Friday, October 30, 2009

Food for a Children's Party

If you've been reading my posts this week, you know that I'm in the middle of getting ready for the Harvest Party that my 9- and 11-year-old daughters are hosting this evening. I thought I'd take a minute to share the menu, with apologies for the lack of interesting food items.

If there's one thing I've learned from motherhood, it's that my kids and their friends do not appreciate beautifully-presented nutritious food made from scratch . . . so I'm careful about how much time and energy I put into my cooking and baking for a kids' party. The food has to be yummy, but not exotic. Pretty, but not difficult to eat. Traditional, but not boring.

The key to a successful table is presenting a variety of kid-friendly finger foods, so I sat my girls down and asked them to list all the foods they would like to eat at a party. I nixed the messy stuff, like spaghetti and ice cream, and said a big NO to pop. Here's what they came up with:

fresh veggie platter with ranch dip

fresh fruit platter

shrimp platter with cocktail sauce

deviled eggs

turkey sandwiches


(cheese; pepperoni)

(chocolate cake with chocolate frosting;
carrot cake with cream cheese frosting)

(chocolate chip; peanut butter)

strawberry-pineapple punch


Bon appètit, kids. And watch the crumbs falling out of your mouths, will ya?

Dinner last night: teriyaki chicken, seasoned noodles

Exactly one year ago today: The Sisterhood of the Magical Sweater

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Games for a Harvest Party

When I agreed to let my daughters invite their friends over to our house, I asked them what kind of party they would like. Crafts? Cooking? Games? Free play? They both agreed that they like to do stuff. They wanted mostly to play games, with one crafty-type activity. So we put our heads together and came up with some oldies but goodies.

1. Candy Count. As everyone arrives, they'll write down their guess of how many pieces of candy fill a glass jar. At the end of the party, the person with the closest guess gets to take home the container of sweets.

2. Tote Bag Decorating. We'll set up a table with fabric markers, a Bedazzler, and various colors of tote bags to decorate. I decided against using puff/glitter/fabric paint, because it takes too long to dry. The bags will be used throughout the party to hold candy and prizes, and the girls can take them home and use them for trick-or-treating.

Crafts can be very expensive, so I try to plan ahead in order to take advantage of coupons and sales. I scored the Bedazzler for 50% off! Because we're operating this party on a shoestring budget, I started buying the tote bags several weeks ago, using my weekly coupons at the local craft store.

3. Bobbing for Apples. Two kids play at a time, kneeling on opposite sides of the apple tub with their hands behind their backs. Ready, set, go! Whoever comes up first with an apple, wins. (To make bobbing more difficult, remove the stems from the apples before placing them in the tub.) You'll need a stack of towels nearby to dry off faces. Each girl can use her victory fruit to then make a caramel apple.

4. Bean Bag Toss. My husband had an extra sheet of plywood, so he cut it in half and then cut out some circles; the girls and I decorated it with craft and poster paints that we already own. If you don't have plywood, just use cardboard boxes. My friend once set up an entire carnival in her back yard, making all the games from cardboard, and the kids had a marvelous time. We have some little bean bags already, but you can make them from all kinds of material laying around the house (baggies filled with rice, rolled up socks, etc.) or use balls instead.

5. Balloon Pop. Each girl will be allowed three tries to pop a balloon with a dart. (To make it more challenging, use small balloons.) Prizes will be doled out accordingly. This game was my husband's idea, so he has promised to supervise and make sure no one puts an eye out.

6. Pass the Pumpkin. The girls will be divided into two lines and then race to pass a mini-pumpkin without using their hands—they'll have to hold it between their chins and necks. If the pumpkin drops to the ground, they have to start over from the beginning of the line. Lots of giggles with this one.

7. Pin the Nose on the Scarecrow. I'm thinking about having them pin all the parts of the face while blindfolded, which might create some pretty funny-looking scarecrows!

If you've got any tried-and-true games for ages 9–11, please leave a comment. I can use all the help I can get!

Dinner last night: creamy chicken enchiladas, refried beans

Monday, October 26, 2009

Songs for a Halloween Party

In my opinion, music is an integral element of a successful party . . . even a children's party. I know that kids are loud and the last thing moms want is to add more noise into the mix, but if you plan your playlist and set up your stereo in the right room at the proper volume, I believe music will help set the atmosphere for a happy, groovin' time.

Here is my playlist for the Harvest Party my girls will be hosting this weekend. You'll notice that I've placed Monster Mash every four songs or so. What can I say? The kids love to sing along and dance to this song. It's really important to listen to your entire playlist; don't just sample each song. I had selected several songs that I thought would be good, but when I actually listened to the lyrics I caught some cursing and themes that were inappropriate for my preteens. You may find some songs on my list that you consider too hard or too silly or too whatever; it's imperative that you listen for yourself and cut or add songs as necessary.

Pacing is also important—for example, you don't want back-to-back slow songs or too much of the same genre. I had a perfect flow until one of my 3-year-old twins grabbed the mouse and in a blink of an eye rearranged the middle section of my list. I don't even know how she did it, the little turkey! I will have to listen once more to fix the flow . . . so, in an order that may change before the actual party, here are some catchy Halloween songs:

1. Monster Mash (Bobby Pickett)

2. Thriller (Michael Jackson)

3. Ghostbusters (Ray Parker, Jr.)

4. Somebody's Watching Me (Rockwell)

5. The Time Warp (Rocky Horror Picture Show)

6. Monster Mash

7. I'm Your Boogie Man (KC & the Sunshine Band)

8. Werewolves of London (Warren Zevon)

9. Grim Grinning Ghosts (Walt Disney Records)

10. The Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels Band)

11. Monster Mash

12. Memphis Exorcism (Squirel Nut Zippers)

13. Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)

14. Don't Fear the Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult)

15. Bring Me to Life (Evanescence, version from Daredevil soundtrack)

16. Monster Mash

17. Ghost Riders in the Sky (Bruce Anfinson)

18. I Put a Spell on You (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

19. Black Magic Woman (Santana)

20. Yo Ho a Pirate's Life for Me (Jonas Brothers)

21. Monster Mash

22. Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf (B5)

23. Ghost Town (The Specials)

24. Cruella De Vil (Walt Disney Records)

25. Abracadabra (Sugar Ray)

26. Monster Mash

27. You Can Do Magic (America)

28. Frankenstein (Edgar Winter Group)

29. Spooky Song (LazyTown)

30. Do You Believe in Magic? (The Lovin' Spoonful)

* Please use the comment section to
add songs that you would recommend *

Reader Alert

The problem with personal blogs like mine is that the content is all over the place. Many of my readers—okay, okay, two or three of you—visit because of my pictures of Alaskan scenery and wildlife. Several other readers—alright, you don't have to be mean about it, one or two of you—check me out on occasion because of my photographs of and my writing about family life. Most of my readers—yeah, yeah, you don't have to rub it in, you final four—are fellow mothers of twins.

My point? My 11- and 9-year-old daughters are throwing a Harvest Party this Friday. So all this week, I'll be posting about our preparations (assuming I can pull myself away from the housecleaning and the cupcake-baking and the game-making to sit down for a few minutes at the computer). The detailing of How to Organize a Children's Party probably is not the sort of material that a hip young chick without kids or a 45-year-old male working in Corporate America will find compelling. So if you want to skip my blog this week, I'll understand.

On the other hand, if you're one of my bloggy friends who has thrown a children's party or who may host one in the future, you just might find my anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive, anxiety-ridden week of some interest. I hope that you will comment freely with suggestions and advice, as I could use any help you can offer.

I'll be back shortly with my Harvest Party Playlist.

Dinner last night: chili dogs

Friday, October 23, 2009

My Own Real Live Jack-O-Lantern

My 9-year-old daughter's mouth system seems a little underdeveloped. She was born without several adult teeth, which the orthodontist says may be a blessing because her mouth is so small. Where would they go? In fact, her adult canines have no interest in coming on down to join her front teeth because there's no room for them. So yesterday, the dentist extracted FOUR baby teeth. You're probably envisioning the tiny baby teeth that your children have put under their pillow for the Tooth Fairy, but her baby teeth still had full roots on them, and I just about passed out when Dr. Silverman held one up in a forcep, all bloody and huge and looking like a scene from Saw.

Just in time for Halloween.

Dinner last night: salsa verde pork

Exactly one year ago today: Our Favorite Spot

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Minivan Milestone

I cannot abide a backseat driver. You know the kind—that helpful passenger who suggests when to speed up, to slow down, to watch out for this, and to be careful of that. Evidently God has decided I've some changing to do in my attitude, since He's plopped two little backseat drivers into my life to help me develop patience and understanding.

Lately, my 3-year-old daughters have been annoying me with their nonstop shrieks to "Go! Mommy! Go!" whenever I'm sitting in a long line of cars at a stoplight. I've tried the passive-aggressive approach, muttering "What do you want me to do? Smash into the car in front of us?" which doesn't faze them one bit. Then I decided to use the educational technique of explaining to them in simple terms that the red light means "Stop" and the green light means "Go." As the light changed, I over-enthusiastically sing-songed (sing-sang?) "See, girls? It's green! Time to go!"

What a mistake.

Now I am informed at ear-splitting decibels every time one of the twins spies a red or green light. It's of no concern to them that the intersection to which they refer sits 2 miles away. It could be the red flash of a semitruck's brake lights, for that matter. They're pointing out every stinkin' RED! light and GREEN! light, screaming for me to GO! or STOP! Since I didn't explain the purpose of a yellow light—speed up? slow down? it's too controversial a subject to discuss with an adult, let alone a toddler—they simply bellow ORANGE! Their noise almost made me miss the momentous occasion of my minivan's odometer flipping over to 100,000 miles.

A frazzled mother of shrieking twins driving a worn-out minivan.
Glamorous, I know.

Dinner last night: zanzibar chicken over rice, green salad, corn

Exactly one year ago today: Fun and Games

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunset Through the Trees

I'm not down with the weather lingo, so when I wave my arms around and proclaim in a self-righteous tone that our spectacular sunsets are created by cold weather and inversion and various atmospheric conditions, just ignore me. I may not know what is causing our colorful skies these past few days, but I do know that the sunsets have been amazing. They occur right around dinnertime, when I'm hustling and bustling to get food on the table, so I'm never able to drive to a scenic spot where I can really capture their beauty. This quick snap out my upstairs window will have to do.

He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;
He suspends the earth over nothing.

Dinner last night: pork chops, stuffing, mushroom gravy

Friday, October 16, 2009

We Park on Driveways . . . and Drive on Parkways

Looking at this video you may notice our paved driveway and wonder who we think we are, calling ourselves Alaskans and then getting all fancy with the driveway. The thing is, we live off a tiny dirt road snaking back into the forest. It is full of ruts and potholes. There are no culverts or drainage ditches or wide shoulders. Those of us who live along this glorified pathway are responsible for plowing it in the winter, digging troughs during break up to direct the water off the road and into the woods, and managing the dust problem in the summer.

Our neighbors up the road have a tricky driveway that circles around a stand of trees. Still further up the road, a couple maintains the driveway and parking areas for their house as well as for their parents' home sitting on the back of their property. Our own driveway climbs a hill before leveling off in front of the garage. ALL of us have paved our driveways. Beautifully graded, smooth asphalt driveways. No mud getting tracked into the house. No holes to break a child's ankle when falling off a pogo stick. No dust billowing behind the twins as they ride their Dora trikes at breakneck speed straight down the hill.

Once you've navigated the dirt trail to get to our home, it's smooth sailing. Paved driveways are the Alaska way.

Dinner last night: chicken broccoli casserole over rice

Exactly one year ago today: Say "Cheese!"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Crazy for Forts

My 9-year-old daughter is into fort-building. Her 4th grade class has been studying Alaska Native cultures, which inspired her recently to race home after school and construct an Aleut house in our back woods.

Look at the sturdiness of that structure,
which so perfectly demonstrates the concepts of
function AND beauty.

Her younger sisters pose in the fire pit
to model how ancient Alaskans might have warmed themselves.

Unfortunately, one kid is now seriously considering stealing matches from my kitchen drawer and setting the woods ablaze.

Dinner last night: spaghetti, green peas

Exactly one year ago today: The Fog Creeps In on Little Cat Feet

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why My House is Messy

I don't dare turn my back to vacuum the living room, because my 3-year-old twins will be out the door and over the fence.

Lord, give me strength.

Dinner last night: homemade minestrone, sweet corn muffins

Friday, October 9, 2009

Wet Leaves

From a distance, the Alaskan fall presents its glory, with fiery trees outlined against blue mountains tipped with snow. A closer look, however, reveals that autumn is almost finished.

The birches beyond our woodshed
stand thin and shivering.

More leaves cover the ground than fill out the trees.

No longer green and fragrant,
the wild grass moves sadly in the wind,
waving a gentle good-bye.

Skinny limbs flash their colorful elderberries . . .
but they are shriveled and dying.

Red leaves riddled with holes
hang onto their branches for dear life.

A lone stem of clover defies the weather, determined to stand guard over her patch of garden. Normally I'd snatch her out of the ground, but today I forgive her obstinance and let her live a little longer. Winter will arrive all too soon and finish her off.

Dinner last night: pizza

Exactly one year ago today: Make Up Your Mind, Alaska!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Most Random-y Randomness in All of Randomville

The nice thing about getting sick is that vomiting and diarrhea are a quick way to lose 5 pounds. I'm feeling much better now, but have been inspired to continue the weight loss, without the expelling of gross bodily fluids thank you very much. Thus far, I have shed 14 pounds. However, I am extremely grumpy due to my lack of chips and salsa intake.

I am painting my family room yellow. I've got about five color swatches that I've been going back and forth on for more than a year; none of them are yellow. Then I found an unopened can of Pale Cowslip 2 in the garage, and in a fit of spontaneity, decided to slap it on the family room walls. I hope I don't regret it.

As a kid, I was so irritated by my dad's constantly turning off lights and complaining about the electric bill. It drove me crazy. The only bulb allowed to stay lit was the one hanging over our head. Guess what? I now spend my days walking from room to room turning off the freaking lights. It's unbelievable how my kids turn on every single lamp and overhead fixture in the house. And garage. And over the stove. My girls are like stealth ninjas, moving with speed and deadly silence through our home, switching on lights. And radios. And ceiling fans. They even leave the dryer door open, which means its interior light brightens up the lonely laundry room all day and all night, until I happen to wander in there to look for some clean socks and close the dryer door for the five-thousandth time.

You know what I'm craving? Chips and salsa. Salty, fresh tortilla chips. Delicious, fresh salsa.

Why do my kids have to doodle on my one and only notebook? They have hundreds, possibly thousands, of tablets, papers, coloring books, and cute journals, but each of my four children seem interested only in scrawling their graffiti across MY little notebook that I bought for keeping track of my shopping and to do lists.

It's raining.

Exactly one year ago today, I posted Harvest Decorations.

Quite possibly, chips and salsa taste better than being thin feels.

Dinner last night: beef stroganoff

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hair of the Dog

We went out to breakfast on Saturday morning to a local restaurant that's been here forever. I'm not sure how to describe it, other than to say it's very Alaskan. While I preferred a cup of coffee with my eggs and reindeer sausage, the couple at a nearby table washed down their toast and home fries with tall glasses of their favorite ale. Vive la diffèrence.

Hey, it's 5:00 somewhere.

Dinner last night: sweet mustard-glazed salmon fillets, rice

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Books I Loved

Happy October, everyone! I wasn't planning on posting today, but I see that Steph in the City has a fun little group blog topic: What book(s) did you love growing up? Here's what I've got to say about that . . .

I remember at age 4 begging—begging—my mother to teach me how to read. She waved me off with an unconcerned, You'll learn to read in school. Back in those days, sometime around the Great Flood, children weren't taught to read until first grade, so I had to wait TWO MORE YEARS before I could start reading. And once I did, watch out! I actually don't recall what I read during first or second grade, except for the Dick and Jane series, but third grade was a milestone for me because . . . I got myself a library card.

When I was a kid, long ago and years before the wheel was invented, ankle biters didn't need a picture ID or a parent's permission or a pint of blood to check out books. The nice librarian hooked me up with a library card, talked me through the process of checking out and returning materials, then set me loose in the children's section.

I clearly remember the very first book I checked out: The Wizard of Oz. Oh, yeah, baby. After I finished that piece of heaven, I read every single title in the series. Then I moved on to Nancy Drew. Then the Hardy Boys. Then a fantastic series about Irish Setters. Then I discovered Agatha Christie—LOVED her, although she ruined my ability to sit through any kind of a mystery movie because I now can almost always figure out whodunnit. Except for Presumed Innocent. I never saw that one coming.

Here in no particular order are a few books that I really loved as a kid—back when woolly mammoths roamed the Alaskan tundra—books that I read more than once. Except for the Diary of Anne Frank. Can you believe that I read that when I was only 9 years old? I had no idea about the Holocaust or what it meant for Anne, until the end of her diary. I turned the final page and . . . nothing. Just a short epilogue, which stated when and where she was last seen. I've never read the book again. I don't need to, because I carry her story with me in my heart. God bless that precious little girl.

Here are the five books from my youth (can you tell I'm a girl?) that first came to my mind when I read Stephanie's question, What books did you love growing up?

Diary of Anne Frank
Little Women
Anne of Green Gables
The Secret Garden
A Little Princess

Dinner last night: soccer team pizza party

Exactly one year ago today: Go Ahead, Make My Day