Sunday, August 31, 2014

Star Wars Party!

The best imaginative adventures of my life have been led by my six year old twin grandsons. Those delightful little boys introduced me to triple-eyed mega-monsters "for sure" hiding behind closet doors, ravenous dinosaurs crouching menacingly in the woods and pirates "yo-ho-ho-ing" in caves of plush pillows and couch cushions. I've been invited to flourish the flag at roaring driveway race tracks and encouraged to "spy" on newspaper-reading grandpa with rear vision secret agent sunglasses.

Currently, we've embarked upon the farthest reaching, most exhilarating journey yet. We're off to "a galaxy far, far away!" - home to the infamous Darth Vader and a colony of cuddly 'n cute, fuzzy-faced Ewoks. I brag now, because just six months ago any characters besides those would have been unrecognized and dismissed by me as "freakin' weirdos." I could not have named a single other player in the Star Wars trilogy. But I'm familiar with most of them now, courtesy of my young mentors. I know Boba Fett and Bo-Katan. You can't trip me up on the difference between Greedo and Jar Jar Binks. A Tusken Raider? A Tie Fighter? Storm Troopers? Think I don't know those people? Ha! Think again! They've been guests at my grandsons' house!

The boys' talented mommy, my oldest daughter, was 100% responsible for planning and executing the Star Wars theme birthday party held recently in their honor. What a night! I was fortunate enough to be invited, to take pictures and to marvel at how a young mother of two sets of twins - all of them under six years old! - could pull off such a fete with such aplomb!

"You really had to be there," they say. So come on in! Join me and eight little boys on a journey that begins the moment we step inside the front door!

Upon arrival, guests are informed that they've been selected to train as Jedi warriors. These are the "good guys." They wear brown robes. They carry laser swords. They are quick and athletic and it's suspected that they'll have no trouble completing a series of tasks that will earn them admission to this elite force.

Parents are invited to stay, and all of them do so. They help little warriors become presentable for the rigor ahead.

Task #1 Save Princess Leia!

But no, not this winsome Miss Leia! She is one of the boys' twin little sissies, both serving tonight as portable "party decorations!"

The actual task is to attack a galaxy of blue balloons, popping as many as possible, in pursuit of a Princess Leia figure. The boys go after them with a vengeance, and arrive one step closer to becoming certified warriors when the damsel is recovered.

We arm ourselves to shoot down the "Death Star." That's headquarters for the "bad guys." Tonight it is represented by a large illustration taped to the wall. Little guys line up to take Nerf gun shots at it and many of them score a bull's eye!

The boys move next to agility testing. They hop across a (paper) stream of "hot lava," being careful to touch only "rocks" with bare feet. They climb a play loft ladder and whip down the slide to move ahead. So far, not a single slacker in the bunch!

With a satisfying end in sight, the warriors can now be trusted to handle the cache of laser swords at the end of the hallway. But what they discover in their path is a dangerous maze of deadly light beams! Will each one be able to safely maneuver their way to the end and back with prize in hand?

They did!

Jedi warriors keep laser swords handy for one major purpose - the defeat of Darth Vader. Is it possible that these newly enlisted recruits could handle that formidable task? Well, let's see!

Warrior candidates are urgently summoned to the base of the staircase. Familiar haunting music..."dum dum dah dum" sets an ominous tone.....and out of the shadows appears......the arch nemesis of the brave Jedi force!

He enters enemy territory and immediately succumbs to the effect of eight "pool noodle" laser swords!

The "bad guy" lays prone on the ground and junior Jedi forces cheer victory! They have earned their certificates!

Yet that's not all.............!

Once the award ceremony has concluded, an urgent message is beeped in on mommy's walkie-talkie. She looks horrified! "Oh no! You're kidding me!" she exclaims. It sounds serious. But she glances at her newly installed troop of good guys and breathes a sign of relief. "We can handle this!" she thinks. She tells the boys that the house has been invaded by Darth's seekers of revenge. They are needed to brandish their pool noodles - oops! I mean "deadly laser swords!" - and creep upstairs to see what's what.

They follow her as directed......

Storm Troopers! A Tie Fighter! A Tusken Raider! The sheer larger-than-life volume and commanding presence of each character is overwhelming. The boys initially gasp in disbelief and retreat in hesitation. But soon they re-approach, eager to shake hands, ask questions and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with folks who've traveled from a galaxy far, far away for the sole purpose of delighting a party of six year old warriors!

Nick saw them first and encouraged his friends to come back upstairs. "They're harmless," he seems to be advising - but (gasp!) - LOOK BEHIND YOU, NICK!!!!!!

The doorbell rings promptly at 7:00 PM. Perfect timing! How does mommy do it?......


I'm sure delivery men are no strangers to wacky goings-on at the houses they visit, but this one nearly falls off the porch when his eyeballs meet a pair of Storm Troopers at the door! He leaves with a nice tip and everybody's invited into a dark, starlit space station to snack and congratulate one another on a job well done in Jedi training camp!

Yoda oversees hydration with a line up of force fuel.

That, along with "Yoda Soda" (a sizzling green combo of Sprite and lime sherbet) are needed to wash down birthday cake too!

The boys open some terrific gifts and then it's an invitation to conclude the evening with an outdoor viewing of the "Lego Star Wars" movie. A cozy fire pit alongside a wine and appetizer bar await parents on the patio.

Party bags too? Wow! Space guns ablaze with light and sound, Star Wars light up candy sabers, a space theme activity book and stickers galore!

"Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!" The boys' list of things to appreciate could stretch to the next planet, but they give it a stab anyway......

"Thank you friends, for coming to our party! Thank you for the wonderful birthday gifts - including our cuddly Yoda dolls from A.J. and Mikey. Thank you Storm Troopers and Tie Fighter and Tusken Raider for the surprise visit! Thank you daddy's friend, Mister Chris, for pretending to be Darth Vader! Thank you little sisters for being the cutest mini-Princess Leias ever! Thank you daddy, for making sure mommy had plenty of help today!" And........

THANK YOU mommy, for once again putting your whole loving heart, boundless energy, amazing creativity and endless patience into a celebration that made us so very, very happy that we are yours!

In our lives, mommy, "the force" is YOU!

Party Notes:

The Star Wars characters who visited our party belong to an international organization of volunteers who make appearances in exchange for donations to charity. Mary Jo chose the Make a Wish Foundation from a suggested list. The four actors who came drove over an hour each way to delight our young guests. They were prompt, professional, patient, and wonderful with the children, even presenting small Star Wars gifts to the birthday boys. Investigate them at their website for more information.

"Printables" make any party look neat and coordinated. The ones used at this event were found on Etsy in the "Hello My Sweet" shop.

Monday, August 25, 2014


I wouldn't be surprised if Pinterest was aflutter with variations of this idea. I haven't had a moment to do the research. But I do know that I personally hatched this design during the years my daughters were in junior high - well before Pinterest existed!

An energetic and creative teacher had launched an Earth Day celebration, pairing eighth graders with students from the elementary building on the same campus. Second graders were both informed and entertained with projects and skits that promoted recycling and respect for the planet. I received a plea for a quick and easy craft idea suitable for little girls. With limited time and resources, I punched out dozens of butterflies from the school's die cut machine and bought every single "pipe cleaner" in town.

When I returned to my volunteer position after lunch, I was greeted with an eye popping ocean of brightly colored wings, fluttering and filling the bustling hallways. My butterfly rings had taken off, so to speak, and the fingertips of every female in the building sported not just one, but several of them! Apparently I'd hit on a statement that transcended a sizable age gap. Eighth graders were not too cool to wear an item designed for seven year old girls. I'm not sure if any educational value was realized from that day's fashion frenzy, but it sure felt great to float about school feeling like Queen Mother Butterfly!

Bree and I made these the other day and she was just as excited about them as I was. She's nearly four, so I cut the paper shapes before she arrived. Here's how to go "Butterflying" with your own granddaughter:

1. Use this template to cut butterflies from pretty colors of sturdy paper.
2. Punch a pair of small holes in each, as shown. Use a smaller-than-standard hole punch (1/8"), otherwise just poke with a pencil point.
3. Provide art supplies for decoration:
tempera paint, paper scraps and scissors, sequins and stick-on jewels.
4. Once decorated, fold butterflies in half, vertically down center.
5. Fold a 6" length of pipe cleaner in half and poke each end into a hole with butterfly facing up. Pull ends down.
6. Lay butterfly on top of child's finger, centered. Crisscross ends of pipe cleaner around finger, then pull up on either side.
7. Twist ends together to make antennae.

Before we began, Bree and I looked over pages in our invaluable North American Wildlife Guide (see page 8). Our finished projects were pure fantasy, but we noted the shape of wings and differences between moths and butterflies. I also took the opportunity to introduce symmetrical balance here, although my tutorial was rewarded with a "how-about-less-art-teacher-and-more-grandma" look! But I did secretly admire this little lady's mastery of small motor skills as she cheerfully cut, pasted and painted a handful of summertime fun, reluctantly agreeing to pry them off only at bedtime. That task, however, was mommy's job - grandma just does the fun stuff!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Family Carnival 2014 Part 1

Spin! Ring! Reel 'em in! Those are my simple expectations of a family carnival. But little girl guests often have others. And they are not afraid to express them!

A few years back, Tava was fully confident that she'd be bringing home a "live rabbit" from our inaugural event. This year, one of Bree's little posse from pre-school asked if a Ferris wheel would be among the attractions on grandma's front lawn! Bree herself had a much simpler vision. She declared she'd share her popcorn with Nana, her paternal grandma. "We are going to eat from the same bag!" she told me, eyes popping bright and blue with excitement. Now that expectation was a cinch to fulfill. And Tava did hop away happy with a cute stuffed bunny. But still wondering how to sneak a Ferris wheel into a residential neighborhood so that my goal of "everyone's a winner!" stays alive!

I do think we kept everybody spinning, ringing, smiling and happy this year, and I invite you now to join me as 26 lively little guests, their parents and a handful of grandparents enjoy 19 attractions at our third Family Carnival held July 26, 2014 at 5 PM at my home. Welcome along!

First stop. Ticket Booth. Party bags are collected here, tagged brightly with names of each guest. Tied to the handle are long strips of game tickets. One-page programs describe each attraction and include an invitation to pop inside the house any old time to grab a hot dog and chips snack.

Many of the games are repeats; favorites from the past. But they are new to the very youngest grandkids and to their friends who attended for the first time this year.

Little ladies again discover something fancy to wear at the "You Are So Pretty" booth. This year we offer butterfly visors and little pink jelly purses stuffed with neon bracelets, rings and nail polish for older girls.

The youngest princesses find fancy gossamer fairy wings. These Dollar Tree delights are embellished with silk flowers and a flourish of shiny tulle ribbon. So pretty! - and so are the little ladies who flutter about in them all evening long!

"Alien Invasion" is back for a third time. Popularity of the theme begged for an added game of skill, making it necessary to designate an "Area 51" to accommodate both of them.

Clear plastic eggs, home to creepy little glow-in-the-dark aliens floating in out-of-this-world slime are this year's prizes.

"Knock 'em Out!" Little boys lined up to bowl down silvery alien pins that not only light up, but emit weird outer space noises when they are struck with a purple plastic ball. Inflated mini aliens go home with every winner.

One of my personal favorites, also a repeat, is the Hamster Wheel - a carnival toy I covered and decorated to suit the theme. Kids take a spin and match their numbers. A box of "hamster food" in the form of cute candy accompanies their new little pocket pet!

When the darts you use are the sticky variety, even the youngest guests get a bang out of "bursting balloons" - and winning a brightly colored slinky for their efforts!

Ava and Angeline weren't born yet when "Goldfish Splash" made its debut, but the twins have no trouble putting their cute little heads together to figure out that flipping plastic fish into bowls is the way to earn a bubble wand.

Lots of ambiance from an endless stream of bubbles pumped from a hidden battery operated machine!

Our lovely youngest daughter, Karen, welcomes you to "Monkey Smackdown" during the early family preview hour. Full attention is given to grandkids during this time, freeing parents to become workers after everyone else arrives.

This game is one of the first I constructed three years ago when a family carnival was nothing more than a sketchbook full of ideas. Paper mache trees tower seven feet tall and sparkle brilliantly in the sun. Kids smack a pyramid of cans with plastic bananas to win monkey shaped squirt guns and crazy little neon stuffed gorillas. Two strings of these spunky characters, pinned up and frolicking on the trees, watch the action and wait to see who will choose them!

My attempt to fit a panoramic view of the entire carnival site into one photo frame was unsuccessful. And so was fitting the entire story into one blog post. Here's where you'll find the rest of this scene and lots, lots more of Family Carnival 2014!

Family Carnival 2014 Part 2

There's a parrot-perching pirate cave at our family carnival too. It's deep and dark inside, full of shelves and crevices that groan with grimacing, glowing skulls. Only the bravest of little boys dare crawl inside to grope about in dimmest light, seeking hidden hoard. Here's my grandson, Nick, (himself a treasure!) emerging victorious with an inflated sword and his own little chest of prizes - an ample sack of chocolate doubloons, a fearsome pirate ring, stickers and a spooky, shakin' skeleton that proved mighty useful for scaring away curious little girls!

Aunt Christy, today's tattoo artist-in-residence, reports heavy demand for butterflies and "Hello Kitty" from the ladies. Young gentlemen opt for colorful frogs and triple-eyed, multi-legged monsters.

Tattoos are popular with everybody, so it makes perfect sense to enjoy the inevitable wait in line with a help-yourself snack from the popcorn stand!

A carnival without a duck pond? Why, you might as well not believe in Santa Claus! The idea, of course, is to toss rings about the necks of floating yellow ducks. But a refreshingly cool pool of sparkling water on a steamy hot day attracts a random ring of friendly kids who create and play by their own rules. In the end, ducks, rings, nets and sometimes even little boys all dive in together for a nice swim!

Several new attractions appear each time my carnival comes to town. This year, "Cute Little Chicks" makes its debut in response to the burgeoning number of granddaughters (3!) we've welcomed over the past two years. Colorful nests await matching stuffed chicks, and little girls flutter away as winners in a flourish of bright yellow feather boa. They discover, too, that their choice of plastic Easter egg houses a sweet pink candy bracelet.

Poles, pirates and prizes. Spinners, snakes and sunglasses! Kids work to reel in rewards at the carnival staple, "Go Fishing," but our prize booth only requires a turning in of tickets and a choosing of their favorites.

And there's more! The fun continues right here in part three! Party on over!

Family Carnival 2014 Part 3

I really did think that the "urping" of "hairballs" would entertain kids the most when they visited "Mister Purr-sonality," my giant (six foot tall) paper mache carnival cat. I was wrong!

Aunt Karen does a purr-fect job of meowing a friendly "Hello!" to kids who approach. Sometimes their faces wear cautious concern. "What on earth is this?" But that doesn't last long. Kitty gains their confidence, chatting them up by name before asking for tickets on an extended paw. The goofy "noodley," rubbery "hairball" that pops out of kitty's mouth is just an added bonus for our audience of surprised and delighted kids who most enjoy exchanging pleasantries with the biggest cat they'll probably ever see!

Daddy takes Kaylee to visit Kitty and she can't believe her little ears when she hears a familiar voice. "Mommy? You in there? And you've got a hair ball to burp out at lil ole me?"

We're playing "Tic Tac Toad!" today, too. A grid of lily pads awaits the toss of a handful of plastic frogs. Kids aim to sink three in a row - any direction, but even a sincere effort is rewarded with a prize....and it's a good one!

Bree is delighted to demonstrate the froggie pop she won at Tic Tac Toad. It whistles, pops a pair of buggy eyeballs, whips out a long crazy tongue, hides a stick of candy and comes in three different colors, including her current favorite - purple!

Whoa! Looks like I've run outta room again! And just when things are starting to wind up! Please join me here for the grand finale of Family Carnival 2014.

Family Carnival 2014 Part 4

The "Sweeties!" stop - it's new this year - summer's version of Halloween's tummy-churning-goody-gobbling-sugar-stuffing-unhinged-parent-cringing binge all in one convenient location! Only when everything came together did I realize the scope of what I'd done! Nope! Didn't miss a thing!

Here goes!

Cotton candy! - (tubs - not stingy cupfuls!)
Sour rainbow strips! - (extra large size!)
Gumballs! - (tubes of them! all colors!)
Lollipops! - ("smallish" - BOOOO!)
Taffy! - ("stick around!" sink your teeth in!)
Gummy drops! - (scoop 'em up! the one I provided is huge!)
Circus peanuts! - (grab what's left! - grandma ate the first two bags!)
Ice cream cones! - (ha ha! fooled ya! those are just bubbles! - BOOOO again!)

The station is self-serve. Kids find their own party bags and load up! (Nothing to see here, mommy!)

Hope nobody's got a peanut allergy! These treats come in my favorite size for candy: JUMBO!

I constructed "Happy Hairdo Harry" to serve as a lollipop dispenser just for today. Here's more detail on how to make him for your own party.

Love sugar?

Well there's more!

Guests are invited inside to help themselves to a hot dog snack. "Popcorn," "hamburgers" and "sundaes" are served as sides!

Paper baking cups are a joy to work with, and five dozen cupcakes are a breeze to prepare using packaged cake mix. Top off mini-marshmallow "popcorn" with a sprinkling of yellow "buttered" pieces hand picked from a bag of flavored ones.

I especially love the way our cute little hamburgers turned out. Use packaged brownie mix and tinted frosting to achieve the same results by following these instructions at Bakerella's wonderfully creative site.

And speaking of sweet things going on at our carnival......

Youngest granddaughter, little Kaylee, tests her fairy wings, hoping for a smooth take off......

This beautiful young lady guest enjoyed every game, earned plenty of prizes, packed herself up and is ready to call it a day!

And this little cutie pie has the exact same thing in mind!

We had a wonderful, wonderful day, but when it was over, it was over! An evening of spinning and ringing and tossing - of tattoos and toads, of pirates and popcorn, and monkeys and more.......

And a weary little carnival-goer, Brielle, appears to agree with grandma - as she usually does!

Besides grandpa, my own three daughters and their husbands, I had significant help from family friends who worked the games. I am so grateful to Jim, Judy, Rich, Dave, Sandro and Vonda whose infectious sense of humor and enthusiastic love for kids made this such a special day. THANK YOU my friends!

"Where's Sae? He was here a minute ago!"

Like to see even more?
Here's links to carnivals past and other related posts:

"Mister Purr-sonality" Carnival Cat
Happy Hairdo Harry
Cute Little Chicks Carnival Game
Tic Tac Toad! Carnival Game
Kissing Booth
Bean Bag Bug Eater Game

Family Carnival 2012

Part 1 of Family Carnival 2011
Part 2 of Family Carnival 2011
Part 3 of Family Carnival 2011
Part 4 of Family Carnival 2011