Monday, October 26, 2009

How to Have a Birthday Party on a Budget

Back in March I blogged that it was possible to throw a fun kids' birthday party and not break the bank. In keeping with that theme, I recently embarked on another birthday party adventure for one of my Things.

Yes, October signals the start of another birthday season here at the Thing household. All three things, their crafty mom and dad, and many of the grandparents, cousins and aunts and uncles all have birthdays falling between October and March. Since Thing 1 had his first "real" birthday party when he turned four I felt that it was only fair that Thing 2 get a birthday party for his fourth birthday as well.

Using my previously-posted bullet points, I will now outline for you once again how it is entirely possible to have a fabulous birthday party on a budget.

1. Use home-made or online invitations. Although I had big dreams of hand-stamping stunning and adorable Halloween-themed birthday invitations, I had to succumb to the realities of life once again and toss that idea out with the trash. That being said, I did my invitations online through evite and I was able to put together something really cute and totally Halloween oriented. Evite is fabulous for organizing your whole party and makes it so easy to figure out how many kids are coming (not to mention it is ridiculously easy for parents to RSVP online). My luck being what it is, all ten kids replied that they were coming.

2. Make Your Own Cake. I am not a cake-making expert, I have never taken a cake-making course, nor do I have any innate sense of how to decorate a cake. But after purchasing a few birthay cakes from the Cake Shop around the corner from us, I knew that there had to be a more affordable way to end up with annual birthday cakes for three kids. (Not that the Cake Shop cakes aren't to die for - they are - and I can assure you when I am back at work and we are once again a two income family that I will be indulging in more cakes from them!) After attempting this back in March, I figured it was not going to be that hard to create a Halloween birthday cake.

I purchased a pumpkin cake mold for $8 at Bulk Barn. I figured with three kids, one of whom was born a couple days before Halloween, that I would certainly make back the cost of the cake mold in no time at all. And it doubles as a pumpkin-shaped chip bowl. Oh, yes it does.

I mean, it is seriously a simple cake but Thing 2 was flabbergasted and brimming with joy as I pulled it out and placed it before him as the "Happy Birthday" chorus hit the room. I whipped up a basic chocolate cake, iced it in chocolate icing, squirted on some orange icing and then stuck on a few candy pumpkins I'd also picked up at the Bulk Barn.

And, voila. A cake for $15 instead of $50.

3. Plan Party Activities That Don't Cost Money. I googled a bunch of Halloween party kids' games and literally found more than I could possibly have carried out in one afternoon. We played Pin the Mouth on the Jack-o-Lantern (self-explanatory), Bobbing for Marshmallows (where the kids each tried to suck a marshmallow out of a bin of water using a straw), Who's the Ghost (where the kids all close their eyes while one child is pulled out and covered in a white sheet - they all then open their eyes and have to guess who the ghost is!), Simon Says, and a few other simple games. Since the party was a Halloween costume party, we held a Costume Parade and handed out awards to each of the participants (which were hand-made and decorated by Thing 1 and Thing 2).

4. Keep food and decorations inexpensive. We decided to have an afternoon party, from 1:00 - 3:30, freeing me from having to offer up lunch food to a huge group of kids in my very small home. We served basic snacks, choice of two drinks, and the birthday cake.

Most of the decorations for the party I already had on hand from Halloweens past or from my teaching supplies, and everything else I bought came to less than $20 . . . streamers, a few helium balloons, etc. The best money I spent by far was $2.00 for a bag of "spider web" stuff and plastic spiders. This stuff looks spectacular and really cool - it stretches like crazy and is easy to stick to anything. It was ALL over the house - filled our whole basement, over several sections of our living and dining rooms, and what I had left I stretched across the front of the house near our entryway.

5. Don't go crazy on the loot bags. Keep it simple. Don't send home a lot of crap with the kids. Although I didn't get a photo of the bags I sent home this time around, I used plain cellophane bags and stuck in one box of Smarties, a Halloween pencil and eraser, a skull ring and a deck of tiny Halloween pumpkin playing cards . . . all the kids seemed thrilled (but then again, perhaps they are not old enough yet to complain about the loot bags!).

See? All in all, totally possible to throw your little one a birthday party and stay on a budget!

Friday, October 23, 2009


Thing 1 was inaugurated the other night.

Yes, our oldest little man was officially sworn in as a Beaver. It seems like just yesterday we were dealing with separation anxiety and preschool, and suddenly time has shifted at an alarming speed and it's like I blinked my eyes and suddenly, out of nowhere, my oldest son is a Beaver?? Wearing a handsome little uniform and being sworn by a Scouting official with his "brown tail".

Check out the torches and all the official paraphernalia . . . pretty cool. These guys are pretty tough, they even stuck it out on a cold, wet weeknight in Ottawa's west end.

And a little over three decades ago his daddy was participating in his very own swearing in ceremony. In the exact same Beaver colony, at the exact same location.

Monday, October 12, 2009

So. Thankful.

I really cannot imagine anything in the world more perfect than spending a crisp, cool Thanksgiving weekend eating, drinking, laughing, hiking, running, playing . . . and simply *being* with family. We spent a fabulous weekend in Oakville with my husband's cousins and family, and were sad to head home today to face a regular old week of life and responsibilities again.

For tonight, I remain eternally thankful for all that I have in my life.

I am truly blessed.

For a look at our entire weekend, check out the Things here.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Unleashing Creativity

I am slowly learning that the "fly by the seat of your pants"-type attitude I have been taking over the past five years with respect to the general passing of time in our home, is, quite simply, not cutting it anymore. Staying home full-time with three young children (who have all been home for the majority of the day up until now) is challenging and trying, on the best of days. I guess with no yearly bonus coming my way, I figured one way to reward myself would be to allow myself the flexibility of doing whatever we felt like doing, whenever we wanted to do it.

But this fall the Things and I are being forced into setting out for ourselves some type of an actual schedule.

With the boys arriving home from school just after 11:00 a.m. each morning (yes, I know . . . I know, that just doesn't seem right, does it?) that still leaves me with a large chunk of the day to wrestle with all 3 Things.

After a few days of directionless chaos, this mommy decided to join the esteemed ranks of the organized parents all over the world and schedule some of her offspring's time.

Fridays, as of roughly a month ago, are now Fun Fridays at our house. Thing 3 goes to visit her grandmother, affording me some alone time after school with Things 1 and 2. So far we have done lunch dates and visited several of the spectacular museums the nation's capital has to offer. The boys love having a special day alone with their mom, and I love having the flexibility to be able to go out and take part in cultural and educational activities without being restrained by Thing 3's afternoon nap time.

One afternoon a week is designated as Craft Time. While I'm fortunate to have two very creative young lads in my midst, I hope to have some sort of organized craft for us all to work on together, at least once a week.

Finger-painting was met with huge success. I don't think we had taken the finger paints out since last spring when the weather was colder, so these two were like a couple of eager beavers building their first dam when I let them loose.

So it seems we're all adjusting to the new fall scheduling just fine. I realize that before I know it I will be back at work and this time I have with my children every single day will be drastically shorter, so I'm trying to stay a little more focused, and make every single moment count.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

CIBC Run for the Cure

Today I ran with 20,000 other people in Ottawa (and thousands more than that across Canada) to help find a cure for breast cancer. I have run this race several times before and I am always is awe of what a moving and overwhelming experience it is to be running with so many other passionate people all fighting for the same cause.

I ran with my friend Kelly . . . and by some stroke of luck we ran at exactly the same pace and we both finished the five km run somewhere between 26 and 27 minutes.

I ran the race in memory of a caring, intelligent and very inspiring woman named Marilyn Large, who I knew from the moment I was born until she passed away three years ago. She left a mark on my life - and that of so many others - and I never walk into a crowded room full of people or a situation that makes me nervous and not remember her words of wisdom to me.

"Always walk with your head up and shoulders back, Shannon. Good posture exudes good confidence."

And it was with my shoulders back and head up that I remembered her today, and ran for her and so many other women who are fighting this disease today.

Thing 2 woke up early this morning to see his mommy off before she left for her run. He's not much of a morning person, in case you couldn't gather that from the photo.

And I would be remiss if I didn't give credit to my very loyal running partner, Rudy. While cocker spaniels come from an ancestry of bird dogs, don't let anyone tell you that a 31 pound cocker can't run a good 5K several times a week. This guy has been running with me regularly since last spring and has not lagged behind me one single time. I may bring him with me to run the race next fall, because I did see a lot of participants running with their dogs today.

Huge thanks to all my friends and relatives who supported me in the run today. It is much appreciated and went to such a tremendously good cause.

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