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It was a Ronald McDonald House Birthday Party

22 Jul
Elizabeth couldn't wait for a chance to help out the Ronald McDonald House in Providence.

Elizabeth couldn’t wait for a chance to help out the Ronald McDonald House in Providence.

I’ve always said that one of the things I love about Girl Scouts is that the kids get the chance to do things they wouldn’t normally get to do. This past spring, in March, Elizabeth had one of those chances. Her troop visited the Ronald McDonald House in Providence. The house hosts the families who have children in treatment at the nearby hospitals, no matter how long the treatment might be.

I was not a chaperone on that trip, Don took her that night. When Elizabeth came home, I asked her how it was, and it was clear to me that the visit had made quite an impression on her. She talked about all that she had seen and heard when she was there, and she said that she wanted to find a way to help out the house.

In the later part of the school year, Elizabeth began planning her 11th birthday party, which would be her first sleepover party. It was then that she told me she wanted to do something for Ronald McDonald House at her party, but she wasn’t sure what to do. Around the same time I covered a story at a local elementary school and there was a speaker there from the Ronald McDonald House.

As I listened to the speaker, taking notes for my story, I realized that there was a lot we could do to turn Elizabeth’s birthday party into a fun night of helping others. I came home and told her some of my ideas. As we talked about it, Elizabeth decided that she would incorporate her invites, her crafts and activities, her cupcakes, and even the colors of the paper goods she chose.

We kicked off our party planning and shopping with a visit to McDonalds where Elizabeth got her color scheme inspiration and took a photo with the RMH Helping Hands.

We kicked off our party planning and shopping with a visit to McDonalds where Elizabeth got her color scheme inspiration and took a photo with the RMH Helping Hands.

It wasn’t hard to get excited about this party. Elizabeth’s enthusiasm was catchy. I typed up her invitations before the end of the school year and I put the Wish List from Ronald McDonald House website on the back. Elizabeth added her own message on the front:

** A message from Elizabeth**  My theme is Ronald McDonald.  Ever since a Girl Scout field trip to the Providence Ronald McDonald House, (which by the way was spectacular) I have been inspired to do something that includes helping other other people! Now that it has come close to my birthday I went with helping the Ronald McDonald house fund. You don’t have to come with anything to donate because we’ll be making things for the house at the party, but if you would like to then the Wish List is on the back!

And then came the real fun. Elizabeth had found plates, napkins and streamers in the colors of red, orange and yellow at the dollar store. While we were there, we happened to find bright yellow t-shirts that we could decorate with the fabric markers we had at home; a great activity for the party. We decided to make covered journals and coordinating bookmarks as the craft. We’d use composition notebooks and scrapbook paper to cover them. The bookmarks would be made with the leftover scrapbook paper. These would be for the girls at the party and for the Ronald McDonald House; each guest would make one to keep and one to donate. The journals could either be for kids or adults. They could be used as diaries or for keeping notes at doctor visits or even as gratitude journals.

Around the same time, the kids saw an episode of DC Cupcakes on TV and the bakers were designing cheeseburger cupcakes. It was then that Elizabeth knew she’d found her cake. I hadn’t seen the episode myself, but the girls told me how they were made: chocolate cupcakes sliced in half to make burger patties and vanilla cupcakes sliced in half to make buns. Once assembled, fondant and frosting were used to build the “burgers.” That sounded fun and easy.

Making fondant lettuce for the "build your own burger" cupcakes for the party.

Making fondant lettuce for the “build your own burger” cupcakes for the party.

The day of the party, I used a coupon at Michaels Crafts to get a four-pack of premade fondant in red, orange and yellow. The girls each took a color and made a condiment. Elizabeth made lettuce, Caroline made ketchup and Alex made Swiss Cheese. The white frosting would be the mayo. I baked my two batches of cupcakes and set them out to cool.

These were fun and we used them for the chips and snacks at the start of the party.

These were fun and we used them for the chips and snacks at the start of the party.

Earlier in the month we’d spotted the coolest additions to the party theme: fast-food themed paper goods in the dollar bins at Target. We had plates and napkins already for some of the food, but we could definitely incorporate these items for the rest of the food. We even found similar containers shaped like hot dog holders that we could use for the cupcakes.

The night of the party arrived. All of the guests brought bags of donations for Ronald McDonald House. We had coloring books, puzzle books, toiletries and grocery items. We filled a whole basket with them. The girls decorated their t-shirts any way they wanted to. Our three decided to make theirs Ronald McDonald themed, with big red smiles. Caroline, who loves doing nails, did all the girls’ nails in yellow with big red smiles on the thumbs. So cute!

They seemed to love decorating their journals and creating special ones to put in the donation basket. As the basket filled, they were even more excited. The “build your own burger” cupcakes were fantastic. The girls got such a kick out of creating them and eating them, and they really did look just like burgers!

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Ready to deliver!

A few days after the party ended, on a Friday evening, we gathered up our family and Elizabeth got together all of the donations and off we went to Ronald McDonald House in Providence. It was exciting for me to see the house, since I’d missed the original field trip. It was fun to bring in the donations and place them in the house where the families could take a journal and where the donated items would be added to the supplies that are kept on hand for the those who need them.

All in all, this party was a huge success. It was a fun party, it was very inexpensive to put together, and it helped Elizabeth help others, which was her intention from the beginning.

Best of all though, the feeling we had from doing good for someone else, definitely takes the cake.

T-Shirt decorating time!

T-Shirt decorating time!

Below are more photos from Elizabeth’s Ronald McDonald House Birthday party.

Caroline's shirt

Caroline’s shirt

Everyone loved their covered journals!

Everyone loved their covered journals and bookmarks! Alex ran the bookmark-making station.

Ready for "Build Your Own Burger" cupcakes

Ready for “Build Your Own Burger” cupcakes

YUM!

YUM!

Ronald McDonald nails

Ronald McDonald nails

Elizabeth created Ronald McDonald smiles on a stick for all her friends to take home with them.

Elizabeth created Ronald McDonald smiles on a stick for all her friends to take home with them.

Monday Musings: The Making of a 50 States Bedroom

20 May
Alex's project had gone viral.

Alex’s project had gone viral.

Last April we began renovations on our house that would allow each daughter to have their own bedroom for the first time ever. Choosing colors and themes and decor became the topic of many a conversation.

So the day Alexandra came out of her room and announced that when it was her turn for a new room, she wanted a 50 States Bedroom you might think we wouldn’t be shocked, but we were. For months she’d been saying she wanted purple walls and a horse-themed room. Now, she wanted ocean-blue walls and a cross-country theme. According to my mother-in-law, the two had concocted the new theme for her room over the phone one day and Alex was sold on the idea.

Once we knew this new room theme was a keeper, I told Alex I would put a request for postcards from all of the states out to my friends and family on Facebook and see what we could collect that way first. Whatever we couldn’t get, we’d find another way of getting them. The postcards would later be used as a border around her room after the blue paint went on the walls.

I put the request out in mid-March, right around her birthday, explaining the 50 States Bedroom idea. Once I did, the postcards started rolling in. The first week or so she was receiving handfuls a day. My father-in-law, on his end, put out a request to all of his friends and family around the country as well, and stated that her birthday was coming up, too. It was so much fun receiving postcards that said, “Your grandpa wanted us to wish you a Happy Birthday from North Carolina,” or whatever state the cards were coming from. In years to come, when Alex looks at the messages on the cards, she’ll read things like, “I went to high school with your daddy,” “I went to the White House with your sister,” or “Vermont has great maple syrup,” and many other fun and exciting messages from all over the country. One cousin sent us 27 postcards from a cross-country trip she’d taken years ago. Her personal collection was now Alex’s. That gesture from a cousin we had never met, meant so much to us.

We received over 14 feet of postcards from all over the world to be used in Alex's new room.

We received over 14 feet of postcards from all over the world to be used in Alex’s new room.

Before we knew it, we had received over 150 postcards literally from all over the world. Postcards came in from the east coast, west coast, London, Canada, St. Maarten and Alaska. It was amazing. We all looked forward to the arrival of the mail each and every day. I did my best to go on Facebook often and thank those who sent or requested postcards, and I’d give an update of what we had gotten so far and what we were still missing. By April vacation week we were down to just nine states left and we were ready to empty out, clean out and paint the room over the week. Alex and her daddy went to the store and she picked out the color of paint that she wanted, and the process began.

I had forgotten that underneath the "little kid" border was the baby border we'd hand stamped on the walls before Caroline was born.

I had forgotten that underneath the “little kid” border was the baby border we’d hand stamped on the walls before Caroline was born.

It was a little sad, I must say, when Don began scraping away at the border we put up in 2005, only to discover the border of Snoopy and Woodstock that we had hand-stamped in 1999 as we prepared for the birth of our first baby. When all of the wallpaper border was down, and the stamped art remained, there was a small lump in my throat, and a part of me wanted to say, “No! Let’s just keep this! Let’s go back.”

But I know, you can’t ever go back.

So the new paint color went on the walls over the nursery yellow and the pink and blue border, over years of picture holes and sticky tape marks, making the room look fresh and new with the great color that Alex had picked out. In two days’ time Don had transformed the room to a big girl room, and we moved the furniture back in, setting it up in a new layout.

As the postcard mail began to trickle down and we had just a few states left, I took the whole lot of them to our local learning store, Lakeshore Learning Store, to be laminated. We also laminated some maps that she wanted in her room as well. We had a Rhode Island map which has hung in our basement for years, that she wanted on her wall. She particularly likes the fact that it has the dates 2006-2007 on it and she points it out to whoever comes into the room. We had a world map in one of the kids’ rooms that was not being used, and I ordered a special US map from the Highlights Magazine “Which Way USA” club, that we had now enrolled her in. The laminated postcards stretched from our sliding glass door in our dining room to the coffee table in our living room, about 14 feet in length and about two feet across.

I found this cool project in Family Fun magazine, that I just had to replicate for Alex's walls.

I found this cool project in FamilyFun magazine, that I just had to replicate for Alex’s walls.

I went to Hobby Lobby one afternoon and found huge letters that were on sale for half off: N, S, E, W in pink and blue sparkly colors and Don put them up on her walls, using a compass so that they were really placed accurately pointing North, South, East and West. I found a cool project in FamilyFun Magazine while sitting in the doctor’s waiting room one day, and I had to replicate it on her wall. I knew the perfect spot. Alex noticed a blanket in the trunk my car that I’d made for the kids years ago, a 50 States blanket with a map of the country on it. We washed it and brought it up to her room and placed it at the bottom of her bed, which was still awaiting a back-ordered, horse-themed “bed in a bag” set. She found a globe at the book store, and used some gift money to purchase it. The room was coming together in our minds, and on the walls, piece by piece.

Finally, it was time. I took the huge roll of postcards and began cutting them apart. I filled an entire wicker basket with them. I found some double sided foam tape at Walmart, specifically designed to keep the paint on the walls in tact, and Caroline and I placed little pieces in the center of each laminated card, being careful not to cover the messages on the cards if at all possible. And then, on Mother’s Day afternoon, I began placing each one on the wall.

As I did this, I was struck by the awesomeness of this whole project, from the idea itself to the connections it has given Alex to our family, our friends, our past and our present. The postcards have special stamps on them, special postmarks, and special messages. They are priceless and yet the cost of them was so minimal.

My version of the Family Fun project, with postcards to match.

Adjacent to the North Wall is my version of the FamilyFun project, with postcards to match.

Alex has decided that the South Wall over her bed will show maps of two "featured states" as she receives them from the "Which Way USA" program through Highlights Magazine.

Alex has decided that the South Wall over her bed will show maps of two “featured states” as she receives them from the “Which Way USA” program through Highlights Magazine.

And so, as I finish up this blog post and I show you the photos of the finished walls, I want to say thank you to everyone. Thanks for sending Alex her postcards, for spreading the word to your families and friends all over the country and the world, and thank you for taking the time to make a little girl’s day, every day. On the night that the walls were finished, she walked into her room, looked up at the walls, and she slowly turned around and around. The look of amazement on her face was one I will never forget.

And I more than appreciate it.

Thank You.

The East wall houses her Rhode Island map and its coordinating RI postcards.

The East Wall houses her Rhode Island map and its coordinating RI postcards.

The West Wall is over the back of her door and over her closet. The wall over the door houses her Texas postcards and her Cowgirl sign.

The West Wall is over the back of her door and over her closet. The wall over the door houses her Texas postcards and her Cowgirl sign.

It’s February Vacation Week: Welcome [Back] to the Jungle!

18 Feb
Vacation week idea: Let them write on all your windows, mirrors and doors!

Vacation week idea: Let them write on all your windows, mirrors and doors!

Not every school system has February Vacation Week, but ours does. A lot of people dread vacation weeks, but I look forward to the break. I like having my kids home with me and I like the break from all the stress and running around.

At work, Don gets a lot done through the week while the school building is quiet and it airs out from all the flu and virus germs that fill it all winter.

However, if you’re home for the week you may be looking for ways to fill the time. I find that no matter what, the week flies by, but it helps to have some fun little ideas in your back pocket, just to be safe.

Valentine’s Day was just last week so we have received some new games, crafts and activities which will be perfect for this week. As with last year’s Welcome to the Jungle posts, I’ve decided to feature some of the things we’re doing throughout the week, passing along any fun ideas to you.

Today’s activity idea is one that may or may not shock you: if your kids are bored, let them draw on all your windows, mirrors and glass doors!

Yup, that’s right: day one and I’ve already lost my mind.

Fun gift idea and February Vacation activity!

Fun gift idea and February Vacation activity!

Elizabeth received a new activity as a Valentine’s Gift from my mom and dad this weekend. The Crayola Crystal Effects Window Markers were an instant hit when the girls opened them up. We let them use any glass surface: windows, mirrors and the sliding glass door served as their canvasses.

It was so awesome.

The mirror in our bathroom is huge, a perfect place to try out the new markers.

The mirror in our bathroom is huge, a perfect place to try out the new markers.

The way the markers work is simple: you write on your chosen glass surface and then watch as right before your eyes the regular-looking marker turns into a beautiful crystalized image.

As you watch, it actually looks as if the image is moving while it changes. It’s very, very cool.

We had friends over on Sunday with kids of their own and we let the girls take out the markers while their friends were here and they all seemed to have a blast with them, even the one boy out of the group had a great time, so it’s definitely something a boy would enjoy also.

The one issue we had with using the markers in the bathroom was that we left the artwork up during showers.

Ooops.

It all dripped down the mirror and we had to take it off and start over again. It actually says on the box not to use it in a high humidity area, such as a bathroom. But, our bathroom mirror is so huge, we did it again anyway, but this time we’ll wash it off before the next shower.

You can see how the writing goes on like a regular-looking marker before turning to the crystal effects.

You can see how the writing goes on like a regular-looking marker before turning to the crystal effects.

Which leads me to my next tip: taking off the artwork.

You can take it off very simply with a wet paper towel, followed by a dry one to wipe off any remaining residue. Those are the instructions on the box, and it worked just as they said.

Mirrors seemed to be the best option for us because the windows tend to be cold, at least in the winter, and the crystal effects take longer to work when the glass is cold.

Mirrors seemed to be the best option for us because the windows tend to be cold, at least in the winter, and the crystal effects take longer to work when the glass is cold.

I’d definitely keep this in my arsenal of birthday gift ideas for the future, it was lots of fun and it’s a gift that they can use over and over again, each time with a different result.

Although I don’t know the cost of these, I am pretty sure I’ll be able to find them in my local craft store, and most likely be able to use a coupon for them there.

I think these markers have tons of potential in our house! I can foresee writing special birthday messages on mirrors or windows, or writing fun messages for special house guests when they visit our home, the way we write on our message boards and chalk boards.

If you’ve ever used the Crayola Crystal Effects Window Markers yourself and you have any fun tips or activities to share, leave a comment and let us know! We have all week to experiment with them!

Our bathroom has a mirrored medicine cabinet and a huge mirror, double the fun!

Our bathroom has a mirrored medicine cabinet and a huge mirror, double the fun!

Hours of Fun: Duct Tape Crafts

21 Jan
Bags, pens, wallets, clothing...you can make it all out of duct tape nowadays.

Bags, pens, wallets, clothing…you can make it all out of duct tape!

Do you ever have those moments when you see something that’s so simple and yet wildly popular, and you think, “I wish I’d thought of that first!”

Seeing what kids can make out of duct tape these days gives me those moments.

Turns out you can make anything out of duct tape nowadays.

A book, a kit and oodles of duct tape...the possibilities were endless!

A book, a kit and oodles of duct tape…the possibilities were endless!

This is not a a new obsession in our house, it’s been popular here for at least a year or more, but this Christmas Caroline received additional rolls of tape for her collection, a book of duct tape crafts and a kit to make a duct tape shopping bag.

Hours of fun. And I’m not being sarcastic either. They spent hours working on these crafts.

Specifically, Caroline and Elizabeth made about 15 duct tape covered pens for Don’s front desk at school. Apparently the old pens seemed to walk away by themselves and his hope was that these uniquely decorated pens would stick around a little longer.

No pen pun intended.

Duct tape is all the rage now, and is hours of fun.

Duct tape is all the rage now, and is hours of fun.

Once the pens were completed, Caroline worked on the duct tape covered bag that came with her Alex Crafts kit. Her bag is so cute, her own creation which I’m pretty sure coordinates with her cousin’s creation as well. She found the kit easy to work with and the directions easy to follow.

Duct tape is available everywhere from craft stores like AC Moore, Michaels and Joann Fabrics, to places like Five Below and Walmart. There are tons of cute patterns and seasonal patterns to choose from, and even licensed character tape, like Hello Kitty for example. Caroline’s kit came with several solid colors and a coordinating patterned tape as well.

The girls’ collection of tapes is growing now, with some cute colors and patterns just recently added in.

Sometimes it’s hard to find gifts for the tween/teen set, but duct tape crafting seems to span those age levels and provide enough crafty options that one wouldn’t get bored too easily. I know my tween/teen girls love it over here!

I just wish I’d thought of it first.

Pens before and after the tape

Pens before and after the tape

The growing collection and the guidebook with even more craft instructions inside.

The growing collection and the guidebook with even more craft instructions inside.