Beach Days

Sand Dollar Beach Days - Under the Monkey Bars

Sandy Point State Reservation, Plum Island

Beach Days - Under the Monkey Bars

It’s taken us longer than usual to get into our groove this summer, not that we’ve totally found it yet. Over the past two weeks, there have been many lazy pajama mornings, play dates with friends, and Plum Island beach days in between.

Unfortunately, the girls have been fighting more often. It’s been a challenge to keep the peace sometimes. Maybe it’s the slowing down of summer or the unplanned days. It’s amazing to see how accustomed we’ve become to being “busy” with jam packed days. The monkeys seem to get lost in the laziness and then lash out at each other. Day by day, it really has gotten better but we’re still a work in progress. As I figure out what works for them in this stage, they seem to figure out each other as well.

And then there are the moments that as a Mom, I cherish and try to store in the back of my mind for those not so easy days. Cuddling on the couch reading together. Marathon Legos in the living room. Just playing on their own for a few hours. Finding bits of things to create a craft. Pretending to be spies in the backyard. Hearing a sweet hug and an “I love you.” Three little words that just melt my heart and remind me why I love being a Mom.

So far this summer, we’ve enjoyed our beach days the most. No one fights and everyone is happy. Their faces light up at the beach like nowhere else. No matter how many hermit crabs or snails they find, each one is special and unique — and worth a, “Mommy, you have to see this!” These monkeys of mine love to explore, imagine, and create. The beach is their canvas, and every day is a new masterpiece. 

Beach Days - Under the Monkey Bars

At the beach, they are free like birds. Loving life. Remembering what summer’s all about. Learning to accept each other and love each other no matter what, because that’s what sisters do. Who knew all we needed were a few beach days to sort out the bickering and relax just a little bit more?

I’m taking some of our blank calendar boxes and filing them with BEACH! Because like home cooked meals, beach days are good for the soul. Hours of sunny play time at the beach, a long shower outside, and a little downtime is the recipe for a perfect summer day for me and my monkeys. 

What’s your favorite kind of summer day?

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.

Fairy House Making

Making Fairy Houses

I’m running an event that’s coming up in a few weeks for the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at the monkeys’ school. The Fairy Gnome Discovery Walk on May 16th is the first time our school has partnered with a neighboring elementary school for a community event. Students, families, local businesses, and clubs are currently building fairy houses for the event. The walk part of the event will be a one mile loop in the woods behind Pettengill Farm in Salisbury, MA, with fairy houses displayed along the way. So sweet and magical! We are expecting more than 80 fairy houses already.

The sky was the limit when we started planning this event from scratch. We’ve invited librarians to read fairy tales, my friend Elissa is teaching a yoga class, the Mom’s club will host a craft table, and local musicians will perform throughout the day. With wholesome, natural food (yes, I had my hand in that) and sweet fairy treasures, we hope that this community event will bring together families from all over the area to enjoy a fun spring day. 

My monkeys made their fairy houses last week over April vacation. I’ve been pinning fairy house ideas for inspiration, but these monkeys had their own plans for their fairy houses. I was so impressed by their creativity! I stood at the counter with the glue gun (after Bean burned her finger – ouch!) and gave two or three suggestions when asked. But that was it, I swear. These fairy houses are all Bean and Sweet Pea!

Here’s what we used to make the fairy houses:

Making Fairy House

Bean’s Fairy Bungalow 
– Base: Scottie’s square tissue box glued to a wooden slab
– Exterior covering: Felt, owl feathers, and moss from Michael’s
– Finishing Touches: Sticks, silk flowers, and beads
– Wallpaper: Stella & Dot jewelry boxes with a coordinating rug picture from the Pottery Barn catalog
– Furniture: A sweet bed with a step stool and a couch made with foam from Stella & Dot jewelry boxes and scraps of fabric from my friend Nick

Making Fairy House

Sweet Pea’s Traditional Fairy House
– Base: A tiny Stride Rite shoe box cut to make a two floor house, then glued to a wooden slab
– Exterior covering: Moss from Michael’s and tiny pinecones that we found on a walk in our neighborhood
– Finishing Touches: Cinnamon sticks and silk flowers
– Wallpaper: Pages from Anthropologie and Pottery Barn catalogs
– Furniture: Foam from Stella & Dot jewelry boxes, scraps of fabric, duct tape, tape roll, rocks, and a shell

Can you see the details in the furniture? I think these couches are nicer than mine. In case you’re wondering, I still don’t like crafts. But I love my monkeys!!

If you’re a parent, think about joining your PTA. It’s really hard to find time to volunteer, but the sacrifice is always worthwhile. The monkeys love to see me involved at school — whether it’s volunteering in their class or with the PTA. They learn important business and life lessons when we work on events together. I know you’re busy and time is precious. But many hands make less work and our PTA could certainly use more hands! Think about it…

If you’re in the area, make a fairy house and come to the walk on May 16th! It’s going to be a really fun event even though my family can’t go (my nephew’s First Communion — wouldn’t miss it). Just my luck that we can’t even attend the event! I admit that it’s been a bummer to spend so much time working on an event that I won’t see come together. Thank goodness for Facebook. It’s for the kids — and we’re raising money to rebuild their super old playground. Read more about that here. We’ve got to get their school some new monkey bars, right?

May the sun shine and the temperature rise this weekend. Hope it’s a happy one!

April Staycation

RailTrail2

FrogPondPG2

Last week was April school vacation for the monkeys. After skiing every weekend for five months, the last thing we wanted to do was pack up for a week away. So we had a staycation here in Newburyport! I took a little blogging break to spend time with these two. We snuggled up to read books, rode bikes on the Rail Trail, hit the playgrounds, ate Ice Lollies, hung out with friends, went to the mall for a little retail therapy (aka our pants are too short), made fairy houses, and watched movies. Together. I didn’t run around the house picking up and doing laundry. I didn’t try to cross things off my to-do list. I consciously spent time with my monkeys. They grow up way too fast. While they still want to be with me, I am here. Hope you had a great week!

Living a Normal Life

Cupcake

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