make the lightsabers. The pool noodles came in blue, green and purple, which also happen to be the colors of the Jedi lightsabers — nice. Obi Wan taught them a few moves, let them show him their stuff, then set them loose whapping each other. I think the highlight for the kids was chasing Chris around and beating on him. Talk about taking one for the team.

After that it was time for snacks and cake. I am hopeless at cake decorating, so I compromise by making cake toppers. Kids could choose the Light Side (vanilla cupcakes with Yoda toppers) or the Dark Side (chocolate with Darth Vader toppers). I don’t know if it was the good-vs-evil thing, but the vanilla cupcakes were by far the most popular. Justin likes to point out that he chose the Dark Side, however.

IMG_2568Then came the piece de resistance: my homemade Death Star pinata. I was pretty proud of how this turned out. I found a “bubble balloon” at the dollar store that inflates like a beach ball (big and round, not oval), so I used that. To make the indent, I cut a circle out of the side, inverted it and mached it back into place. Then I spray painted the whole thing grey, put masking tape on to mark the lines, then spray painted it again with a granite-type paint and removed the tape. Everyone got a turn whacking at it before it broke, so it all worked out pretty well.

A truly awesome party! (A huge thank you to Teri for taking the pictures!)


The Digital Divide

I blame Apple for the fact that my husband and I rarely interact in the evenings anymore.

There was a time, long before kids, when Chris and I would spend our evenings playing board games, watching movies, or (gasp) talking to each other about our day. As the family expanded and life got crazy, we were too exhausted to do anything but collapse on the couch and watch some TV together. But the point was the same: we were doing it together.

Now that we each have our own iPads customized with everything we like best, we often end up sitting on the same couch but immersed in our own separate worlds. I used to complain that Chris was addicted to his computer; now he can indulge his hobby from anywhere, and I’m heading down the same path.

But I’m not going down without a fight. Case in point: last week I found some early episodes of a comedy we both like on Netflix, and I suggested we watch them together on the TV. That was good; we laughed, we snuggled, we had quality time. But over the next couple days, unbeknownst to me, he continued to watch several more episodes on his iPad — alone. So much for sharing.

I realize it’s not really Apple’s fault. I realize it’s up to me to create the kind of family time I want.

But damn that iPad itch…

Damn That iPad Itch

Thanks to happy circumstances combined with basic human greed, we have now become a three-iPad family. Let me explain: Justin had some surplus autism funding that had to be spent by the end of March, so I asked his team about resources that would be appropriate for him. His speech pathologist (bless her heart) offered to authorize an iPad and some apps. I hesitated at first, since Chris already has an iPad and we could’ve just put new apps on there, but the promise of a free iPad wore me down. I didn’t tell Chris what I was doing until I got the OK from the funding people, and even then I waited until the stores were closed so he couldn’t run right out the door.

So we bought a 4th generation iPad for Chris, gave his old one to the boys…and bought an iPad Mini for me (along with a keyboard and a camera connector…but let’s not dwell on the details.) The Mini replaces my netbook and my Kindle, so I managed to consolidate devices, plus it’s way lighter, cuter and more portable than the full-size iPad. We had to pay for this one ourselves, of course, but Chris never hesitates to spend money on technology, so everyone came out of this happy.

My new setup

My new setup

It's the size of my Kindle

It’s the size of my Kindle

A Perfect Pokemon Party

Let me get one thing straight: I wish I’d never heard of Pokemon. My kids have been obsessed with the little creatures for months and I still don’t really get the appeal. But Justin wanted a Pokemon birthday party, so I did some research and came up with some pretty cool (yet cheap) games and decor.

My first rule of party planning: thou shall steal all good ideas available online. I copied the basic invitation from somewhere and just added my own text to it:

pokemon invitation

My second rule of party planning: thou shall frequent dollar stores. I bought red and white plastic tablecloths and a black streamer to make the table look like a Pokeball. And since I have no talent at all for cake decorating, I made simple cupcake toppers (one side was a Pokeball, the other had different characters) that some of the kids actually chose to take home. One boy asked me to wipe the chocolate off his cupcake topper so he could keep it. Wow.

IMG_2510  IMG_2512  IMG_2513


We got lucky in that it was a beautiful day and the kids could go crazy on the trampoline. I shudder to think of what would have happened if all that energy had been trapped inside my house. In between trampoline sessions, we played a few games:

  • Capture the Pokemon, which involved the kids throwing Pokeballs (Styrofoam balls painted to look like the real thing) into their opponent’s bin.
  • Pass the Pokemon, which was basically Hot Potato but with a Pokemon stuffy
  • Pokemon bingo (I found the cards online, printed them out and had a friend laminate them for me)


IMG_2517 IMG_2523 IMG_2531

After games it was time for snacks and cake, and then I set them loose just trading their Pokemon cards. I gave each kid a goody bag filled with a Pokeball bouncy ball, a Pokemon notebook and a Pokemon sticker sheet (all of which I ordered online), plus a few trading cards. I also gave each kid a personalized Pokemon card — there’s a website that lets you upload photos and customize the whole card, so I had the parents send me photos of the kids beforehand so I could make the cards.

A highly successful party!


Eight Years of Me

As of today, this blog has been online for eight years. It started as a transitional experiment: I was leaving the paid workforce to have my first baby, and I wanted to find a way to share the details (and the photos) of my early parenting experiences. I wish I could claim I’ve maintained a sharp focus and always stayed true to a purpose… but unless  ”give people a vicarious peek into my life and throw in the odd snide comment” is a valid purpose, I might be out of luck.

The Lost Art of Communication

Maybe if we work at it, we can make language a complete impediment to understanding. – Hobbes (as in Calvin and Hobbes)

I used to complain that email was doing unforgivable things to the English language. Acronyms (and not always common ones) replaced actual words. No one felt the need to punctuate. And AutoCorrect caused more than its share of havoc.

Now, of course, email is passé. Everyone texts on the go, which means no one has a full-size proper keyboard or time to write more than a few words. It’s common to send a one-word or even a one-emoticon text. (I actually take the time to type OK in my texts rather than just K, but I realize I’m a dinosaur.)

Sure, we all learned the acronyms, and we all use the shortcuts. But I think Hobbes was on to something.

And there’s a related problem: because it is so easy to share information instantly, it is far too easy to share without thinking about it.

We’ve all seen those embarrassing photos and status updates on Facebook from people who don’t seem to understand that the beer-swilling party shot may come back to haunt them when they apply for a job, or that the rant against their ex-boyfriend may find its way to unfriendly ears. I’ve read intimate details about people I’ve never heard of, simply because they are a friend of a friend of a friend of mine online.

This blog also suffers from the must-share-something syndrome. I’ve often felt the need to post something, anything, just to show that I’m still here. Never mind that I don’t have anything to say. I just start typing, and hit Publish when I can’t think of anything else to add. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Maybe we’d be better off if there was a mandatory waiting period like there is in some places when you want to buy a gun. If people could just take a day or two to think before sharing with the world, they might decide it’s not really worth it. Or they might take the time to craft a clearer message.

And now to hit Publish…