Hope your Valentine's Day is especially sweet!
During one of our many recent snow days, we had a little Valentine photo shoot in our living room to get some decent pictures for this year's Valentine cards...
Ayla wanted to make bookmarks for her classmates, so we went with a photo booth style design and had them printed on photo paper. She was then adamant about taping a heart-shaped sucker to the back of the bookmark. Works for me!
Just to keep it simple, we went ahead and used the same style for Paxton and his friends while we were at it...
I was proud of him for writing each of his friend's names on the back of the bookmark, as well as signing his own name on each one too. That's a lot of writing for a little man.
We couldn't forget our family! Grandparents, cousins, aunts & uncles got a bookmark featuring both smiling faces. :)
Hope your day is sweet and lovely!
PSS. And in case you thought every picture of them was super-adorable and think I have cooperative little models, let me set that record straight:
Our 2013 has been a good mix of seeing new places, trying new things, reaching big goals, and keeping up with the day-to-day family routine. In as quickly as I can wrap up an entire year, here's how we've been keeping busy:
AYLA: Ayla is in 2nd grade, loves to read, has been practicing swimming this fall, and is giving cheerleading a try this winter. She still enjoys activities with her Girl Scout Troop and this year, her Daisy Troop bridged over to Brownies. Some highlights from her year were the Father/Daughter Sweetheart Dance, Girl Scout Day Camp, losing several teeth, and learning to ride a bicycle.
PAXTON: Paxton is in 4K preschool and begrudgingly goes to school four mornings a week. This year he's learning to write all the letters of the alphabet. When he plays, he's really into costumes, trucks, and Lego "guys." Some of his favorites this year included his first experience on the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, going to weekly story time at the Hoover Library, feeding the "exotic" animals in Texas, and playing with Ayla - his BFF.
ANDREA: I spend most of my time managing the family calendar and making sure everyone is where they should be at the right time, with the right tools. That translates to a lot of driving around, constant texts & emails, piles of laundry, shopping, and a whole bunch of paper management. I also continue to work from home, painting signs for customers across the US. With all that going on, my regular exercise routine is more for sanity than vanity!
BEN: Ben had a busy year of home improvement and physical labor--including new carpet, lots of painting throughout the house, and a ton of moving furniture to accomplish all of that. Plus, he managed to run in a 5K, a 10K and a 1/2 Marathon this fall! He continues to stay very busy managing several website endeavors -- and taking care of all of the household things Andrea doesn't even have on her radar--there are plenty!
TRAVEL: We had several memorable trips this year. Ben went on a trip to Colombia with Compassion International in January. We took a family trip to Texas over Spring Break. The kids and I spent another fantastic fun-filled month in Chicago over the summer. All of the extended Steed family relaxed at the beach in August, and Ben and I had an amazing trip to Israel for a family wedding this fall.
We hope your family has had a wonderful year too! Happy New Year!
Get ready for an onslaught of blog posts over the next couple of weeks (because it will take me that long to write them all!)
In addition to the regular stuff going on at home with the kids, I'll be catching you up on blogging our amazing week-long whirlwind trip to Israel!
I'll try and mix them all up, so you aren't overwhelmed with trip posts. I can't wait to share our adventures with you (and a sampling of the nearly 2,000 photos we took)!
Since I'm planning to back-date the posts for our trip to keep them in mostly chronological order here on my blog, I'll update this post with links to all of my Israel Trip blog posts as they're added:
- Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
- Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
- Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
- Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
- Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
- Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
- Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
- Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
- Israel Trip: City of David
- Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
- Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
- Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
- Israel Trip: The Food
Paxton has been sick with a cold this week, so we've been hanging out around the house, laying low. I promised Ayla if she cleaned up her room, we could do some sort of art project or sewing project. She was VERY excited about doing a sewing project.
Since I didn't have anything in particular in mind and she had never sewn anything before (nor am I very good at it), we started with something easy. I pulled out a scrap of denim, some embroidery floss, a needle and a hoop, and we decided on a simple rainbow with her name underneath it for the design.
I drew the design on the back, threaded the needle and knotted the end for her, and then showed her how to make straight stitches. She did the rest! She did an amazing job following the lines and had remarkably evenly spaced stitches for her first try!
The whole project took her about an hour. And she was REALLY proud of the results.
Plus, it happened to fit perfectly in a 5" x 7" frame we had picked out to use in her room.
Whew...a successful art project!
Rainbow Unicorns & Gymnastics. They go together, right?
In our world, I guess they do. My *almost 7* year old daughter Ayla asked months ago to have a Rainbow Unicorn birthday party.
Actually, she hijacked a Oriental Trading catalog and circled and wrote down all the rainbow unicorn items she wanted for her birthday party so I could get the *right* thing. Why fight it? Rainbows are fun and easy to decorate with, Oriental Trading is inexpensive, and I'm all for easy birthday parties. :) I convinced her that a gymnastics party would be a lot of fun for her and her friends, and we just threw in the Rainbow Unicorns for some eye candy!
Here's how the Rainbow Unicorn Gymnastics party took shape:
We found some super cute 5" x 7" Rainbow Unicorn birthday invitations at Zazzle, so that was a no-brainer. :) They were easy to customize, shipped quickly, looked great, and I didn't have to design or print them!
Since we were having her party at a Gymnastics gym, we didn't need to do much in the way of decorating, so I kept it very simple. I picked up 7 balloons at the Dollar Tree in rainbow colors (the purple one didn't make it to the party) and used rocks and tulle to anchor the ribbons to the long tables, and put a couple of long red plastic table cloths from Dollar Tree underneath.
We ordered the Rainbow Unicorn dessert napkins from Oriental Trading and used solid purple dessert plates from Dollar Tree, but only because these plates were out of stock when I needed to order them. Actually, the napkins worked out better since the plates ended up covered in cake & icing. :) Okay, some of the napkins did too!
I ordered a unicorn cake topper from Birthday Express because I couldn't find any unicorn cake designs at my local grocery stores -- and I don't bake cakes. So I went the semi-homemade route and we ordered this pretty pony to sit on top of a plain white cake:
But I gave her a little acrylic paint makeover so she'd fit into the party a little better:
Since it was an afternoon party, we only served cake, bottled water and Smarties. Easy. So easy.
Our cake was a 1/4 marble sheet cake from the Target bakery with white and yellow icing and rainbow sprinkles. They wrote "Happy Birthday Ayla" for me, and I added the cardboard "grassy meadow" and unicorn. I was afraid the unicorn's feet would sink into the cake. Word of warning -- cardboard sticks to icing. We just scraped it off and cut into the cake after she blew out the candles and we were ready to cut -- didn't matter how the icing looked then!
The unicorn was a big hit. The girls passed it around the table so everyone could rub the unicorn's horn for good luck. Plus, it's sturdy and durable enough, that now Ayla can use it as a toy with her Barbies and dollhouse dolls.
Oriental Trading made the goody bags really easy. We ordered rainbow unicorn necklaces for each of the girls (which arrived as a tangled mess of chains, but once I got them untangled, were a really AWESOME party favor for a bunch of little girls - and better quality than I expected).
Unicorn Rainbow Necklaces - Oriental Trading
We also included a sheet of stickers, that matched the theme perfectly:
Unicorn Party Sticker Sheets (set of 12) - Oriental Trading
And multi-colored glow sticks that Ayla spotted at the Dollar Tree -- but they're available from Oriental Trading as well.
Plus, we added a few packages of Smarties for their sweet tooth. :) Sort of rainbow-themed, right?
We put the whole lot of goodies into a clear party bag and sealed it with some rainbow striped cardstock and staples:
The best part of this party was that I didn't have to plan any activities. The girls played on the gym floor and the coaches guided them through the different stations (trampoline, floor, bars, pit, etc.) They had 45 minutes of activity....then a little bit of cake, opening presents, and we sent 'em home!
Oh, and of course at our house, we like to dress for the occasion - we'll take any excuse to wear something special. :) Ayla requested rainbow nailpolish...
How to Turn Your Child's Artwork into Professionally Printed Notecards and Greeting Cards
I surprised Ayla today with a really fun package in the mail. I turned a couple of her "Best Of" first grade artwork projects into custom notecards at Zazzle! She was totally pumped when she saw them!
"Oh wow!! This is so cool!"
In order to turn her large pieces of artwork into small printed greeting cards, I photographed them with a high quality camera (and a tripod) in natural light. Our front porch in the afternoon is a perfect place to do that. I used painter's tape to tack them to the brick wall, hanging them as straight as I could, and placing the camera on a tripod directly across from them (to minimize any distorting). I ended up with pictures like this:
Then, I cropped the images to include only the artwork (it helped that they were pre-matted pieces), and auto-adjusted the contrast and colors in Photoshop, until I had two high quality images, like this:
Finally, I just uploaded them to Zazzle and created Ayla's very own personalized notecards with her own original artwork on it. What a cool way to show off her work! She'll love sending these to her friends and family (they even come with their own envelopes).
The cards turned out fantastic! The slick printed top looks really professional, and I love that I could customize the inside (I made the inside flap a solid coordinating color) add a little note on the back:
I'm definitely a fan. We'll totally be doing this again.
- Cameleon Watercolor Cards - Art by Ayla
- Sailboat Pastel Cards - Art by Ayla
- Watercolor Fish Cards - Art by Ayla
What do you do with your kids' artwork each year???
A little bit of reflective rambling about the first week of school:
Admittedly, I like schedules. I like routine. I like to know what to expect. However, I also like to think I'm pretty good at being flexible and going with the flow when necessary (that's what makes trips like this work!) But, overall--I think schedules and routines are good and they generally suit me well.
So, imagine my surprise, when this first week of school came around and actually got going...I've found that I'm a little bit out-of-sorts and...bored(!). Getting up at 6am everyday and completing about 15 tasks by the end of breakfast had been WAY forgotten over this wake-up-late, get dressed when you feel like it, watch-a-lot-of-television summer.
I've noticed that I've spent a good part of each day this week making sure I'm ready for the next section of the day--which means I'm wandering a little aimlessly inbetween because my mind won't focus on what I could be doing NOW.
It's funny, because I dread the summer arrival when both kids will be home ALL DAY EVERY DAY, all the fighting, the noise, the messes, and overload of kid-themed activities. I anticipate with excitement when they'll head back to school to see their friends and go to their classes. I'm thrilled that I'll have more quiet work time by myself, and that then I can focus, create, and produce more easily.
So, how come now that I have all this quiet, my brain feels like mush and I can't focus on anything? Waking up too early? Too many days of exercise? Too much schedule to keep straight? By 3:00 when Ayla comes home and Paxton wakes up from rest time, all I want to do is stretch out on the couch and veg out till bedtime.
I'm sure this feeling will pass quickly - it always does, and then I'll be back to my get-er-done self, but for this week, I think I spent a lot of time with a blank stare on my face!
So, I'm wondering if anyone else goes through a week or two of bewilderment at the beginning of each school year?
Saturday morning, we hosted Ayla's 6th birthday party in our front lawn.
She had requested a "Strawberry Shortcake Festival" birthday party. Can't say no to that! We turned it into a summer fun festival, and planned a morning of water sports and "fair food". Here's how the party went down:
I ordered these "Strawberry Sweet Berry Birthday Party" invitations from Zazzle and just change the wording to fit our party.
Tip: I always like to include a drop off and pick up time and mention whether a meal will be served at the party on the invitation. Helps answer a few questions parents are likely to have in this strange inbetween age where parents are often expected to stay at parties with their kids. I got several comments from moms that were SO glad to see that information on the invitation!
Decorations were pretty simple for this party. We borrowed some pop up tents from our neighbors for a festival-like atmosphere, set up a few tables for food & gifts, and put out lots of water toys spread across the lawn.
I made a chalk sign on the driveway for a great "welcome" sign and photo backdrop.
For one of the tents, I made a quick "Happy Birthday Ayla" banner (tutorial here) with some colored cardstock, ribbon and my Silhouette to cut the letters. The kids layed their towels under this tent to eat lunch and open presents.
Under the other tent, I added some red and turquoise fringe that I ordered from ShopSweetLulu.com. We had two tables set up in an L-shape with an adorable strawberry tablecloth (from Target) and a plain pink plastic table cloth on the other. One table was for food, the other held gifts and party favors.
Speaking of party favors...
Each kid went home with a bubble wand. I snagged all the pink and green ones from our local Dollar Tree. We added a strawberry candy with a tulle baggie and a cute (and free!) chevron printable "thank you" card. Then Ayla added a Strawberry Shortcake sticker to each wand.
We tried to keep it simple, but feature "fair food" for our festival. So our menu looked like this:
- Popcorn in green chevron bags
- Corndogs (from Sams)
- Strawberries in Berry Baskets
- Strawberry Fanta with red & white paper straws
- Cupcakes with pink & white icing (Target)
I bought plain cupcakes with sprinkles and added a slice of strawberry to the top to fit the theme:
Activities & Games:
As everyone arrived they played in the yard with all the water toys. We set up three baby pools full of water with sponge balls, water shooters, a sprinkler and a slip-n-slide for the kids to run wild -- which they did!
The night before, Ben and I filled about 200 water balloons. I bought pink & green ones from Dollar Tree to match the Strawberry Shortcake colors.
The water balloon toss was a little chaotic, and I had to do lots of shouting to try and get them to (hear) and follow the instructions.
Next we played a relay race game where the kids ran to a kid-sized camping chair and sat on a water balloon to pop it and then ran back. They liked that game a lot - and got plenty wet in the process.
After a few rounds of that, we just let them loose on the big bucket of balloons. Pure FUN!
The only other formal game we played was with some really cool sponge balls that my neighbor had made and let us borrow. Each team had to carry a wet sponge ball down to the bucket and try to squeeze out the water with their neck into the bucket.
They started cheating quickly. But it was still lots of fun.
And that was pretty much it! Two hours of glorious weather (thank goodness!), lunch and lots of running around the yard. I think it was successful and fun for all the kids. Hard to say...I was running around like crazy the whole time! :) I'm not sure I'm meant for party hostessing....but the planning sure is fun!
For Ayla's 5th birthday she requested (okay I might have suggested - instead of a princess or Dora theme) a Hello Kitty themed birthday party. Though she might have been slightly guided in her choice, she jumped on board and was very excited about it! She helped me with all the planning, looking for ideas, shopping for and making decorations. We started by making an idea board in Pinterest:
And though we didn't use all those ideas, they got the creative juices flowing. So here's what we DID end up with - a simple, low-key playdate birthday party for six little girls.
I fell in love with the design of these Hello Kitty Simple Sign invitations from Tiny Prints. I ended up making my own instead of buying them, primarily because I had all the materials at my desk the day I wanted to make them, but buying them wouldn't have cost much for the 6 I needed. If I had been making more than that I would have bought them. I also personalized each invitation for the girl we were sending it to. :)
We kept the decorations fairly simple and only decorated in the dining room -- streamers, balloons, a handmade banner and a blue plastic tablecloth. I did buy some Hello Kitty themed plates, but stuck with light pink colored dessert plates, hot pink napkins and hot pink cups.
I made the "Happy Birthday" banner using the same technique as I showed in this handmade birthday banner tutorial using patterned paper and cardstock. Then I added some handmade Hello Kitty paper dolls to the ends of each banner, which I cut using this Hello Kitty font and my Silhouette.
Our party was from 10am to 1pm, so we served lunch. Ayla's menu request - pizza & pears. I added in pineapple and popcorn for a very simple lunch (all starting with P's). I had planned to do a semi-homemade cake by buying a round white cake from the store and drawing a Hello Kitty on top of it, but my VERY talented friend offered to make me the dream cake I'd been eyeing (see it up there in my Pinterest board?). She did an AMAZING job:
This is where I'm weak in the party-planning department. It's just like when I was little and my siblings wanted me to play Barbie with them. I liked to set up the house, get all the dolls dressed up, and then just look at it. I forget that everyone else wants to PLAY. But I did diligently look for activities (with Ayla) that we could do with 6 little girls at her party. We considered making necklaces, or paper dolls, or doing a bingo game, but keeping time, resources & money in mind, here's what we settled on:
Pin the Bow on Hello Kitty - I drew a Hello Kitty head on Ayla's easel and cut paper bows out of patterned paper. Then we used a scarf as a blindfold and ended up with a pretty silly looking kitty.
Draw Hello Kitty - I gave each girl a 6" x 6" piece of white cardstock and asked them to draw their own version of Hello Kitty and decorate it with stickers. We put each girl's page into a small scrapbook that we'll add photos to for Ayla to remember her birthday party.
Hello Kitty Tattoos - I bought a 24-pack of Hello Kitty Tattoos at the party store, so each girl got 2 tattoos. They all enjoyed that and they got to practice counting to 30 each time we applied a tattoo. Look at all those tan little feet. These girls have been swimming this summer!
Play - These girls are 4 & 5. They played together most of the time in Ayla's room. :)
Movie - After lunch and presents, while we waited for their parents to arrive, the girls sat on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn and watched a 30 minute Hello Kitty episode on Netflix.
No party is complete without favors. We raided the Target $1 bins and came up with pencils & erasers and notebooks for each girl. Plus of course, the felt Hello Kitty hairbows that I made and which were a big hit.
And...finally, I couldn't resist buying Ayla this SUPER adorable Hello Kitty t-shirt from Target to wear to her party:
There you have it. A super-pink, super-easy, super-cute Hello Kitty birthday party.
For Ayla's 5th birthday party next week, we decided to invite a small group of girls and have a Hello Kitty theme. Since we invited only 5 girls, I thought it would be fun to give each girl their very own "Hello Kitty bow" as one of the party favors. So I made them...of course.
I looked around for some bow-tie style tutorials, and found a great one, but it required some machine sewing and precision - which I *can* do, but it's not always very pretty (or precise). So, when I realized I had plenty of red felt and hair clips on-hand already, I altered the tutorial to make it a little easier, a little cheaper, and without quite as much sewing.
Cut felt strips, about 2" x 9". I made 8 bows, but you only need one of these strips per bow. Plus, then I also cut a strip of felt about 3/4" wide and a couple feet long to use as the wrap around the center of each bow.
Next I hand-stitched the 2" x 9" strips to make a loop.
Before cutting the string, I did a loose stitch up the center of the bow (through both sides of the loop) and pulled it taught to create a gather in the center. Then I wrapped the string around it a few times and secured it with a few stitches.
Next, I wrapped the narrow strip around the bow to make the center have a clean look, and stitched it together on the back side (securing it to the bow as well) and then trimming off the excess felt.
Finally, I secured the bow to a hair clip with hot glue and called it done!