Thursday, March 29, 2012

Project Make You Smile Again, Thursday

At risk of being one of those parents, I wanted to show you something that has been making me smile lately. This is Espen and his two little partners in toddler crime. Espen was cheesing it up for the camera, much to the bemusement of his friends. Their little faces crack me up!

OK, recurring theme: kids make me smile. You cool with that? I'm cool with that. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Project Make You Smile Again: Wednesday

This video always makes me smile and then sob my eyes out. It's so sweet! For some context, it shows two little kids unwrapping a huge present, only to find their dad inside, home early from deployment. And that little girl handles her emotions exactly like me :)

What's making you smile today?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Project Make You Smile Again: Tuesday

This one just sends me straight to my happy place every.single.time. If you must, insert your own take on materialism vs. joy found in barren landscapes and simple living here. I just like to imagine having this little girl follow me around and react like that to my every action.

And the camel? Don't even get me started on the camel.

Image borrowed here. I searched and searched, and this is the closest I've found to an original source. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Project Make You Smile - Again

About this time last year, I did a simple little project here on the blog that I called Project Make you Smile. The idea behind it was simply to post a new thing on the blog every day to bring a smile to your face. Well, I liked that project so much that I am bringing it back this week! The last couple of weeks have been tough, but this weekend has been filled with so many reminders that we have a lot to smile about, including family, good friends, oh, and three plane tickets to Norway! Yup, we are lucky, lucky people. 

Well, first up to make you smile is this little guy. Not satisfied with simply making me crack a smile, this kid makes me laugh until I cry. I wish I had moves like that! 

Do you think I could teach Espen to dance like that? :)

Thursday, March 22, 2012


About a month ago I was delighted to get an email from Parenting magazine, asking if they could feature my Easter egg tutorial on their website, and of course I said yes!

Well, the feature is now up, and can be seen here. It may be three sentences long, but I am wearing those three little sentences like a badge of honor today! My grin can probably be seen from space :)


I also wanted to thank all of you for your kind comments and concern after my last post. It means a lot to know I have friends thinking of, whether or not we've actually met in person. My dad's health has been improving since then, and we have some plans in the works that will help us spend some time focusing on family. We still have a long road ahead of us, but for now things are looking better.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A lame, lame post

OK. This is my third attempt at explaining to you why I haven't blogged for two weeks. And seeing as it's taking about 10 minutes a sentence, I'm going to do this in list form:

  1. I've been losing my mojo a bit as far as the health challenges are concerned. I really want to keep going, because I truly believe that small changes over time are the best way to live a healthier life. I'm just feeling so meh about writing and researching a new topic every week, let alone actually putting it into play. I'm sure I'll bounce back, I think I'm just plateauing a bit around the three month mark. I'm not exactly sure how this is going to play out on the blog, but if you have been following along and feel invested, please let me know what your thoughts are.
  2. As some of you might remember, my dad is fighting colon cancer, and the last couple of weeks have been especially hard. Followed by some pretty significant improvements. It's been a roller coaster! I can't even begin to imagine how he's feeling, but I have been an emotional mess lately. I may or may not have had a minor emotional meltdown at my book club, but my stoic Scandinavian/Britishness is too embarrassed to even acknowledge it. Anyway, my feelings are all over the place right now, and a lot of things, like blogging, just seem kind of, well... trivial lately. I'm sure that won't last long, and that I'll be back to my featherbrained ways before too long. Until then, I'm just finding it hard to find the words, y'know?
Anyway, I'll be back soon. Thanks for sticking with me. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Parties for young children.

Opening presents. 

I'd like to  share a few thoughts and ideas about throwing a party for very young children. I realize that a lot of people don't even start throwing parties for their kids until they're 4 or 5, while over here at our house, Espen is a two year-old with two birthday parties under his little belt. That is partially because I am a pathological party-thrower (I start collecting ideas for parties months in advance) with a need to celebrate everything, and partially because we knew that Espen would absolutely love having all of his little buddies together under one roof.

Of course, anyone who tells you that cake-wielding toddlers en masse are nothing to worry about is either  insane or lying. But with a little bit of planning and forethought, it is possible to throw a party that can be enjoyable for all involved.

Here's what worked for us:

  • Limit your guest list. We only invited children that Espen knows by name and enjoys playing with, and so he was delighted to see everyone. Even if you have friends with kids, if your child doesn't know them very well, their birthday party is not the time to ask them to make new friends. We also tried really hard to keep all of the kids close to the same age; the youngest was almost 1, and the oldest was 4. The rest were all two or three-ish, give or take a few birthdays. 
  • Choose your time wisely. And by that I mean don't schedule your party during nap time, lunch time (unless you're feeding them) or any time when kids typically struggle. We started Espen's party at 11 AM, which is when he (and most little kids his age) are awake, energetic and alert. 
  • Put an end time on your invitation, and aim to stick to it. And by that, I mean don't over-schedule the party, and let people leave when their kids have had enough. We put a two hour window on this year's party, and the majority of the guests headed home after about 90 minutes, which felt perfect. For Espen's first birthday, we planned for about an hour. After everyone had gone home, we sat Espen down for some real lunch (not just a mouthful of cake) and then put him down for a much needed nap. 
  • Keep it simple. With themed parties, it's easy to want to plan party games and crafts and fun activities, and for older kids, that is great! Toddlers, however, don't want to be told what to do, they just want to playplayplayplay! We planned activities that would give them freedom to do that, while still staying on-theme. For Espen's train party we set up train tracks on the floor and made sure we had enough trains for everyone, and had a coloring station with pictures of trains. For Espen's Very Hungry Caterpillar party last year, we read the book together at the beginning of the party and ended by blowing bubbles. Very simple, and just about right for the age group. 
  • Ask someone else to take photos, because you'll likely be too busy to document the day. I always forget this and always regret it!
  • Don't forget to include some "real" food with your refreshments. We had cake and cookies, but balanced that with fresh fruit and 100% fruit juice boxes. Kids get grumpy when their blood sugar is all over the place. Getting them to sit still and actually eat something, well... 
  • Keep a big tub of baby wipes on hand. 
  • I discovered this by accident, but having a quiet activity area can be a really good idea. There will be tears at a party with toddlers, and having a quiet place to calm down and color a picture turned out to be a really great thing for the kids. 
  • Last, but not least, embrace the chaos. Just know that your house is going to be utter pandemonium for a couple of hours, expect to find chocolate cake ground into the carpet (or in our case, glitter glue!) and enjoy yourself. Just take in the looks on the little faces around you, and you should be in the party spirit in no time! 
What do you think? Did I forget anything? Do you still think toddler parties are nuts, or a piece of cake?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Espen's train party: the set up

I thought you might like to hear about Espen's birthday party (remember that, way back when in February?), and so I'll be devoting a few upcoming posts to that.

I've wanted to throw Espen a Safari-themed party for two years now, and each time, as we drew closer to the day, it has become obvious to me that the man himself had other passions of his own. So for his first birthday, we threw him a Very Hungry Caterpillar party, and for his second it became very obvious that it could only be a train party.

I showed you the invitation in an earlier post, which we printed out on card stock and cut ourselves. The "big" expense there was paying $10 for the design from Sage Digital Designs and another five for the printing. It was such a great way to set the tone for the party, and I'll definitely do that again in the future.

We kept the concept for the party pretty simple, and centered it around the idea of having three different stations: the Shunting Yard, the Fueling Station and the Paint Works, each labeled with a simple sign. We then connected each station with train tracks that we made on the floor with masking tape, like so:

Behold,  our oatmeal colored carpet!
This was super simple to do, and had a pretty big impact on the kids. They loved running back and forth along them! I'm sure you can find black or brown masking tape, but in the name of simplicity and kind of tying it in with the color scheme of the party, we went with a dark blue.

The stations worked like this: 

The Shunting Yard: We set up Espen's train tracks on the living room floor, and showed Thomas and Friends on the TV. This acted as a gathering spot where the kids could play and parents could chat while we waited for everyone to arrive, and is also where we opened presents. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of it in full party mode, just imagine the photo below with seven more kids thrown into the mix. This was just the kind of low-key, unstructured activity that toddlers and pre-schoolers love, and I'm glad we didn't attempt anything more ambitious. I also loved that it gave the adults a chance to chat and mingle while the kids played too. 
Word of warning: Don't attempt this unless you have more than enough trains and tracks for everyone to play with. Espen is very blessed in the train department, so it wasn't a problem for us, but I've seen a lot of sad little kids at the (somewhat sparsely equipped) train table at our local library. 

Not short on a train or two. 

The Fueling Station: Refreshments! The star of the refreshment table was of course the train cake, that Nick and I stayed up making until 12:30 AM the night before. I'll do a separate post on the cake! We also had juice boxes, fresh fruit and train-shaped sugar cookies. I used this sugar cookie recipe, and they were absolutely delicious. I added a bit more vanilla and a touch of nutmeg because I often find sugar cookies a bit too plain, and would definitely do that again. I ended up not frosting them, because I don't love frosting and had already frosted an entire cake, but discovered that we had a lot of cookies leftover. I think people would have eaten more if they looked a bit more finished than ours did. 

Train cake and kitchen randomness in the background. 

Train sugar cookies. 

The Paint Works: We printed off some train coloring pages and set them up on the kitchen floor with crayons. To protect the floor, we taped down a cheapy, but surprisingly cute, plastic table cloth from Walmart. My photo didn't turn out great, and I can't find it online, but it had "Happy birthday" printed on it in this great-looking wood block style. My favorite part was how the masking tape that we taped it down with was an exact match for the blue in the cloth, so it kind of looks like a rug.

The Paint Works didn't end up being quite as popular with the kids as I had imagined, although I think they all stopped by and colored something, but it still worked out great. It ended up being a great quiet spot for kids to go and hang out when they were feeling overwhelmed and needed a minute. I think our oldest guest (he was 4) was feeling his age a bit, and so he and I ended up coloring trains and chatting in the kitchen while the younger kids played in the living room. Spending a little quiet time in the company of one of my favorite kids ended up being one of the highlights of the party for me. It really opened my eyes to the benefits of having a quiet spot at a party for young children, and I'll bear that in mind next time.

The Paint Works before the party. It was not this neat and tidy afterwards! 

We kept things pretty simple decorations-wise too. We bought a big mylar balloon in the shape of Thomas the tank engine for Espen, and a balloon in various colors for each of the children to take home afterwards. The balloons added a lot of color and festivity on their own, and other than that we just went with a simple "Happy Birthday" banner with a train on it. The lettering on the banner just happened to be similar to the writing on the Paint Works table cloth, which helped tie things together, even if I was the only one to notice it!

Anyone need a happy birthday banner with a train on it?

Three weeks later, and Thomas is still floating around our living room. True story.
I mentioned that each child brought home a balloon from the party. We did balloons as party favors for Espen's first birthday, and discovered that they were a really popular thing for the kids to take home, so we decided to make them a signature North family party favor of sorts and do it again this year. We also gave each child an inexpensive train engineer hat to take home, which you can buy by the dozen here. We found some at our local party store, and saved a few dollars (and ourselves from having random leftover hats floating after the party) by buying the exact number we needed. Espen and his little friend are wearing them below. 

Toddlers don't really stop moving long enough for photos!

And I think that's it! Definitely on the simple and home-made side, but I don't think we Espen could have had enjoyed himself more had we thrown a more elaborate party. He had a great time with all his little buddies, and took a great nap as soon as they went home. Success!

And if you're into train parties, you might also like:

Monday, March 5, 2012

Small steps: Go for a walk!

It's finally March, and we're on our 10th week of taking small steps for our health! I'm going to go ahead and consider that an accomplishment, if you don't mind!

First things first: although we had enough snow outside to build a 3 ft. snowman last week, it is still beginning to feel distinctly springy outside. I'm talking sunshine, blue skies, bare sidewalks... and the tiniest hint of a few brave tulips in the flowerbed. And this is giving me the urge to get outside! And so I'm going to capitalize on that by going for a walk this week. I'm still going to the gym twice a week (although this week I will likely only make it once, due to this stinkin' cold!), so I'm going to try to fit in a walk on one of my off days. Of course I could handle going for a walk more than once in an entire week, I'm just going to start off small and see where it takes me (ha!). Then I'll add another weekly walk, then another, and then before too long I could find myself at the mystical point of exercising 5 days a week!


So: if you're joining me, just simply go for a walk this week. You'll be getting fresh air, exercise and some vitamin D from the sun (yes, even if it isn't out). Sounds almost alarmingly healthy, doesn't it?

 Oh, and just to illustrate the weird weather we've been having:

A little gardening on Wednesday in the warm weather. 

And a little snowman building on Thursday. 

Seriously. There are few things more confusing than Utah weather in the spring.