Thursday, February 27, 2014

Snap Happy

Between Josh and I, we take hundreds of photos on our regular digital camera. By December each year, I try to order the year's worth of photo books through Shutterfly. They are pretty standard, black cover, 8 1/2 X 11. They are stacked neatly on my shelves in hopes that one day someone may want to look through them. (Thanks, Denise for being the first person to do so, unprompted.) 

But what about all of those photos I snap on my iPhone every day? Hundreds of them pile up and at some point, I can no longer take any. So here's what I've started doing. This is no big breakthrough idea and I'm sure most of you do this already, but I wanted to share anyway. Since photos from my phone now upload to iPhoto through photo stream, I throw them in an Apple photo book. I chunk the books according to when my phone is busting and cannot take one more shot. 

Does it bother me that they are different from the black annual photo books? Yes. Do I want to take the time to merge the photos together and try to chronologically organize the two collections- hell no. I'm still agonizing over years worth of home movies not bring edited and burned into a lovely DVD collection that can sit neatly stacked next to the photo books. (Damn those Angelos).

So I will have two piles of photo books no one looks at but me. One black, one white. The black ones will be the family photos, vacations and events, all neatly organized by date. The white ones will be a collection of iPhone snaps that I can't part with, or deal with. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Modern Heat

Introducing my new favorite household update:

Josh and I can disagree on many things. Many, many things. Since our 1952 home has absolutely no insulation- I repeat- no insulation, heating it has become a major issue. We're working on it. Our first winter in the house was extremely mild. No biggie we thought...

Well, fast forward to one cold-ass winter and we're bleeding oil and cash out of our noses trying to heat this place which is comprised of approximately 70% single paned glass. About 1/2 of those enormous single paned windows are jalousies. If you are not familiar with those gems, they are usually installed in summer cottages, in warm climates, to let the breeze blow in. We have stormers for these during the winter months, but the breeze just blows right through. Here is a great example of where to use jalousies effectively- in a seasonal sun room or seasonal enclosed porch. I repeat- seasonal:
It's going to be ok. I assure myself. It will be ok. We have recently made a master "to do" list for the house. Replacing the single paned windows is top priority. Having more efficient stormers made for the jalousies is part of that project. We don't want to get rid of them They are AWESOME. In the summer, they provide for amazing cross ventilation and we have screens for every single one. We are budgeting for that project to happen in the very near future. Until then, we figured replacing the crusty thermostat in the main living area could help. Enter, the Nest:

The nest thermostat was developed by some key folks who originated at Apple. So, hearing all the great things this unit offered, Josh installed one on Saturday morning in no joke- less than 5 minutes. I was then assigned the tech part (as usual). It immediately found our wifi, prompted me through a handful of questions and then asked me to set the room temperature. For about a week, it will learn how we turn our heat up and down and begin to do so automatically for us. Best part is the mobile app. From anywhere I can see the temperature at home and adjust accordingly. Today, for instance, I could see it was a bit colder and before I drove home, I turned the heat up. I know digital thermostats have timers, but the ability to change the room temperature based on the changing temperature outside is pretty cool. 

I'll keep you posted to let you know how it works over the next few weeks and if in fact it can learn our heating habits. Until then, I'll be here, wrapped in my wool cardigan dreaming of a better insulated house. It will happen soon...

Monday, February 24, 2014

Belated Valentines

This year on Valentines Day our schools were closed due to snow. Both Petra and Beckett had their Valentines all addressed and ready to be delivered. Beckett's teacher has decided to have a make-up V-Day when they return from winter break. Petra's school, on the other hand, let it slip by. 

News flash: Petra will be delivering her Valentines anyway when she returns from break. She worked her bum off making each card by hand. 17 in fact! I had given her the choice of buying cards at the store such as these:

                                                                   ...or make her own. 
                 Here is how she carefully crafted each one with paint, glitter, stickers and lots of love:

Petra: "You can't cancel Valentines Day! 
My name is Petra Valentine".
Duh. (I added that)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Playground Parties

To wrap up my Kid's Birthday Parties series, I combined four of Beckett's parties into one extended post. Thanks for reading & hanging in there. I am very grateful to my sisters and close friends who contributed great ideas and suggestions to help make kids parties the best they can be. And now for the finale…

Living in NYC: I saw first hand how competitive and outrageous birthday parties for kids can be. When it came time to throw a party on our end, I had to figure out ways to make it fun and affordable for us. While Beckett was young, I tried to stay clear of parties at established venues thinking I would save us loads of money. So for the first 5 birthday parties, we celebrated in local playgrounds and parks. 

But no matter what: What I realized later after doing parties both ways, is that there are pros and cons to both and the results are generally the same: 
1. your kid is thrilled to death to be the center of attention amongst all his/her friends
2. you always end up spending way more than you budgeted
3. you end up exhausted no matter what: you are still responsible for children other than your own, whether you are cutting the cake or the hired Bozo the Clown.

Thrown for: Beckett
Ages: 2, 3,4 & 5
Location: Various playgrounds in NYC
Number of guests: Average 8
Beckett turns 2
Bulldozer theme
Beckett turns 3
Carnival theme
Beckett turns 4
Cars Theme
Beckett turns 5
Star Wars Theme

The basics: We started by throwing park or playground parties for Beckett when we lived in NYC. They were simple at first. You arrive to park or playground when it first opens to snag the picnic tables. Claiming them yours is key to the party's success and this is a very stressful moment. I usually sent Josh with the table cloths. Guests meet you at designated playground and since at that age, they were usually accompanied by a parent or nanny, they then played on the jungle gym, gathered for pizza delivered by the local pizzeria and ate cake you either made or purchased. Easy- right? Well, for some reason, it always seemed like a logistic nightmare.

Some issues: 
  • The cake, the goodie bags, any activities, a cooler full of juice boxes, snacks, and of course your own children have to be transported to the playground. Cab? Sure. Hold onto that cake and don't forget the matches or the candles or the knife to cut the cake. See below for delivery suggestions.
  • Safety is a big concern at these locations. Since these were not drop off parties, luckily each child had a caregiver to help keep an eye on them. The gated playground was also helpful, Either Josh or I tried to stay close to the exit while chatting with the parents. If it is an open area, it can be much harder to keep track of the kiddos.

Suggestions from the hostess: Keep planned activities to a minimum. This means less to shlep- besides the playground equipment itself is enough for a good 1/2 hour of running around. Take advantage of having food delivered. Pizza from your local pizza joint as well as veggie and fruit platters plus juice boxes from the local grocery store can be delivered to the gate of the playground. I'm sure they would even bring the cake as well. Another fun treat is to give the guests "coupons" for the ice cream cart. Just ask the guy at the cart to tally it up and give him a sweet tip. One thing to remember is if you are in an open area with no gates, be sure to mention to parents as they arrive to try and keep eyes peeled. Can't hurt. Other than that weather is the only thing that would hinder this event, so be sure to state a rain date on your invite.
Please leave any further suggestions or comments 
to help make our kids birthday parties as memorable as possible.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Art Party

Thrown for: Petra
Age: 5
Location: home
Number of guests: 9
The basics: Petra is a passionate artist, so no wonder she chose this theme for her 5th birthday. We brainstormed ideas together by looking through Pinterest. We then made our materials list for the couple of craft projects and hit Michaels. She invited a few neighbors, a few friends from school and of course, her big bro Beckett.

Activities included: 
  • Birdhouse Decorating: Each guest painted and bedazzled a wooden birdhouse.
  • Tote Bag Decorating: After choosing the color tote bag, each guest was handed foam letters to spell out their names across the bag. They then used puffy paint & more foam stickers to complete.
  • Freeze Dance: The kids gathered downstairs to burn off some energy.

What I loved about this party: Petra wanted to fully participate in the entire process. The night before, Petra helped me set up the projects, hang the tissue paper flowers and rainbow we made during one of our many snow days, and of course, she set up the cake table. The craft projects were a hit- you could hear a pin drop as the girls decorated with paint, glitter glue and stickers. They were fully engrossed.

Suggestions from the hostess: As my invite stated, drop off was optional. At this age, you never know how parents feel, especially since many of them I had never met before, so it's good to give them a choice in that case. Also- clearly stated on the invite was "please wear play clothes as we will be painting". This relieved some stress on my part as the glitter and glue flowed. I also encourage a good music mix. I stayed up the night before and downloaded all of Petra's current favorites from Lorde, One Direction, Katy Perry, Beyonce and Rihanna. Thank goodness, since the girls were so eerily quiet while crafting. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Super Hero Party

Thrown for: Maxwell
Age: 3
Location: home
Number of guests: 15
The basics: 
This was another amazing at-home party thrown by my extremely creative gal pal, Denise. Her son was turning 3 and what better theme than a super hero for a little boy? Denise put in every effort to ensure the invites, activities and food coordinated perfectly with all things super hero. 

Activities included: 
1. Super hero cape decorating: Denise ordered the capes from Sew Plain Jane. She prepared the initials ahead of time by cutting them out of 8 1/2 X 11 adhesive-backed felt sheets. 
2. Super hero mask decorating: Denise cut out each mask ahead of time from felt sheets. 
3. Batman Bean Bag Toss: Denise painted Batman onto a sheet of plywood. Holes were then cut for the bean bags.
4. Super hero ring search

What I loved about this party: I love how the cape and mask decorating took place early on in the party and the kids wore them throughout. Kids this age are very much into dress-up and role play. These complete costumes made each kid feel special as they enjoyed the various party activities. 

Suggestions from the hostess: The most popular of the planned events were the cape and mask decorating, however, once they were finished, she wished she had planned a few more activities to round out the time frame. As far as goodie bags, the cape and mask were all the guests needed to walk away satisfied party-goers. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Mystical Fairy Party

Thrown for: Miss E
Age: 6
Location: Mystical Fairies, Hampstead, UK
Number of guests: 10

The basics:
This party was thrown by my very close friend, Rachael. She wrote about it in more detail on her hot new blog: New York Mum in London. Known for throwing some killer parities back in NYC for both kids and adults alike, Rachael chose this unique location for her daughter's first party since moving to London this fall. There were many themes to choose from and as you can see, the guests were quite entertained in this magical space.

Activities Included: After the guest of honor chose the theme of Barbie and the Three Musketeers, each guest chose the outfit they would wear, faces were painted and dancing ensued. 

What I loved about this party: This place looks like every little girl's fantasy. Right down to the glitter covered toadstools, they have this thing nailed. I also love how Rachael let go a bit (which I know is very hard to do) and allowed the venue to take care of small details like the goodie bags, food and activities, and focused her energies on creating the most fabulous 100% homemade cake. She listened to what Miss E dreamed up and executed a cake to match the fabulous-ness of the party itself. 

Suggestions from the hostess: Encouraging drop off at this age allows the birthday girl full attention rather than the adults needing tending to. Less adults also allows room for movement at smaller venues giving the children space to spread out and fully enjoy themselves. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Farm Party

Thrown for: Aubrey
Age: 9
Location: Arrowhead Farm, Martha's Vineyard
Number of Guests: 6
The basics:
My sister, Theresa threw this party for my niece this past fall. Aubrey is a passionate equestrian and loves horseback riding more than any other activity. It made total sense for her to host her party at the farm where she takes riding lessons. They lucked out with beautiful weather. 

Activities included: 
Each of Aubrey's closest friends took turns riding her favorite horse, Shawnee, who is part Clydesdale, part draft horse. Her favorite instructor, Lillian was there to assist the girls and to serve the cake, which of course was decorated with Shawnee. They then splashed around and cooled off in the stream. 

What I loved about this party: 
If Aubrey could have dreamed up a perfect party, it would have been this. It gave her a chance to share this special aspect of her personal life with friends who only get to hear about it at school. It was also such a unique setting, I don't think any of her friends will throw a party quite like this one anytime soon. It was also outside and involved getting close to nature, eating cake with you closest friends, with your toes dipped in a cool stream- what could be better?

Suggestions from the hostess:
Having the barn arrange the afternoon, not just the instructor, but the food, the cake and clean up was well worth the cost. It relieved a lost of stress. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Space-Tacular Party

Thrown for: brothers Jack & Maxwell
Ages: 7 & 4
Location: Home
Number of Guests: 28
The basics:
This party was thrown by one of my dearest friends, Denise. When she decides to do something- she goes all out. She is crafty, creative, and fun-loving with a dash of OCD. This party is evidence of that. Combining her boy's birthday parties would kill two bird with one stone- right? Well, Denise had her work cut out for her. 

Activities included: 
Stomp Rockets- in the driveway that was decorated with black hole targets & planets
Crater Toss- bean bag toss into giant foil covered target with cut-out holes
Planet Walk- cake walk game with candy prizes
Rocket Races- a balloon is attached to lanyard by straw then released. Kids had decorated own rocket ship cover (this was the favorite activity for sure!)

What I loved about this party:
I loved so many aspects of this party. The fact that the brothers were able to agree on a combined theme and share the spotlight- that takes some loving bros. The activities were based around classic games and simply structured, but Denise put her own twist on them and fit them into the space theme perfectly. Other faves of mine are the Denise-designed invitations and goodie bag labels. So pro! 

Suggestions from the hostess:
With so many guests, the activities had to be run simultaneously. Denise suggests to sign on a handful of good friends to lend a hand and help run the activities. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Lego Party

Thrown for: Harrison
Age: 6
Location: Home
Number of Guests: 6
The basics: 
This fun Lego Party was thrown by my sister for her son a few weeks ago. Her philosophy for guests list - keep the number of guests limited to the age the child is turning. This of course, she added, will have to change once sleep-overs are in demand. She made the cakes to look like giant Lego pieces, and came up with simple, and fun Lego-themed games. The primary colored goodie bags included a few small toys and Lego candies- plus a special coupon for ice cream at the local parlor.

What I loved about this party:
It is so Harrison. He loves Legos. It was such an age appropriate, child-centered theme and yet it wasn't over the top stressful for my sister to put together. There are many more Lego party ideas on the Internet. Just remember to keep it realistic as far as your budget and preparation time allows. This is your home, be ready to let loose a little and let them have fun!

Suggestions from the hostess:
1. Remember to keep it to a 2 hour max. 
2. Let them have some free, unstructured time, dance music, etc. They seemed to have the most fun then.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Kid's Birthday Parties

I am starting to stress. Once again, Petra's birthday is creeping up on me. I have no plan, no theme, so date or time set. All I know is she wants a picture of Scout and her on the cake. Easy- right? I have no idea why we make such an elaborate stink over our kid's birthday parties. Yes I do. We love those critters to death and want them to experience the joy of having one special day that they are celebrated, gifts are showered upon them and family & friends surround them. Sounds perfect to me.

Looking back at how my childhood birthdays were celebrated reminds me that simple is sometimes better. All the fuss and details often go unnoticed by kids at such a young age. I remember celebrating at home with a few girlfriends from school. My two sisters, of course completed the limited guest list.

 As you can see in the photo above, seated next to my sister Theresa, I must have been turning 4. (That's me in the white shirt and killer pixie cut). I was all smiles with my Raggedy Ann table cloth and forget the cake- I wanted doughnuts! What? Chocolate frosted doughnuts. I was thrilled. The other guests included a few neighborhood kids. Notice the plain white plates and plain white paper cups. No fuss. Happy girl. 
I remember how thrilled I was to be able to throw my birthday party at the local McDonalds. I know for my parents, money was tight, so I appreciated this special treat. I invited my BFF Jen Haas from my class. I was turning 7 and my big gift was to get my ears pierced. I was becoming a real woman. I have to note the trending turtlenecks and stylish brown cardboard party hats. I think this was before the Happy Meal was invented, so I recall being served an individual cheeseburger & fries. No box, no fuss. Fountain soda and cake with Ronald on it rounded out the menu. 'Nough said. Happy girl. 

As I got older, the event was still humble and simple. The cake made from scratch. (Thank you very much Betty Crocker). I believe this was a slumber party, so in order to avoid an all night rager, my guests were limited to 3. Throw in my rowdy sister Michelle, seen here splayed across the table in her Strawberry Shortcake PJs, and my pretending-to-be-uninterested older sister, Theresa, and we had the perfect bunch of girls. Pizza eaten, cake devoured. I think we even broke in our new VCR that night and rented The Breakfast Club. Perfect party. Happy girl. 

Each day this week I will posting a different kid's birthday party thrown by one of my dear friends. These parties will highlight the variety of ideas out there: some home-made and some at established venues with the common goal of making the birthday child feel like a rock star. 

Stay tuned...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Slim Aarons

I have been obsessed with the American photographer Slim Aarons for many years now. His saturated photos of what he called "attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places" have been published in glossy magazines I remember looking at as a little girl & dreaming of fancy people. Magazines like Life, Town & Country, & Holiday featured his work as an example of the finer things in life.
Here is the piece I want to hang:
I have been researching the purchase and enlargement of one of his photos from a while and now I just have to pull the trigger and get it done. I imagine it spreading the huge blank wall in the living room. Maybe it could be 5' X 5'? Josh did a mock-up in Photoshop for me & here's what it would look like in our living room:
Love it- right?

Here are some others that make the choice very difficult:
 Poolside Gossip
Palm Springs circa 1970

Here is a fabulous baby nursery with a Poolside Gossip mural. It's amazing:

Although I would be happy with any one of these:

His work has been published in a handful of large coffee table books and they are to die for! They'll transport you:
  • A Wonderful Time: An Intimate Portrait of the Good Life (1974)
  • Slim Aarons: Once Upon a Time (2003)
  • Slim Aarons: A Place In the Sun (2005)
  • Poolside with Slim Aarons (2007)
  • Slim Aarons: La Dolce Vita (2012)

Slim Aarons