Don’t Look Too Close

Don't Look Too Close | thisgratefulmama.com

Ever have that kind friend over who comments on the cleanliness of your home? I try to be polite but sometimes it makes me burst out laughing before I can thank her.

Don’t look too close.

Being a mother of two little ones has required that I master doing ‘just enough’ cleaning. The house may appear to be clean, but I guarantee it took no more than 20 minutes to pick up and ‘clean’ before you came over.

Most likely, we ran the dishwasher last night, so we used paper plates for breakfast – I’m too lazy to put dishes away first thing in the morning. A few minutes before you arrived, we may have crammed the toys into the catch-all toy box.

Out of necessity (the potty-training-kind), I did quickly clean the toilet and surrounding floor this morning. But I would have done that whether you were coming over or not, because as I said, it’s necessity.

I do sweep the whole floor once a week, but most of the time I just touch up problem areas – around the kitchen island and by the front door. If you look for crumbs…you’ll find them. All over.

If your child is under the age of 2 and puts things in their mouth, I probably did vacuum the two rooms our kids will be playing in (although I have gone without vacuuming for quite some time when the vacuum belt breaks or the bag is full), but please know it wasn’t because I wanted you to see a clean house. No, it was to protect your sweet child from choking on the umpteen tiny clear Lego lights and who-knows-what-other-tiny-pieces all over my carpet. I am always amazed at the clatter of tiny things sucked up and tossed around the vacuum cleaner.

But don’t look too close…the illusion of clean isn’t necessarily clean.

The house is clean if you don’t pay attention to the crumbs accumulated under the overhang of our kitchen cabinets.

The house is clean if you don’t look upstairs where I surely did not vacuum…it looks like I vacuumed my stairs from the front door, but I only did the bottom 5 stairs and the landing  – the remaining stairs are still in a matted down, un-vacuumed state along with the entire second floor.

The house is clean if you don’t look into the laundry room at the mountain that is CLEAN laundry, begging to be folded and put away.

The house is clean if you don’t run your hand over any hard surfaces to check for dust.

The house is clean if you don’t open the hallway or mud room closets. Open and risk the impending avalanche.

The house looks clean when you arrive but won’t be like that again for the rest of the day week. The house usually looks like this.

The house is clean if you don’t look in the toy box. Nothing is sorted, matched or organized. ALL the toys on this floor fit in the toy box or cabinet in that room. If not, they are ejected to the basement (the kids want to play in the basement? Sure, but it’s a MESS. And not the ‘a few things are out, don’t mind our mess’ kind of mess…I mean a borderline-chaos kind of MESS).

My counters are clean and clear of mail and daily stuff, because the stuff was all shoved into my one three junk drawers in the kitchen or hidden under the now closed roll-top desk in the office.

The only reason this ‘clean illusion’ works is we are distracted by kids when you come over. When we didn’t have kids, it’s possible my house may have actually have been clean when you came over.

Back. When. I. Had. More. Time.

Seriously, what did we do with all that excess time?

The truth is, for the house to be truly CLEAN, I’d have to spend hours and hours that I do not have. I’d probably have to stay up late or get up at the crack of dawn to clean. Then as the kids got up, I’d have to chase them around, picking up after them, and probably scolding them to pick up. By the time you got here, I’d be one stressed out mama with a mop.

That kind of cleaning isn’t going to do us any favors. That kind of clean yields crabby kids and a frustrated mama.

The reality of playdates is this: our kids are going to track in sand, drop crumbs and play with toys. A house doesn’t need to be spotless for kids to have a good time or for their mamas to talk over a cup of coffee. As we talk, I’m sure we’ll agree our lives are much fuller now, even if they aren’t very clean

Plus…all this dirt must do something good for our immune systems, right?

No, I much prefer the 15-20 minute pickup so I can relax, enjoy your company and watch our kids giggle while making carefree messes and memories.

And to be clear, I am more than OK with you stopping by and seeing my house (and me) in a state of chaos and mess.  House is a mess? You’re still welcome here. Come on in and let’s be real with each other.

This life, this house, and this family are not perfect, and neither am I. No need to pretend among friends.

In fact, this house is often a mess. Don’t be alarmed. Sometimes, the mess is just here and evidence of a full life without much time to clean. We live here. But our relationship is too precious to cancel a coffee or playdate for a silly reason like my house being too embarrassingly dirty. Hopefully, you’re OK with that.

I’d much rather enjoy these messy years while kids are small than chase everyone around with cleaning products in an endless cleaning battle that cannot be won.

So my friends, if you comment on our home, please don’t be offended when I chuckle and say, ‘Don’t look too close’ – I’m not pretending my house isn’t clean – it really isn’t.

But thank you for saying it is.

A Couple’s Wedding Shower: A Make-Ahead, Crowd-Pleasing Brunch

Once upon a time, we hosted couples wedding shower brunch. And sometime this spring, over a year later, I  started writing about that brunch…now, in true procrastinator style, I’m posting it.

Better late than never?

(PS. This was written in April – No, I’m not pregnant again)

I’m going to blame it on pregnancy cravings, but I woke up this morning with brunch on the brain. Brunchy thoughts made me realize I never shared what we ate at the wedding shower…now almost a year ago.

One of they keys to hosting a stress-free brunch is to make as much of the food as possible, the day before. With a morning event, make-ahead recipes earn their value in precious sleep for the host.

Do the hard work ahead of time so you can be well rested and at your best on the big day.

Here are some simple, low maintenance ideas if you are hosting a brunch, of any kind. Make the food ahead of time and allow yourself the freedom to enjoy the day and your company.

Couple's Wedding Shower Brunch | www.thisgratefulmama.com

Is it just me, or does every brunch need a balanced combination of sweet, savory and fresh items?

Now I’m hungry…

Something Sweet:

French Toast Bake:

A Couple's Wedding Shower: A Make-Ahead, Crowd-Pleasing Brunch - French Toast Bake | thisgratefulmama.comThis french toast bake may be my favorite comfort food, ever. Growing up, it was served on most holidays. It needs to be assembled the day before, which ensures you’ll be free to do other preparations while your home fills with the mouth-watering aroma of french toast. Golden brown, and topped with fresh strawberries – beautiful, and delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 13″ Loaf Stale French Bread, cut into 1″ slices
  • 1/4-1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
  • 4 Tbs Sugar
  • 1 & 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 2 & 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup (or more) blueberries
  • Topping:
    • 3/4 cup flour
    • 9 Tbs brown sugar
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    • 5/8 cups margarine or butter, melted
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
Recipe:
  • Prepare a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray or butter. Spread butter on each side of the sliced bread. Arrange slices in the dish (there should be enough slices that you have to squish them into the pan).
  • In a separate bowl, whisk to combine eggs, sugar, vanilla and milk. Pour mixture over the buttered bread.
  • Spread blueberries over the top (1 cup or more – as many as you like).
  • In a separate bowl, prepare topping by combining flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and 5/8 cups melted margarine or butter. Spread topping on top of blueberries and bread in the pan.
  • Cover pan and refrigerate overnight.
  • In the morning, preheat oven to 375F while allowing the pan to warm on counter.
  • Bake a 375F, uncovered, for 50 minutes.
  • Allow to set for a minimum of 10 minutes before serving.
  • Top with sliced strawberries to serve.
YUM!

Apple Cider Donut Holes

A Couple's Wedding Shower: A Make-Ahead, Crowd-Pleasing Brunch - Apple Cider Mini Donuts | thisgratefulmama.com

Thank you, Feastie.com, for this recipe for Baked Apple Cider Donut Holes, made in a mini-muffin tin. Bite size, tasty, and a big hit!

To make ahead, bake the day before but wait to roll in sugar and cinnamon mixture until the day of the event.

Something Savory:

Cheesy Hashbrowns:

A Couple's Wedding Shower: A Make-Ahead, Crowd-Pleasing Brunch - Cheesy Hashbrowns | thisgratefulmama.com

This Easy Hashbrown Casserole recipe from MyBlessedLife blog may be the only one out there in internet-land that does NOT use a canned cream of something soup.

Delicious. You know you want these.

 

Mini-Frittatas with ham:

A Couple's Wedding Shower: A Make-Ahead, Crowd-Pleasing Brunch - Mini Frittata | thisgratefulmama.com

You can’t go wrong with a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. Her Mini Fritattas are made using sliced ham and are uniquely flavorful with the addition of parmesan cheese and parsley. One recipe makes 40 individual fritattas, and they cook in a mini-muffin tin for just 10 minutes, you can prepare these in a flash.

Either make them the day before and reheat in the oven just before serving, or prepare the egg mixture the day before and cook them the day of the event.

Fill those muffin tins without a mess: Mix ingredients in one of these Rubbermaid Mixing Bottles. Seal and shake to evenly distribute ingredients. Open the lid and pour into each well in one row of the muffin tin. Shake and pour into the next row, and so on, until the pans are full. Easy-peasy.

Something Fresh:

Fruit Salad:

A Couple's Wedding Shower: A Make-Ahead, Crowd-Pleasing Brunch - Fruit Salad | thisgratefulmama.comPick your favorite seasonal fruits. This simple, beautiful, and healthy side is sure to please even the pickiest eater.

 

 

 

 

Veggies and Dip:

A Couple's Wedding Shower: A Make-Ahead, Crowd-Pleasing Brunch - Veggies and Dip | thisgratefulmama.com

Chop an assortment of vegetables and serve with dip, or consider serving a green salad instead. A Strawberry spinach salad (sub pumpkin seeds for almonds for a nut-free salad), or Greek salad works great for brunch. Just toss with dressing just before serving.

 

 

Now, is anyone else hungry for brunch?

‘You Are My Sunshine’ Birthday – Simple Food So You Can Relax!

'You Are My Sunshine' Birthday - Simple Food So You Can Relax! | thisgratefulmama.com

One of the most difficult decisions for me when hosting is picking the food.

In March, we celebrated our daughter’s second birthday. I’ve already shared how the house was decorated with a few strings of bird and sunshine garland, and a ‘You Are My Sunshine’ photo birthday banner, strung using patterned paper covered clothes pins.

Like most families, ours has a few special dietary needs (peanut and tree nut allergy, dairy intolerance, and at times gluten-free or low-carb needs). On top of all that, we want food that is well liked by both children and adults and prefer to make it all a day ahead. There were 17 adults or teenagers, and 3 children, for a total of 20 people.

Since this birthday party was for a 2-year-old, you won’t find any fancy recipes here. She is easy to please!

Plus, with small children, I often have other duties than hosting that require my attention – diapers, wanting to be held, injuries or simply a lot of people arriving at once are sure keep a mama in-demand. Make-ahead, simple food helps ensure a low stress level when I’m hosting and little ones need me. It also helps make it easy to delegate when people offer to help.

What’s the use in throwing a party if I end up stressed-out and cranky and then take it out on the very people the party is for? Keeping things low-key maximizes the time I have to visit with company and actually enjoy the festivities.

Why not keep it simple so everyone can relax?

 Main Dish 

'You Are My Sunshine' Birthday - Simple Food So You Can Relax! | thisgratefulmama.com

We made a warm shredded chicken dish using a modification of this crock pot turkey recipe. Instead of turkey, the meat from 2 fully cooked rotisserie chickens (Costco ones are huge!) were used. All ingredients (except parsley and chicken) were combined with 1 cup water in a large skillet on the stove instead of using a crock pot. The sauce was heated over medium heat while mixing to ensure even distribution of the cream cheese as it melted. Chicken was added and mixed until coated, then cooled and stored in the fridge overnight. The day of the party, the meat was warmed on the stove until heated through. Finally, fresh-cut parsley was mixed in just before serving. Note: It was easy to reserve a cup of plain meat for our daughter who does not eat dairy. 

Simple Sides 

'You Are My Sunshine' Birthday - Simple Food So You Can Relax! | thisgratefulmama.com

Isn’t it great that the easiest sides are also often the healthiest? We served fresh-cut veggies and fruit, and a simple salted popcorn. It may not seem like much, but these simple sides are always a hit with our family. I count it an added bonus that they are low-budget and easy to prepare ahead of time.

 

 Dessert

'You Are My Sunshine' Birthday - Simple Food So You Can Relax! | thisgratefulmama.com

This year I was unable to find a nearby bakery that could ensure nut-free cupcakes. Instead of driving across town the day of the party for two dozen, over-priced (but nut-free) cupcakes, I chose to make them myself. As some of you may know, baking is not my strong suit and often ends in disaster. However, for once, I managed to make some plain white cake cupcakes – and yes, I admit I’m lame and used a boxed mix and pre-made frosting. I’m somewhat proud of myself for attempting and not totally failing at piping frosting…Trust me, this is a victory. They sure aren’t fancy, but were of sufficient quality to please a 2-year-old (who smashed it as soon as she got her hands on it). From the look on her face, they were birthday-girl approved.

'You Are My Sunshine' Birthday - Simple Food So You Can Relax! | thisgratefulmama.com

Happy Birthday, Sunshine-girl!

 

DIY Dinosaur Tails, Dinosaur Spike Party Hats and Favors

I am excited to finally share the last special touches from our son’s dinosaur birthday party.

About a month before the party, I came across these DIY Dinosaur Tails on Pinterest. I was excited about the idea but lacking a sewing machine and the skills to actually make them. My mom is a talented artist and I knew she would be able to make them. I asked if she’d be willing to help me. She was excited and more than willing to help!

Let me first accurately describe what I really mean when I say my mom ‘helped’ (she’s amazing!):

  • she went with me to the store and helped pick out what to buy, and determine how much we needed
  • she clipped coupons and went through the checkout with half of the items so we could maximize use of coupons – most was 50% off
  • it was her idea to use patterned fabric
  • it was her idea to use two colors of felt to sew two sets of spikes on each dinosaur tail
  • she ironed the fabric, cut everything out, and made a pattern that maximized the use of our fabric
  • she sewed the tails (not only did I not have a sewing machine, but I haven’t used one since home economics in junior high)
  • she was gracious and willing to make 5 more tails after the initial 10 when ALL of the kids RSVP’d to the party…kind of like a dinosaur-tail sweat shop

We are so grateful for the work of my mom’s loving and skillful hands! 15 dinosaur tails later…the result was a basket of very fun party favors.

DIY Dinosaur Tails

Along with a tail, every child had a dinosaur spike party hat to wear. This idea was also seen on Pinterest, and modified. I used store-bought polka-dot hats and cut the spikes from folded neon paper. The spikes were attached to the hats using double-sided tape.

DIY Dinosaur Spike Party Hats

Each child took home their own dinosaur tail and hat, along with a little bag of dinosaur party favors:

party favors collage

Here are a few pictures of my son and daughter in their tails (the day after the party), and one picture of the kids all dressed up at the party. It was very entertaining watching the kids run around and enjoying their tails and hats. I’ve heard from several parents that the tails are still being played with regularly by the kids who attended the party. Three months later and our kids use them every day – they are well worth the effort!

Dinosaur Party FunCheck out the dinosaur birthday party food and decorations in these posts:

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

DIY Dinosaur Birthday Party Decorations

 

 

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Our son turned 4 on Halloween and we celebrated the occasion with a dinosaur birthday party.

Brunch is a great option for a kids birthday party. We invited 3 to 6 year old kids and their families, which included many younger siblings. Brunch allowed us to start at 10 am, and be done at 1 pm, just in time for afternoon naps. Brunch is also a good option because baked goods, eggs, and chicken salad can be made inexpensively, be made a day ahead, and provide a great variety for even the pickiest eater.

The meal needed to:

  • accommodate both kids and adults, including a few picky eaters…
  • be completely nut-free to accommodate a peanut and tree nut allergy
  • include some dairy-free options
  • be plentiful and filling enough to feed a crowd of 14 kids and 20 adults
  • be able to be prepared a day ahead, with minimal prep time
  • be easy to set out and finish up the morning of the party

Our dinosaur birthday brunch & dessert included the following foods and beverages – bold items are described in further detail below.

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Brunch

  • 4 Varieties of Muffins
  • 3 Different Egg Frittatas
  • Chicken Salad and rolls
  • Dinosaur Juice-Jello Jigglers
  • White Cheddar Pirates Booty
  • Veggies and Dip (cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots sliced thinly, and cherry tomatoes)
  • Grapes (because there were NO watermelons at 3 stores! Otherwise we were going to make a dino-head from the rhine like this one – sad it didn’t work out)

Dessert

  • Dinosaur Dig Jars and Gummy Dinosaurs
  • Brownies and rice crispy treats

Beverages

  • Mini Apple Juice boxes
  • Coffee
  • Sparkling Water
  • Ice Water
  • Orange Juice
  • Dinosaur Ice Cubes

 

Muffins

Cinnamon streusel, Lemon Poppyseed, Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Cinnamon streusel, Lemon Poppyseed, Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins

We made Cinnamon Streusel, Lemon poppy-seed, Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins. Even though these could have been made ahead, we made them the morning of the party. It took under an hour using 2 ovens, and made our house smell delicious as guests arrived. Looking back, this was too many muffins; next time, for a group this size, I’d just make 3 flavors (skip the Lemon poppy-seed – the only flavor hardly eaten).

 

Egg Frittatas – Spinach & Sausage, Ham & Cheese, and Plain egg

Ham & Cheese, Plain, and Sausage & Spinach Egg Frittatas

Ham & Cheese, Plain, and Sausage & Spinach Egg Frittatas

Egg frittatas are inexpensive, simple, healthy, and look great on a platter. You can mix and match fillings to your liking. These can be cooked a day ahead; just cool, wrap with foil and store in the fridge. Reheat in the oven at 350 F for 15-25 minutes, or until warmed through.The recipe recommends to serve at warm or room temperature, so they’ll still taste great even if they’re not piping hot when eaten.

Overall, these fritattas were liked by both kids and adults. Ham & Cheese was the clear favorite and was gone long before the others.

All three recipes were adapted from this recipe from Williams-Sonoma’s Healthy In A Hurry Cookbook, as follows:

  • Spinach and Sausage Frittata: substituted spinach for arugula, omitted the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and substituted rice milk for dairy milk to make it dairy free
  • Ham and Cheese Frittata: substituted 8 oz ham for sausage, and added 1 cup cheddar cheese (omitted sausage, arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
  • Plain Frittata: omitted the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sausage and arugula.

 

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is a go-to recipe for me when hosting brunch and lunch. It is easy to prepare, can be made the day before (just wait to add the apple until the day-of), and can be eaten alone or on a roll as a sandwich. Using Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise creates a great healthy option. Kids and adults will enjoy the fruit and veggies that make every bite a little different.

This salad was prepared using the meat from 2 fully cooked rotisserie chickens (from Costco – they’re huge!), 1 cup dried tart cherries or crasins, 1 chopped large apple (I used honey crisp), 2 diced stalks of celery, 2 chopped green onions (green only),  1/4 tsp dill weed, salt & pepper to taste, mayonnaise or plain greek yogurt to desired consistency, and a drizzle of honey, to taste. If you want it just a little sweeter, add some chopped grapes just before serving.

 

Dinosaur Juice Jigglers

Dinosaur shaped 100% Juice Jello Jigglers

Dinosaur shaped 100% Juice Jigglers

What child doesn’t love jello, especially when dinosaur shaped? When made with 100% juice, they’re a pretty great option for parents too. Two flavors of juice gelatin (100% White Grape Juice and Apple Cider) were made and cut out with T-Rex and Triceratops cookie cutters. In hindsight, I wish I’d used something with a brighter color so they looked a little more fun. Just buy plain Gelatin and follow the package instructions.

 

Dinosaur Dig Jars and Gummy Dinosaurs

Dinosaur Dig Jars with Pudding, crushed Oreo cookies, and gummy dinosaurs

Dinosaur Dig Jars with Pudding, crushed Oreo cookies, and gummy dinosaurs

I’m not much of a baker and it can be a challenge sometimes to find a cake that is nut-free, so I was really excited to see the idea for these Dino-Dig Jars on Two Prince Blog. We filled our cups with chocolate pudding, crushed O cookies, and put two Hairbo Gummy Dinosaurs (nut free if you buy the factory-sealed bag) on top. This no-hassle, nut-free dessert was a hit with the kids. We also set out the gummy dinosaur candy, brownies and rice crispy treats for parents and kids who didn’t want a dig-jar.

Tip: The only problem with this dessert was when my son went to blow out his candle, the Oreo cookie ‘dust’ blew back into his face and all over the table. May want to mix the cookies into your child’s cup if doing candles so they don’t blow cookie crumbs into their eyes.

 

Dinosaur Ice Cubes

Make Dinosaur ice cubes in a muffin tin

Make Dinosaur ice cubes in a muffin tin

Set out dinosaur ice cubes with clear cups with lids and bright colored straws

Set out dinosaur ice cubes with clear cups with lids and bright colored straws

I found this idea for dinosaur ice cubes on Pinterest. I found these tiny dinosaurs in the Dollar Spot at Target (20/bag-a STEAL compared to other stores), washed them, and made a set of 12 cubes for the party. These dinosaurs floated when water was added to the tin, so ice cubes were made by filling each tin half-way, freezing, then adding water and freezing again so the dinosaurs were mostly encased in ice.

Clear cups with lids and colored straws were provided so the kids could see their dinosaur melt from the ice during the party.

 

 

Our dinosaur party brunch was delicious, and required minimal effort the day of the party. The food was enjoyed by toddlers, preschoolers and parents. Here are a few more pictures of everything the day of the party.

Beverages and dinosaur ice cubes

Beverages and dinosaur ice cubes

Dinosaur Themed Birthday Brunch for kids and parents

Dinosaur Themed Birthday Brunch for kids and parents

Desserts

Desserts

Happy Celebrating!

 

Check out the dinosaur birthday party decorations and favors in these posts:

DIY Dinosaur Birthday Party Decorations

DIY Dinosaur Tails, Dinosaur Spike Party Hats and Favors

DIY Dinosaur Birthday Party Decorations

Dinosaurs.

The perfect theme for a 4-year-old boy’s first-ever birthday party with his little friends.

A gold mine of birthday decor ideas.

My ideas, combined with those gathered on my Birthday Boy Pinterest board, and I was soon a little overwhelmed!

Limited by both time and budget, I couldn’t do it all…so I picked four decorations I could make myself using common and inexpensive materials that, for the most part, I already had on hand. The party was a big hit with both kids and parents.

Today’s post is all about decorations you can make yourself, with materials you probably already have. Using simple materials like paper, tape, string, markers, stencils, and chalk, your house can be Dino-party ready!

Each of the following ideas were completed during nap time, and each took an hour or less. Here is a little tour of the decorations people saw as they arrived for the party. Best of all, when my son saw it all, he was just delighted. It made every effort completely worth it.

DIY Dinosaur Birthday Party Decor 

1. DIY Chalk Dinosaur Crossing Sign and Paper Footprints

DIY Chalk Dinosaur Crossing Sign and Paper Footprints

DIY Chalk Dinosaur Crossing Sign and Paper Footprints

  • We actually forgot to put these two decorations out before our party began – Whoops! I’m posting them anyway – since they were made in advance TO use!
  • Walking up to the house these construction paper dinosaur footprints would guide you to the front door and into the party
Dino Crossing Sign drawn with chalk

Dino Crossing Sign drawn with chalk

  • This Dino Crossing Chalk Sign was created on our Ikea Easel
    • A diamond with rounded corners was drawn, and a second border was traced
    • A dino-stencil was made by tracing a toy dinosaur onto paper and cutting it out
    • The stencil was placed in the center of the triangle and traced, then the rest of the inner diamond was filled in
    • Colored areas were blended with fingers to give a solid-looking finish
    • A diaper wipe and my pointer finger were used to remove chalk and ‘write’ black letters
      • After each stroke, a fresh piece of the wipe was used
      • Once the letters were dry, any smeary spots were ‘touched up’ with a wipe
      • Any letters that got too thick were colored in with fresh chalk
      • My kids smeared it right away – No problem! I just cleaned the smeary areas with a wipe and colored with chalk as necessary

2. “ROAR means Happy 4th Birthday in Dinosaur” Entryway Sign

Entryway "Roar means Happy Birthday in Dinosaur"

Entryway “Roar means Happy Birthday in Dinosaur”

  • When guests walked in the door, the paper footprints led them by this sign in our entryway. They placed gifts on the table below it
    • Inspiration for the wording of this sign was found here.
    • Pre-cut flags like these were bought on clearance at Target in the party section ($1.20 each for pack of 10 flags and string – I bought 1 blue, 1 green)
    • Lettering was done with these alphabet stencils that I already owned and a black sharpie
    • Flags were hung from 2 orange shoe strings I already had, and the white strings that came with the pre-cut flags
    • Banners were suspended from 3M command hooks to save the wall from pin holes
    • Additional lettering was created using one pack of vinyl wall alphabet decals from the dollar store ($1 for a pack containing 2 of each letter in the alphabet – I had to cut and ‘create’ one additional letter “N” from other letters to write these words on the wall)

3. Homemade Paper 2-Inch Circle Garland

Homemade 2-inch circle garland

Homemade 2-inch circle garland

  • Stung on a window and across two large walls, guests saw our 2-inch circle garland, made from bright construction paper
    • Using a 2 Inch Craft Lever Punch (Hobby Lobby – $6 on sale), holes were cut using several colors of construction paper (4 sheets at a time – different colors stacked in the order they’ll be strung)
    • Circles were strung using a needle and thread.
      • The needle was pushed up through the paper, then down and up again so they would lay FLAT on the string
      • Keep the thread attached to the spool until you’ve strung half of the punched holes
      • Then let out at least the same length from the spool and cut the thread
      • String the rest from the other side
    • Garland was suspended using 3m Command hooks
    • Three 8 to 10 foot long strings of garland took about 45 minutes total, which included punching them, stringing them and hanging them

4. “Happy 4th Birthday Aiden-a-saurus” Flag Banner

Happy Birthday Aiden-a-saurus Banner

Happy 4th Birthday Aiden-a-saurus Banner

  • This banner was the focal point of the main party area of our home
    • This banner was made using patterned 12″ x 12″ scrapbook paper I already had
      • 12″x12″ sheets were cut in half. This sign used 14 pages to create 28 flags
      • A triangle was cut from bottom to create the flag shape; I used the first as the template for the rest
    • Tip: Buy scrapbook paper at a craft store when on sale or use standard solid color construction paper. Hobby Lobby runs a 50% off scrapbook supplies often. Something like this will work great; and with assorted patterns and 80 pages, you could make A BUNCH of banners for $7.
    • Letters were made on white medium weight art paper using these alphabet stencils that I already owned and a black sharpie
    • The flags were hung on a string; fold 1 inch over the string and secure with tape to the back of the flag
    • The banner was suspended on 3M command hooks over the entryway between our kitchen to dining room

Check out the dinosaur birthday party food and decorations in these posts:

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

DIY Dinosaur Tails, Dinosaur Spike Party Hats and Favors

A Favorite Fall Recipe: Easy Vegetable Soup

If you live in Minnesota, you know that last night we were reminded that winter is looming; it sleeted. Last night, we sat inside, furnace on, drinking hot cider, as ice pellets fell and the howling wind made sure we could hear the sleet pelting our windows.

Sigh.

At least it didn’t sleet in September… AND, at least none of it remained when the sun came up.

What the sleet left behind is the realization that FALL is here and it may not last long!

It’s time to enjoy those fall colors. Time to get outside and enjoy ANY and ALL days when the temperature is above freezing.

Enjoy Fall

Our family decided to make the most of the day; we went to the MN Zoo.

We saw all the indoor animals and when it finally reached about 40 degrees outside, we put on hats and coats and wrapped the kids in a blanket to do a quick round of the outdoor trails. We enjoyed the warmth of the sun (and walked briskly through the shade).

It was great to be outside, and we were home in time for lunch and naps.

The chill of the morning left me wanting something warm and comforting for dinner. What better than my favorite vegetable soup?

 

Easy Vegetable Soup

15-18 servings

Ingredients

Fresh Vegetables

  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 1 small yellow onion: chopped and separated
  • 8 medium baby red potatoes (if they seem small, use 10): cleaned, cubed, leaving skin ON
  • 4 large carrots: peeled, and sliced (cut large slices in half)
  • 2 medium zucchini: quarter lengthwise, and slice
  • 4 long stalks celery: washed and sliced (it is OK to throw the leaves in for extra flavor)
  • 1 green bell pepper (optional): chopped
  • 1/2 cup parsley: finely chopped – RESERVE UNTIL END

Pantry Ingredients

  • 2 TBS Olive Oil (I buy the Extra Virgin, light tasting)
  • 1 15 oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas): drained, and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz can kidney beans: drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 oz can great northern beans: drained and rinsed
  • 3 cans diced tomato with Italian Herbs (or sub diced tomato in basil, oregano and garlic) – DO NOT DRAIN
  • 32 oz (4 cups) vegetable broth
  • 64 oz (8 cups) beef broth (or sub 6 more cups veggie broth, if desired)

Frozen

  • 10 oz chopped, frozen spinach (optional)

Seasonings

  • 1.5 Tsp dried basil
  • 1 Tsp dried oregano
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1 bay leaf, whole

 

Preparation:

  • Wash and prep all fresh vegetables.
  • Heat 1 TBS olive oil on med-high heat in a large skillet
  • Add half the garlic and cook until fragrant
  • Add half the vegetables (reserve parsley until the end) and saute until softened
Saute vegetables until softened

Saute vegetables until softened

  • Transfer softened vegetables to a large soup pot
  • Return skillet to med-high heat and heat the remaining 1 TBS olive oil and remaining garlic
  • Add the other half of the vegetables and saute until softened
  • Transfer softened vegetables to the soup pot
  • Add the drained kidney beans, great northern beans and garbanzo beans, un-drained diced tomatoes, vegetable broth and beef broth to the soup pot
  • Add the dried basil and oregano, salt and fresh ground pepper (to taste), and whole bay leaf to the soup pot and mix well
  • Bring contents of the soup pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer
  • Simmer, covered, for 30 – 60 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender
  • Add 10 oz chopped frozen spinach, if using, and stir until melted and distributed throughout the soup
  • Add chopped parsley and stir to mix
  • Return the soup to a simmer and cook 10 more minutes

 

Notes:

  • Top with grated cheese (Parmesan or cheddar), and warmed, crusty bread, or maybe with grilled cheese (yum!)
  • My kids don’t like soup broth, which is fine by me (messy!), so I use a slotted spoon and give them a pile of cooked veggies
  • We usually freeze half of this soup since the recipe is so large (or we use it to feed a large group). I recommend freezing in either single portions (for lunches), or with enough servings for your family to have a meal together. To freeze: Cool fully and transfer to labeled freezer zip-lock bags and freeze flat or transfer to plastic containers with lids
  • You can add cooked shredded rotisserie chicken to add protein and a little extra flavor to this soup. Just make sure it is finely shredded or chopped
  • You can throw everything in a (LARGE) crock pot and cook on HIGH 2-3 hours or LOW 5 hours (or until veggies are tender). Just wait to add Parsley and Spinach until 20 minutes before turning the crock pot off (I have a smaller crock pot and this recipe does not fit!).

 

What’s you favorite FALL recipe?