Tis the season for class parties, little league snack duty and office trick-or-treaters.
When we were kids, didn’t the grown-ups throw some candy in a cartoonish tin and call it a day? Or, if they were really feeling fancy, they made ghosts out of lollipops. Do y’all remember these? A tootsie pop, draped in a tissue, tied with a ribbon right at the bottom of the sucker, finished with black magic marker eyes and maybe a round little mouth? Pre-Pinterest gold.
I don’t think that I’m supposed to admit this out loud, but I love the Pinterestification of the holidays–this crafty revolution that makes an ordinary girl think she has scissor super powers. Until she tries to bring a pin into real life. That’s when the original idea and my attempt at it usually ends up looking like reverse before-and-after photos.
Anybody with me? Well, there are a few things I’ve tried that almost resembled the picture I started with. If you’re DIY-challenged like me, these autumnal yummies are fun, festive and nearly foolproof. You only need 3 things to make each of them and none of them require any baking or cooking. Woot!
Owl Cupcakes: my favorite. You can bake the cuppies yourself or buy store-baked (YES!) and top them off with Oreo cookies and Reese’s Pieces. The kids can make their own funny faces. (We also made a batch of snowy owls).
Pumpkin Favors. These guys are fun to hand out. You just need tulle, pipe cleaners and candy. They do take more candy then you might think, so I’d go big on the filler. Like jelly beans. It was hard (for me, at least) to achieve a perfectly not-round-but-round shape, but they’re pretty forgiving. There’s something charming about lumpy punkins, right?
FrankenFaces. There are a million different ways to make these puddin cups and you just need a marker, Oreos and pudding (homemade, instant, store-bought–whatever you fancy). You pick the height of the cup, the color of the dye–or lack of dye–and the kids can have fun sketching Sharpie expressions.
And Monster Donuts! These are awesome for the ball field. You may have to open up the center with a biscuit cutter or round cookie cutter, depending on the size of the fangs you find.
Do you have a favorite easy peasy fall treat? I want to know.
[Spoiler alert. This entire post is a Disney Digression.]
To celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, Jeff and I spent a week in Walt Disney World. Jeff is Señor Scrupulous—detail-driven, strategy-happy. And he gets a little twitchy when we’re not on time. So, when we decided that we wanted to go to all four theme parks in one day, he went into a spreadsheet stratosphere.
People—we had a plan. We had a back-up plan. We had T-shirts.
We also set a few magical mandatories. Number 1: We had to experience at least 3 attractions in each park for the park to count. Number 2: We had to take picture proof with each park’s icon. Number 3: We were not going to let any rain, literal or temperamental, fall on our parade.
Because we were there smack in the middle of summer, deciding where to start was tricky. We were staying on property, so we could’ve taken advantage of Extra Magic Hours. I argued that everyone else would be starting their day at the park that opened early, so we should avoid that park. I was fraying Jeff’s logic fibers, but he agreed.
And our Grand Slam began.
We walked from our hotel, the Swan, to Hollywood Studios.
Our giddy feet were booking it and we got there at 8:45am—15 minutes before the official opening. First stop? Fastpass for Toy Story Mania.
The stand-by line wasn’t awful, so we hopped in. But after a few minutes, we got right back out. Silly rabbits. We didn’t have time to ride anything twice. We ran to Rockin Rollercoaster—which was not running yet. Doh.
But, 35 minutes later, we were in the back row of a super stretch limo, blasting through the dark, screaming Aerosmith like we’d just discovered our outdoor voice.
We had plenty of time before our Fastpass was up, so we headed to Star Tours, got right on and snuck on the speeder afterward for a photo. Cheese.
It was back to Toy Story Mania at 10:17 and we watched the clock until our 10:25 Fastpass time.
I can’t remember ever riding through that midway without a squirming youngin’ next to me. Jeff still dominated.
And we were out of the Studios @ 10:50am.
We went to see about a bus to Animal Kingdom. One finally rolled up at 11. We pulled in to AK at 11:15.
Ran. Galloped. Straight. To. Expedition. Everest. Our only chance was the single rider line. After a quick switcharoo in the holding zone, we ended up together. (Can we pause to discuss how the train’s backward fastness flops the tum tum in the best kind of awesome?)
Then it was running feet to DinoLand USA. We nabbed a Fastpass to Primeval Whirl and walked over to ride Dinosaur, but the wait was too long. So, we waited on our ride time with a fruit plate and front row seat to live African jams. Rump shaking required.
We rode Primeval Whirl, which flings you into a silly stupor.
Dark clouds tumbled in. Facing long wait times, with no Fastpass on hand, our 3rd attraction was the Dawa Bar.
With Safari Amber and Sangria, we watched the sun shower from beneath the shade of a thatched roof. Le sigh.
A teense reluctant, we left Animal Kingdom at 2:20pm, boarding a bus to the Contemporary resort. The drop off plunks you directly on the walking path to The Magic Kingdom. We were in by 3 and ran, in the rain, to get a Fastpass for Big Thunder Mountain.
After that, we found a sunlit table for two by the window in Pecos Bill’s, where we demolished a late lunch. Clutch.
Then we broke a personal rule. We stood through a 90-minute wait for Space Mountain. But the two 13-year-old kids who chattered easily with us and told the cast member that we were a “party of four” so we could all hop on together made every minute worth it.
We made it to Big Thunder just in time for our Fastpass. In Frontierland, we boarded another train, hitching a ride back to Main Street. I love that old train—the swaying cars, the white steam, the warm narration along the way.
We left the Magic Kingdom at 6:50pm. It was the monorail to the Transportation & Ticket Center and another monorail to EPCOT. We arrived, triumphant, at 7:10pm.
And we walked right on Mission Space. Okay. The “less intense” persuasion. Next, it was just a quick skip over to Test Track where we wound round through the single rider line.
Then, in a beguiling twilight, we stepped in to the World Showcase at 8:15pm for a celebratory drink.
My hopes were locked on Tutto Gusto, the wine cellar neatly tucked into Italy. If you’ve been there, you understand why I consider this old-world nook an attraction. It was an elegant-reds wine flight for me, Moretti for the boy, breads, meats, cheeses, an Italian love song sung table-side and a surprise dessert in the candlelight.
We left the torch-lined showcase at 9:45pm, spellbound, happy, full. It all made sense, then, that we floated back to the Boardwalk on the good ship Friendship.
Tucker turns 7 this year, but this year he had his very first birthday party.
Because he has a summer birthday (and because I never want to test the elements again) he agreed on an indoor shindig. And because our daily reality goes something like this:
We went with a Lego theme. There are Star Wars Legos. Super Hero Legos. Ninja Legos. Tucker could be content to manipulate, build, deconstruct and re-imagine with Legos for hours. And there just happens to be a place in town that specializes in Lego Birthdays. Can I get a whoop whoop?
So, we sent out invitations.
And I pilfered Pinterest. There are fab freebie printables out there. My favorites were the labels we wrapped around Powerade.
Now, at our house, I’m always the potty-words police. You have to regulate with two little boys, so I usually poo poo the ew talk. But for Tucker, this was the ultimate hilarity. This and the whoopie cushions for the goodie bags.
With another free printable, we made a mask for each guest.
And we filled an assorted collection of glass jars with an assortment of white, yellow and red candy. To be all Lego-y.
Then, it was party time. Bricks 4 Kidz was ready to celebrate the birthday boy.
The venue is a comfy old home they’ve transformed into a play palace. Each room hosts a new building opportunity. So, the only thing I had to do was set up the food table. With my sweet Mom’s help, that was a piece of cake. Or donut.
Tucker’s buds jumped right in to playing while we waited on all the guest to arrive. (I need a table like this for our house.)
When all of his friends were there, we started the first activity–an outdoor Lego relay. Then everyone trooped back inside for the first build–an electric Lego car.
I’ve never seen such a polite and patient group of little people. Their fingers were twittering between parts and pieces and they shouted encouragement to teams across the table. Tuck, my thoughtful and meticulous one, was in his element with his favorite friends. Then, as the final ta-da, their motorized creations actually moved with the touch of a button. Legos have come a long way, folks.
After everyone’s vehicle had its victory jaunt, it was time for Happy Birthday.
Tucker chose donuts over cake, which was just fine with me. And I know a few kids reached for seconds (and thirds). Sorry, parents.
A-buzz with sweets, it was back to the building blocks. This time, they each built a car they got to keep. So, the selection process was a serious business.
When each oh-so-carefully-constructed car was complete, we hit the high note. They got to race their creations side-by-side.
The acoustics in that old house were built for lego car racing. Those few minutes of high-fiving and hollering made the room sing. And my boy’s excitement was electric.
But, we only had an hour and a half. So, after the races, there were goodie bags and good-byes.
I asked the boys and their Marmee (grandma) if they had a good time. And this was their response:
I made it as a mom more than 6.5 years before I finally gave in to hosting a birthday party. Oh, we’ve had plenty of celebrations and cake and unbirthdays (read: plenty of celebratory cake).
But I’d never done the official pick-a-theme-invite-all-your-friends-stress-me-the-heck-out kind of party.
I finally decided this was our year and for our littlest guy’s (that’s Case) 4th birthday party, he landed on dinosaurs. So, I did the sensible thing and spent a late night (or five) binge pinning clever, adorably easy-looking DIY dino party ideas. Roar.
Then, eyeball-deep in dino decisions, my namby-pamby right brain had a melt down. It’s the reason I hadn’t planned a party yet. I don’t plan. I don’t list. I don’t allot. Schedule. Formulate. Organize. Nope.
This is going to be hard, I thought.
This is going to be the best party ever, my then-3-year-old Case squealed, with innocent, absolute faith in me.
Determined to do it myself on the cheap, I reserved a pavilion in our neighborhood park and forced myself to make lists. I asked Case what he wanted. A dinosaur piñata and dinosaur cupcakes. Check.
I added a few things that I wanted: a themed invite to, you know, set the mood, themed activities, a suite of themed, designed signs, platters & such. Balloons for every kid, which I read was a must.
I checked off a few lists and hoped for a dry, sunny day. The forecast tortured me for a week, calling for a 60% chance of afternoon storms during our afternoon, outdoor party.
The day finally came—a dry, shiny, blustery day.
That darn wind. Not the sweet, gentle spring-type breeze. No, no. It was a don’t-wear-a-dress (guess who wore a dress??) kind of wind.
The wind was totally PMSing.
I swear, my sister and I re-set the tables 3 times. We couldn’t even tape down the kraft paper. Hats and buckets were flying. My oh, so clever signs defied duck tape. The balloons that I had envisioned whimsically hovering beneath the pavilion roof were more tangled than Tiana and Naveen’s froggy tongues (Disney digression).
Then the unthinkable happened. Guests started arriving before I was done. Before the table was set. Before my Pinterest-perfect party was ready to be beheld.
The party was windswept before it even started. I sent the punctual guests to play on the playground while I tried to squall-proof the set up by just setting out the basics.
Soon, all the kids, giddy with the promise of digging up treasure, were bounding back to the pavilion. So, we launched Operation Temporary Tattoo with a super sophisticated system—paper towels and water. Each kiddo was branded with a prehistoric critter.
Now, official paleontologists, they claimed their tools by writing their names on their bucket tags. Then, it was off to the Dinosaur Egg Hunt. I found these awesome eggs with a fun texture and a great prize inside. We were scheduled to be in full force egg hunt fun for at least a half hour. These super sleuthy kids found all the eggs in a matter of minutes—like, less than 5—and stashed them in their buckets.
The next item on the ‘ol trusty schedule was activity #2, so we gathered at The Dig Site. This activity was the kids’ favorite and I wish I’d gone with deeper tins. They were content for a solid half hour (yay, schedule!) to comb through the sand with tiny paintbrushes, committed to finding each buried treasure. We’d hidden these dino skeletons and shiny confetti in the play sand and they kept every piece they found in their buckets.
Right before my birthday boy’s coveted piñata pull, the wind threw a tantrum and knocked over a glass bottle that was filled with edible dino eggs (jelly beans). So, we went on an impromptu Jurassic jaunt around the park while the dads made sure each shard of glass was tossed.
PSA: Glass bottles and mason jars? Cute and festive and presh, no doubt. Outdoors on a windy day? No ma’am.
Finally, the piñata pull commenced and Case’s life, to that moment, was complete.
After they collected all the candy in their buckets, we passed out the dinosaur cupcakes and sang happy birthday.
His candle was sweetly snuggled in a sea of jelly beans in a mason jar. I was going to pluck it out for the song, but I didn’t want to tempt the wind or attempt to light a match. So, he didn’t blow out a candle. And that’s okay. I’m hopeful that his wish had already come true.
Because, after that, the real party started. My activities only took us through an hour and a half of the two-hour time frame. But his friends all wanted to stay and play. So they ran around and roared at each other and watched balloons wander through the sky and collapsed in a sweaty kid heap. They had ridiculously amazing unscheduled fun. Imagine that.
I had imagined this perfect party for my littlest one’s birthday. All Case wanted was to have candy and cupcakes with his friends. For him, perfection was as simple as giggles and sweets. That’s it. And I never want to forget what that kind of perfect looks like.
(Special thanks to my pal Francisco–the super skilled dino sign designer. To my amazing sister who worked MacGyver-like miracles with duck tape. And huge hugs to Martha who captured so many sweet memories that day.)