Saturday, January 25, 2020

Pet Themed Birthday Party

Is it me, or is Pinterest getting a little more 'real'? I mean, you still have those ridiculously expensive, meticulously decorated parties for one-year-olds who just want to chew on the streamers. I'm also seeing more my-budget-is-$50 posts, though, and that's where this Mom is headed! In that vein, here is what we did for Sheridan's tenth birthday - much of it stolen liberally from the latter Pinterest posts.


Logan asked me what my favorite part of birthday parties was, and as this one was over and I was stuffing a third piece of pizza into my face, I answered "leftovers". Rule #1: don't make anything you don't mind eating for the next three days, but then make lots of it! Sheridan wanted pizza, and since there is no delivery here that meant cooking from frozen. I bought 8 or 10 and baked them this morning, cut them into slices, put the slices back on cookie sheets, and just warmed those up when people arrived.

For pet-themed treats we had:


The dog food bowls will go to our favorite local rescue after the party.

One of my friends won't come unless I make meatballs, so:

For her cake, Sheridan decided on a dog bowl. Daddy always does the decorating! The icing to write her name ended up too runny, so he did it in candy bits instead.

Lemon cupcakes for those who didn't want chocolate cake:

She liked it!


When kids first came in we invited them to make dog toys for that same rescue. Plastic bottles (lids removed) in a sock, tie it shut and decorate it with markers. Jeans cut into strips and braided, some with a tennis ball added partway down.

With Valentine's Day coming up, it was easy to find a bajillion stuffed animals at the dollar store. But how do we decide who picks first? Let's have them draw numbers.

From the bottom of the litter box.

Many people thought this was one of those cakes made to look like kitty litter.
Nope, just kitty litter.

Once they drew their number and picked their pet (which kind of turned into a madhouse just because of the sheer number of kids we had here), they filled out an adoption certificate and made a collar for their pet.

Personally I think pinatas are weird, but Sheridan insisted, so we took turns beating the tar out of a cute dog and then scrambled for its guts.

Of course, baby cuddling is also a popular pastime! 

Make sure your bathroom is labeled - there's nothing like trying to find the toilet in a hurry in a strange house: 

And ours is certainly a strange house. Some of the gifts were strange, too!

Here, big sister apologized to Mom before she opened it.

MORE DUCKS! This may bring the total to 400. I've kind of lost track.

But, the best gift was for me. In three years I will have a 13-year-old daughter. Enough said.

Happy Tenth Birthday Sheridan!!!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

So I had absolutely no intentions of being up past 9 on New Year's Eve, but the kids begged, and I hate to keep saying "no" to things that really don't cost money or add additional animals to the house, so...

I made a quick list of New Year traditions in other countries, and after picking the kids up at Zoo Camp we went through it over lunch at McDonald's (courtesy of gift cards from big sister, so even that was free!) We discarded anything that involved breaking dishes or getting wet, made a quick run through Walmart for supplies, and we were set.

One of my traditions is to start the year with a clean(ish) house. It so happens that Sheridan's science fair project this year requires 6 floors starting off very clean at the exact same time. She helped me with those, and we called it good!

After supper everyone brought blankets to the living room and we watched "Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindlewald" (one of their Christmas gifts).

It started out like this, but by the end of the movie more blankets and pillows had been added, and it was wall to wall bedding and kids. 

So, a Greek tradition is to hang onions from your door. They appear to make pretty ristras with them, but I lacked the motivation, so we just poked a hole in the mesh bag they came in.

In the morning you get to tap an onion on each child's head to wake them. How hard you tap depends on how late they made you stay up the night before.

Not being sure how late they would actually stay awake, we spread out several things you are supposed to do right at midnight. In Russia you are supposed to write a wish for the New Year on paper, burn it in a champagne glass, and then drink champagne out of it. Gross, plus small children with fire. We modified to toss our wishes into the fireplace,

then drank our Shirley Temples.

Wit hthe movie over, we moved on to our never ending game of Alamogordo-opoly.

Which I am apparently playing with Nazgul.

In Turkey, you sprinkle salt on the doorstep,

and in Japan you ring a bell 108 times. (We did it quietly inside - you are welcome, neighbors.)

In Spain you eat 12 grapes.

Not all at once, Grace!

End the year as you mean to continue the next one:

Then jump into the New Year (Denmark), landing on your right foot (Facebook memes).

They actually made it until midnight! All but Daddy, who went to bed after 10, and Logan, who went upstairs at 11:45 telling me to come get him at midnight - and who was sound asleep ten minutes later. I told the others they could sleep in the living room as long as I didn't have to come downstairs and kill anyone. They actually settled in pretty quickly!

And at 6:30 Shane bounced right out of bed (or sleeping bag) and started going a million miles an hour as usual.

Jam-filled donuts for breakfast (Germany)

and we couldn't find marzipan pigs (Austria), so we ate bacon.

Close enough!

We were supposed to communicate with the animals (Romania) yesterday, but we tried this morning instead. 

Food is their love language, I'll say it worked.

We tapped bread against the wall to drive away evil spirits (Ireland), but Sheridan was disappointed to find her little brother was still here.

In Estonia you need to eat at least 7 times New Year's Day, so then we ate the bread with honey butter (left over from Shane's cowboy party).

If I was a good Armenian mother, I would make the bread myself, kneading wishes for the new year into it.

I didn't do that.

I did join the kids on a walk around the block with an empty suitcase (Colombia).

That was actually supposed to happen yesterday, but whatever. I told the one neighbor outside that I was trying to run away, but the kids kept following.

In the Philippines you eat round foods, so we snacked on oranges.

and Sheridan made cheesy meatballs. 

Of course, in the southern US, you have to eat your black-eyed peas. I prefer mine mashed up, though, with a LOT of cheese, sour cream, and salsa! The Pioneer Woman's recipe, found here, is so yummy I make it other times as well. You can switch up the salsa type or jalapenos - sometimes I use my jalapeno jam instead, this year I used some salsa verde.

We are all making goals for the year. Some we are still working on, but two of mine are to read together more, and to teach the kids to cook more. I know people who do things like employee evaluations are fairly rabid about "measurable outcomes", but I know if I say something like "Each child will cook one dish per week throughout the year," I am setting us all up for failure and discouragement. "More?" I can do more. One time counts as more. Success! 

However you chose to celebrate, I hope 2020 is your best year so yet!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Review: A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat


Sometimes when you are in the middle of a book and people ask you what it's about, you can give them a simple description that sums it up quite nicely. Perhaps it makes them think of similar books they have read, and they nod and smile and say they might want to read it when you are through.

Other times, you look up, clear your thoughts a moment, and say, "It's a Thai fantasy based on Les Miserables."

Blink. Blink. Crickets.

Need a more detailed description?

A boy on the run. A girl determined to find him. A compelling fantasy looks at issues of privilege, protest, and justice.

All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

While it is not likely that many middle school readers are familiar with the plot twists and characters of Les Miserables, as an adult reader I enjoyed the twists. The basic themes - redemption, class disparity, power, changing perspectives, etc. - are still there, but (small spoiler) Gavroche does not end up riddled with bullets! 

Sontornvat weaves a deft tale of realistic fantasy that will please readers of all ages, whether they have never heard of Les Mes, or whether they have had the entire score memorized since college. Three-dimensional characters are seldom all good or all bad (notable but still interesting exceptions in Father Cham and the Governor). A welcome addition to middle grade fantasy fiction, which has long been filled with Caucasian characters centered in Europe or the US.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Jones Kids on the Loose, 2019 Edition - Day 4 and 5

While we were on the road, Gracie was having a blast with Grandma! She really seemed to enjoy being an 'only child' for a while. Saturday they had a special day together that included brunch at The Friendship Tea House:

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, indoor and food

A trip to our favorite rescue to help socialize the pups:

Image may contain: 1 person, dog and outdoor

And an afternoon of thrift shops, where she scored a ton of Barbies and Barbie DVDs!

Back in Texas, we went out exploring again in the morning.

Of course it was Logan who was noticing and picking up the tiniest interesting rocks.

I think we got them all out of the cabin again...apologies to the staff if we missed any!

There was this very exciting family thing in the morning...but it hasn't hit Facebook yet, so I'm not going to tell you about it ;) 

Instead, here's a gigantic walking stick the cousins found:

He kept going around people's backs when I tried to get a picture!

Oh, right, much better.

After he was safely relocated to some trees, we hung out one last time as everyone started wandering home.

Our newest cousin, Aurelia (and her Daddy). Isn't she gorgeous?

Fists of fury!

Cool tunnels by the pond...

More frog catching (and releasing, despite pleas to take some home)

And then they wanted to go back to "Kids' Kingdom".

This park is also a great place to meet dogs! It includes a disc golf course, and many area pups like to join in. I got slobbered on by a very excited German Shepherd, an adorable bulldog, and a smooshy hound puppy who just wanted to be carried and have her belly rubbed.

This is pretty easy!

We had one last surprise for the kids in the evening. While we were making plans, I discovered one of my favorite people - and one of the kids' favorite authors - lived only an hour away! We made arrangements to meet for dinner. Sheridan caught her first name when I was talking to Mike, and started turning it over in her head. When we met up outside the restaurant and she gave me an advance copy of her next book, you could see her connect the dots.

"Is she the lady who writes the Chickies books???"

Why, yes. Yes, she is. We brought this new copy of our favorite (because the old copy has been read to pieces), and look how adorably she signed it! The kids were so tickled that she knew them so well (and as Sheridan mentioned several times, how to spell their names!)

If you do not have Janee Trasler's books in your library, you need to order them right now. And if you ever get the chance to spend time with her, take it! She is every bit as funny and sweet in person as she is online. We talked so much I hardly ate any of my food (or does that just mean I talked too much? Did I talk too much? Oh dear...)

About twenty minutes after we left, we both realized about the same time...we never took any pictures! We were just having too much fun! Oh well, that just means she has to come to New Mexico now.

Janee also gave each of the kids a bag for the ride home, and mean old Mom wouldn't even let them look until we were on the road the next morning. There were fun snacks greeted with cries of "Oh I love her!!!". Sheridan literally broke into song when she saw the Dove chocolate, her favorite. And then there was Flarp.

Flarp, for the uninitiated, is fart putty. When you make air bubbles and squish them, or squish it against the side of the container, it makes a farting sound. At first we just played with it in the container while on our tablets.

Then we started getting creative.

There were fart jokes. There were fart songs. And from farts, there isn't much of a leap to snot.

Such a proud Mommy moment.

I won't complain, though, because it kept them occupied pretty much the entire trip! The beautiful weekend weather was gone again, and we drove home in rain that froze to the windshield and heavy winds trying to toss us off the road.


We made it home after 9PM, the inside of the car pretty much trashed at that point, and somehow at least three children had Flarp in their hair, but we just tossed everyone into bed. I ended up taking the next day off to bathe children, unload the car, and do laundry...

Lots and lots of laundry!