Birthday Party Planning

Kids Horseback Riding Party at Evenstride - Under the Monkey Bars

I can’t believe my little Sweet Pea turned SEVEN years old last Friday (June 12th). She has been planning her birthday party since last year on June 13th, for real. Not that I’m surprised. I’ve created little party planning monkeys without even realizing it.

Entertaining has always stressed me out; but when it comes to kids’ birthday parties, I’m a totally different person. It’s probably because of the amazing birthday parties my Mom would throw for me when I was little. Paper streamers hanging from the chandelier, homemade birthday cake, and at least 20 friends running around the yard. I want my little monkeys to have awesome memories of their childhood birthdays too.

Party planning is a life skill that, as a Mom, I must teach, right? As far back as the first birthday party, I’ve involved my girls in the party planning process as much as possible. We start with choosing a theme and try to decide early. My monkeys can’t decide on a costume until the week before Halloween, but party themes they can handle. Maybe it’s because I have them trained? Not sure but they get parties!

At least six months before the party, we start gathering party supplies in a large plastic storage box in the basement. Little by little, we find favors, games, decorations, and paper goods to fill the box. The monkeys love going through it and helping me every so often. I also keep a separate box in the basement with left over party supplies. Labeled, of course. It always comes in handy for last minute get togethers.

Sweet Pea Riding Mandy at her Horseback Riding Party at Evenstride - Under the Monkey Bars

Sweet Pea has been obsessed with horses for over a year now. No surprise that she planned a horseback riding party at Evenstride, the Barn where she takes weekly riding lessons. At the party, all of Grace’s friends got to ride two of the three ponies: Pippi, Winnie, and Mandy. The kids were amazing at taking turns and the weather was picture perfect! The barn provided real horseshoes for the kids to decorate as a craft. They were super into it!

Most of the party was in the Barn’s viewing room. It’s usually pretty dusty but for the party, they made it shine like the top of the Chrysler building! Sweet Pea chose to decorate the room with deep purple and royal yellow, her favorites. She asked me to “keep an eye out” for yellow daisies for the centerpieces, along with some of her horses. This kid had a vision! We picked up most of the party supplies locally at Funny Bones because it’s important to me that we support local businesses whenever possible.

Kids Birthday Parties - Under the Monkey Bars

Sweet Pea chose the most gorgeous invitations on Etsy! I had the designer put 2 invites per page to make the printing more cost effective, and then MinuteMan Press printed them for under $10. I even framed one of the invitations to display at the party along with a photo of Sweet Pea at the Barn.

For favors, we ordered handmade silver horseshoe necklaces on Etsy. You can’t beat “buy 5, get the 6th free!” Sweet Pea made matching beaded bracelets for her friends with their first initial — all with beads we had in our bead box at home. The kids also brought home the little horses we used to decorate the cupcakes and their horseshoe craft. Together, Sweet Pea and I decorated plain brown gift bags from JoAnn’s with a stencil of two horseshoes that I printed online. We added the kids names, purple tissue, and gold ribbon. They came out lovely!

Cupcakes with Horse toppers - Under the Monkey Bars

We kept the snacks simple with watermelon wedges and bags of our favorite popcorn. I almost forgot to share my frosting recipe! I use regular sugar a few times a year for birthday cupcake frosting, and I try not to cringe. At least it’s homemade with Kerrygold butter.  Try this set for decorating.

Here are some kids party themes for those of you with little monkeys:
– Ladybug Picnic: Order hundreds of real ladybugs (store them in the fridge – seriously) for the kids to collect in clear bug jars (part of the favor). You can even personalize the bug jars with each child’s name.
– Fire Truck: Recycle cardboard boxes into a ‘make your own fire truck’ project. Ask the Fire Station if they can stop by during the party!
– Tea Party: Collect real teacups from local thrift stores and monogram them for your guests.
– Super Heroes: Come to Gotham City dressed to take over the world! Create an obstacle course and play super games.
– Fashion Show: Dress up as a princess and we’ll roll out the red carpet. Don’t forget to interview each guest to find out her favorite things!
– Sports Showcase: Track, tennis, golf, fishing, volleyball, surfing and more. Make your iTunes play list and get sweatbands for everyone (grown ups too)!
– Fairy Garden: Make or buy wings and wands for your guests. Make fairy houses and homemade pixie dust in the garden.
– Spanish Fiesta: Teach a Spanish song and create a musical parade. Label your home with Spanish words. Don’t forget the piñata!

Share your party ideas in the comments and tell us what details your little monkeys loved the most.

Birthday Spa Day

Spa Day at Interlocks Salon + Spa in Newburyport - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Don and the girls gave me one of my favorite Mother’s Day gifts: a spa day!

I booked my spa day right away to celebrate birthday #38, but the stomach bug had other plans for me and Sweet Pea. My poor monkey was so sick.

Yesterday was my birthday spa day redux and it was FABULOUS! I spent 9am to 12pm at the newly renovated Interlocks Salon + Spa in Newburyport. It was my first time there since they expanded — and I’m in love.

Spa Day Massage at Interlocks in Newburyport - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

The spa is open, airy, and really well designed. It’s decorated in soothing grays, complimenting the water views and exposed brick. The new pedicure stations have the most beautiful soaking tubs. I couldn’t help but notice the artwork while I was there. So many gorgeous paintings! Interlocks is just what you picture in your mind for the perfect space to escape and rejuvenate. Pure bliss! I’m adding to my list of happy places…

It takes me a while to relax. I had my massage first, then a pedicure and manicure. It’s amazing how the stress just melts away. My extra long to-do list vanished from my mind. Everything was soothing…relaxing…and spa-licious. I could do this every day!

I love reading books that Bean recommends. "Small as an Elephant" by Jennifer Richard Jacobson is her latest. It's really good so far.

I love reading books that Bean recommends. “Small as an Elephant” by Jennifer Richard Jacobson is her latest. It’s really good so far.

We all need to take a day off now and then. We’re so busy that we can’t imagine taking the time to care for ourselves — but it makes our bodies work so much better. What a difference a day off makes for mental clarity and overall health.

Whether you make yourself an appointment, buy a gift certificate for a friend, or create a home spa in your bathroom, DO IT. You deserve it and so do the people you love. Find your happy place.

Living a Normal Life


How do you live a “normal” life with food allergies?  Well, what is normal anyway?  To me, normal means that my kids don’t feel excluded, left out, or weird.  

I’ve always made a point to tell them that their allergies make them special.  Everyone has something.  My kids just happen to have food allergies.  Why?  Hopefully we will know one day.  

No matter what we say or do, there is some level of anxiety in new situations for all of us.  From the first day of school to birthday parties to trying out a new restaurant, the stress can be completely overwhelming.  It just oozes out of their little bodies.

Here are some strategies that work for us:
– Find out as many details as you can before you go.
– Brainstorm possible situations and be ready.
– Bring safe food with you.  I try to match what the hostess is serving.
– Always keep cupcakes in the freezer.  These are also for me, weekdays at 9pm. Shhh!

If we’re lucky, no one even notices that my kids are eating something different.  Sometimes the other kids think what my kids have is better.  The most important thing is that their allergies don’t define them and that they are comfortable being themselves.

Bean is off to a 10th Birthday Party today at Funny Girl Designs.  Armed with her gluten free cupcake and the fixin’s for make your own pizza, she’s ready to celebrate just like everyone else.

That which doesn’t kill us, makes us strongest.  Bean and Sweet Pea are tough cookies.  Even when life gets the better of them, they make me proud.  Who wants to be normal anyway?  Not me.

Anyone can develop an allergy at any time, no matter if you’re a baby or a grown-up.  I only knew two people with food allergies when I was in school.  Now there are sometimes two kids in each class

Here are some articles and videos if you’d like to understand food allergies better:

What’s a food allergy?

Robyn O’Brien’s Ted Talks: “Are we allergic to food or what’s been done to it?”

Allergic Living article: New Blood Tests for Food Allergies

CNN article: Allergy Bullying, When Food is a Weapon