Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Parker's Day of Jubilee

No longer are we "sixin'" (as in "fixin' to be six"). Six has arrived - and it arrived on Friday. This was a Very Big Deal, because:

1) The school's storybook parade (AKA "covert Halloween celebration") was held on Friday morning, as Halloween falls on Sunday.

2) Friday marked the kickoff of the school's United Way campaign, and students had the option of buying tickets to a faculty-staff volleyball game held in the afternoon, with proceeds going to the charity.

3) A rainy forecast last weekend motivated the PTA to move the fall carnival to this Friday night.

Parker, of course, chose to ignore the fact that all of the above represented a quirk of the calendar: "Mom, I get a parade, a volleyball game and a carnival for my birthday!"

Inspiration for our storybook parade costume was the well-loved picture book, "How I Became a Pirate." This appealed to Mom, because it only required (1) spending $3 at Super Target on a pair of sweatpants and (2) taking a pair of scissors to said sweatpants to transform them into tattered pirate trousers. The shirt was already in the closet. Only dilemma was which pirate hat to wear. We have several. As we were perusing the costume basket, I was reminded of a remark that Parnell made at the home of friends who have two girls:

"They have the same amount of junk that we have - it's just pink, with fairies on it."

A mom to girls, when going through our costume basket, would think that she had entered a parallel universe. Instead of tutus - pirate costumes. In lieu of fairy wands and Hannah Montana microphones - broadswords and shields.

Our pirate hat options included a black hat with skull and crossbones, a similar brown hat (the one that Parker chose) and a tricorn. We briefly considered wearing a knight costume (donned by Connor for his first storybook parade - book was "The Knight at Dawn" from the Magic Treehouse series) and carrying a stuffed cat, to represent the knight in the book "Good Night, Sir Knight," who is charged with taking care of a whole mess o' kittens. Option three: last year's astronaut costume, but we couldn't think of a good book tie-in ("Flat Stanley in Space?"). At the end of the day, the lure of playing swashbuckler proved too much, so it was a pirate's life for us.

I'll share photos from the parade in another post, but carnival pics are included here. As you can see, by early evening, the pirate costume had been abandoned in favor of a robot tee and helmet (turned up in our tour of the costume basket). Parker has been attending the South Hi Mount fall carnival since he was a toddler, but this was his first year as an actual matriculated student. As a result, his level of excitement was amps on eleven. Everything we did was a Very Big Deal.

We gave Mom a tour of the various playground attractions, and we ranked the slides in order of awesomeness:

We partook in silly string and confetti eggs:

Along with Thatcher and Brandon (AKA "Classic Batman"), we tore up the bounce house:

The cake walk was a source of some frustration, as the winner each round was the person standing to Parker's right. It happened again and again, without fail. Mom thought it was cool, though, that his first trip around the circle Parker ended up on the number six, representing his birthday. (She also found it quite amusing that this year's carnival organizers thought to combine the cake walk with karaoke - instead of a boom box blasting tunes, there was a keyboard player, a mike and a lyric feed. I kid you not.)

Glow sticks? Check.

All in all, it was a fantabulous birthday celebration.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Birthday Letter to Parker, Part 2


It’s your birthday today (like you didn’t know that – you have been counting down the days for four weeks now), and as promised, here’s some more “Parker content” – all dating to when you were three.

As a three year-old, you began to tell jokes, such as, “When is a bicycle not a bicycle? When it turns into a DWIVEWAY.”

Instead of “Yes,” you tended to say, “Sure.”

You were very fond of Mom’s “brown Sprite” (Diet Coke), and any time you saw her with one you would remind her that “Mommy, you need to share with people.”

In the bathtub, Mom explained to you that you aren’t supposed to drink bath water, and you responded, “You do when you’re really thirsty.”

This was the first year that you grasped the concept of Santa, although you experienced some initial confusion (you would point out a toy that you wanted and tell your parents, “I want to buy that for Santa” – but it wasn’t long before you realized that the supply arrow needed to be reversed and began to say, “I want to buy this from the store.”). After Christmas, you explained to your mom that, “If you want something from Santa, you write a letter and put it in the mailbox, and the mailbox makers take it to Santa.” Close enough!

After you opened each gift, you would say, “Ooh, I’ve never had this toy before. I’m so proud of it. OPEN IT.” See – politeness mixed with bossiness. One of my favorite bossy Parker moments happened at Nana’s house one Sunday night, when you told Connor, “Take that food OUT of your mouth – we have NOT said our blessing.”

Thanks to the aforementioned big brother, you were quite fond of the word “actually” (“I want orange juice. No, actually, I’d rather have milk.”). You also substituted a very forceful “NEVER!” for the usual three year-old “No.” Another favorite: “Victory!” (used when you succeeded in getting a toy away from Connor, etc.).

Favorite three year-old phrases were “You have GOT to be kidding me” (frequently heard at the dinner table, when your mother instructed you to eat your vegetables) and “You want a piece of me?” That last one came from Toy Story, but again Mom was reminded of a Mafioso in a gangster film.

At three and a half, you developed a fondness for “Monster Sink” (Monsters, Inc.), which seemed to help you over your fear of monsters. Previously, you would go around muttering, “There are no monsters in this house.” Then you would ask Mom to spray “monster spray” (room spray) in your room, so apparently your monologue wasn’t convincing you. One day, you were leaving a fundraiser at Connor’s school with Mom, and as you were crossing the street, you asked, “Are there monsters or ghosts or zombies on this street?” When Mom answered no, you asked, “Can we pretend that there are?” That was when Mom first started to clue in to the fact that she might have a little performer on her hands. Other clues:

1) You told the woman who cuts your hair that you have a big brother who is 26. And you were quite convincing about it.

2) When Mom took you to have portraits made (without Connor – when brother is around, you only want to show off for him), you shocked and awed the photographer with your ability not only to follow instructions and hit poses on cue but to come up with your own poses. When she asked you to lie down on your belly, you immediately kicked your legs up behind you, propped yourself up on one elbow, cocked your head, and said, “Cheese - wait, it will look better if I switch elbows.” So around the house you became known as “Derek Zoolander, Male Model.” (The Zoolander thing actually dated back to when you were two. You and Connor were fighting over who got to sit on which side of Mom while she was reading you a book. She asked you to sit on her left side, and you said, rather mournfully, “No, I can’t.” Mom responded, “Are you afraid to go left? Who are you, Derek Zoolander?” Dad thought that this was entirely too funny, and told Mom that the comment reminded him of just how much he loved her and her ability to pull bizarre cultural references out of the air, and the fact that he immediately got those references was proof of Mom and Dad’s soulmate status. But I digress.)

You also borrowed something from your brother’s three year-old playbook – the always funny, “Mom/Dad, I have a question,” followed by a statement (“I like race cars.”) - and frequently lapsed into a routine similar to the old “Chris Farley Show” SNL skit:

Parker: “Dad, you know what?”
Dad: “What?”
Parker: “You see that bridge up there?”
Dad: “Yes,”
Parker: [Silence, then] “Dad, you know what?”
Dad: “What?”
Parker: “You see that bridge in front of the first bridge?”
Dad: “Yes.”
Parker: [Silence.]

You insisted on pronouncing Spiderman like it was a Germanic last name – Friedman, Bachman, Spiderman.

Along with your dad, you contracted both strains of flu (Type A and Type B) in a one-month span, causing you to miss several days of preschool, and when Mom asked who you missed more – Camden, Avery or Ella – you responded, “Ella, Ella – ay, ay, ay” (being the chorus of the Rihanna song, “Umbrella”).

You discovered the telephone. If the answering machine picked up before Dad did and you heard Mom’s voice, you would retrieve a handset of your own and join the conversation. Mom and Dad would be talking, and suddenly there you were: “Hi, Mom! Guess what I’m doing?” Unlike Connor, who was only good for five or six words per conversation, you wanted to talk and talk and talk. You made Mom and Dad laugh when you asked her (as she was driving on the freeway) if she could do you a favor, stop what she was doing and put your Rescue Hero back in its basket . . . in the living room at home.

You decided that everyone’s middle name ought to be James, and you began referring to Connor as “Connor James McGlinchey,” annoying him to no end.

Uncle Zan began teaching you “bad rap of the eighties and nineties.” You were known to sing “Ice, Ice Baby” to yourself while you were playing, and Mom was delighted when you asked her, “Mom, you know what time it is? IT’S TIME TO GET ILL!”

You briefly went through a separation anxiety phase, and when either parent left you for any great length of time you insisted that they provide you with a “kiss and a hug with a back pat.” (The ritual continued long after the separation anxiety phase ended, and it expanded to include an ear honk and a firm handshake, among other things.)

Over the summer, you discovered chocolate milk, which you pronounced to be much tastier than “wipe milk.” You also enjoyed the “possicles that are red, wipe and blue” (referring to the patriotic bomb pops that we had for the Fourth of July). When Dad refused to comply with your request for two “possicles” at once, you said, “Well, what about giving me as many as possicles as I have eyes?”

You often asked, “Mom, are you my best friend?” and “Mom, are you happy?” When asked if you were happy, you would say, “Sure am.” Like I said, “sure” was a big concept with you.

Finally, you had your own version of the “Speed Racer” theme song: “Here comes Speed Racer. He’s a demon DUDE on wheels.” When Mom asked for clarification as to “demon dude,” you replied, “Yeah, I sing it that way.”

Happy sixth birthday, Birthday Dude. I sure do love you.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Birthday Letter to Parker, Part 1

Dear Parker:

In honor of your sixth birthday tomorrow, I wanted to share some “blasts from Parker’s past.” (No, I did not remember these off of the top of my head – I have kept notes on my computer, just as I did with your brother.)

At age two, you were an exceptionally grateful child – something that hasn’t changed all that much, actually. You loved the word “THANKS!” (said with just that much enthusiasm). For example:

“Mommy, where you goin’?”
“Nowhere – I’m staying here to color with you.”
You also liked the phrase, “Excuse me,” and were quick to pay people compliments. After Mom painted the kitchen, you told her (very enthusiastically), “Mom, this kitchen is beautiful. The color on the walls is BEAUTIFUL.” (This hasn’t changed that much, either. Not too long ago, we made cookies together, and as I was tinting the royal icing, you were cheering me on: “Mom, the way you turn the icing lime green is INGENIOUS. You are an icing GENIUS!” Same concept, bigger vocabulary.)

But, in that unique way that you have, you mixed up your extreme politeness with outright bossiness. (“Connor, take off your shirt.” “Mom, sit down at the table.” “Draw a yellow square. Now draw an orange triangle.”). A lot of your orders to Mom and Dad focused on Thomas the Tank Engine characters: “Draw James, and write his name down. Now draw Percy, and put his number on him.”

You liked to count but tended to jump around (“1, 2, 3, 6, 12”). You did always make sure that 7, 8 and 9 went together – probably because you and Mom liked to listen to the Barenaked Ladies’ “Seven Ate Nine” in the car. Whenever you came across loose change, you would give it to one of your parents and ask them to “count my monies.” (Paper money wasn’t “money” to you – it was “tickets.”)

When you accompanied Dad to the grocery store, you gave your mom a blow-by-blow when you returned: “We bring-a the milk. We bring-a the cereal. We bring-a the gummi bears.” The “bring-a” thing made your mom chuckle, because you sounded for all the world like a stereotypical Mafioso from an old-school gangster flick.

Other words you pronounced with a French accent. Your grandmother McGlinchey was, for a short time, “MaMA,” and your granddad Durham was “PaPA.” (To this day, you still refer to your parents as Mama and Papa when you are being melodramatic. Our typical response: “Yes, Yentl?” or “Yes, Cosette from ‘Le Miz’?”)

You liked to direct the shopping cart: “No, Daddy. DEES way.” You also insisted, “I push,” and then pulled on the handle to make the basket move towards you. You loved Super Target. No matter the actual destination, you would always say, “Let’s go to Target.” Clearly a child after my own heart.

You discovered watermelon, and described it thusly: “It’s cold, and it’s good. You eat the red. You don’ eat the green or the seeds.”

You insisted that your middle name was “Baby” and asked everyone to call you “Parker Baby.”

At age two-and-a-half, you briefly decided that you were a T-rex and went around roaring at everyone.

Just prior to your third birthday, we acquired Max, our second Maine Coon cat and Barkley’s “mini me.” Technically, he is Connor’s cat, which, according to you, made Barkey your cat: “The dog is Dad’s because she’s a dog, Gabby is yours because she’s a girl, and Max is Connor’s, so Barkley has to be my cat.” (This was news to Barkley, seeing as how he joined the family eight years before you arrived on this planet.) You liked (still like) to torment Max, and Max liked (still likes) to torment you back. Apparently, nine month-old cats and almost three year-old humans are on the same level, emotional maturity-wise. The first time that you threw yourself on top of Max and he nipped at you, Mom expected tears, but instead you got a gleam in your eyes and tackled him a second time.

When you did get too much of the cat (or of Connor or Mom or Dad), you would say very forcefully, “NO, you WALK AWAY from me. WALK AWAY!” We probably heard “Walk AWAY from me, CONNOR!” fifteen times a day.

Also a short time before your third birthday, you saw the Pixar movie “Cars” for the first time, and you were instantly hooked. Your favorite character was Mater, although you also liked “Rookie” – you didn’t call Lightning McQueen by his given name but rather by the descriptor that the other characters used for him. When Mom asked you what a “rookie” was, you replied, “That means that he’s the new car,” She was duly impressed.

More to come tomorrow . . . .
Love, Mom

McGlinchey Mayhem, (Somewhat) Simplified

While the Texas Rangers were . . . [ahem] ADJUSTING . . . to playing a Big Game, I took the opportunity to distract myself by logging on to Shutterfly and (1) beginning next year's photo calendar (which we always give as a gift to the grands) and (2) updating online photo albums.

When Connor was small, I spent A LOT of time scrapbooking. My vehicle of choice - padded 8 1/2 by 11 binders lovingly made by what I assume were Mormon women in Utah. They had a Web site, you could pick from a number of great kid-appropriate fabrics, or you could send in your own. Before I spent A LOT of time actually scrapbooking, I spent A LOT of time dreaming up the theme for the next book, and buying supplies as needed. The most extreme example: when Connor was into Thomas the Tank Engine, I actually ordered fabric FROM AUSTRALIA to send to the Mormon women, because Thomas fabric wasn't commercially available in the US at that point. (Refer to multiple prior blog posts about my children's faddish obsessions always being ever-so-slightly ahead of the popularity curve.)

Thus, Connor has a bajillion (well, probably ten) oversized padded books, each chronicling seven months or so of his young life. In addition to the Thomas album, I know that there's a purple one with wizard frogs on it (signaling the beginning of his Harry Potter obsesh), one with fire trucks, one with construction vehicles . . . in other words, they're extremely juvenile, take up WAAAY to much space on two shelves in his room, and I think he basically hates them.

The display space issue is what caused me to move away from my padded books - well, it was one factor, to be sure. At the rate I was going, we would need to add on to the house just to have someplace to store the scrapbooks. Other reason was that the Mormon women disappeared off of the Internet. For awhile, I considered padding my own book, or hiring it done. But I decided that you just couldn't duplicate their product.

So, when Parker came along, I dabbled with Creative Memories for a bit (a small baby book/guest and gift log and a "big brother" book chronicling my pregnancy with PJ from Connor's perspective) and completed three commercially available albums.

Then I said, [bleep] this noise.

For starters, people wanted to see pictures online, so I found myself creating two separate photographic records of my kids' lives - one that existed on Shutterfly and Picasa Web and another that was taking up major space in our home. Also, being situationally OCD, I could not decide whether it made sense to have one family album or separate albums from both boys. So, again, [bleep] this noise. Life is too short and all.

I took the Mormon women's disappearance off of the grid as a sign from God (or, you know, Joseph Smith or someone), and I started creating Shutterfly albums and having them printed. Shutterfly albums, to the uninitiated, are book-bound, with the images printed on glossy pages like you would find in a coffee table book. The thickness of these relative to a padded Mormon binder translate into a five (Shutterfly) to one (Mormon) ratio. Instant cure for the storage space issue!

But what helped with the storage space issue even more is that fact that, after ordering hard copies of the first three books, I sort of fell off of the wagon. So, last night, I couldn't help but notice that I am a little behind. As in, the last book that I actually bought out of hock was Summer 2009. If anyone is stumped for a Christmas gift for me this year, might I suggest Shutterfly gift certificates? I have caught up on the actual book-making through Summer 2010 but haven't pulled the trigger on printing, because - egads. Time I add additional pages to the basic book format, I'm looking at around $60 per album, not factoring in periodic Shutterfly "buy one, get another 50% off") promotions. Given the cost of Mormon binders (they weren't cheap, either), photo processing, paper and geegaws, I am definitely coming out ahead at even the $60 price point, but the prospect of buying four or five at once. Again, egads. And again, do consider Shutterfly gift certificates when doing your virtual Black Friday shopping.

I have also fallen off of the wagon in terms of creating a "McGlinchey year in review" slide show for this blog. I have one for '08 and '09. As for '10 . . . .

So, in the interest of killing a whole noisy flock o' birds with one stone, I created a Shutterfly family photo album and am linking this blog to my Shutterfly photo books. Done and done.

You can click on the title of this post to go to the photo site, or click on McGlinchey Mayhem in the margin and Blogger will direct you to the site as well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween House

House is ready for Halloween.

Black cat collection has outstripped the pumpkin collection:

But there are punks aplenty.

And witches, lots of witches:

Also skeletons. Can't forget the skeletons. And spiders.

Looking forward to a Halloweekend packed with awesome activities: elementary school storybook parade and carnival, Jen's over-the-top Halloween bash, Boo at the Zoo, pumpkin carving, a fa-boo-lous Sunday brunch honoring birthday girl Alex and Halloween night with the frimily.

Parker has his costumes ready. Yes, costumes, plural. One of the benefits of being the younger brother is that you inherit a lot of costumes. Costumes that your friends have never seen. Thus, we dressed up as Batman Beyond for the Eyeington's Halloween party this weekend:

Mom is . . . um . . . a cross between Batgirl and Harley Quinn? I got nothin'. I just wanted an excuse to buy the wig.

We have a second costume planned for storybook parade, and a third on tap for the weekend. Yup, fun to be the little bro, for sure.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ode to a Sore Toe, Flower and Balloon Phobias and Last Initials, Anniversary Edition

"Oh, oh, my toe.
I stubbed my toe.
Now I cannot go.
I am full of woe.
Oh . . . OH . . . my toe."

A childhood classmate wrote that poem. No, we were not in elementary school at the time. We may have even been in high school. We were mid-poetry unit, and he was, if memory serves, attempting to simultaneously rattle the teacher and make the rest of us laugh by . . . well, writing like a fourth grader.

I vaguely recollect him reading it, quite dramatically, with a little bow and a flourish at the end, and a little "Thank you, good night!" action.

Like all of the good bits, that one has stayed with me.

Woke up yesterday morning, picked at what I thought was a flake of toenail polish, and - WHOOPS - that would be my TOENAIL, separating from the left margin, just a couple of hairs above the cuticle. And that would be some BLOOD bubbling up underneath. I CAREFULLY clipped the top of the nail to minimize the possibility of catching it on anything, and then I wrapped it with a plethora o' Band-aids: one going around, another one going over the top, then another one going around for good measure. My runner friends inform me that I did the right thing and that one of three things will happen: (1) the sucker will fall off; (2) I will successfully keep the thing half attached until it grows out to the point that I can cut it; or (3) it may even readhere. Pulling for (3), because it sounds like the best of all possible worlds, plus that would just be ridiculously cool and superheroine-like - healing myself with my crazy "Amazon healing factor" and all that.

The fact that my foot was kind of sore, coupled with the fact that our babysitting arrangements for the evening never solidified, altered the course of our fourteenth wedding anniversary celebration yesterday. We did an extended lunch instead of dinner, and due to the metric ton of sushi consumed at said lunch, we spent the evening bemoaning our overfull stomachs and watching stuff saved on our DVR. Metric ton of sushi included a Marry Me Roll, which we thought was entirely too appropriate. Gifts were not exchanged, in light of the fact that the official "traditional anniversary gift" for number 14 is a "brown leather couch," and we just bought one of those. (If that's not the official 14th anniversary gift, don't tell us, and, also, dang it, it ought to be.) Likewise, we already covered the "contemporary 14th anniversary gift" ("set of drill bits necessary to install curtain hardware") a couple of weeks ago.

So, we're good.

My sweet spouse did not send me flowers, in recognition of my weird situational aversion to floral gifts. (Let's initially capitalize that - I have a Weird Situational Aversion to Floral Gifts.) I don't particularly like getting floral arrangements in recognition of memorable occasions, because inevitably they wilt and rot, which depresses me. (I prefer to be surrounded by live flowers, which my husband will tell you also tend to wilt and rot under my care, but at least they had a - theoretical - fighting shot, and their metaphorical blood is on my hands, not on those of someone who professes to love me and demonstrates to me the timelessness of that love . . . by giving me something with a built-in expiration date.)

The reason that we refer to this as my Weird Situational Aversion to Floral Gifts is that:

1. I have no problem with casual floral gifts, as in, "thanks for hosting, here's a bouquet," because the flowers are not intended to represent something timeless or enduring but rather represent happiness in the moment or an assist with the event itself - like bringing a bottle of wine to dinner or a covered dish to a potluck. Social utility wins big points with me.

2. I have no problem with inherited flowers, as in, "hey, the event's over, wanna take the centerpiece?" The flowers were doomed to die, anyway. I'm just bringing meaning to their final hours - like a botanical Make a Wish program.

3. I have no problem with flowers that I, myself, purchase. In fact, I buy them quite frequently.

My Weird Situational Aversion to Floral Gifts is completely separate and apart from my Fearful Reaction to Latex Balloon Arrangements. I am pleased to report that I am almost completely recovered from my F.R.T.L.B.A., but it was a BIIIIIIIIIIIG problem early on. Issues with Latex balloons are twofold. First, they tend to pop unexpectedly. Unexpected pops: no bueno. I had serious issues with sudden loud noises as a young child - as in, my parents had to disconnect the buzzer to the "Operation" game. Making the game rather pointless, because everyone was on the honor system re: confessing to hitting the metal sides of the openings with the tweezers. The next Christmas, I asked Santa for "the doll that I saw at Seven Elves Toy Store (Mom knows which one), a Honey Hill Bunch Clubhouse, and a game with no beep."

Even more disturbing, if Latex balloons DON'T pop, they shrivel and get all lumpy. Lumpy balloons scared the BEJEEPERS out of Kid Me. Scary clownlike dolls did it for lots of folks, but lumpy balloons lurking in my closet were my Chucky. And they did lurk in the closet, because that is where I would throw the balloons when I received them. I did not want to witness the shriveling, and - you know - "out of sight, out of mind" and all that. Inevitably, though, I would stumble across their shriveled little carcasses, and I would shriek in terror. No, it did not occur to me to have my parents pop them and dispose of them - actually, it DID occur to me, but did you read the part about sudden loud noises?

My parents would have to conduct S.W.A.T. raids on the closet, pop the balloons when I wasn't at home, and dispose of the evidence.

I actually score very low on the spectrum of autism disorders test. But thanks for asking.

So no balloons or flowers for me. Love you, honey! And I do love you. You are the icing to my cupcake, the ink to my Sharpie marker, the monogram to my throw pillow.

And speaking of monograms . . . you know that you have been married for a long time when you run across yourself in a high school or college yearbook or directory and get confused when you cannot find yourself in the “M’s.” Then you remember that, back then, you were a “D.”

After 14 years of marriage, my D days are an increasingly distant memory - and I am oh-so-proud of my M.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It's On . . .

. . . like a prawn at dawn. Connor has committed to an at-home, "Psych"-themed eleventh birthday party. (We flirted with laser tag; however, he really has his eye on some bigger ticket birthday items, which in the grand scheme of things would be good purchases, but I couldn't pass up the teaching moment and spelled out the economics for him - no laser tag exponentially increases the possibility, nay, PROBABILITY, that I will consent to said purchases.)

Invite, I think, will be a full-sized manila folder transported in a manila envelope. (We're only inviting a handful of kids, most of whom are in his class, so excess postage isn't an impediment.) And this will be mounted to the front of the folders:

Yeah, that's all I've got. Well, that, and a new-school take on "Clue" that I picked up on a clearance end cap at Super Target. Neat concept - although you can play the normal way, you can also play with a cell phone, and after you call in to a specific number they will text you periodic clues. There's a small charge, but I told Connor that we would would spring for it on party day for sure.

The Batman Party

For those who have never had the pleasure of throwing a Chuck E. Cheese party, here’s the 411. You show up fifteen minutes prior to party time, and you are immediately accosted by your “personal party host” – a teenager assigned to be your beck-and-call girl (or boy) for the two-hour duration of your C.E.C. experience. Except, this time, I wasn’t immediately accosted – I walked in carrying an armful of party-related stuff, advised the velvet rope dude that I was a party mom (as if that wasn’t immediately obvious) and attempted to proceed into C.E.C. proper. Velvet Rope Dude had other ideas: first, I had to wait for him to locate my oh-so-important “party mom” name sticker, as well as Parker’s party kid sticker, and then I was advised that I should stand there until my personal party host arrived. In the meantime, Parnell was already in C.E.C. proper, having arrived in a separate car and entered ahead of me carrying a balloon bouquet and my ginormous “party in a box” (partyware, favors – basically, everything but the cake – packed into a collapsible closet organization box). Parnell was not detained by Velvet Rope Dude, because he was not on file as party parent. Lucky guy.

Me to Velvet Rope Dude: “Can I just go in? My husband’s already here, and he’s already setting things up.”

Velvet Rope Dude: “Your personal party host will be here in just a sec.”

Me: “But, um, I’m holding a lot of stuff, and my arms are kind of going numb . . . . I just want to set everything down . . . .”

V.R.D.: “It will only be a sec.”

More than “a sec” later, Personal Party Host Jordan arrives and advises me that our assigned space in the Party Room is Aisle 6. This comment annoys me for several reasons:

1. Technically, the Party Room is not a room at all. The entire C.E.C. is one open space, the Party “Room” being one portion of it. (Hey, I’m a real estate attorney who does a lot of commercial leasing work. Demising walls are my stock in trade.)

2. Aisle 6? I thought I booked a party at C.E.C., not Sak ‘n Save. Also, there is nothing to indicate what “aisle” (AKA “row of tables”) is which. Personal Party Host Jordan might as well have said, “Your space in the Party Room is the sixth aisle from the right.”

3. Personal Party Host Jordan really didn’t need to identify my Aisle at all, given the fact that my Aisle was clearly labeled with a humongous balloon that said “Parker, 6” on both sides.

Also, did I mention that my husband was already unpacking?

4. I have had three parties at this particular Chuck E. Cheese. I am three for three in being assigned “Aisle 6” – being the row of tables that tees into the blue screen. Which is a problem, because . . . well, more on that later.

Here’s how the rest of our C.E.C. experience went down . . . mirroring exactly C.E.C. experiences #1 and #2:

Personal Party Host Jordan spent several minutes explaining how a C.E.C. party works. This was unnecessary information, given the depth of my C.E.C. experience, and also ate up critical time, because – did I mention that you get fifteen minutes for setup? I tried to convey, as politely as possible, the fact that I didn’t really need the intro. And, in fact, could give it myself, verbatim. Personal Party Host Jordan was not be dissuaded.

Personal Party Host Jordan followed up the intro with the standard interrogation: what kind of pizzas do you want for the kids? What kind of soda? Will you be ordering for the adults? Except, P.P.H.J., like most C.E.C. employees, was a mumbler. Half of the time, I had no idea what he was asking me. It’s possible that some of my yes answers could have represented inadvertent confessions to crimes I did not, in fact, commit. Nevertheless, I managed to remain chipper throughout the interrogation process, and P.P.H.J. FINALLY went off to fetch our pitcher of Sprite and pitcher of Sunkist (the latter of which looked suspiciously like a second pitcher of Sprite, but whatever).

As per the C.E.C. usual, one party guest arrived immediately on time, and therefore prior to Distribution of the Token Cups, resulting in much awkwardness as the aforementioned five year-old party guest squirmed and glanced LONGINGLY in the direction of the game area (which I’m sure the C.E.C. folks consider “the Game ROOM”).

Token cups arrived, along with more guests. The kids commenced to play, employing the two known C.E.C. strategies:

1. The Big Kid Strategy: Stick to the games that award the most tickets, thus eliminating the games that are the most fun. Because, to the Big Kids, C.E.C. is not about fun. The Big Kid philosophy is most definitely “(s)he who dies with the most tickets, wins.” Much time is spent discussing how many tickets they have in total, how many they were awarded in a single play, and what they plan to do with the tickets.

Big Kids are kind of annoying.

2. The Little Kid Strategy: Run around like madmen and women, lose your shoes and token cups in the process, and receive, collectively, five tickets. Which you fail to redeem from the machine, because, really, they are irrelevant to you. It’s okay – the Big Kids will snatch them up, along with your abandoned tokens. Which is also okay, because after playing Skee Ball and Whack-a-Mole and riding the flying bicycle and the roller coaster simulator you retire en masse to the “Giant Habitrail in the Sky” that hangs suspended over the game area. The Giant Habitrail costs no tokens and yields no tickets.

Little Kids are tremendously fun to watch.

That is, for so long as they permit you to watch them. Once they disappear into the Giant Habitrail, you only catch glimpses of them through the bubble windows – which is problematic when it’s time to transition into the next phase of the C.E.C. experience. At approximately the one-hour mark, a disembodied voice announces that it is time for birthday children X, Y and Z and their respective parties to return to their tables. The Big Kids ignore the announcement, because that is what Big Kids do. Also, the announcement is delivered by someone impersonating an adult from the old Peanuts holiday specials. “Wah, wah, wah, wah, WAH.”

The Little Kids ignore the announcement, because they cannot hear it form inside the Giant Habitrail.

After several minutes of kid wrangling, everyone gathers at the table (in our case, on Aisle Six), and because our table is immediately opposite the blue screen, said gathering only holds for 1.4 seconds. That is how long it takes for the kids (Big and Little) to register, “Hey, blue screen!” Then they all pile up in front of the camera that is pointed at the blue screen so that they can watch their obnoxious images superimposed over various video footage. When I say “pile up,” I’m not exaggerating. They end up in a ginormous kid pile on the floor, which is entirely counterintuitive, because the camera ends up filming a point in space over their collective heads.

I hate the blue screen.

Pizza arrives, kids are dragged, in some cases literally kicking and screaming, to the table, and it’s quiet for, like, twelve seconds. Then Chuck E. himself arrives, after a little song-and-dance number featuring the giant animatronic Chuck E. in the corner (immediately opposite Aisle One; again, how come I never get the animatronic Chuck E. aisle?). My very observant father notes that animatronic Chuck E. has two protruding rodent teeth, whereas live-action Chuck E. does not, and isn’t it funny that the kids don’t notice the difference? I respond that, if the kids can get past the fact that there are two Chuck E.’s standing in close proximity, ignoring differences in their overall appearance isn’t a stretch, and we are talking about the same kids who can encounter three different gentlemen in Santa suits back to back and fail to take note of the hundred-pound swing between the skinniest and the heaviest ones, material differences in height, age and coloring, etc., etc.

Chuck E.’s arrival invariably strikes terror in the heart of at least one guest. Yesterday was no exception. Greenleigh, if it’s any comfort, he skeeves me out, too.

When Connor was little, he barely tolerated the Chuck E. photo op portion of the party – not because he was afraid of him, but because the whole thing was just so unnecessary. Bear in mind, this is the child who never for a second has thought that people in animal costumes are anything but. Parker, I’m sure, holds no illusions that Chuck E. is a real rodent. But Parker is my center-of-attention child; thus, he wore his inflatable token crown proudly and, in fact, insisted on standing in his chair so as to minimize the height differential between himself and Chuck E. (and, no doubt, so that he could be assured of maximum attention).

Then we sang “Happy Birthday,” blew out candles and ate cake.

Cute cake, huh? Here’s a close-up of the comic book-inspired image superimposed onto the icing:

“POW” bubbles were the baker’s idea, although to her credit she asked me before adding them. I thought it was a brilliant notion, and told her so.

After cake, it was Parker’s turn in the ticket booth, which is like one of those money booths, but instead of blowing dollar bills around it blows C.E.C. tickets.

Around this point, guests began to depart, resulting in much chaos as Mom and Dad chased them down with party favors in hand. One female guest balked at receiving a Batman treat box and left with just a fairy princess coloring book. I had a fairy princess coloring book to give her, because – well, this wasn’t my first six year-old rodeo. One of the hallmarks of the six-year-old party is the “Starting-to Get-a-Little-Prissy Girl Guest.” Connor’s S.T.G.A.L.P. Girl Guest was named Alexis. She showed up to his pirate/knight/Viking party dressed in a pristine lace party dress with a satin ribbon sash, white socks and Mary Janes, hair braided in two neat pigtails, and looked upon the boy (and tomboy) party guests in abject horror. I suggested that she could serve as my party assistant, and she seized on the suggestion like a Titanic passenger might launch herself at an approaching lifeboat.

So, yeah, I came prepared.

My favorite favors were the Batman masks, purchased at JoAnn in their unfinished wood state and painted black with some white accents. The backs of the sticks read, “Thanks for coming to my party. Love, Parker.”

We did not open gifts onsite. This was not planned; it just sort of evolved out of the overall level of chaos. I decided not to fight momentum, but typically I insist that my kids open their gifts publicly. I can still remember the birthday where I received a Nancy Drew book and bluntly advised the gift-giver, “I already have this one.” I can also still remember my mom’s hand digging into my arm as she hauled me halfway around and hissed words of warning into my ear. I credit that incident with teaching me tact, and I have tried to instruct my kids in the basics of Gift-Opening 101 from an early age:

You already own the item, but the gift-giver doesn’t know that: “Oh, thanks. I love [name of item].” Nothing more needs to be said, and it’s a true statement – you do love the item, seeing as how you already have it.

You already own the item, and the gift-giver knows (because they just saw the item in your room, another guest blurted out the information, or they just saw you open the same item as given to you by another guest):

[If the gift consists of LEGOs or something else where duplication can be a good thing]: “Awesome, now I can build two Tie Fighters and stage battles!”

[All other situations, where the gift came with a gift receipt]: “Hey, cool – I can exchange this for [name of different item].” It is imperative that the substitute item named relates somehow to the item given (example: an accessory or add-on pack). To name a completely different item could convey to both givers that their selection really wasn’t what you wanted in the first place.

[All other situations, where the gift did not come with a gift receipt]: “Hey, cool – now I can have one at home and one [for the car/Nana’s house/etc.].”

Went off on a tangent there, didn’t I?

So we opened gifts after we went home. Among other items, Parker received two Pillow Pets. This pleased him to no end, as he has wanted a Pillow Pet (actually, Pillow Pets plural) for some time now. I thought that that was a bit odd until I heard him explain to no one in particular that “I am going to transform my penguin into pillow mode.” Ah, yes – to a boy, a Pillow Pet is just a novel new form of Transformer. The penguin (purchased by Grandma, because of the Batman party theme) has been christened Oswald Cobblepot, which is Penguin’s name in the Batman comics. The dog (purchased by friend Lauren Grace, because Lauren Grace liked the dog) has been christened Krypto the Superdog.

I wrapped our gifts to look like part of the Gotham skyline and used them as centerpieces:

At the two-hour mark, we were evicted from Aisle Six, remaining gifts departed soon thereafter, and the third hour of our C.E.C. experience consisted of Honorary Aunt Robyn and me sitting at a booth and chatting in relative quiet while Dad played Seawolf and our boys contemplated their ticket redemption options. Parker selected, among other items, a paint-your-own-plaster-shark kit. Connor got a storage box for his Bakugan (hey, that’s actually useful!), a C.E.C. token caddy (also useful!), a rubber scorpion (not terribly useful, but not likely to scare me unnecessarily, as the scale of the thing was pretty unrealistic) and . . . a trick chewing gum package with a faux cockroach in it. Party. FOUL. I fully intend to dispose of it when he’s not looking.

All in all, it was a very good day, notwithstanding the fact that Birthday Boy, after coming down from his sugar high, became Highly Developed Sense of Entitlement/Extreme Whininess Boy. Par for the course, I guess.

So, six year-old party over and done with . . . . Eleven year-old party coming soon to a blog post near you.

Party I'd Totally Throw . . . If I Had a Girl , And She Liked Piggies

This girly twist on a farm party was inspired by our little friend Madison, who wore this darling piggy costume to our Halloween party.

Inspiration for the party décor came from this Cyrus Clark fabric:

I love it because it’s “farm-ish” without being clichéd – Western with a preppy twist. If Lilly Pulitzer went to a dude ranch, she’d totally wear a fun little shift dress sewn from this print.

I would use this for tablecloths – or, in the alternative you could stitch together pink, green and aqua bandanas to make a tablecloth or a table runner to go on top of a burlap tablecloth. I’m picturing a low table set up outdoors with rectangular hay bales for seats (maybe topped with runners, to keep little behinds from coming into contact with scratchy hay?). You could even stitch two bandanas together and lightly stuff them to make individual cushions.

Food, favor and present “tables” could be constructed from old doors set on top of stacks of hay bales. I would also set up a stack of hay bales somewhere near the party site, where party guests could pose for pictures (more on that later). Depending on the season, you could add some galvanized buckets planted with daisies or mums or even add some pumpkins.

Bandanas can also be pressed into service for bunting: string twine between trees, porch columns, whatever, and hang bandanas from the twine, leaving some space in between. You could fold just the top edges over the twine and secure them with fabric or hot glue, or you could fold the bandanas into triangles and secure at the bottom corner. Easier still: use clothespins to attach the bandanas to the twine.

Instructions for making paper bandana bunting appear on Mary Janes and Galoshes' blog.

The birthday kid could harmonize with her décor if you put her in a cute bandana “pillowcase dress” like this one from EvianLizzie:

As guests arrive, turn them into their favorite farm animals, through the creative use of face paint, rubber animal noses and headbands or party hats decorated with paper ears and horns. This would make for great photo ops in the hay bale area.

For party favors, you could purchase toy farm animals and make lollipops using a farm-themed lollipop mold. Being a “boy mom,” I particularly like the idea of a tractor mold, which you can purchase from An Occasional Chocolate’s Web site. Instead of making lollipops, you could make jumbo crayons. Unwrap broken green and yellow crayons (John Deere colors, natch), put four pieces of each color into a microwave-safe paper cup, and microwave on high for four minutes or until all of the crayons have melted. (It’s okay to mix shades of green, and you could throw in some pink for a girl’s party. Swirl the melted crayon mixture with a toothpick until you get the desired swirl effect, and pour the melted crayon mixture into a tractor candy mold, filling the mold to the top. Once you have filled all of the molds on the tray, set the crayons by freezing them (still in the tray) for 30 minutes. Crayons should pop easily out of their molds.

Friend Melanie bundled the favors at her daughter LG’s pony party in brightly colored bandannas. Absolutely love this idea, and if you have an extra hay bale or two (and don’t mind picking up a huge mess post-party), you could make a pile of hay and hide the bandannas inside the “haystack,” thus turning the treat bag reveal into a participatory activity. Other activities could be as elaborate as a petting zoo or as simple as playing a “pin the tail on [fill in the blank]” game (featuring the birthday child’s favorite animal) along with a game of musical chairs played to farm-themed music.

It’s not a farm party without a stick horse. I adore these fabric horses from Lil’s Garden Shop on Etsy.

You could also make your own stick horse out of a sock: stuff the sock, fasten it over the end of a large dowel, and attach a yarn mane and button eyes. If you are only expecting a few party guests, you could make these for all of your guests as their takeaway, and not break the bank.

I would keep the kid food simple: pigs in a blanket, and chicken nuggets, broccoli and carrots served with Ranch dressing. You could also stencil the word “FEED” onto some simple brown paper bags (using an old-school stencil –you want these to look retro) and fill them with sandwiches, an apple and some chips – basically, a school lunch, but made theme-appropriate by the feed bag aspect.

Drinks could be served in a cute galvanized tin bucket decoupaged with animal-themed fabric. The “Animals All Around” model is from Plum Party and retails for $92.

Plum Party also sells green gingham takeout containers (6 for $14) that are quite adorable and would make nice take-homes for cupcakes.

The piggy cupcake toppers are from Made by Jackie (8 for $12); the barnyard cupcake toppers are from 62 Cards (10 for $8). You could ask either seller to make them without the sticks and glue them onto party blowers instead . . . .

Another cute dessert idea that is both kid- and adult-friendly: cotton candy “lollipops” displayed on an Astroturf square. These came from the brilliant mind of New York caterer Peter Callahan. I also adore his adult twist on pigs in a blanket. He cuts smoked salmon into pig shapes using a cookie cutter, then adds a wasabi caviar “blanket” to them and serves them lollipop style. I do love the idea of offering adult food selections separate and apart from the kid ones, and these little piggies would be so elegant served alongside gazpacho or other soup shooters.

Finally, on the subject of invitations - check out The Invitation Monkey's Web site for the cutest farm-themed invite featuring a chubby pig, horse, cow and sheep wearing pink and green party hats. The perfect tie-in to my pink and green bandanna motif!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Baby Disser

I was reminded last weekend that, when Connor was very small, I had very real concerns that he might be . . . well, slow. Other babies smiled and gurgled when you played Peek-a-Boo with them; Connor just treated you to a blank stare. Knowing my oldest son as well as I do now, I realize that he was probably thinking, “Ummmkay, you’re putting your hands over your face and then you’re moving them again. Are you developing a nervous tic? Or is this supposed to be a game? Because, ummm, yeaaaaaaah, I know that you’re still there when you have your hands over your face.” (Yes, in my head, I hear my oldest-child-when-he-was-a-baby speaking with Lumbergh's voice from "Office Space." For your information, our oldest cat is credited with having Cartman's voice from "South Park." But I digress.) Long story short, he’s basically a genius, and my husband and others think it’s hysterical that I was worried that he might not cut the mental mustard.

P also enjoys reminding me that, during Parker’s first two years of life, I was frequently heard to express my fears that he might never develop a personality. He was just so quiet, always sitting there and soaking it in. Now, it’s apparent that he was just biding his time and figuring out his strategy for world personality and popularity domination. Today, he is the life of the party – imitating voices, acting out characters, telling jokes at the top of his lungs, dancing and singing . . . in other words, Parker is ALL about personality.

So, I’m zero for two – but generally happy to have been wrong on both counts. AND I see the possibility for turning this into a revenue-generator. Thus, I am officially offering my services as “Baby Disser.” You tell me your worst fears about your infant’s future, and for a small fee I will put those fears to bed for you, once and for all:

“Wow, your baby does not seem musically gifted in the least. Her gurgling is off-tune, and her clapping is totally off-beat. You definitely have a tone-deaf, rhythm-challenged kid on your hands.”

“Did you SEE Junior throw that ball? That kid has no arm on him, AT ALL. Definitely not athletically gifted. Might as well sign him up for Chess Club now.”

Connor informs me that my mad baby dissing skills do not extend beyond our family unit. He claims that both he and his brother willed themselves to be the opposite of what I thought that they might turn out to be, simply to prove me wrong. Knowing my children as well as I do now, I would not write off the possibility.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Southern Living Inspires a Blog Post

Proof that it doesn’t take much, people.

And proof that I had a busy “home-decorating and party-planning and –throwing” weekend: (1) a new Southern Living arrived on Saturday, and I promptly deposited it in the magazine basket next to my side of the bed; and (2) I didn’t remember said magazine until late Wednesday night.

Page 14: Omigod, omigod, OMIGOD. Under the heading “Best of the South, Fall in Love!” I see this little piece o’ manna from heaven: “Orange clove products, $3.99 each,” MUST. DRIVE. TO. STORE. NOW.

Pages 27 through 31: “3 Weekend Getaways for Under $500.” The first offering: Orlando, Florida. Ha! on both counts – the weekend part and the under $500 part. Thus far, we have avoided the lure of Orlando, mainly because every time we attempt to plan a trip we quickly come to the realization that we won’t be vacationing in Orlando so much as taking up temporary residence there. Reason: Our stereotypically male children. They could basically care less about Disney, except that they sort of want to go to the animal safari thing. Oh, and Connor wants to go to EPCOT. And Mom, being a purist, and having celebrated her third birthday at the restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland (yeah, I was all Jack Sparrow before Jack Sparrow was cool), reminds them that there are fun things to do in the Magic Kingdom proper. So, general consensus is that we need to spend at least four days within the Disney compound. But then the boys start piling on their other demands:

Universal Studio: Harry Potter. Hogwarts. Enuf said. (Note: I have been pushing the boys off on Orlando for several years now by reminding them that we “really ought to wait until Hogwarts is finished.” And now it is. Crud.)

Nickelodeon: Slime. Attractions featuring slime. Enuf said.

LEGO flagship store: Yes, we have a LEGO store in Dallas now. But this is the flagship. The mother lode. Non-negotiable.

Playmobil flagship store: Pirates! Egyptians! Roman centurions! Also non-negotiable.

We are quickly at eight days. Then reality sets in: we need to factor in transit time. And rest and recuperation time. Pool time. Cushion days for revisiting the stuff that we didn’t get enough of the day before. We agree that the list of attractions must be cut. And then negotiations break down and the idea is shelved.

Moving on to the next destination . . . ah, yes, Washington DC and the National Building Museum. Which apparently is the site of a major LEGO architectural exhibit through September of next year. Which apparently means that a return visit to DC is on the agenda for the McGlincheys for the summer of ‘11. Now, DC I can handle – except for driving on Dupont Circle. And, you know, the rest of the downtown streets. When we took Connor when he was four, I remember us doing a lot of driving . . . around and around and AROUND, looking for the correct turn. It was like “Groundhog Day,” minus Ned Ryerson, an ice sculpture of Andie McDowell and a cute faux rodent. We discovered that we could only find our way by triangulating from a steaming grate outside of the Watergate Building. And, in the summer, I’m guessing not so much steam, which will make it hard to find Our Grate. So . . . .

Third destination: San Antonio. Yes! Friend Ruth is moving there (hopefully temporarily – ARE YOU READING THIS, RUTH? – while she works on her PhD in public health), and plans for multiple group visits to the Fiesta City are in the works. Therefore, this one is definitely doable.

Moving on . . . .

Page TX2: “November in the South” feature, and a shout-out to Fort Worth and the “Funky Finds Experience” to be held at Will Rogers on November 6th and 7th. Went to the last one; came home with an oversized purple horned frog constructed out of metal scraps, among (several) other things. He is in the front yard now, chained to a tree, because with Horned Frog Fever being at its peak around here I could totally see someone walking off with him “accidentally.”

Page 46: “How to Get Party-Perfect Nails.” Um, get in the car, drive to the nail place, plunk down some cash and sip cucumber water, watch HGTV and read Glamour while someone else does the work? This is the South, people. Home of big-haired girly girls with aestheticians on speed dial, who are known to actually host keno parties and other social events at their favorite mani-pedi places. Seriously. Moving on.

Page 53: “3 Ways to Set a Pretty Table.” Decide that I am a big fan of “Savannah designer and stylist Elizabeth Demos” who states the goal for her fall-themed table thusly: “I wanted it to be rustic and woodsy – sans gnomes.” Although, for my money, there aren't enough gnome-centric features in Southern Living. (I will admit to being rather gnome-obsessed as a small child - you know, after the "Gnomes" book came out. I am pleased to report that I recovered, although, thanks to my brother- and sister-in-law, I actually do own the University of Texas gnome pictured above. He provides a nice counterpart to the shackled horned frog.)

Moving on again. . . .

“Maria Cooke of Ritzy Bee Events in Washington D.C.” also gets a thumbs-up from me, for her simple table embellishment consisting of blessings printed out on strips of paper secured to an undulating piece of twine running from one end of the table to the other. Big fan of twine – in fact, my twine obsession ought to be (and, now that I have thought about it, will be) a post in and to itself. I also like her idea for covering the kids’ table with butcher paper and writing a checklist in Sharpie marker next to each kid’s place: “Ike ate his: [ ] Turkey tenders, [ ] Sweet potato fries, [ ] Cheesy cornbread, [ ] Cupcake!” Maria gets points for her use of (1) butcher paper (which I love almost as much as I love twine), (2) Sharpie markers and (3) realism. Turkey tenders, sweet potato fries and cheesy cornbread is a Thanksgiving menu that I ALMOST can see my ten year-old eating (I said ALMOST). And cupcake! gets an exclamation point at the kids’ table, for sure.

Page 102: “Fun Girls’ Lunch.” Hmm. Can I only serve this lunch to girls who I consider fun, or is the lunch intrinsically fun, irrespective of the personalities of those eating it, but must, for reasons passing understanding (is the food high in estrogen?), be served to women only? Menu is centered on a recipe for Latina Lasagna. Do we have to bring race into EVERYTHING these days? In all seriousness, it looks like a good recipe – and I’m digging on the rest of the menu as well (Leafy Green Salad with Pears – thanks to my mom’s pear tree on steroids, I have the pear hookup – and Mexican Chocolate Pound Cake with a sauce consisting of melted chocolate, whipping cream, brown sugar and butter. I can see my peeps (who, for the record, are “Fun Girls” and therefore qualify to eat this food regardless) fully embracing the chocolate-y, creamy, sugary, buttery goodness of the latter dish, for sure.

For all of you other fun girls out there, here’s the recipe for the main dish:

(reprinted – with slightly altered title – from the November 2010 Southern Living)

1 ½ lbs. fresh chorizo sausage, casings removed
2 (24-oz.) jars tomato-and-basil pasta sauce
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 (4.5-oz.) can chopped green chiles
1 (15-oz.) container ricotta cheese
1 cup whipping cream
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
1 (16-oz.) package shredded Mexican four-cheese blend

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook sausage in a Dutch oven over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes or until meat is no longer pink, breaking sausages into pieces while cooking. Drain; return sausage to Dutch oven. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in pasta sauce, cilantro, and chiles; cook, stirring often, 5 minutes. Stir together ricotta cheese, whipping cream and eggs until smooth. Spoon 1 cup sauce mixture into a lightly greased 13-x-9-inch pan. Top with 4 lasagna noodles. Top with half of ricotta cheese mixture, one-third of shredded Mexican cheese blend, and one-third of remaining sauce mixture. Repeat layers once, beginning with noodles. Top with remaining 4 noodles, sauce mixture and shredded cheese blend. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Let stand 20 minutes before serving. Yield: 8 servings.

Holy Pumpkin Martinis, Batman

Upon request . . . .

(Courtesy of Sandra Lee, Semi-Homemade Goddess)

¾ cup spiced rum (Sandra used Captain Morgan; I, too, used Captain Morgan)
¼ cup pumpkin spice cream (Sandra used Coffee-Mate; I used the functional equivalent from Aldi)
2 T canned pumpkin (Sandra used Libby’s; I, too, used Libby’s)
¼ tsp. pumpkin pie spice (Sandra failed to express a brand preference; I omitted entirely)

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice cubes. Add rum, pumpkin spice cream and pumpkin. Shake with ice until well-blended, and strain into 2 glasses. Sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice. DO NOT let go of the strainer lid while shaking, causing a large quantity of precious pumpkin martini mixture to gush onto your hardwood floor, making things all sticky AND WASTING A LARGE QUANTITY OF PRECIOUS PUMPKIN MARTINI MIXTURE. Sorry – that last part was my addition.

I omitted the pumpkin pie spice garnish, on account of how I made these in mass quantities (one shaker’s worth at a time) and served them in a pitcher. Because that’s just how I roll. And how my friends drink.
(Pumpkin image courtesy of PumpkinWayne)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Party I'd Totally Throw . . . Featuring Sock Monkeys!

Carrye Campbell’s adorable designs have been a part of Parker’s birthday parties since Year One. His first birthday celebration was fiesta-themed, although in pictures it probably tracks as a Day of the Dead party: given that it was held on his actual birthday, two days prior to Halloween, and at our overly decorated “Halloween House,” there were skeletons mixed in with the piñatas, to be sure. Let me try that again: there were skeletons mixed in with The Piñatas. Have to use initial capitalization for emphasis, because The Piñatas were Ever-Present at our house in the mid-aughts. The Piñatas were purchased by the mother of my best college friend Christi and initially used, if memory serves, as decorations at a graduation party for Christi’s cousin. Not long thereafter, they were used a second time, for Christi’s brother Jeff’s wedding rehearsal dinner. When I was pregnant with Parker and Christi was getting ready for her own wedding, we decided that we did not have enough on our plates (this is par for the course for both of us – there is a reason why we’re friends), and so we planned a surprise anniversary party for Christi’s parents, which was held at our house with centerpieces featuring – you guessed it – The Piñatas.

Then it became a game. Use #4: Christi’s Fort Worth wedding shower, hosted by Mom and me at Joe T. Garcia’s.

Use #5: My baby shower.

Use #6: Christi’s rehearsal dinner, on a boat on Lake Austin.

As they became more and more threadbare, we embellished them - some polka dot grosgrain ribbon here, a brightly colored silk gerbera daisy there.

Somehow The Piñatas made it back to Fort Worth, and into our carriage house. So there was really no question that Parker’s first birthday party (AKA “Use #7”) would have a Mexican theme. And Carrye Campbell’s pinata-ish donkey design was a no-brainer for a motif. (Roll over the word “donkey” to see the donkey on Carrye’s Web site; for some reason, hot links aren’t showing up for me, but I promise that the link is there.)

Parker’s second birthday was monkey-themed, and again I went to Carrye for invitations, which you can view by clicking here. Aren't they cute? You should totally buy from Carrye - and tell her that Kathryn sent you. She tends to show me extra love when I bring her new customers - and that's saying a lot, because she shows her customers (repeat and otherwise) a lot of love as it is.

It’s no coincidence that Carrye’s shop is called The Invitation Monkey – she has LOTS of monkey designs, and included among them are lots of sock monkey designs. I adore sock monkeys. I have no idea why, but I do. Parker’s actual party was a hodgepodge of monkey themes – invites from Carrye, vintage Curious George motifs on the plates and napkins (the “Curious George” film had just come out, and I had to really LOOK to find George Classic, versus New George, partyware), a banana-shaped pull-apart cupcake cake, and a delish chocolate cake in the shape of a sock monkey head. If I had it to do over, I would have done the whole thing in “sock monkey,” and I would have moved it up to his first birthday, which would have meant eschewing the piñatas, but perhaps not: Carrye is up to a challenge and no doubt would have cheerfully offered to design something combining the two concepts. A sock monkey with maracas, perhaps. Or a sock monkey riding a crepe paper burro. Oh, well - woulda, coulda, shoulda.

My fantasy sock monkey first birthday would have to involve Carrye’s sock monkey invites, as well as a t-shirt for the birthday boy decorated with sock monkey-style sleeves; click here for a link to a photo on The Invitation Monkey Web site.

I can definitely picture me putting the birthday boy in a fez – the type that Shriners and sock monkeys wear. The reason that I can picture this is that every time I visit the Montgomery Street Antique Mall, I visit the Shriners fez in the stall in the back corner. And I strongly consider buying it. For reasons passing understanding to anyone but me, because no one in my family, to my knowledge, is a Shriner.

But these sock monkey hats from Silver Spoon Scraps would be an excellent hat option for a sock monkey party.

Also love this monogrammed sock monkey bib from Our Little Messes’ Etsy site.

The bib would come in handy when the time rolled around to serve cupcakes topped with fondant cupcake toppers like these:

I would serve cupcakes baked in red and white polka dot liners, and I would decorate the party table with a red/white polka dot tablecloth over a burlap tableskirt. Bananas would be on the menu, for sure – banana smoothies, and those little banana-shaped Runts. (Can you picture me sorting through Runts packages and segregating the bananas? You bet I can, because I totally would – anything for a theme.) The Runts could be sprinkled over iced cakes or cookies or used to top Rice Krispie treats.

If older kids are in the picture, this sock monkey piñata from Mommy Do ($35) would be a huge hit! Treat bag-wise, I love these very simple sock monkey “car caddies” sewn from sock monkey fabric; a bargain at $3.50 each, courtesy of Party Favors and More, and a nice change of pace from crayon rolls, which seem to be everywhere these days.

I would throw in these fabulous sock monkey soapsicles as well; check out LoveLee Soaps’ Etsy store front to view these and other funky, "good clean fun" favor ideas.

In a prior post, I featured party crackers that I made in the shape of bananas for PJ’s second birthday. They are super-easy – you use toilet paper tubes, or paper towel tubes cut in half, fill them with toys, and then wrap the cylinders in yellow tissue paper (cut a couple of inches longer than the tube on each side), twisting the ends to make what initially looks like an oversized piece of wrapped candy. Then you keep twisting the tissue paper on either end, tape it with Scotch tape at the end, and curve each over to the side to make a crescent (banana) shape. Last step is to fringe lengths of yellow crepe paper streamers on one side only, and wrap that around the body of the banana, working from bottom to top and taping down the crepe as you go. Same principle as making a pinata, just on a much smaller scale.

I think that this could make a great party for an older girl – a crafty one with a love for all things funky and vintage. What better thing to keep big kids occupied than to center their birthday party around sock monkey-making? And you wouldn’t need to track down Red Heels socks for the project; a striped knee-high sock works just as well and would be a huge hit among preteen or teen girls.