Splish, Splash, Arts & Crafts: A Pool Party Celebrating 9 Years


I introduced a friend to Parenthood for the first time last night–which feels a bit like leading someone to a secret island where there is buried treasure you know will change their life. As if the show isn’t already emotional in that ‘Parenthood will GUT you’ sense, we watched it together–me, on the night after celebrating my first born’s 9th birthday; her, stretched across my couch, her hands resting on a small hill of a belly where her first baby grows. For three hours (yeah baby, three episodes in a row), I felt turned-inside-out, more than usual, from the very thing that tied it all together in that moment–Parenthood, literally and figuratively. I was inclined to be the obnoxious person who keeps interrupting a good show with condescending explanations and commentary–“It’s really like that, just wait and see”; “Uuggh, this part makes me cry–I’ve so been there.”; “She loves her kid so much–can’t you just feel it?”–but I didn’t because no doubt my friend already feels it, and also I try hard not to be that girl. So I stayed quiet, instead calculating the fact that I have been a mother for a mere quarter of my life now, but cannot even remember what it’s like not to breathe love every moment of every day for someone that belongs to me–at least for a little while. Mother time weighs more than real time, so let’s just say I’ve loved this child for half my life.

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Over the past nine years, I’ve saved a few trinkets that define her current year, stashing them in a big bag in my closet with the hopes of one day, years from now, stumbling upon it–maybe with her as we pack her bags for college or gather up her things for her first home or search for treasures for grandbabies–and suddenly remembering, “Oh my God! Zhu-zhu pets! You loved these! Squinkies! You had 100 of them. Shopkins–Lainey they were your world!” She grows and graduates from small windows of her life–quicker than ever now–while I pause to reflect on how much joy that little phase brought us. From the butterfly rattle to the Elmo doll, through My Little Ponies and Fur Real Pets, to Rainbow Loom bracelets and Shopkins. These little loves are reflections of the big loves that will one day embrace her and carry her into the world–the studies, the places, the people, the passions. But for now there’s charm necklaces and sticker books, and swimming and crafts. She wanted the latter two to team up for her birthday party theme, so it was “Splish, Splash, Arts & Crafts” this year. A little from our 9 year celebration this past weekend…

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We set up three craft tables that didn’t require any mom help:

Design Your Own Water Bottle

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bulk neon sport water bottles, Sharpie oil-based paint pens

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Decorate a “Pool Tote”

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…and Make a “Pool Tile” Necklace

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I love using these “jello shot” containers for parties. They work great for making individualized kits for each kid. These had an assortment of glass beads, a pre-cut necklace cording and a clasp to tie once finished. Kids rotated stations on their own, and it was smooth sailing and mess free–just the way we like it.

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The big hits were the pool floats (pretzel pool float, pizza float)

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…and the money dive game. My dad brought a big bag of change and scattered it all over one end of the pool. We set the kids free to collect it all, and the top two amount winners won beach towels, and everyone got to keep their change. Winner strategy was definitely to go straight for the quarters.

Super easy and inexpensive party favors–dollar section packs of lipgloss; tuck one and a few pieces of candy in a little paper bag (Michael’s), seal with blue glitter washi tape and paint on some glitter waves.

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It’s our last single digit year…to many more charms on her necklace. xo

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Dash, Three Years: A Dinosaur Party

Our boy turned three yesterday and in keeping with Things Sentimental Moms Do on Birthdays, I went into the baby folders and stared at pictures of him tiny–literally just sat there staring, trying to connect picture to memory, tiny lips to the way they felt when I kissed them, long wrinkled fingers to the way they fit in my hand, perfect little head to the weight of it resting on my chest–I remember, I remember, I remember like it was yesterday. And here we are, those tiny feet graduating shoe sizes every few months and those long wrinkled fingers stamped with ink from the stamp pad he found in my office this morning. It feels like he tore through these three years, growing faster than any of my kids ever did, talking quicker, investigating further, chasing after anything that hints of adventure. We love his fierceness and celebrated it jurassic style this weekend with a Dinosaur Party.

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I had so much fun planning this party, knowing how much Dash and his friends would love it. And decorating was easy as most of our decorations and “nature table cloth” came from foraging our yard–plants and palm leaves. There are lots of pictures here if you’d like a little splash of celebration on a Monday. If you’re looking for more specific party inspiration, I saved the details and links of products for the very end of the post.

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My father-in-law has a very large printer as he prints a lot of his own photography in large scale. He surprised us with this poster size print of Dash, and it made the perfect backdrop for the outside dinosaur festivities.

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The food was so much fun to make for this, and Pinterest had loads of ideas for cute ways to incorporate dinosaurs. And a late afternoon party gives you a little more flexibility with what you serve–snacks and sweets as opposed to a full lunch. The Bugles were gone in five minutes and the adults kept asking, “Where’s the Bugles?” because everyone forgot they existed all these years.

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(these nests were super easy to make–a large package of marshmallows, a box of Shredded Wheat–the big squares, torn up–and a stick of butter with some chocolate eggs inside).

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My dad came early to help me, and when he asked “What can I do?” I pointed to the watermelon and half-joking suggested, “Think you could carve that into a T-Rex?” And then he did, without even batting an eyelash.

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Why yes, I served the kids jello shots. Sans alcohol, of course–and they loved eating them with tiny spoons.

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(The cups were super easy to make–just draw some nostrils with Sharpie and hot glue two googly eyes on the front and a strip of card stock cut into scales onto the side.)

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Making Dino Snot (directions and printable label here)…

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He smiled so big when he first saw his cake. And now I want to cram chocolate rocks on the sides of all my cakes because it hides all the flaws.

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My dad also made these adorable “dinoculars” for all the kids, from PVC pipes.

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We took the kids for a dino hunt into the woods where 5 inflatable dinosaurs were hidden on the path, including the grand finale, this giant T-Rex balloon that’s weighted just enough to make it glide.

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Dash loved it, but it took Nella a while to get used to it.

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We were roaring (har har–get it, roaring?) from all the fiasco with this thing. First, it’s huge which automatically makes it funny. But it MOVES which makes it funnier. And then when the wind would pick up and depending on how it was blowing, it would take it to the sky for a minute (lots of screaming and laughing and imagining how one would react if it landed on someone’s windshield while they were driving) or make it RUN. Like fast. It was trucking down the street so fast at one point, I was chasing it and laughing the whole time thinking how hilarious this must have looked to passersby.

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Also hilarious? Gary took Nella inside to read books for a little while, and we weren’t paying attention to the fact that the dinosaur floated on its own over to the window where they were reading. Gary came out frantically yelling and laughing, “You guys! The T-REX! THE T-REX! Are you serious?!” By the end of the party, she was dragging it around and laughing though so all is well.

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The kids’ favorite? Digging for bones. My dad built this sand table where we buried a bunch of dinosaur skeletons, skulls and several geodes. The kids were given paintbrushes and shown how to gently sweep and carefully search for bones like real paleontologists.

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And Dash thought it was hilarious to make Grandma feed T-Rex.

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We celebrate and love our kids all year long, but what fun it was to remember three years ago by going back 100 million years to celebrate. Happy Birthday, Dino Dash.

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Party Deets:

Dinosaur Fossil Cookie Cutters
Chocolate Rocks for cake

Dino Decor 
Jumbo Dinosaur Set by Learning Resources (We bought this as a gift for Dash and used them in decorating. These dinosaurs are really great quality, a fun size, and Nella and Dash love playing with them.)
Mini Dinosaurs–72 dinosaurs for $8. Fun for favor bags, decorations, etc.
Bamboo Fence backdrop (you can get one for around $10 at Home Depot in the garden section)
Kids Safari Hats
Dinosaur Balloons, Triceratops Mylar Balloon

Dinosaur Bone Dig
12-piece Dinosaur Fossil Skeleton Set
Dinosaur Skulls

Dinosaur Hunt in the Woods
Inflatable Dinosaurs: Triceratops, Stegosaurus, T-Rex
Paint brushes–Home Depot

And it just so happens dinosaur prints are trending everywhere this spring.
Dash’s Dinosaur Shirt–Mini Boden
Nella’s Big Bang Theory Dinosaur Shirt–Happy Family
Lainey’s Dinosaur Skirt–H&M
My Dinosaur Bones Neclace

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And dinosaur roaring and growling are trending in our home right now…I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thankful for three wild years with our adventurous one.

Happy Monday.

A Barbie Party


I never liked Barbies growing up, but my girl loves them something fierce. So a Barbie party it was to celebrate six years–an easy decision and one that was talked about well before this weekend. “My Barbie party,” Nella pointed out every time she saw her invite taped to the fridge. Lord knows I love to throw a party, and silly details like picking balloons and finding a cute party dress satisfy me maybe more than the average bear; but the ultimate goal in planning my kids’ birthday parties is always love. I need a good place to let my overflow spill over, and a party celebrating their birth seems a good place. That and I love a good cake. The other part I love about kids’ parties is the celebration of friendship. That huddle of kids crowding around the cake, party hats all lopsided, eyes glued to the birthday kid when they’re not scanning the cake for the biggest piece with the most frosting; precious little voices all on different notes while they sing, yelling the CHA-CHA-CHA part after every “to you”–and that pause while they excitedly wait for their friend to make a wish and blow out the candles? It kills me. It just feels so…supportive–a celebratory lovefest launch pad for all the years to come. Hey! We’re here! Circled around you, smiling, celebrating you because you were born and we’re so happy you’re here. I hope my kids always feel that–even if it’s just a couple of good friends who fulfill their need to be seen, celebrated and perhaps supported someday in their choreography efforts for dances to the latest Top 40 hits at weekend sleepovers. That’s all I ask.

Nella is a normal six-year-old who loves her friends but occasionally has a few social quirks that could be A: Down syndrome related, B: personality related, C: a kid being a kid. Since we don’t know which it is (there’s no stud-finder for that beam), we do our best to cover all the bases–provide her opportunities that present an encouraging, loving environment and yet challenge her to learn, play and exercise good age-appropriate social and communication skills that will prepare her for the real world. Basically, we don’t know what we’re doing but we sure as hell try to do our best. For a birthday party, that translates to keeping Nella’s party on the small side. So we invited a few kids from her preschool class, a couple close friends and hosted the party at our clubhouse to encourage participation (so she wouldn’t just run off to her bedroom with Ivy). When it comes to parenting in general, and especially with decisions regarding special needs, there’s no map. We simply try our best, and that means lots of times doing things that don’t work the first time and then fixing them. For her party this year though, Brett and I both looked at each other when it was over and smiled. We did it! The perfect amount of people, the sweetest space, the right energy, the perfect balance of challenging her and letting her be. It worked. She was beaming. Participated. Ran off and played with her friends–friends she’s mostly quiet with in class. Talked. Made things. Answered questions. Pushed Lainey’s hands away when she tried to help her open gifts because she wanted to do it herself. And smiled this subtle yet confident grin all through the Happy Birthday song that reassured me in the most powerful way.

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Then again, maybe it was the Barbies who pulled this off. With as much time as they spend with our girl, they’ve gotta know her pretty well.

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Alright, I’ll quit blabbing. Pictures, pictures. I give you…a Barbie party.

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Hosted by Nella’s bevy of Barbies she named herself: Grocery Store, Poop, Hair, Beekea, Joann, Paquel and Lake.

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(I found a cute “Barbie”/retro girl stamp I didn’t realize I had in my desk drawer–it worked great to decorate the Pirate Booty bags. I think it’s from Joann’s.)

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We had three Make Stations.

Bottle Cap Necklaces…

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Make Your Own Bottle Cap Necklace Kit and Precut Barbie Images

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Design your own Barbie dress…

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(I fell in love with these white Barbie dresses that were perfect for decorating!)

The girls chose from an assortment of embellishments–fabric flowers, ribbon, sequins, bows and rhinestones–and bedazzled their dresses using Tacky glue.

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And the Barbie Shoe Find-it Game:

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I pre-made bags with ten shoes and a key to make it easier.

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The kids loved the rice (all the details on this found here). They played with it well after their find-it games were finished.

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And our Barbie photo box was a big hit too. I saw this on Pinterest and knew Nella would love it. I used two large boxes purchased at Staples (I couldn’t find the right size in our garage), and Brett helped me tape them together and use an X-acto knife to cut the opening. I painted it pink, added the Barbie text and taped on a Mattel logo I made from poster board. It wasn’t as complicated as I thought it would be, and other than my neighbor admitting she saw me in the driveway and wondered what the hell I could be making this time, it was a piece of cake.

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Want to know how to pick it up a notch and get the kids all laughing at a birthday party? Pick me! Pick me! I KNOW THE ANSWER TO THIS ONE!

Let Cake Topper Barbie slip a nip.

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Pretty sure it was my kid who did it, but nevertheless…giggles followed and I was all Dear God Would Someone Please Pull Her Dress Up. But not before I took a picture, of course.

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My friend Amy whipped this cake up in her kitchen because she’s the real Cake Boss.

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Notice Dash loved playing in the rice so much, he chose it over cake.

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And my sweet friend Kim, right here in Naples, made our favorite barrettes for each of the girls to take home. (she’s offering 20% off to her shop with code NELLA20).

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I’m a little pink’d out for the week, but we had so much fun and it was really great to see Nella surrounded by her friends, her Barbies and so much love.

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