Monday, March 12, 2012

Where the Wild Things Are! It's a party!


Hello Internet! I've had a wee bit of  blogging hiatus. The date of my last entry coincides with the beginning of my school year -- in my very busy world, I have to choose deliberately where my time is spent. Blogging disappeared for a bit; it was the easiest thing to abandon. I'm not sure if I'll be able to blog as much as I would like...but I do want to go back and retroactively put up some projects and parties. Since September, I have officiated a wedding (with my next officiant/day of wedding coordinator job in two weeks!), thrown some fun parties, traveled to Chicago with a baby, graded...oh, let's see: 400+ essays? (120 juniors, give or take a few, 4 formal essays assigned since September? And let's not get started on the journals.) Hosted a Halloween themed book club; a baby shower; finished the rough draft of some writing I've been working on for ages. It's been a busy, but productive, six months!

I'm enjoying my first year as Yearbook advisor. Our "End of the World" theme is, well, awesome. We asked the PE department: "Ability in what sport would prove the most valuable in the event of a zombie apocalypse?" Yes, we did.

So, that's what I've been up to!

However, it was Isaac's first birthday party that took up the last month or so of my life.

My baby is now entering toddlerhood. I love him so much.

Matt and I don't know if we are having any more kiddos -- a third is not out of the question, but at the moment we are liking the idea of just these two boys. And the older they get, we can see this hazy light at the end of a long and exhausting tunnel. Today, we think: No more. Next week? Who knows.

I went into Isaac's Where the Wild Things Are first birthday thinking  that this COULD be my last first birthday party! I know, I know. Really it was just an excuse to have fun without Matt on my case too much.

Now, in full disclosure -- there is no way I could have thrown this party without Pinterest. Really. When I think of all that the Internet has given me...I am forever indebted to this small addition to my life. A gathering place for all amazing ideas? Where was Pinterest when I threw Elliott's Hungry Caterpillar birthday??

Anyway, yes, it's true: I stole, borrowed, copied from greater party-throwers than I am. :-)

So, why this theme?

There is so much to work with with a Wild Things theme. Also, I love, love, love the Sendak book. I feel this urge to defend it against people who just think that Max is a pill. I'll save you the soap box, but I think this book represents the beauty of imagination and love in childhood.

Once I knew I wanted to start there, and after hitting up Pinterest for a long while, the party grew and grew.

Greeting our guests by the front door...
Entry with favors

Tissue poms are so versatile! 

I printed on the burlap with the font I downloaded...but after a few hours the ink had faded. So, I went over it in Sharpie -- which is fine, but I wasn't overjoyed about how it turned out.

A mural -- and a tissue pom forest for the dessert table. 

Isn't that artwork amazing??? 

Cake pops and suckers with Isaac is one stickers.

Our ebay score -- Max from McFarland toys as our cake topper. Bunting made from pages of the book. 

Lukas drew the picture of Max for Elliott's first birthday. Masks for the kiddos. 

Our food table -- chips in cool wooden bowls to fit with our theme. The boat!

Isaac's boat

Vertical "Watch me Grow" banner -- I ran out of wall space elsewhere...


Wild Water water bottle labels

Make your own Wild Thing craft table. Kids got to name them and provide all sorts of other fun information. 


Elliott was pretty excited about his Wild Thing

Pin the tail on Max

Tails with names on them


The birthday boy!!!!!!!!

I know, I know -- how cute is he?

Highchair bunting made from pages of the book.

A cake pop -- for his first foray in sugar, we thought this was better than a giant slab of cake. 



Well, that's most of it! I'll post some other projects from the party tomorrow and upload some PDFs for things too (the water bottle labels, the "Make Your Own Wild Thing" questionnaire for the back of the paper bags, blank tails, etc.) -- I'm a little sad that we didn't get a good picture of the canopy I made to go around the high chair; it was easy to make and a lot of fun. We didn't get a good picture of the food table either, but we put individual plastic cups with fruit in a cupcake stand and it was totally cute! 

And we had a basket filled with musical instruments, ribbon wands, and crowns for a "Wild Rumpus."

My mother-in-law made that adorable Max outfit for the birthday boy -- complete with tail and crown! (And did you get a good look at those clawed feet too??) I got the boys' matching Wild Rumpus shirts off of etsy from Lady Green Designs . The cake pops weren't a disaster, so I am happy with that. (I couldn't even bring myself to blog about the atrocity that was my Mother's Day cake pops.) The boat was repurposed from a student project on the book "Life of Pi." The tree stump cake-stand was funny -- of all the party things, that was the one feature that threatened to start a massive fight. 

Thanks to the following blogs for all your great ideas:

http://www.armelleblog.com/2010/04/where-wild-things-are-party.html
http://blog.hwtm.com/2011/03/bright-modern-wild-rumpus-birthday-party/
http://nikkiikkin.com/2012/02/15/my-party-featured-on-amy-atlas/
http://myrumpus.blogspot.com/


Shelbi





















Sunday, August 7, 2011

Friday Book Review: Carry Yourself Back to Me

Look: It's a baby! Added for the cuteness factor, I won't lie.

I scored myself an advanced reader's copy of Portland author Deborah Reed's debut novel Carry Yourself Back to Me. A perk of book blogging and having friends in high places!

I'm always hesitant to review a book that comes to me recommended by someone whose opinion I value; high-stakes book blogging -- sounds riveting, right? I lost a few readers along the way last year during my Around the World challenge because of negative reviews. People would tell me a book to read, I'd read it, hate it, and write about it, and somehow people take this personally. I understand that general feeling -- my first book review on this blog was in response to someone who hated my favorite book.

At any rate, I read the first few pages of  Carry Yourself Back to Me and tried to reserve all judgement. I wasn't really prepared to like it (for no good reason, I should add) and so my brain kept trying to pull out of the story and assess the craft. "Anyone can write a compelling beginning," I erroneously thought, "but can you keep my attention Deborah Reed? I dare you!"

The short answer: Yes.

She did.

And my "want to dislike this" attitude was humbled. Sometimes I dislike a book because I genuinely believe it's crap (see Water for Elephants). Sometimes I dislike something because I wish I would have written it and I'm insanely jealous. Carry Yourself Back to Me falls more into that category.

The book opens with country/folk singer-songwriter Annie Walsh mourning the loss of her long-term relationship; a partnership that ended due to infidelity. When she learns her brother Calder is accused of murdering his lover's husband, a series of events unfold in Annie's life that demonstrate to her that life has a unique way of folding in on us -- especially in the throes of a crisis.

I couldn't bring myself to find much fault with Reed's rich prose, her believable characters, and her crisp dialogue. Also, I found the tangelo groves of Florida -- the setting for this book -- vivid and beautiful. (Even if I have never actually been to that particular state in the union.)

The dual themes -- running like two parallel strings from the first page to the last -- resonated with me. And I noticed the complexity of crafting this nuanced story without the hit-you-over-the-head method favored by most writer's today. The story isn't a riveting fast-paced adventure, it's a slower, steadier journey that explores what the heart wants and what it means to love and lose what matters most to you. The book is expertly plotted, which is evident by the fact that you aren't always aware of the plot. In a publishing world where books either have break-neck pacing screaming blockbuster movie or meandering literary books whose plots are thin, at best, I found the combination of a literary book with an engaging plot refreshing and rare.

Every writing "how-to" or workshop instructor vehemently opposes the dreaded flashback as a plot device.  Reed's book is a great example of why we should NEVER listen to these books or workshop instructors. The flashback scenes -- woven seamlessly into the story of the present -- provide great background and character development. Some of the flashbacks were my favorite parts. (And bonus to me: my current project depends on flashbacks. I've added Reed's book to a list I'm compiling of author's who utilize flashbacks successfully in case I am ever asked to defend the flashback! (Imagine me saying that in a big booming theatrical voice.))

So, Carry Yourself Back to Me is out on September 20th. It's one of those books that resonates long after you've finished the final page -- subtle and powerful.  Go and pre-order from Amazon!

I wish Deborah every ounce of success and hope that this book finds the readership it deserves.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sitting in Judgement

My sister-in-law wrote a really great blog about how we judge other moms. She's totally right. We tend to think that our way of parenting is the best and when we encounter a different style of parenting, we are incredulous -- if not downright snotty about it.

I'll admit it. I've got pretty strong ideas. For example, I'm a Happiest Baby on the Block mom. Swear by it. And if other tactics work for other parents, that's fine. But they don't work for me. I believe in holding your child as much as possible, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and limiting screen-time. I vaccinate my kids.

I've changed a lot with having a second child too. And I'll tell anyone who asks that I think it takes a second child to put the first child in perspective.

For example, when Elliott was 4.5 months old, you wouldn't find me very far from him at any time. The first night away was after he was a year old and even though I had a good time, I felt horrifically guilty that he was going to wake up that night and I wouldn't be there to feed him. I worried about permanent scarring on his fragile personality.

But next week Matt and I are leaving for Vegas for three nights.

I'm leaving my 2 and a half year-old and my 4 month old baby behind to take a vacation with my husband and our friends. We're playing in a poker tournament, seeing The Beatles Love show at The Mirage, betting on the Giants and watching the game at The Emeril Lagasse Stadium at the Palazzo, lounging poolside, and enjoying roughly 72 hours of kid free time. And, yes, after Matt surprised me with the trip back in May, I told him I needed a week to process if I'd be up for leaving the baby -- who's still breastfeeding and sleeps cuddled up in the crook of my arm every single night.

My answer: Yes. I'm going. And I'm going to take a few minutes of every day to miss my kids and then I'm going to enjoy my time away from them. (And I'll be pumping up and down the strip...which, as a friend said to me, "Isn't the worst thing to happen in a Vegas bathroom.")

However, our decision to leave our infant behind (no one seems overly concerned about Elliott, even though he is the more cognizant child and knows he is staying with his grandmas/grandpa and so thinks that we are going on a "honeymoon" per the Berenstain Bears book where brother and sister bear stay with their grandparents because Mama and Papa go on a second honeymoon) has been met with a variety of responses.

Most people are supportive. And only a small handful have said things that could be taken as discouraging. But I know that once the Facebook posts start popping up and the world realizes that Matt and I are off on vacation without the kiddos, those that think we're crazy and clearly not very loving parents since we so callously abandon our babies, probably won't say the disparaging remarks to our face. No, no. They'll turn to a spouse or a friend and say, "They left the boys? How can she do that?" And I'll never really know who sits in judgement of that decision.

That's the fun thing about social networking -- everyone will get a superficial glimpse into my life. Enough of a window to know what I'm doing and where I am; but never really close enough to understand motives or the heart behind the matter. It's the perfect place to breed constant evaluations of people's actions. AND we allow family members, friends from elementary school, colleagues, and onetime friends from summer camp to comment too. Not real comments. No one is going to say on my pictures next week: "You're a bad mom! Isaac misses you!"or "Right on! Free yourself from those littles!! I admire you!" They'll say my hair looks cute and my mojito looks yummy. Which, in advance: Yes and Yes!

So, for everyone who is tempted to make a decision one way or the other about my choice to leave a young baby behind so I can have FUN...I feel compelled to say:

It is a daily mental exercise to analyze my role as mom. I became a mom in my late 20s...if I live a normal lifespan then I will have spent 62.5% of my life on this earth as someone's mom. Right now, I'm in the trenches -- it's dirty, it's messy, it's loud. It involves a lot of calming tones and teaching how to share. I'm still giving up hours of sleep to deal with crying, diapers. Two nights ago Elliott was jumping on the bed and just leaned over and vomited on my head. No joke.

Everything about my day revolves around these two kids. And I take my job as their mother very seriously. Kids are not an accessory -- when I decided to have kids, I accepted the responsibility of parenting them too. I love them more than anything on this entire earth -- my heart is so full from the privilege of having them in my life. And I want nothing more than to raise them to be awesome humans. Kind, courteous, generous. So, it's a serious job.

But it is not my identity.

Yeah. I said it.

I own it.

These are not just my kids. Not just my sons. They are real people. I remember thinking as a kid and as a teenager that my parents didn't ever really see me as my own person -- that at the end of the day, I was just their little girl. I wanted them to hear me. This is going to be a real challenge for me...to remember as these boys grow that inside that brain are thoughts I can't see, struggles they won't tell me, and ideas and independence that they will need room to explore. Every so often, I try to pull back and ask myself, "How does Elliott see me right now? If this is a memory he will retain forever, what kind of mom is he seeing?" I don't want to be so self-absorbed in my role as mom, that I forget we are all real people.

I am going to be a parent forever. But my years of mothering my kids are relatively short. So, during these years where it seems like I am mom and only mom...I need to pull back and say, no, I'm still Shelbi. What kind of wife do I need to be? What kind of friend? What am I doing for myself because I deserve that? Every stage of life has its own crises, but my current crisis is this: How do I maintain my identity while living the day-to-day intensity of raising a toddler and a baby?

The answer is this: I take time away from them. To decompress. To refresh. To have a chance to miss them.

I will miss them. Terribly. I will walk through a casino and feel like something is missing -- I'll panic a few times. I'll call my mom and my mother-in-law more than I should.

But I've dealt with the guilt and I'm the one thing I am NOT going to do is feel guilty. And even if others want to judge my decision and talk about how they couldn't make that decision for themselves, that's okay. I don't love my kids any less because I can spend time away from them; I'm not a bad parent because I'm having highly qualified people take over the child-care for a few days.

Shelbi needs a break from "mom" and there's nothing wrong with that.

My adorable boys. Luckiest mom in the world to have them in my life and be their mom. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Anne of Green Gables Appreciation Party



"The girls sat down by the roots and did full justice to Anne’s dainties, 
even the unpoetical sandwiches being greatly appreciated
 by hearty, unspoiled appetites sharpened by all the fresh air and exercise they had enjoyed."


It started two months ago during a book club -- that moment where a seedling of a good idea takes shape. After a long discussion about our love affair with all things Anne (with an 'e') Shirley of Green Gables, we decided that an Anne of Green Gables party was in order.

We would eat food related to the book, drink raspberry cordial, and watch the 1985 miniseries of our childhood. Then I discovered that this existed and I was beside myself with excitement. The Anne of Green Gables Appreciation Party was going to happen and we all know I love myself a good theme party.


Of course, had I been going all out, I probably would have even used some iconic image and sent a delightful invitation to tea. This picture of Anne and Diana seems particularly appropriate -- seeming as how our entire party was going to ride on my success in making raspberry cordial. (Although, in hindsight, with the ferocity of Diana's drunkenness after a tumbler of Marilla's Currant Wine, I am feeling like we should have tried that recipe instead!)

Our menu was perfect for an afternoon tea:

Egg-salad and chicken-salad sandwiches
Cranberry-Orange Scones
Shortbread Cookies
Mint and chocolate chip cookies
Crackers with Orange marmalade and Toni's homemade Strawberry jam
Croissants
Tea
Wine

In the Anne of Green Gables cookbook, the author -- granddaughter of L.M. Montgomery -- gives a recipe for "poetical egg salad sandwiches", among other traditional recipes found on Prince Edward Island during Anne's time. (It's helpful that you can find most of the recipes online instead of shelling out nearly $40 for a book since it is out of print.)

Here is the recipe for the cordial:

Ingredients


  • 2 (300 g) packages frozen raspberries

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar

  • cups boiling water

  • lemons

  • Directions:


  • Put the unthawed raspberries into a saucepan and add sugar.

  • Cook on medium, stirring occasionally until all the sugar has dissolved.

  • Using a potato masher, mash the raspberries and syrup thoroughly.

  • Pour the mixture through a strainer, extract all the juice.

  • Squeeze two of the lemons and strain the juice, add it to the raspberry juice.

  • Add the boiling water to the raspberry juice.

  • Allow the cordial to cool, then chill it in the refrigerator.



  • Here is the final product:



  • It was really yummy and very, very sweet. The girls over at my house agreed that adding champagne or -- ahem -- some vodka would spice it up pretty nicely too. I had none of those things, so we went with the next best thing: Diet 7-up. 

    After snacking and talking, we settled into our miniseries watching and swooned over Gilbert Blythe and adored our Anne girl. This story, published over one hundred years ago, is timeless and wonderful. There is something so incredible about this precocious, impetuous, delightful orphan -- who finds her way into trouble no matter what. I'm sure I can attempt to impart upon my sons the beauty of Anne of Green Gables. Just like I will try to read them all the Little House of the Prairie books too. But something tells me that my sons (the oldest of whom just bit through his tongue for the second time in 9 months...like 10 seconds ago...) are probably gonna be more interested in swashbuckling pirates and space adventures.

    Good thing I can do theme parties for those things too. 

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    Cookies of Catan

    Sorry I've been MIA! It's been a crazy last few months and since I haven't been inspired to do many cool things, I've felt like my blogging wouldn't be inspired either. But I'm gonna try to be better. Pinky swear.

    So...Settlers of Catan is kinda huge in our lives. We love games -- collect board games -- and a few years ago we listened to our friends and family who said he HAD to play Catan. And we haven't looked back.

    I've wanted to do some sort of Catan themed dessert for a while now. Matt and I just traveled to Idaho for a mini family reunion and since the cousins there are also huge Catan fans, we seized this opportunity to made this dessert a reality. At first I wanted to make a cake. Then I thought cupcakes.

    It evolved to cookies.

    Sugar cookies, using the game pieces as a template -- candy and cookies and frosting to recreate the whole game board.

    I used Matt's aunt's sugar cookie recipe. You can find it here! (These may look really cool, but they tasted EVEN better.) Matt's cousin Kathryn helped out a ton with these -- she deserves a lot of kudos for coming up with some of the details (like the river that runs through the Ore cards) and she let me take over kitchen while she was trying to prepare a meal for eight people. So, special superhero status for that.

    Here is a photo spread of the evolution of our Settlers of Catan cookies.


















    I had a poor showing at the actual Settlers tournament. But we don't have to talk about that...

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Things I Love Mondays

    I will tell you what I DON'T LOVE...

    Technology that impedes my Dexter watching. We lost our Blu Ray remote. That only took like, I don't know, a week. And for some reason we can't get any Blu Ray discs to start without it. It's devastating; but I'm trying to be strong.

    When Season 3 disc 2 of Dexter came in the mail from Netflix, I seriously thought about packing up both my children and driving to my parent's house -- since they are both at work -- and hunkering down there to watch it. But alas, who would watch my kids? A dilemma.

    Right. Anyway.

    On this week's edition of "Things I love", here it is:

    I love my Martha Stewart Alphabet Cookie Cutters!

    Photo Credit

    There are so many fun things to do with these cookie cutters! Party favors; decorations. PLUS...with a little boy who is learning his alphabet, how fun is it to cook together, make fun cookies to decorate, AND use it as an educational tool? 

    Plus, someone gave me the idea to fill those suckers up and fill them with cake batter for miniature cakes.

    Here is a link to my cousin's blog with a great sugar cookie recipe: Sugar Cookies! And while you're over there, you can check out all the fun things she does.

    And I'm a huge fan of Martha's Royal Icing recipe. Although, it took me forever to find out that no one sells meringue powder. I had to order mine off of Amazon. But if I'm out, I use raw eggs -- just don't feed those to pregnant women and kiddos. To be safe, you know?

    Just color with food dye. 

    Here it is!

    Ingredients:

    2 large egg whites (or more if you want thinner icing)
    4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (add more to thicken the icing)
    1 lemon, juiced

    Directions:

    Beat the whites until stiff but not dry. Add sugar and lemon juice; beat for 1 minute more. Adjust thickness/thinness as you desire. You can store the icing in the refrigerator for 3 days.

    Substitute 5 TBS of meringue powder and 1/3 cup of water for raw eggs.

    Now go make some cookies.