Experience over Stuff

I hate stuff. Not all stuff, just the mindless, meaningless, dust collecting, environment trashing stuff. You know, the stuff that we don’t need, but that we buy anyway so that the person we’re giving said stuff to feels like they got enough. It’s ridiculous and it drives me crazy! My husband and I are working really hard on not getting out family this type of stuff and attempt to pass them off as gifts. So instead we’re focusing more on giving less gifts as well as making sure the gifts we do give are 1. meaningful and 2. experience oriented. To that end here are the gifts we’re giving the kids.

The oldest is getting a sewing class from JoAnn’s, the Redwall book series, a music player, and the Wings of Fire book series from Santa. The middle is getting a sipping and painting class, DC Super Hero Girls, 1 still to be determined gift, and the Amulet book series requested from Santa. The youngest is getting a backstage pass to the zoo, a building class, a personalized apron to go with his love of cooking, and Dr. Suess books requested from Santa. They are getting each other a single gift each, and they are getting a few to be shared items from the big man in red, but that’s it.

And what about those pesky extended family gifts you ask? Those are also experiences. For my side of the family (parents, and sister and 2 kids) we are going to Great Wolf Lodge. For my husband’s family (parents, 1 sister and 2 kids) we are also doing a resort type gift, and for his out of town sister we’re doing a dessert experience and I’m making them messy bun hats. Anybody that doesn’t fit into the immediate extended family group doesn’t get a gift. Yes that includes my great grandmother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Sorry, not sorry.

The present is the presence of family at the extended family holiday get-together. When my husband’s family did extended family get-togethers the hosting family picked a charity and participating families would gift a donation. My extended family plays games and catches up on each others lives. The one exception is that my aunt usually gets the 18 and under kids a small useful gift like a blanket. I’d much rather ooh and aah over seeing you and enjoy playing games together than pretend to love some ridiculous last-minute gift that will more than likely be re-gifted to a charity cause.

There are lots of experience ideas out there. Please trust me that the gift recipient will remember the experience, especially if it’s an experience they get to do with you, or a gift to help an experience or hobby, much more than a thing you picked up at the last minute. Think of something they like, and send them on their way. I promise it will be worth it.

 

Halloween Costumes are (almost) Finished

I’m not really sure how it happened this year, but the costumes for the kids are done. In record time. I’m even going to have time to make my niece’s costume. She wants to be Unicorn Girl so she can wear a multicolored dress and a horn. I’m definitely seeing the appeal!

Here are the completed costumes.

Fire Queen aka Fury Demon from the Depths of Hell

First I needed to make a skirt. It took me 20 minutes (20!!) to try and decide which color skirt I thought she would want: black or red. It took way, way too long to realize I could just make a reversible skirt and then I wouldn’t have to worry about which color she wanted. Way too long. I’m still shaking my head.

After making the reversible underskirt I got my butt kicked by tulle. There is a reason tutus aren’t cheap and it’s because tulle is a pain in the tush to work with. I bought 15 yards of tulle – 5 yards each in red, orange and yellow. Folding, cutting, refolding, untangling the tulle, and untangling the scissors on repeat for 15 yards of tulle was terribly frustrating. To make the tulle skirt all I did was sew a piece of elastic into a circle, and then loop the tulle into a knot around the elastic. The tulle likes to bunch up so she might have to run her fingers through it a few times to have the pieces straighten out. She was also able to make herself a crown of flames from the leftover tulle pieces. She used the same tying technique around a large ponytail holder that we will wrap around a bun in her hair. Should be awesome!

 

The Good Poison Ivy

To make this dress I decided to find a tunic pattern, and then make the skirt portion longer so that it would actually be a dress. I should have just bought a dress pattern, but that’s okay. This dress was a learning experience in why it is important to measure your subject and compare sizes before cutting out all of the pieces. I originally cut out the pattern and fabric according to the size 8 on the pattern. After completing the tunic portion I had her try it on. It might as well have been made for a 4  year old. Instead of buying a new yard of fabric I cut out 4 pieces from the scraps I had for the front and back in a larger size via guesstimation, which is why you can see a seam down the middle of the front of the dress. After completing the tunic I folded the fabric to make a circle skirt, and then sewed that onto the bottom of the tunic. I decided against making the leggings (I’m good, but I don’t think I’m that good!) so I ordered them from Primary and they should be here by Tuesday.

My blue zombie has changed his mind (again!) and now would like to be Spiderman. I’m pretty sure that costume will be purchased from a local retailer. Heck, even Peter Parker had a hard time making a Spiderman costume.

The next costume I am going to make is for my niece. Originally she wanted to be Rapunzel from Tangled. From there the costume changed to “Rapunzel with a blue and pink and purple dress” and then to “unicorn girl with a purple and pink and blue dress and a horn, please.” So that’s next on my list.

The fact that 1. I don’t hate my sewing machine right now, and 2. I have the time to make a Unicorn Girl costume is invigorating! I almost feel like I could take on making clothes from scratch. But lets not get crazy now! That can wait until the summer! Or maybe we can make pajama pants for Christmas. So many ideas!

Wonderful Chaos of Fall

Ahh, October. The lovely time of year where the chill starts to creep into the air and flights of fancy dance around the coming holidays. It’s the time of year where you discover that $20 you “lost” in your sweater pocket, that your boots really should have been replaced last year, and that the easy Halloween costume your kid swore they would wear this year has been replaced with “the most amazing” (read: complicated) idea.

This year, we were going to have random princess warriors and ninja warriors using the costumes of years past for Halloween. Last night I was given the rude awakening that instead this year’s creativity would revolve around a Fire Queen/Demon, Poison Ivy (the good one), and a Blue Zombie. First of all, what??? When did Poison Ivy go good? I must have missed that particular phase in the comic books. Nonetheless, it perfectly matches with my blooming botanist. The Fire Queen theme also aligns fairly well with the metamorphosis my oldest has been pushing through. Double digits are coming quickly for this young lady, and she is taking her growing up head on. The Blue Zombie really found me dumbstruck. This kid has been wanting to be a Red Ninja ever since his sister gave him the costume for his birthday. Alas, I think this one might actually be the easiest.

We spent most of the evening looking through pictures of what each costume might entail.

The Fire Queen images we found that we liked the most were these. Absolutely stunning! One day, when I grow up, I’m going to be able to sew like this!

Then she drew her own ideas for the costume. Big ideas here! Notice the strings placed underneath the skirt and in the red wig to look like she is on fire. Also, the emphasis that there needs to be a comfy part of the skirt on the inside, because the tulle is itchy. I don’t blame her; it really is itchy. Finish off the costume with a crown of flames and some red make up, and we’re golden…or at least on fire.

Poison Ivy, the good one, should be a little simpler. A bright green twirly dress, some green leggings, and a belt made of vines. This, I can do!

She also drew her own version of what the costume should look like. Note the emphasis on a twirly dress, with poof, of course. Tights, some slip on shoes, and “green all the way.”

I’m glad we recently got a Michael’s coupon in the mail. Now all I need is to find a couple for JoAnn’s Fabric. I’m pretty sure I can make the same twirly dress for both girls, one long and in red for the the Fire Queen; one shorter and in bright green for Miss Ivy. And making twirly dresses with a circle skirt pattern shouldn’t be too hard – fingers crossed of course! I wonder if I can find a bright red flat sheet for the dress. The kid is only 5’3″ so finding cloth long enough for her dresses is a pain in the tush.

The Blue Zombie is going to be a second hand store accomplishment. Find some blue jeans and a blue long sleeve shirt of some kind. Paint his face a lovely grey, and muss up his hair a little more than it usually is. See, the easy one!

What is in store for your Halloween costumes?

 

Packing a Good Lunch

Now that school has been back in session for a weak, I am reminded of my least favorite part: packing a lunch the kiddos. Trying to guess which foods the kids will dislike the least in an attempt to pack them something healthy, delicious, and easy to eat – the ever elusive trifecta. Why they don’t like the same things at school that they do at home is beyond me. The other issue my kids like to create, is their distaste for sandwiches. Granted, I get sick of sandwiches, too, however, this year my middle kid has challenged herself to go the whole year without taking any for lunch. More power to you, kiddo!

Early in our school lunch making days I stopped packing my kids’ lunches for them. I was sick to death of throwing uneaten food into the compost because “insert eye-rolling reason here.” There was nothing more frustrating than having them try a food at a store and then having them snub it after you’d brought home the obligatory 50 pounds of it (thank you, Costco!). Plus the added stress of me making their lunch, on top of all the other things I needed to help them keep track of, was making me grumpy. So, I stopped. After giving them the option of making their own lunch, or getting the cheese and lunchmeat sandwich the school provides if a student forgets their lunch, they readily accepted the challenge.

Now my oldest is in 4th grade and is very adept at making lunch, but getting there took some teaching. We have a piece of paper on the fridge that has each food category needed for a healthy lunch. Each category has a list of examples that fall within that category. Having this piece of paper helps immensely in teaching them what foods fall in each category, creating an easy flow for them to make their own lunches, and helps cut down on the wasted foods. Plus it gets a little bit of word recognition in there, too. They are far more likely to actually eat the majority of the contents in their lunchboxes if they’re the ones to pack it. They’re not going to pack something they dislike, after all.

Knowing they’re following these general guidelines for a healthy lunch is a huge relief. It also provides longterm lessons about choosing healthy, well-rounded meals, and lets them be creative about what they can, and are willing, to eat. We let each kid pick their own items from each category, and voila, you’ve avoided having to make their lunch for them (albeit they still need a few gentle reminders about quantity, and staying focused), they’re learning valuable lessons, and the amount of wasted food is significantly decreased. A win-win-win all the way around.

Below I’ve included the list that my kids have used to pack their lunches, as well as some of their favorite combinations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Their favorite combinations are as follows:

  • Apple slices, nut butter, tomatoes, and granola bar
  • Hard boiled eggs, cereal, bell peppers, peaches
  • Tuna, crackers, cherries, sugar snap peas
  • Yogurt, berries, zucchini, rice sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Quinoa, pears, carrots, pretzels
  • Grapes, cucumbers, hummus, naan

Most of these items are kept on the lower shelves of the fridge and pantry so that they are easily accessible. I have the kids make their lunches either after dinner, or while I’m cooking dinner. That way they can use up any leftovers, or, if we’re having noodles or rice, they can get a little scoop before any sauce is mixed with it. Worst case scenario they have to make lunch in the morning and we’ll eat breakfast in the car on the way to school. They also have a separate cupboard for all of their lunch containers, so that they can easily make their own lunch with minimal help from us.

As our kids have gotten older, like most kids, their food quantities range from “constantly grazing” to “picky minimalist”. The amount of food they pack in their lunches has always been up to them, with a firm minimum of 1 serving from each category. If they’re eating more, they can certainly have more from each category, with a few exceptions from the grains category. We’re not going to let them head to school with 1 blueberry and a double serving of pretzels. They have a fairly decent idea of how hungry they get at school and will pack accordingly, especially as they get older. Putting minimums helps the younger ones as they start recognizing portion sizes.

Whatever you can do to make it easier for them to pack a healthy lunch, and keep yourself a sane parent, do it! You’re providing the healthy choices, they’re choosing how much of each they’re going to eat, and there is less wasted food and frustration.

An Essential Summer – Back to School

Today is the first day of school for my older kids. My youngest starts kindergarten next week. I always find it amusing to look back at my beginning-of-summer self. She has so many plans to keep the kids entertained in an educational way. She’s mapped out the city’s parks, made weekly lesson plans, and fantasized about the knowledge the kids will glean from their summertime fun. She has so much hope!

End-of-summer me is in awe that teachers of 25-30 beautiful minds can actually keep on schedule, both during the day and as the year progresses, engage the kids, and not have a head of patchy hair. End of summer me is eternally grateful that I am not a teacher, not a home schooler; and to those of you that are – you are magnificent! Kudos to you!

At the back to school picnic I asked one of the teachers how his summer was. “It was essential” he replied. If there is a more appropriate description of summer, I’m not aware of it. Essential to recharge and reintroduce yourself to the world. Essential to pause and reflect on the beauty of what surrounds us. Summer for teachers isn’t all a vacation. It is also planning sessions, education sessions, and  preparation for the onslaught of germs, questions, kids, and parents – also essential, but not as glamorous.

Summer is essential also, I believe, to serve as a reminder to all the parents what incredible beings our teachers are. To be the ones that inspire, build confidence, teach, and love, basically to be an additional parent, and not just to a few kids but to over 2 dozen kids, is a task few of us envy. Our teachers are an essential part of our children’s lives and they don’t receive nearly the gratitude that they deserve.

So if you are as grateful as I am that your children are starting school, don’t forget to thank their teachers. And if you can thank them monetarily, ask them if they have a classroom wish list that you can donate from, get them a certificate to an arts and crafts store, book store, coffee shop, or bring in “office” supplies, or a favorite bottle of wine (Apothic Red is our favorite) . Because, let’s face it – these people are incredible!