Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Cheer up, Buttercup! 10 quick pick me ups

Today is a gray, gray day in the neighborhood and I woke up with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Nothing in particular has happened to weigh me down, but for whatever reason all of my worries and anxieties had piled up on me while I was sleeping. My first reaction was to pull the covers up over my head and go back to sleep, but how often is that an option for any of us?

So I started thinking and came up with a few of my tried and true best practices for getting my groove back.

10 quick pick me ups for a blah day

  1. Making my bed. I learned this trick from Gretchen Rubin, the author of the Happiness Project. It sounds endlessly simplistic, but the simple act of putting something in order makes me feel productive and more on the ball, and therefore happier. 
  2. Wear something you really like. I have this shirt that I really hate, but never get rid of because there's nothing technically wrong with it. Trust me when I say that nothing good ever happens when I'm wearing that shirt. Conversely, when I feel good about the way I look, I start feeling good about me, which is a great step towards turning around your day. 
  3. Do something for someone else. There's a saying in Norway that goes" "Den største gleden man kan ha, det er å gjøre andre glad," or "the greatest happiness comes from making others happy" and I believe that with all my little heart. I am thinking that today I might write and mail a little note to a friend today. 
  4. Spend some quality time with someone you really like. Right after I woke up this morning, I heard Gwen waking up in her room, so I brought her into my bed for a few minutes. There is nothing in the world like a baby that squeals with delight at seeing your sleepy face. If you don't have a baby on hand, try a spouse, child, friend or beloved pet. I recommend a kitty, but recognize that is a personal preference. If nothing makes you happier than a hamster, go with that. 
  5. Go for a walk. You're outside, you're breathing fresh air, you're moving, your endorphins are flowing, you're getting a change of scenery - of course you're going to feel better! 
  6. Eat a good meal. I'm of the opinion that if all you eat is cold cereal and fast food, you're kind of giving yourself the message that that is what you deserve, what you are worth. But if you put a little time, love and effort into your food, then you're putting a little time, love and effort into you.  So for lunch today, I'm thinking I am worth some wholegrain toast with scrambled eggs and a glass of orange juice. 
  7. Indulge yourself a little. Lately I've been thinking that I just want a little time to myself with no one touching me (as a mom, someone is always touching me). So I am going to sneak in 10 minutes with my book, even if it means bribing Espen with the iPad while I do it. 
  8. Kind of on a similar note as the last one, but get yourself some fresh flowers. Whenever we have flowers in the house, I feel happier just having a little pop of color and something pretty to look at. There's just something about having a little bit of nature around that feels good. 
  9. Get some new ideas. Read a book, watch a TED talk, talk to someone about something they're passionate about, find a different news source, go to a museum, take a class, whatevs. Just find something to gain some new perspectives and get out of your comfort zone for a bit. I always find it refreshing to wrap my brain around something new. 
  10. Be thankful. The obvious choice when you're feeling low is to focus on what's wrong, but if there's not an obvious problem with a necessary solution, you're wasting your time and energy. Instead, make a mental list of all of the good things and people you have in your life. If you're honest and thoughtful it's going to be a pretty long list! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Espen's Cars Party

Espen wasn't very old when I knew that there was going to be a "Cars" party in our future, although I resisted as long as I could. Lightning McQueen just isn't cute! And being the romantic that I am, I certainly wasn't about to go out and buy a readymade licensed trademark "Cars" birthday party kit to plaster all over my house. Last year I dodged the bullet by proposing a train birthday, which Espen loved to the point that he has requested that all future birthdays be train-themed. But the heart wants what it wants, and the only other real alternative that my opinionated birthday boy was interested in was Angry Birds (NO.), and so I set about throwing a "Cars" birthday party.

I had two fairly simple goals: 1) I wanted it to be charming, and 2) I wanted it to be fun for Espen and his guests. After a bit of thinking, I found the charm factor in Radiator Springs, the little town where the first "Cars" movie is set. It has a 1950's Americana feel that I have always thought was cute, so I decided to go from there. As for the fun part, I knew I would have room full of toddlers and pre-schoolers, so if we played our cards right, the fun would almost take care of itself.

As in earlier years, I started out with the invitation. I like doing it that way to set the tone for the rest of the party. My good friend Kristen runs Sage Digital Designs, and was good enough to put together a pretty awesome custom invitation for Espen's "Cars" party. I've used her for several other occasions, including Espen's train party invitation last year, and can't recommend her highly enough. She's also (in my opinion) severely underpriced, so you are getting a steal for something custom.

I found a few images I liked, and told Kristen I wanted a retro-vibe for the invitation with a Radiator Springs skyline. Here is what she came up with:

Pretty great, right? Cheesy wording by me.

Once the invitation was sent out, I sat down to a serious Pinterest session and pulled together some ideas for the party itself. Then I conferred with Nick and scaled back about 2/3 of my ideas to something reasonable for a 2-hour party for a gang of mostly 3 year-olds. You can see my "Cars" Pinboard here, and find the origins for several of these ideas.

To let the guests know what to expect, we welcomed them with a Piston Cup "crest" and some racing flags on the front door. We found the Piston cup logo online and printed it on card stock, and found the cheapy racing flags at a party store. Everything is held together and attached to the door with tape, cleverly hidden by the logo. Super quick and easy, but quite impactful, I think.

I especially love the vintage feel to the Piston Cup logo. 

Once inside, we had two main features in the living room that doubled as both decoration and entertainment. First, we made a road on the floor by cutting a black disposable table cloth in half and taping it down with white masking tape. Then we put 12" strips of tape down the middle to separate into two lanes for "driving"/general mayhem. Definitely a hit with the kids, and very simple to do! It is similar to the train tracks we made last year, but much, much faster to set up and take down.

When I say "we", I mean Nick. This was all him. 
The other thing we did in the living room was set up a car-driving area. Not a day passes without cars being driven all over our house, so we knew that a chance to play cars with his friends could not be missed. While looking around online, we stumbled upon this packing tape with a road design on it, and couldn't resist. Nick and Espen set up a road system on the floor and got out all of the "Cars" cars to drive on it.

Finn McMissile and Holly Shiftwell take a spin.
We also had a coloring station in the kitchen for kids who needed some quiet time (I've discovered this is a really great idea for kids parties), and when the party got really wild, we turned on the first "Cars" movie in the background so the kids could come and go as they pleased. There was always at least 1/3 of the kids watching the movie, which definitely took the edge off the craziness for the three adults in charge.

As far as other decorations went, I tried to keep things really simple this year:

Hanging these up (and rehanging them when they fell down) was almost the death of me. Proceed with caution. 
 Some streamers. I got the checkered ones and the "Cars" themed ones at a party store, and filled out the gaps with some red and orange ones from our party box.

He is definitely worth all the hoopla.
 Super simple Route 66 sign for the road on the floor, courtesy of Google Images.

The photo's a bit dark, but you get the idea. 
And then I found and printed off these posters. We hung them in the hallway for the party, but they have since made it up to Espen's bedroom wall. He loves that they have his favorite characters on them, and I like the somewhat vintage styling. It's a pretty good compromise for a snobby mom like me.

Speaking of compromise, as much as I didn't want a "Cars in a bag" style birthday, I knew that Espen would love to be part of planning and preparing for his party, so I took him party shopping with just the two of us and let him pick a few things, including the checkered flags and streamers I mentioned earlier. He very much wanted "Cars" themed party plates, so I conceded, and paired them with checkered napkins and red cups which I then let him decorate with "Cars" stickers. We also bought some "Cars" cupcake liners that we didn't end up using for the party, but we are sure to use them another day. And you can't really see it in the photos, but we also bought "Cars" confetti that we scattered on the kitchen table.

And as has become traditional for our kid parties, we had balloons doubling as decorations and party favors. They look really festive, don't cost much, are fun to play with and don't have to kept forever after. And due to some miracle, none of the kids wanted the same color and everyone was happy.

As far as party food went, we really reigned things in this year because we always go overboard. Still, we has as follows:

And I got to use my tiered plate!
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The sandwiches themselves were only moderately popular, but the kids went nuts over the little flags. They were a bit timeconsuming to make, but otherwise very easy. You can find them here. Again, a good combination of cute and charming for me, and Lightning McQueen encrusted for Espen and friends.

A lot of checkers. 
Checkered rice crispy treats. We sort of invented these on the fly, but thought they turned out great. Basically you make a batch of plain rice crispy treats and put them in a square pan and let them cool in the fridge while you make up a second batch with Cocoa Krispies. Then you put the Cocoa Krispies on top of the plain rice crispies and let everything cool. Cut it into squares and alternate chocolate and plain side up to make a checkered flag. Super easy!

Guido and the Tower of Tires.
Not a great photo of these, but we also bought chocolate covered doughnuts and stacked them like car tires. I thought they tasted vile, but these were the absolute favorite treat. One little girl (who shall remain nameless) ate at least five of these!

And finally, the birthday cake! We found a pretty genius tutorial for how to make a 3-shaped birthday cake using two bunt pans here, but be warned that it gives you a lot of cake. So much cake. We went with a checkered theme again, but you could also do a really cute road cake like this one here. I just couldn't face getting cute with fondant and frosting and wanted to keep things simple.

Espen and his pint-sized guests.
That was Espen's third birthday! Tiny people ran around screaming for two hours straight, we fed them sugar-laden food and refereed a few fists fights and everyone was happy, even if we couldn't move for about two hours after the last guest had left. And now we're off the hook until November when little miss Gwen gets her big day!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Crazy times

Taking selfies in my future bathroom. 
Friends, life is a little nuts right now. Crazy item number one: we are buying a house. Crazy item number two: we are planning a trip to Norway basically as soon as we close on the house. The timing couldn't be worse, but they are both important things, so off we go.

The house came about kind of quickly and unexpectedly after about a month of "casual looking*", and my head is still spinning at the thought that we will be leaving our little townhome in Spanish Fork for the glitz and glam of (essentially) the 'burbs. The house is beautiful, though, and will fit our needs perfectly. I am very excited! I will post more pictures once it is offially ours.

The oddly-timed trip to Norway is coming about because it just needs to happen. As some of you remember, my dad has cancer. He was diagnosed almost 4 years ago and has been fighting a hard fight ever since. But when he expressed concern that he might never get to meet Gwen, we got that baby a passport and are flying out shortly after closing. We can't take the cancer away (I can't tell you how much I wish we could), but we can make sure there are no regrets.

Life is a rollercoaster of emotions right now: Yay, new house! Boo, we're leaving our dear little home. Yay, we're going to Norway! Boo, cancer. Boo ridiculously awful timing. But yay, we get to see my family!

Nuts, I tell you.

(In unrelated news, I finally rewrote the "And who writes this?" section. About time!)

* Those who know us will tell you that we are the most obsessive people on the planet, and don't do anything casually.