Monday, August 18, 2014

2014 Back-to-School Bash


I’ll save you the preamble of excuses as to why the blog has gone silent, and just jump in, because, hello… I threw a pretty awesome party (ahem, if I do say so myself!) and I just have to share it with you all!

But, first, the “WHY.”  (Isn’t that what most motivational speakers tell you first and foremost, is to “find your ‘why’”? ) Well, here is mine: CHANGE.

Our poor kinders….they, collectively endured a LOT of change this summer with a staggering number of families moving away (like thousands-of-miles-away) from our tight-knit, small-town community.  So theses kiddos, who’d all grown so close, not only were anticipating new classmates as they enter 1st grade this coming Thursday, but were also so very sad to be losing close friends this summer.

So, enters my idea to host a playdate towards the end of the summer, once the homeroom teachers were assigned.  Well.  My playdate sort of took on a life of its own, and a full-blown back-to-school backyard bash began to take shape.

And let me be honest….it was no small task to pull off.  BUT.  I did it.  And I did it well.  And now I’m going to share with you all the things I learned along the way to help ease the process.

1.  Plan in advance.

Oh, my girlfriends mocked me.  Oh, yes they did, when the Facebook event invite was sent out in late June.  “WHY are you planning a back-to-school party?  Summer just started!”  But, I knew.  I knew what I wanted this event to be, and I knew that I needed people to save the date, and to get on board with the idea of a get-together the last Friday of summer vacation.  Planning this far out also gave me time to play around with the exact timing of the party, to see what worked best for the majority of the families.  Sadly, I wasn’t able to accommodate the full-time working parents, but listening to the feedback of my invited guests, and opening up the timeframe from 10 AM to 3 PM gave the majority of parents and children a chance to attend, if not all of, than at least some of, the event.

2. Create a welcoming presence.

Many of the families attending had never been to my home.  And let’s be honest….we’ve all done the drive-by when we are looking for a new-to-us house number.  So I wanted to have something visible to say, “Yep, party’s here!!!”

door wreathikea easelA few embellishments tucked into my versatile, always-changing wreath gave a true “September” vibe, and some creative chalk art on our IKEA easel, placed in a visible, prominent spot near our driveway, welcomed our guests as they arrived.

3.  Use what you have.

I can’t stress this point enough.  Nothing spoils a party faster than “buyer’s remorse” over the cost incurred to throw said party.  Other than one semi-extravagant purchase (we’ll get to that point), I spent VERY little on this mega-party.

For some of my welcome decor, I placed red apples on hydrangea leaves (that I clipped from my front bushes that morning) onto the tray of the easel.  Cost: FREE.

apples close up

For the main tablescape, I gathered items from my office and playroom.  Some Dr. Suess books; mason jars of pencils, markers, and paintbrushes; a globe; some toy school busses; small American flags…. all of these things were pulled from other rooms in my home – all FREE – and all perfect for the all-American, classroom look I wanted.

I unrolled a length of craft paper down the center of the table, not only to protect from cake frosting, but to add a layer of visual interest after I quickly penned the upper and lowercase alphabet onto the surface.  Again, FREE.  The ONLY expense I incurred with this table decor almost doesn’t even count, since I’m not one to shy away from the self-indulgent splurge of grocery store flowers. For $4.99, I purchased a half-dozen sunflowers, added more of my own (free!) hydrangea stems, and placed them in a (free!) mason jar that I surrounded with some (free!) No. 2 pencils I merely secured with washi tape.

Again, I can’t reiterate this point enough: USE WHAT YOU HAVE.  You’d be surprised at how quickly and easily you can pull together an impressive table with little to no cost!


4.  Pray for good weather.

Okay, in all fairness, I realize this can’t really be a MUST DO, because weather is one of the things that will be completely out of your control.  That said, I felt it worth mentioning because it is something to most definitely consider.

In my case, there was no “back up plan” in case of foul weather.  My back up plan, sadly, would have been a cancellation.  I simply would not have been able to fit 70 people in my house – especially given that 50+ of those people are 6 or 7 years old. ;)  That said.  We were VERY blessed with a gorgeous, unheard-of-67-degrees-in-August, sunshiny day.  But again.  Have a back up plan.  You just never know.

  bouncy thing

5.  Have ample seating.

And keep in mind, I say ample, not fancy.  I moved our everyday patio furniture off the actual concrete to create room for a standard umbrella table with 6 chairs (borrowed from my dad’s backyard), giving me total seating for 14.  A girlfriend lent two 8-foot tables and a dozen metal folding chairs to provide seating for the actual lunch-eating.  Additionally, two children’s tables and chairs were set up for the preschool-age siblings in attendance.  Lastly, on a whim, I set up our tent and tossed a couple beanbags and a “dummy” mattress in for a comfy, alternative hangout spot.

moms chairsgirls tablegirls tent

6.  Have multiple activities available.

The one splurge I did make for this party was renting a ginormous inflatable.  You can’t quite tell from the photos, but we have a very steep grade to our backyard that prohibits us from having any kind of swingset, and since I knew I wanted the party to remain outdoors (read: away from Legos and the Wii, etc.), I needed an alternative activity, and, selfishly, one that required minimal mom participation.  (Another “why” for the party was definitely getting some more moms introduced to one another, as new class rosters brought about new relationships.  I really wanted my mommy friends to enjoy this day as much as the kids.)

That said, for $200 (for FIVE HOURS!!!), the bounce house was a HUGE hit, and my generous friends chipped in to help defray the cost.  Win, win, win.

jake bounce house

As an alternative to the bounce house, I set up an extra 8-foot table and chairs with art supplies, since I knew a handful of little sisters in attendance are uber-artists.  I simply rolled another length of craft paper down the center, taped the ends, and let them know they could color, stamp, paint, and sticker to their hearts content.

delaney art table

In addition, I also debuted my drop cloth Radiator Springs (separate post coming soon!) and set out all of Seth’s cars, planes, and trailers.  We had several little guys who do better with some less physical activities (I also had soccer balls and goals set up in addition to the bounce house), so this was a great item to have on hand.

jake car mat

7.  Delegate.

This point is a close second to the “use what you have” mandate.  There was NO WAY I was going to plan for and adequately feed 70+ people without hiring a caterer.  So, when my girlfriends asked (as I’m sure yours will, too), “What can I bring,” I had an answer ready.

Initially I felt a little bossy saying, “5 boxes of mac and cheese” or “veggie tray, heavy on the ones the kids will actually eat,” but in the end, (a), I think they appreciated a direct request, and (b), it saved us from having a dozen people bring a dessert or having 20 bags of potato chips and pretzels.

I spilt the “assignments” into paper products, hot dogs, hot dog buns, fruit, veggies, spinach salad, pasta salad, snack mix, bottled water, soda cans, kids’ juice chugs, fruit snacks, freezer pops, and unfrosted sugar cookies and strawberry cream cheese.  I provided a cake (see #8), classic PBJ halves, and diced fruit to go with the cookies, so the kiddos could do a “build your own fruit pizza.”

(I’m kicking myself for not getting a good photo of the “pizza” set up….it was pretty neat!  You can kind of see it in the foreground of the photo. And, ahem, those are 2 spreaders with red handles in the sundae cup, not hotdogs. #facepalm!)

food table

I think everyone was happy to contribute something specific, and I wasn’t one bit overwhelmed with the idea of feeding that many people.  It was a perfect way to do things.

8.  Consider bulk stores.

All I have to say is, if you don’t have a Costco near you, I’m sorry.  Because for $17.99, you can get  an OMG-delicious sheet cake that will have everyone wanting seconds – and since you can’t beat the value for the size, there is plenty of cake to do just that!  I will say, however, that their decor options are more limited than what you’d find with a traditional bakery or even your local grocer, but I made it work (and I think it turned out great!), and again, you can’t beat the price!

cake BTSBB

9.  Have a game plan.

But keep it flexible. ;)

But, really.  Even when kids this age can be counted on to make their own fun, it is true that they still thrive on boundaries and direction.  So, the one activity I had up my sleeve for when I could tell we may need to introduce just a wee bit of structure was water balloons.

water balloon prep

My mommy friends were great helpers in filling and tying off about 100 water balloons (read: 6 seconds worth of fun).

While the moms filled the last balloons, I commandeered Tiffany’s whistle and gathered all the kids.  I had the soon-to-be-first graders separate into corners based on their new teachers (so, win win there, too, in having them gather with their new classmates) and then divided up the remaining siblings in attendance onto the four respective teams.  They were instructed to launch their one (I know, ONE! I’m mean!) balloon at the sound of my whistle blow, but, if they caught a balloon without breaking it, their “class” would get a point. (How cute is James, by the way?!)

coaching water balloon 

Needless to say, the water balloons were gone in about 3 seconds; in true “dump-gatorade-on-the-coach” fashion, I was blasted with the last remaining water balloon; and the kiddos were left clamoring for more action, but it still was the perfect 10-minute activity to start winding down the party.

water balloon after

10.  Create memorable photo opportunities.

You will have put a lot of effort into this day, and you want to make sure that in addition to tucking some private smiles away in your heart, you can both share the experience, and look back for years to come.

I picked up a piece of scrap lumber at Home Depot for less than $2, and after a quick sand-and-stain that took me no time at all, I freehanded a 6’ ruler.  I LOVE this piece.  Not only did we get some fun pictures at the party, I plan to use this for years and years to come to measure and record my children’s heights on their first days of each grade.  (Granted, I won’t have Seth’s first day of kindergarten mark, but going forward, I’ll have this photo prop on hand.)

connor ruler

I also picked up 3 black foam boards from the dollar store, and using chalk to mimic a blackboard, I created a “class of 2026” trio of signs for the kids to pose with.  I made no promises that this party will become an annual event, but IF it is, it will be fun to capture this group of kiddos with these signs through the years as they journey through school together.


And there you have it!

I know this was a long post. =)  Consider it an attempt at making up for months of silence. (You didn’t REALLY think I could go a whole post without noting my absence, did you? lol)

Again, I am SO SO SO glad I organized this party.  And I don’t say that, or even publish this post, as a way to pat myself on the back for throwing such an event.  I just really, really enjoyed everything about this day.  Bringing friends together, enjoying a meal, watching kids play…. it was extraordinary for me to get to use my God-given gifts of administration and hospitality to open my home in this way.

I hope that you can take something away from this Top Ten list, whether you tuck the tips away until next summer to throw your own back-to-school bash, or apply some of the tips to a get-together of your own.  If you do, please share!  I’d love to see!


One last thing…..Serious thanks and praise to my friend Stacy of Cookie Canvas
for the extraordinary artistry on the cookies I had her make as party favors….
talk about using God-given talents!  Check these out:

cookie canvas BTSBB

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My thoughts on SUMMER, thus far

It is day 3 of summer vacation, and these are some things I've come to believe as truth:
  • If you awake and put on your bathing suit and cover-up, and throw your hair in a messy bun, it doesn't count that you don't make it into the shower.....whether or not you actually ever made it to the pool.
  • Freezer pops are the universal currency of the neighborhood mom.
  • Duvet covers are of the devil.  Period.
  • No matter how cute my "Summer of Fun" calendar looks, thunderstorms will wreak havoc on my plans.  Must be better prepared for a day inside.
  • My kids eat.  All day.  ALL.  DAY.  By 9:30, they've had breakfast, second breakfast, a snack.  And then, popcorn.  And yet, still zero percent body fat.  Jerks.
  • Laundry will be done every day.  There will just be no way around it.
  • Dirty feet and sunburned noses make me happy.  They just do.

I'm trying my best to keep my priorities straight, keep my expectations realistic, and my body rested and hydrated.  I want this summer to be the best for our family.  No major vacations to stress us out, no huge projects or renovations to disrupt our home, nothing on the horizon but camp outs, pool dates, and cookouts.

What are your best tips for staying sane when the hours of a summer break day seem a little too many to fill?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year....

... if you're a school teacher.

After the longest winter EVER, I have no doubt that our local teachers have a constantly running mental countdown to just how many more classroom minutes are between today and 3:35 pm Friday, June 6.  And I don't blame them.  They are staring down the finish line to a long year and the start of a well-earned summer.

We were so very fortunate to get who we thought has been a fabulous teacher for Seth this year.  The teacher whose class he was technically assigned to was actually out the entire year on maternity leave, so he had a permanent substitute who had been assigned her first kindergarten class.

She has been such a good sport about getting her feet wet in what could be considered a very high-maintenance school system, and I applaud her for dealing well with parents who aren't always the most gracious in their dealings with the school administration.  We have had nothing but good reports home from Seth, and he not ONCE ever complained about going to school or fought me when it was time to get on the bus.  Kindergarten was an overwhelmingly positive experience for him.  And more important to us, even more than his reading skills or word problem comprehension, was that Seth's character stood true, and it did.  The traits of compassion, leadership, and obedience that we fostered in him during his preschool years were both recognized and applauded by his teacher and to me, that is priceless and worth more than academic marks.

I put together a small end-of-the-year gift for this amazing woman and I hope she sees it as more than a way to kick-start her summer, but more, as this mom's meager way of showing just a hint of the gratitude I have for her taking my sweet firstborn under her wing this year and handing him back even brighter than before.

Bucket, beach towel, shovel, and glow sticks all courtesy of Target.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


The things we need most are often the things we never saw coming....

A quiet Sunday, made quieter by the absence of the pre-church frantic hustle.  Raspy coughs and drippy noses suggested that perhaps snuggles and cartoons and unhurried parents would best serve as a healing respite.  So, we snuggled and slowed and savored not being stressed on what is called to be a day of rest.  (Not to mention that we were able, then, to avoid all the congestion from the marathon.)

Lunch, office work, laundry (always), some tattling, some tears.  Play time with the neighbors, photo editing, naptime for the baby.  Errands for daddy, and then...just before my mind turns to dinner and my eyes narrow at the clock and my ear strains to hear whispers from the nursery, he says,

"Why don't you go up to Mayberry for a bit, get a coffee, get away?"

Normally, I excuse the invitation away.  I testify that I'm fine, or, more often than not, that I'm too busy...there is too much to do....I don't have time to "get away," even for a cup of coffee.  I don't let him relieve me.  I don't let him step into solo-parent mode.  Somewhere along the way, I adopted a hidden belief that only I could do it, and by "it," I meant everything.

Someone wise recently told me that the opposite of self-respect was perfectionism.  It took me more than a second to wrap my head around that.  As someone who has long prided herself on being a "perfectionist," I found that insulting.  What would possibly be wrong with striving toward perfectionism, and how in the world did my pursuit of such inhibit self respect?

The more I considered her theory, however, (and I'll admit, there is some context I'm leaving out), the more I realized her words ring true, at least for me.   She asked me to picture how my life would be different if I truly had healthy self-respect, and this is what came to mind:
  • I'd let go of the notion that I could do it all
  • I'd let go of the notion that I'm the only one who could keep things together for our family
  • I'd make time, not excuses, for myself to exercise -- whether that meant going for a long walk/ride, or making time for the gym
  • I'd accept the offer of help, or time to myself, whether that offer was from another friend, a family member, Tiffany, or Jim
  • I'd stop saying "yes" to things I didn't want to commit to/participate in, merely for fear of disappointing someone else
  • I'd let myself enjoy naptime on Mondays, when it's just me and James at home, and let myself watch a show or read a book, instead of frantically doing chores
When I recognized that all the motivation behind those things/behaviors was maintaining my impossible standard of perfection, it was easy to see that I was doing myself a disservice.

So, circling back around to our germy, quiet Sunday.  Jim said, "go, get a coffee."  And you know what?  I said yes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Did you know that frivol is a transitive verb?

You probably only really use is in the adverbian sense (“She was acting frivolously.”) but I began to really ruminate on the word when I ran across it in a list after I Google-searched, “other words for “to waste.”  Actually, I got to frivol after I clicked on squander, because it was squander that actually resonated the most with me in that moment.

And can you guess what prompted my to-lazy-to-actually-find-and-dust-off-my-thesaurus search?  You may be able.

Ah, yes.  The ever present topic of my writing.  Or lack thereof.

I can’t number the times I’ve been told, “you have a gift,” “you should write a book,” “you’re an amazing writer.”  On one hand, the self-doubt that wells up with each of those compliments is so very real.  Who am I to think anything I have to say is worthy of publication?  And on the other hand, I have a diploma (somewhere; probably near the dusty thesaurus) that would speak to  my talent.  Degrees in journalism and English mean something, do they not?

So, therein is my dilemma, haunting my thoughts on a cold  Monday night , driving me to the Internet for word inspiration because of the overwhelming and disappointing belief that I’m wasting a gift.  My most precious gift.

I don’t mind using this space to diary endearing anecdotes of my children as they grow, or to catalogue recipes that become part of my constant kitchen rotation.  I have no moral qualms with posting pictures and step-by-step instructions on home decoration and improvement projects that I tackle as we move from home to home.



I want so much more for my OWN self.

I want to use this space to pour out thoughtful, carefully crafted, grammatically correct pieces of me.  When I wrote the “why Writer Chic?” post years ago, I stated that I wanted this place to be somewhere I could speak to my all the parts of me.  Not just me as a mommy/homemaker.  But the woman-me. And writer-me.  And dreamer-me.

Where did she go?

She is in here.  I know she is.

But it has been so very long since I’ve taken time to listen to her.  To listen for her voice.  To take time to hear what she has to say.  About anything.

About the Malaysian jet disappearance.  Or the crisis in the Ukraine. Or the common core curriculum.  Or Obamacare.

And that’s not say that I’m going to be doing posts about any of those things.  That’s just to say that I’m acknowledging that I have thoughts about those things.

A few weeks ago, I had an epiphanous moment in my kitchen – one that involved Nutella and baked broccoli, so that should tell you something about the development of said epiphany – and I was *thisclose* to changing the url and name and entire direction of this blog.


I’m not going to.

Because I still believe in the purpose and intent behind this blog, and its name.

And I still believe in me. The writer-me.  She is worth fighting for.  And you better believe I am fighting my way back.

Friday, January 31, 2014


It pains me, almost physically, that it has been almost 3 months since I've dusted off this little dot-com of mine, and poured my heart out onto the page.

There is no one reason that the blog posts fell by the wayside. It isn't like 2013, and 2012 for that matter, weren't already "dry" years.  They were. And if I so chose, I could explain why and what triggered that.  I never meant for that silence to become permanent.  I still don't.  I don't think.

But maybe...I don't know.  Maybe I really need to rethink what I want this blog to be.  It has taken on so many personalities over the years: a simple here-is-what-is-going-on-with-my-high-risk-pregnancy, to a family scrapbook, to a place to grieve, back to a scrapbook, and now....

Now, the "everyday" is hard to keep up with.  To take time to post the simple happenings of my day seems frivolous, and to MAKE time to craft the posts that I really want to write....that just simply seems impossible.

And while I try to figure it out -- what I want this site to be, not only to me, but to my readers (if there are any left), to -- life continues to come at me in unbelievable, warp-speed ways.

No, seriously.

Since my last post:
  •  Jim spent a week on the neurology floor of the hospital after we were told he'd had a stroke.  At 33.  (Final ruling was that it wasn't actually a stroke.  But still.  I can't unhear those words in the ER as they rushed him away from me on a gurney: "Mrs. Gregory, it appears your husband has had a stroke.  You did the right thing....  We'll do everything we can..."
  • My father was diagnosed with cancer.  The details are his to share.  But I can at least say, it was still a diagnosis we were not expecting, and the rapid nature in which treatment and surgery and recovery have followed have been mind-boggling.
  • Seth broke his wrist 2 days after Christmas, and we learned that he has some pretty extensive vision issues.  As I write this, he has already gotten his cast off, and we are all adjusting to Seth-with-glasses, but at the was a lot to handle.
  • I've taken my first international trip, to London.
  • Tiffany was involved in a serious car accident that, while she herself was wonderfully, providentially protected, totaled her car.  An entire week of our January seemed to just evaporate in the wake of that, and car shopping, and recovery.
  • Tiffany and I have both been struck down with not only influenza but also strep.  NO FUN.
I could add more.  No, really.  I know it's hard to believe.  But there is more.  And I know that each incident isn't that life-altering in and of itself.  But when it comes one thing after another.  And then you factor in the season -- the trifecta that is Thanksgiving-Seth's birthday-Christmas -- while all of this is going on.  Oh, and did I mention that we Ohioans are experiencing the worst winter in history?  Seth has only been to school 8 days since December 20.  EIGHT.

This really wasn't the post that I wanted to write tonight.  That flu/strep double-punch I mentioned up there is real time -- I got my diagnosis just yesterday, and I'm currently propped up in bed regretting my dinner choice.  But I thought it past time to reappear here and let anyone out there still reading that things have just been heavy over in these parts.  Overall, everyone is well and I'm okay, truly.  I just....

Yeah.  I'm finding my way back, I hope.