Planning the Perfect Spiderman Birthday Party

Is your little boy crazy about Spiderman? Then why not throw him a Spiderman Birthday party? Here are some tips for making the party fun for the kids yet simple for you.

I always find the best way to start planning for any party is the guest list. Once you know how many people to plan for then you are ready to focus on the rest of the details. After finishing the guest list, it is then time to get the invitations ready. You can either purchase character themed invitations from a local or on-line party supplier or you can make your own invitations using Microsoft Word’s invitation templates. The invitations need to be mailed out two weeks before the party date. This way all of your anticipated guests have plenty of time to make sure they can attend and RSVP. Just a side note, I have noticed that most people do not feel the need to RSVP anymore, so when you send out the invitations, make sure you are prepared for all of those people to attend.

Next, you need to make a decision on a cake. You can order a Spiderman themed cake from any local bakery or supermarket. You can also make your own cake. I find that making my own cake saves me quite a bit of money. There are a couple of options when making your own Spiderman cake. You can purchase a Spiderman shaped cake pan from a specialty baking shop. This choice is a bit more complicated to decorate, however it is well worth the effort once you see the finished cake. You could also make Spiderman cupcakes. There are several ways to do this, here are a few of my favorites. Cupcakes decorated with Spiderman Faces, or web designs, or you can even do web designs and put a Spiderman figure on top.

If you want something different than cake, you can always make crispy treats instead, or in addition to the cake. Rice crispy treats are easy to shape and color. You can make them in to Spidey heads, or even web shapes. If you are not ready for a complex decorating job, you can always get your local bakery to transfer any Spiderman picture onto edible image paper. There is a charge for this, however it is usually very minimal. You could even take a photo of your son dressed up as Spiderman, and then your cake is absolutely one of a kind! The image is easy to place onto any cake. You want to make sure the cake is ordered, pan or supplies are purchased, or the image is able to be turned into an edible one, so start the cake process about the same time that you send out the invitations.

Now comes my favorite part of planning a child’s party, the games and activities! There are so many ways to make the party memorable. Below I am going to list several of my favorite ideas. Depending on the age of the kids that will be attending you party you should choose 2 or 3 activities for them to participate in.

Spiderman coloring pages printed from the web or taken from a coloring book

Pin the spider on Spiderman

Capture the villains! Use silly string as web, and place pictures or action figures of the Spiderman villains around the yard or room. Let the kids shoot the bad guys with “web” If you use action figures, this would make a great party favor, the villain that each child shoots, they get to take home as a favor!

Spider crafts. There are tons of spider crafts out there. Just do a search on the web for Spider crafts and you will get tons of options!

Spiderman dodge ball. The birthday boy is first to be Spiderman, and all the guests are the villains The final villain left standing is next to be Spiderman. You can continue on with this through all of the party guests. Another great idea is to use a ball that looks like Spider man’s head for this game.

A child’s party is not complete without favor bags to send him with the friends that attend. You can purchase a variety of character themed goodies at party supply stores. Some of these stores may even have bags already filled and packed for you, so you don’t have to worry about filling the goody bags. You don’t want to just send home toys though, the kids will want to find something yummy in the bag as well. Spiderman fruit snacks, fruit rolls, or even red and blue candies make great choices for this theme party!

The final week before the party is the time to get all of the final details into place. Pick up all the snack foods, drinks, and other party supplies. You will need cups, plates for food, and also plates for cake and ice cream. Make sure you don’t forget napkins and plastic silverware. You will also need to make sure you chill the drinks ahead of time and have plenty of ice on hand too. You will need to order balloons from the floral department of the grocery store, or from the party supply store near you.

The day of the party everything should be all ready. The cake should be picked up right before the party, or made the day before. All decorations can also be put up right before the party. As the guests arrive you will be calm and collected and be able to enjoy the party along with your child. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures of the birthday boy enjoying all the web-slinging action at his party. He will remember it forever, and I am sure you will too!

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Planning the Perfect Strawberry Shortcake Birthday Party

Is your little girl as sweet as Strawberry Shortcake? She is? Then a birthday party centered around this sugary sweet character and all of her friends is the perfect choice for your little sweetie! Here are some suggestions from my daughter’s recent party with this theme.

As I have stated in my other party planning articles, always start witht he guest list. It isn’t a party unless you have all of your friends and family there to celebrate with you. Invitations can be purchased at your local store, any store with party supplies will have them. You can also choose to order your invitations on-line. Many on-line party supply sites also carry party packs including many of your party necessities. You can also make your own invitations using any card making software or by using Microsoft Word. YOu can even make Strawberry shapes from construction paper and let your child help you cut them out and decorate them! To give your guests ample time to plan to attend and to RSVP, mail invitations at least two weeks prior to the party date. Even if you do not hear back from everyone on the guest list, still be prepared for all you invite to attend. The simple act of an RSVP seems to be a dying art these days.

This sweet them gives so many options for yummy foods. Since all of the characters are named after foods, the options just go on and on. Of course the main attraction of the food at any birthday partyis the birthday cake. YOu can always order a cake from a local bakery. I have even seen bakeries put a bunch of cupcakes together into the shape of a strawberry and then ice the cupcakes all together as one cake and decorate as a strawberry. It looks almost as good as it tastes! This “cupcake” cake would be easy to do on your own as well. You can also purchase a Strawberry Shortcake cake pan from a baking specialty shop, or on-line. This does require more decorating, but once you see the finished result, it will be well worth the additional effort! Cake plans need to be made at the two week before mark also. Either order the cake from the bakery, or find whatever pans you may need to make the cake of your choice. Do not put off the cake until the last minute, this is one detail you do not want to let slip through your fingers.

After you finish all of the planning for the cake, it is time to have some fun planning the other foods for the party. Here are some of the food ideas I had to choose from when planning our party.

1. Orange Blossom Cookies – I made simple spritz cookies and added a bit of orange extract to the batter. I used a flower shape disc on my cookie press and made these. I even had my daughter add orange sprinkles to the tops of the cookies. You can even use sugar cookie dough for this same thing and roll it out and use flower shaped cookie cutters. These of course are in honor of Strawberry’s friend, Orange Blossom.
2. Strawberry Shortcake – of course this one is the obvious option. You could have this yummy dessert instead of cake or in addition to cake.
3. Blueberry Muffins – I made miniature blueberry muffins, another recipe inspired by one of Strawberry’s friends, Blueberry Muffin.
4. Lemonade – this is always a great party beverage. You could even make a lemonade punch for more pizazz. This came from Strawberry’s twin friends, Lem and Ada.

There are tons of other options as well. All you need to do is do a search for Strawberry Shortcake and Friends and see all the character names to get inspired.

Now it is time to decide on party games. You need to first consider the age of your child and the children that will be attending the party. Make sure to choose age appropriate games and crafts.

1. Strawberry Shortcake coloring pages is great for any age. You can get these out of a coloring book, or print some out from on-line. Just do a search for Free coloring pages and you will find a multitude of sites that offer all different pages with all different characters. Print them out and you are ready to go!
2. Pin the tail on Pupcake – You can draw or purchase, or print out a large picture of Strawberry’s dog Pupcake. Have the kids pint he tail on him just like pin the tail on the donkey.
3. You could decorate cookies or cupcakes or rice crispy treats with the kids. One of Strawberry’s friend’s has her own bakery and this would be fin for older kids!
4. Strawberry crafts – You could make strawberries from construction paper or pipe cleaners or many other materials.
5. Strawberry patch – You could buy or make fake strawberries and hide them in the yard, then have the kids hunt for them. You can give them buckets or baskets to put the strawberries into. These baskets or buckets can double as their goody bags!

Speaking of goody bags, no party is complete without these special packages of special treats to thank your friends for coming to the party! You can find all kinds of neat goodies for the take home bags. Anything candy, cookie, or cake related would be perfect. Candy shaped erasers, and notepads with pictures of sweet treats ont hem would be great for any age. Also you can get small Strawberry Shortcake dolls for a small price, these would also be a good choice to send home with your little guests. Strawberry candies, and even strawberry fruit snacks would make a yummy addition too. You can even purchase ready made goody bags and character themed toys at your local or on-line party supplier.

The final seven days before the party get all the final items ready. Make a trip to the store to get all the final necessities, drinks, plates, cups, napkins, plastic silverware, any other snack foods you may want, and extra ice. If you want balloons make sure to order these at least 3-5 days in advance. You can order them from a florist or party store near you. You will need to pick the cake up the day of the party or make it a day ahead of time.

All of the details will fall right into place come party day! You will love watching your little sweetheart enjoy her party with her friends. Plus all of the adults will thinkt his is the best party ever! They may just all want you to help them plan their next party too! Enjoy your party, I know we enjoyed ours!

Simple Dinner Recipes

Are you always in a pinch at dinner time? Do you constantly find yourself grabbing convenience foods out of the freezer? Is a take-out menu more familiar than your own pantry? If you said yes to any of the above, then maybe it is time for you to find some simple dinner ideas to make meal time easier and less stressful.

We all know it is more expensive to eat out all the time! But, do you realize how pricey it is to purchase convenience foods? Those frozen, ready-made meals that are found at the grocery store are busting many grocery budgets too! Dinner can be simple even without those freezer meals. Of course, I have nights when I order take-out, or grab from my freezer. However, a while back I made a choice. Each week I strive to make more home cooked meals than convenience foods or take-out food. For my family this is not an easy feat! As the mother of three children, it can be very hard to put together a meal that every one wants to eat. To be honest, that alone could drive any cook mad! All the cookbooks in the world can’t help with that problem! I have found that experimenting on my own with ingredients that I know my family enjoys can turn into something wonderfully delicious!

Here are a few ideas from my kitchen. These are all quick meals, and tips for ways to grab from the freezer and still have home cooked food! These of course are just a few of my families favorites.

Tacos are one of the easiest meals to make. You can use whatever meat your family prefers: ground beef, chicken, or turkey. It is so simple to brown the meat, season it and throw the toppings out for everyone to dig in! Did I also mention it is delicious? Well, it is! another bonus for tacos, it is the perfect meal for each person to make just how they want. If you have a picky eater around they can make their own choices as to what goes on their taco. Hard shell, soft shell, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, sauce, sour cream, beans, so many choices you just can’t go wrong! I even found a simpler way to make tacos. “Is that even possible?” you say. Yes it is! You don’t even have to stand at the stove cooking this! It is a crock pot version that is absolutely delicious! Just throw thawed meat, a can of refried beans, a cup of salsa or a can of tomatoes and diced chiles, one packet of taco seasoning, and about half a cup of water all into a crock pot. Let it cook all day long. Once you are about ready to eat fill your taco shells with this meat mixture. It will knock your socks off with the flavor! You can even use this meat mixture in any of your favorite Mexican food casseroles. Plus I have a family of five, and we always have taco meat leftover. I throw the leftovers into a freezer safe container and then I toss it into my freezer. What a great home cooked meal in my freezer that is ready whenever I need it!

Next time you think about stopping at your local sandwich shop, keep right on driving and make sandwiches at home instead. We always have lunch meat and bread at our house so this is a really easy one for me. We love throwing together our favorite sandwiches and making a salad or our favorite canned soup. For variety you can grill the sandwiches, toast the bread, or heat the lunch meat. BLTs are one of our favorite sandwich night choices, You could even make sloppy Joe’s instead of flat meat sandwiches. Plus if you aren’t in the mood for typical white bread, just grab some specialty breads at the store when they go on sale, throw them in the freezer so they are there fresh and ready whenever you have sandwich night! I love grabbing deli loafs and burger buns and even white and wheat breads when they are one sale. I have a steady supply in my freezer of breads for just about any occasion. This makes sandwich night a great simple meal and you didn’t even have to stand in line at the sandwich shop and watch someone else make your food.

Casseroles are another wonderful way to make dinner simple. Most casseroles can be thrown together the night before hand. Then you leave them in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. Once you get home from your busy day, put your dinner into the oven and let it cook while you wind down. You don’t have to worry about chopping any ingredients, or cooking anything. Just put it into the oven and wait. Not to mention, many casseroles can be frozen. So why not double up your recipe the next time you make a casserole. Then your family can eat one right then for dinner, and have an extra to put into the freezer for dinner on another night! We eat lots of casseroles at my house. It is an easy way to slip vegetables in on my picky eater and also a comforting food for the adults too.

Meatloaf seems to strike fear in the heart of many cooks and eaters. It is an easy meal to make, but it is also easy to not make properly. My husband is a big fan of meatloaf, I was not. When I was first cooking for my family I did not want to make meatloaf. Finally one day I started searching for different types of meatloaf recipes. I found tons of recipes that are not your typical meatloaf. Lots of these recipes are crock pot meatloaves, Italian meatloaves, Mexican meatloaves, turkey loaf, chicken loaf, you name the style there is probably a meatloaf out there to fit! I was floored. I always thought meatloaf was boring, but not anymore. My family happens to love the Mexican version that I found. Experiment and find one that your family enjoys. Once you know which one the family likes, make a few and throw them in the freezer. It is so easy to pull one out and throw it into the oven. While the already cooked meatloaf is re-heating in the oven you can open up some canned vegetables or whatever side you like best get it good and ready. This is one meal I do not think I have seen in a family size portion at the local market, but man it tastes so good right out of my freezer! The crock pot versions we tried were good too, but I couldn’t seem to get mine to hold together as well when cooked in the crock pot. Just search in your favorite cook book or on your favorite recipe site and find the meatloaf that sounds the best to you and give it a whirl. I know that you will be pleasantly surprised, I know I was!

Seafood is becoming more and more popular these days. I love to grab a few bags of frozen seafood whenever it goes onto sale at my grocery store. My favorites are frozen tilapia and frozen shrimp. When I buy the frozen shrimp I get the raw shrimp with about 31-40 shrimps in each bag. You simply take this out and cook with it. The shrimp simply gets thrown into a pot of boiling water, cook for 5-10 minutes and they are done. You can add them to a pasta dish with some sauce and it is an instant meal! The tilapia or any other fish can be quickly sauteed in your favorite seasoning and paired with some rice or steamed vegetables and you have a quick and simple meal that is also healthy and fairly figure friendly too!

These are only a few of my tips, but I hope you find them helpful in making your evenings more simple. I know it is such a great feeling being able to sit down and enjoy a meal together with my family. Whether I slaved all day, or only 10 minutes on the meal. Sitting down with my family talking about our days and enjoying dinner is one of my favorite pastimes. Hopefully these hints will help it be one of your favorites times too!

Bear Creek Soup Mix

Soup is such a wonderful meal. It is warm and it always hits the spot! I find that it is the perfect quick meal. Even though there are tons of delicious canned soups on the market these days, lots of times I am not in the mood for a canned soup. I want to feel like I have made something on my own, but who has the time to slave in the kitchen all day long to make a delicious soup?

Recently while perusing the aisles at my local grocery store, I found myself browsing the soup shelves. I scanned each shelf looking for some soup that I had not tried yet. Then something caught my eye, a pouch. What type of soup comes in a pouch? A soup mix comes in a pouch! I picked up the pouch and read the instructions. It seemed simple enough and since it only cost $4.19 I figured it was worth the risk. I only purchased one variety at first, Cheddar Broccoli. A few weeks went by and I never made the soup, then the night came. I was not in the mood to cook, but I didn’t want take out either. I stood in the pantry staring at all of the food wondering what to throw together. Then I saw the pouch again. I knew it was time to try out the soup. I grabbed the pouch and headed back to my kitchen. The directions on the package said to bring 8 cups of water to a boil. That was easy enough! I filled my pot with water and waited for it to boil. Once the water came to a boil, I whisked in the soup mix just as the directions say. I reduced the heat and let the soup simmer for 10 minutes. It says on the package for variety you can add bacon, ham, broccoli or corn. I decided to be adventurous! I added some fresh broccoli that I had in the fridge. I cut it up into bite size pieces and threw it into the pot of simmering soup. Then I decided I wanted to add some meat to my soup. I had some ground chicken waiting to be cooked, so I browned it quickly in a skillet and added it to the soup as well. I let the soup continue to cook on low until we were all ready to eat.

The smell coming from my kitchen was phenomenal. My husband and I couldn’t wait to eat! We each got a bowl and filled it up with 2 big ladles full of soup. This was some of the best soup I have had in a long time. I was amazed! How could this powdered soup mix be so delicious? I still have no clue how it works, but it really is wonderful. I have since bought 2 more varieties of this soup mix. In our pantry right now I have three mixes, Cheddar Broccoli, Creamy Potato, and Minestrone. We have already made the minestrone once and it was also delicious. The only thing I added to it was a few handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables. I can’t wait to try these again and add other things to it, or maybe even not add anything and have it as an appetizer instead of my full meal.

Bear Creek soup has been around for a while, but I am so glad that I finally picked it up off the shelf and gave it a try. It makes a ton of soup for the family or even some for a couple with leftovers for days! Next time you are at the grocery store, you should definitely give Bear Creek Soup Mix a try!

Book Review: Rachael Ray’s 365 No Repeats Cookbook

Rachael Ray has become more than a cooking show host. She has become a talk show star. She has a day time talk show, plus several shows on the Food Network. She has never gotten away from what she does best though, 30 minute meals. She has many cook books on the market focusing on meals that can be made in 30 minutes or less. The 365: No Repeats cook book was my most recent addition to my library of cookbooks. I received it as a Christmas gift on Christmas 2005. I was so excited about this book. I spent the evening flipping through the book and trying to decide which recipes I would try first.

The book is laid out in a very different fashion than any of my other cook books. All of my other cookbooks are separated by recipe type. This book only has dinner recipes so it is not separated by type or even by ingredient. The recipes are all numbered one through three hundred sixty-five. The book says “start here or jump around.” This book is an entire year’s worth of brand new recipes for you to try out. There are check boxes on each recipe that say “Try this later” and “It’s a Keeper” this way you will know which ones you and your family love and which ones you want to come back to another day. Many of the recipes in this book have ingredients that you would normally have in your home, others have ingredients that may require a special trip to the store. However, all of the meals can be ready in 30 minutes or less. At least they are when Rachel Ray cooks them!

I personally have made several recipes out of this book. A few of my families favorites are the Honey Nut Chicken Sticks, Cider Vinegar Chicken & smashed Potatoes, BBQ Chicken Sloppy Pan Pizza, and Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf Patties with Pan Gravy. These 4 recipes are the favorites that we have tried so far, however this is only the beginning with this book. The variety of cuisines is so wonderfully refreshing. It is so easy to get bored with the same dinners every week, this book gives you new and different ideas and helps to broaden your mind when it comes to cooking meals for your family.

One of my favorite things about this book is how you can take one master recipe and change a few things to make it a completely different meal. There are several master recipes in this book that are followed by a totally different meal using many of the same ingredients. Here are a few examples. Chicken Francese can easily become Flounder Francese or Chicken Mamacello. A Warm Lemon Chicken Sandwich recipe is quickly transformed into a Grilled Flank Steak Sandwich recipe. Once again, this is only a few examples of the hundreds of recipes available to you in this book.

This book truly has something for everyone! Inside you will find vegetarian meals, seafood, red meat, white meat, salads, sides, and even soups. The cuisines vary from all over the world too. All in one week you can travel to Italy, France, Greece, Spain, Mexico, Thailand, and the good old United States never once leaving your own kitchen. This one cook book has certainly changed the way that my family eats dinner and opened our eyes to a whole new world of food, literally!

I definitely recommend this book to any one who enjoys cooking for their family. Even if you are new to cooking this would be a good book for you since many of the recipes are so easily put together. If you are even remotely thinking of getting a new cook book, race out to the store and pick this one up. You definitely won’t regret it!

Holiday Visiting

I remember being a child and making coupon books for my mother for Mother’s Day. The small handmade book would have several coupons in it for things like a hug, a kiss, a clean room, breakfast in bed, and so on. My mother always loved those home made pictures and coupon books, or else she just told me she did! Now I am a grown woman and a mother myself. The thought crossed my mind as I mapped out my families plans for the upcoming Mother’s Day weekend. Where is my time to relax and enjoy a quiet moment on Mother’s Day? My schedule for the holiday weekend goes a little something like this.

Friday – take the kids to school, work, clean the house, do the laundry, pick up the kids from school, make dinner, have family fun time (our Friday night ritual), get the kids to bed and any other chore that pops up.

Saturday – breakfast, get all three kids bathed and dressed, get myself bathed and dressed, drive an hour and a half to visit my mother and my grandmother for the day, drive an hour and a half back home, cook dinner, clean up, get the kids to bed and do more laundry.

Sunday – breakfast, get everyone bathed and ready again, drive an hour to visit my mother in law for the day, drive an hour back home, cook dinner, clean up, get the kids to bed, and do laundry yet again.

Where in this packed schedule is there time for me to bask in the joys of motherhood or enjoy this holiday at all? Don’t get me wrong, I am thoroughly looking forward to each moment that I get to spend with my mother, grandmother, and mother in law. Each of them are such wonderful women and I love them all dearly. The problem is not just with Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. It is every holiday. At Christmas time it is the same thing. Days of packed schedules and no real time for our children to sit and enjoy the gifts they have received or to learn the true meaning of the holiday. We are too busy carting them from one place to another to just enjoy time together during the holiday. At Thanksgiving, we find ourselves so stuffed from eating three separate Thanksgiving dinners over the course of the weekend, that we may need to be rolled home instead of drive ourselves home.

I found holidays much simpler before I was married with children. Back then, I only had my parents and extended family to worry about seeing on any given holiday. Those were simpler times. Then I got married and that added a whole other set of parents and extended family to see on each holiday. Then you add in children that you are having to cart around with you each time you go visit anyone. You have to carry diapers, bottles, changes of clothes, baby wipes, formula, baby food, pacifiers, and whatever else your child needs to make it through a day away from home. Not to mention keeping the child entertained in the car while you drive to and from your destination, or keeping them occupied while at your destination. Luckily, I have wonderful parents and in-laws that have toys at their homes to entertain the children so we don’t have to bring something along to keep them happy at the grandparent’s house. Many people are not so lucky though. You begin to feel like you are taking your entire home with you. As you drive, thoughts start circling in your head. “Why can’t they come to visit us?” “Don’t they realize how hard it is to travel with children?” “There has to be an easier way to do this every year?”

After the whirlwind of the holiday ends, you sit down and start trying to think of a solution to make things easier the next time around. Thoughts of trading off each year and only visiting one set of family each year instead of all of them every year. Well, that isn’t fair of course. Then the family you don’t get to see that year will feel left out, and you will miss seeing them and so will your children. What about having everyone to your place instead? Well, this poses a whole other set of issues. Do you have room for everyone at your house? Would everyone be willing to travel to you instead? Every option comes to the same conclusion. This is the way it has been done for years in ‘my’ family.

I have found, there is not any real solution to this problem. Of course you feel obligated, they are your family. You love them and want to be with them and enjoy the holiday with them. They raised you and cared for you just like you are doing for your children. It is a matter of respect, love, and devotion to your family and your roots that keeps you running on every holiday. As my husband has said in years before, our parents had to travel with us when we were young, they have earned the right for us to come to them. Now it is our turn to teach our kids to not forget about their roots, and to continue loving and cherishing family even once you are grown and have a family of your own. It is an important lesson for every child to learn. At times while traveling from place to place on the holidays, I find myself frustrated and tired. The kids may be fighting in the car, or cranky and tired of riding for so long. Whatever the frustration is at that moment, I try to remember how much fun we had while visiting this time, or how much fun we will have at the next place. I try to remind my children of those things too.

Why do we feel obligated? Because that is the way it is, and I don’t think it should be any other way.

How to Throw a Princess Birthday Party

My daughter is one of the biggest princess lovers that I have ever seen. I remember loving lots of things when I was a little girl, but I do not remember being so enthralled by something as she is. We have now had to have two princess themed birthday parties in her life of now 8 years.

The first princess themed party was for her third birthday. The second one was for her eighth birthday. However, she has wanted to have a princess themed party pretty much every year. I have had to coax her into other themes for variety. Each year the ideas have flooded us with how to make the Princess theme more fun, and even better. This year I felt like it would be one of the last few years that she would enjoy having a princess theme so we went for it.

First things first
Invitations are the first thing to do. You need to make a guest list. Start by deciding how many people you want to invite. After you make this decision you can focus on getting the invitations. You can always go buy Disney Princess themed invitations from a party store, that is the easiest solution to the invitation dilemma. However, there are lots of other options that you should explore too.

Making your own invitations is a lot of fun. If your daughter is old enough she could make the invitations herself. Let her be creative and you can assist with the finer details. If your daughter isn’t old enough then you can make the invitations easily too. Microsoft Word is an excellent resource to get creative. You can try out many different versions of the invitation. You can even go to the Microsoft website and download different borders to use. I also like going to a local stationery store and find some cute paper that is already bordered. You can either hand write the invitations or set up a template in Word and print them off.

However you decide to go about getting the invitations, bought or made, you need to get the invitations out at least two weeks in advance of the party. This gives all the guests plenty of time to adjust their schedules accordingly.

Focus on the Food
The next thing you need to plan out is the food. The cake is always my first thought when I think of birthday party food. That is because without a birthday cake, it just isn’t much of a birthday party! I have to say my favorite thing to do is to make my kids cakes myself. I love the creativity in it and I love letting my child help with it. However, store bought cakes are always a good choice too. It is all about personal preference. Some people just don’t bake, others love baking. If you are not a baker, take your little princess to the bakery and let her help choose the cake, the colors, and the flavors. If you are a baker, this is the fun part! Have your child decide which flavor cake she wants. Then decide on what style cake you are going to make. When it comes to cakes, the possibilities are endless. For our first princess party we had a sheet cake that we put princess figurines on it and decorated accordingly. The most recent cake was a tiara shape and it had my daughter’s name written across it. However, while we were at the bakers supply store we found a castle cake kit. I am not advances enough to handle that cake yet, but maybe I can be ready for it for my next daughter!

After the cake is decided on you can focus on the other party foods. I like making suckers into magic wands or scepters. The little girls always love running around playing with them for a while before they eat them! You can make all the normal party foods that you like too. But I always like to throw in some fun themed snacks too. You could make cookies or rice crispy treats in heart shapes and write all the guests names on them. For some reason hearts and princesses just go together! You could also do this same thing with star shapes. Just make sure you use sugar sprinkles. They make the cookies or rice crispy treats sparkle, and what princess have you seen that was not sparkling?

Decorated to the Nines
A princess must always have everything done in a fantastic way. Therefore, the decorations are not to be overlooked. Head out to your local party supply store and start your search. Balloons have to be ordered in advance so make sure you do that first thing so you get the time that works best for you for pick-up. When choosing balloons you should look for the ones that are shimmery or sparkly, not just the plain colors. Choose your daughter’s favorite colors and have them scheduled for pick up on party day! You can pick up table cloths, streamers, cups, plates, napkins, and every other decoration you could possibly think of at the party supplies store. You can also look on-line for party supplies. Many on-line party suppliers sell party packs. These party packs include everything you will need. You can also make your own decorations from construction paper and tissue paper.

Party Games
No birthday party is complete without games! Princess parties are lots of fun with games. Games don’t have to have a winner in the end, they can just be an activity that everyone takes part in and enjoys. Here are a few options that we have always had fun with.

1. Pin the Shoe on Cinderella – similar to pin the tail on the donkey
2. Dancing princesses – similar to musical chairs
3. Color princess pictures – you can print these out from many on-line children’s craft sites or you can buy some princess coloring books.
4. Make your own tiaras, scepters, castles, or other princess item crafts
5. Older girls can do nails or put on make-up

Just a Small Favor
I am not really sure where this tradition started, but giving party favors has become a staple at birthday parties. It is a small way to say thank you to your guests for coming to the party. You can buy pre-filled goody bags at the local or on-line party supply store. Or you can come up with your own favor bags. I like coming up with my own. However, when I am pressed for time, picking up the pre-filled bags is super easy! When I make my own bags, I save money and my daughter gets to help pick out the things that she thinks her friends will like. This year we filled the goody bags with plastic rings, hair bows that I made, nail polish, glitter dust, and lip gloss. Any girly items will do great for a princess party. Toy cell phones, pretend make-up, chap stick, and candy jewelry are all great additions as well!

In the end, if you choose a few of these ideas from this article your princess party will be a huge success! People will start coming to you for great party ideas, and hopefully this article will help you think more creatively for your child’s future parties!

Summer Fun on a Budget

I have spent many a summer trying to keep kids entertained on a tight budget. Here are some of my favorites that we have done through out the years!

Fun In The Sprinkler
This is probably the easiest Way to have fun during the summer. The only additional cost is a bit added on to your water bill. However, your yard probably needs to be watered anyways, so why not let the kids play while the yard gets watered! Get the kids into their suits and put on plenty of sunscreen. Make sure you get into your suit and get your sunscreen on too. I know I can’t resist playing with my kids, but more often than not they will fall and need me to come and rescue them from being sprayed by the water at some point or another, so I always like to be prepared to get wet myself. Play time in the sprinkler is a great way to play with water guns and beach balls as well.

Craft Projects
Summer is a great time to play outside in the sun. However, many times it is just too hot to be outside. For days like this, find a great indoor activity! Crafts are a wonderful and inexpensive way to enjoy being indoors. Here are a few of my favorite summer craft projects!

1. Patriotic Crafts – With all of the patriotic holidays that happen to fall during the summer, it is a great time to work on patriotic crafts with the kids. This gives you an opportunity to explain the meaning of these holidays and he significance of the craft project for that holiday.
2. Outdoor crafts – These are crafts that are not necessarily done outdoors. They are crafts about the outdoors. You can make suns out of construction paper. If you live near the beach, you can make beach scenes in bottles with some sand and sea shells that you gather during a beach trip. You can gather flowers and press them or dry them. You can even make flowers from construction paper for an arrangement that will never need watering!
3. Sea life crafts – It is so fun to make underwater creatures as a craft. Fish, octopus, starfish, shells, you can make tons of different undersea animals and you can make tons of things from those animals! Picture frames, mobiles, calendars, the possibilities are only as limited as your imagination!

Summer School
I know the last thing that the kids are going to want to think about during the summer is school, but school will be back in session before you know it. You don’t want them to forget everything they learned the prior school year, and if possible you want to get them ahead of the game for the next year! It is a good idea to take a little time each day to go over the thing they learned next year and to prepare them for the new lessons coming in the next grade level. Reading books is a good way to keep them learning. You can also print out worksheets for them in a variety of subjects. There are several home school web sites that have free print outs available for you. You can also purchase a summer workbook that will have daily activities for your child according to their grade level.

Go on an Outing
A change of scenery is a good way to break the boredom. This change of scenery can be as simple as going to a park for a picnic. You can also go to a community pool, to visit relatives out of town, to the local zoo, or a children’s museum. If your kids are older you can even take a trip to a history museum or an art museum, these are great ways to keep them learning during the summer and have fun doing it!

Mix it Up
Normally you are the person making breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mix it up a bit, and have the kids help out with making the meals! You could choose one meal for them to help with each day or just one day that they get to help, whatever works best for you and your family. My kids love spending time helping out in the kitchen. Give them a task that is age appropriate. It could be measuring out some ingredients, cutting up ingredients, mixing up a batter or putting items into the bowl or pot. You can even let them help pick what you eat. This is a great Way to make grocery shopping with the kids easier too! They will be on a mission to get the items they need for their special meal!

Five simple tips, five days in every week, just pick a tip each day and your summer will fly by! You know what they say, time flies when you are having fun! With these tips, your summer will be more fun than ever before and it will all be inexpensive! Enjoy your summer filled with fun!

PTA/PTO Summer Planning

Summer may be all fun and games for the kids, but it is a very busy time for your school’s PTA. One of the last things that the PTA does before the school year is out is induct the incoming PTA board. This new board has to spend the summer learning all of the tasks that come along with their new title on the board. The planning sessions will be long over the summer since the board meetings are more than likely the only time that your PTA board will be able to get together to brain storm.

The first summer PTA board meeting should include not only the incoming board members but also the members leaving the board. This is what I like to call a meeting of the minds. The outgoing board member can help the new board member taking over that position by going over how they handled certain tasks and what things they think need to change or things that they wanted to accomplish but weren’t able to for whatever reason. This is such an important meeting. The passing of the PTA torch is more than just announcing who the new board members will be, it is teaching those new board members what being on the PTA is all about. You have to pass on any information that you have from prior years so they understand what has been done int he past sot hey can adequately plan for the upcoming school year.

During this meeting of the minds it is a good time for the new PTA President to stand up and tell everyone what he or she hopes to accomplish during the upcoming school year. The new board needs to set at least one goal for the school year during this first meeting. The President can throw out a few ideas for the year’s goals with his or her own goals for the PTA for the year. These goals could be just about anything. Some goals could be to purchase play equipment for the school playground, to increase parent involvement, or to start a new reading program. These are only a few ideas for goals, take your time as a board and make sure your goals are set before school starts in the fall.

Another important task for the summer is to decide what events the PTA will participate in throughout the year. If parental involvement is an issue at your school, then scaling back on the PTA events may be in store for your PTA. This is never something that a PTA wants to do, however, if you do not have enough help to pull off so many PTA sponsored events, then you may need to pick and choose which events you think are going to benefit the school and the children the most. If you have an over-abundance of parental involvement, maybe you can look into increasing the events that the PTA sponsors. This all depends on the situation at your school. Make our choices wisely and don’t over extend your PTA or else you will wind up with a bunch of burned out board members at the end of the year. This is the last thing that you want!

One of the most important decisions that PTA boards make over the summer is regarding fund raisers. How much money needs to be raised to accomplish your goals? What type of fund raiser is going to help you to raise that amount of money? Which fund raising company will give you the best payout? Are you willing to give up a percentage of the payout in order to get more help from the fund raising company handling all of the details? Do you want to do a selling fund raiser, a collecting fund raiser, or a creative fund raiser? These are all very important questions which need to be thoroughly researched and discussed by the entire board. Fund raisers can be a very sore subject for parents in the school. It always seems like the school is asking for money these days, so the PTA needs to choose the fund raiser wisely. You want the fund raiser to be something that the children and the parents can get excited about! Some typical selling fund raisers are wrapping paper, magazines, cookie dough, and candy bars. Some common collecting fund raisers are aluminum cans, and box tops for education. Some more creative fund raisers are auctions, carnivals, bake sales, and talent shows. Think over all of the options and choose a fund raiser that will be right for your school and your PTA.

Even though the summer is a busy time for the PTA board, remember to have fun while at the board meetings. Bring snacks and don’t forget that you are all working to make the school better for your children and all of the other children at the school. Have fun and enjoy all the planning!

Summer Party Recipes

You just received an invitation to another summer pot luck party. Sure the party will be a blast, but what on earth are you going to bring? Do you bring the same old thing that you have brought to every pot luck you have ever gone to? Do you try something new? What if no one likes what you bring? Those are all the thoughts that go through my head each time I am going to go to a pot luck. Even as much as I love to cook and bake, sometimes I consider just going and buying something that way I know people will not be able to criticize my cooking if they don’t like what I brought along.

The key to picking out a good pot luck recipe is bring something that is a twist on something that people have already done before. Everyone coming to a pot luck is going to expect certain foods to be there. It is almost a given. There will be finger foods, casseroles, sides, and all of the classic simple desserts. Take those familiar items, and turn them into something new and exciting and your dish will be the hit of the pot luck, I guarantee it!

Finger Foods
Finger foods are easy to eat at a party so they are always a popular item at the table. When I have gone to put luck parties the finger foods I usually see are fruit trays, veggie trays, cheese plates, finger sandwiches, and appetizer platters. Sure these are simple things, however they are also easily turned into something different than the same old pot luck plates! Fruit trays can include more exotic fruits such as kiwi, mango, peaches, and pears just to name a few. This turns the same old fruit tray into an exotic fruit platter. Add a fruit dip to this for even more fun! One of the simplest fruit dips is 8 ounces of cream cheese mixed together with one small jar of marshmallow creme. However that fruit dip is seen pretty often, I even found this dip in the produce section of the grocery a few weeks ago! This would be another easy way to make your fruit tray different, switch the same old fruit dip out for a new one! Try mixing together 8 ounces of sour cream, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice and 2 teaspoons of grated lime peel. This makes a delicious difference to your fruit tray!

For a veggie tray you can easily switch up the dip as well, or you could offer a variety of dips instead of just the same old ranch style dip. You could even turn it into a hot and cold veggie tray and offer up some grilled veggies in addition to the standard uncooked veggies. However, my good friend Cat has the amazing idea to change up the fruit and veggie trays are to turn them into a fruit or veggie pizza instead! Cheese plates are usually a big hit as well, however you can easily take a cheese ball instead and it will still make a big splash at the party! Finger sandwiches and appetizer trays are probably the easiest of the finger foods to change around. There are so many choices for sandwiches and appetizers floating around the world. Switching up the sandwiches can be a bit risky though. My advice is to not go too far off the beaten path with the sandwich choices you make, but still make it different. Try a different chicken or tuna salad recipe out, or add a slice of avocado to the sandwich, bring along several different condiments to go with the sandwiches.

One of my favorite ways to spice up the sandwich tray is to turn the sandwiches into wraps. These are all very safe ways to change up your finger sandwiches. However, you can also change the sandwich tray all together and bring a grilled sandwich, or some other gourmet sandwich. Appetizers are the most fun of the finger foods to me. There is no reason to take the same old pigs in a blanket or chips and dip. Change things up and bring loaded potato bites, pita nachos, mini quiches, pull apart breads, stuffed mushrooms, crab dip with crackers, brushetta, or egg rolls. These ideas are only the start of the vast array of appetizer choices out there. Grab your recipe books or go to your favorite on-line recipe site and explore until you find the right recipe for you.

Casseroles and Sides
Green bean casserole, corn souffles, and all of the other casseroles that you often see at pot lucks parties can get boring pretty fast. They are delicious and expected, but easily traded off for something different. Try turning that green bean casserole into a fresh green bean salad instead! Forget the corn souffle and bring grilled corn on the cob. Spice up the baked beans with a different recipe. Switch up the casserole by looking to other cuisines for guidance. Go for something Asian or Italian instead of the same old American casserole traditions.

Desserts
Cookies, brownies, pies and cakes these are what you find at my favorite table at the party. The dessert table is probably the most anticipated table at any party, not just a pot luck. The great thing about a pot luck is the wide variety of desserts available to choose from! it is also the easiest table to go to to find something different. Cookies can easily be something new by changing the shape or by adding a hint of different flavor with some extracts. I love adding a bit of orange extract to sugar cookies! Brownies are a delicious go to recipe for any day. Try making a layered brownie bar instead of the same old brownies, both are delicious of course! Cakes and pies are an excellent way to bring variety to the dessert table. Cakes can be topped with fruit, baked in a different shaped pan, or filled with a fruit filling instead of icing. Pies can easily be the same old fruit filled pastries or you can transform them into delicacies never tried before. My friend Breanne loves to spice up strawberry pie by making strawberry margarita pie! Can you say yummy?

The main thing to remember when preparing that pot luck recipe is to give it some variety. Don’t fall into the trap of taking the same dish every time you go to a party. Take something new and different and watch everyone come to you and beg for the recipe!

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