Posts Tagged ‘Birthday Party’

A Darn Good Chocolate Cake

Monday, August 9th, 2010

This year for Ethan’s birthday, I gave him all of my cookbooks and let him pick out the cake for his special birthday BBQ bash. I realize I took a real gamble on this one, but thankfully he chose a cake that was a breeze to pull together and that required very little effort on my part. To be honest, I think this cake was chosen because “darn” is a word that he isn’t typically allowed to use a lot. When asked what kind of cake he was having for his birthday, an eruption of giggles would ensue and he would say, ” A DARN good chocolate cake. ” I love the innocence of youth!

Thanks to this cake being such a breeze to pull together, we did two cakes this year for the family members that weren’t craving a rich chocolate cake.  A blueberry muffin cake was also added to the dessert table and everyone was really happy to have two options to choose from. We saved on time and decorating, by incorporating a Mario figurine set around the cake that would double as a birthday gift. I found these at Toys R’ Us and we used some of the money that his grandparents had sent to put towards the figurine set.

This chocolate cake is rich, but not the sickeningly sweet rich that makes you clutch the sides of your stomach. It contains a devil’s food cake mix, a little sour cream, a chocolate pudding mix, and  a generous handful of semisweet chips. I dusted it with confectioner’s sugar, but the moisture in the cake kept absorbing it. If you are dusting this one, just wait until the last minute and then sift a generous amount on the top.

This is the perfect cake to tote to your next potluck dinner, to share with good friends, or just as a special treat for yourself. Serve it with a big glass of ice cold milk and you will feel like a child again as you indulge in this delicious cake!

Darn Good Chocolate Cake (Courtesy of  “The Cake Mix Doctor“)

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain devil’s food or dark chocolate fudge cake mix (I bought a devil’s food cake mix from Aldi)
1 package (3.9 ounces) chocolate instant pudding mix
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly mist a Bundt pan with cooking spray and then dust with flour. Set the pan aside. Place the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, sour cream, warm water, and oil in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for one minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat two to three minutes more, scraping the sides down again if needed. The batter should look thick and well combined. Fold in the chocolate chips, making sure they are distributed throughout the batter. Pour the batter in the pan and place the pan in the oven. Bake until the cake springs back when lightly pressed with your fingers and just starts to pull away from the pan. 45 to 50 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Run a long sharp knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto the rack to cool completely, 20 minutes or more. Dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar (if desired).

Blueberry Muffin Cake

Monday, July 19th, 2010

It is the season of all things berry! We are a divided family when it comes to loving blueberries. The girls in this house absolutely love anything blueberry and the boys give blueberries two thumbs down. Which leads me to my favorite grown-up saying…”Girls rule. Boys drool.” I know, I bet you wish you were half this sophisticated.

Even though the boys were not berry fans, for my son’s eighth birthday party, I wanted to add one special addition to the birthday dessert table with some of our blueberries. Although the hate for blueberries was strong, just a peek inside this cake shows why anyone can eat it. The cake only has one cup of blueberries in the whole thing. This handful of berries makes a beautiful stripe down the middle and adds just the right balance of blueberries and cake instead of the overwhelming amount of berries that can be in other cakes and muffins.

The blueberries are suspended in the batter with the help of a little reserved cake mix and a quick toss to coat them. The cake mix has added flavor boosts from the addition of cinnamon, vanilla yogurt, and a little vanilla pudding mix. The resulting cake is moist and absolutely perfect.

As is tradition in our house, the whole family helps with the cooking for our parties and Emily was more than happy to be my helper in the kitchen. A bowl of blueberries kept her content while I did the parts of the recipe that she could not help with. I will admit, we were both quite pleased with the results and one of us had a very full tummy too.

What did the guests think? A total hit with blueberry lovers and haters alike.

Blueberry Muffin Cake (Courtesy of  “The Cake Mix Doctor“)

1 package plain yellow or white cake mix (we used a yellow cake mix)

1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding mix

1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

1/2 cup canola oil

1/4 cup water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 large eggs

1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained

2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar (for dusting on top)

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 10-inch tube pan with shortening and then dust with flour. Set the pan aside. Measure out two tablespoons of the cake mix and reserve it. Place the remaining cake mix, pudding mix, yogurt, oil, water, cinnamon, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for one minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for two minutes more, scraping the sides down again if needed. The batter should look thick and well blended. Toss the blueberries with the reserved cake mix.

Pour two-thirds of the batter into the prepared pan. Scatter the blueberries over the batter. Spread the remaining batter over the blueberries so that it covers the fruit. Place the pan in the oven. Bake the cake until it is golden brown on top and just starts to pull away from the sides of the pan (approximately 45-50 minutes).

Remove the pan and place it on a wire rack to cool for twenty minutes. Run a long, sharp knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto a rack, then onto another rack so that the cake is right side up. Allow it to cool completely, 30 minutes or more. Place the cake on a serving platter and dust with confectioners sugar.

An Old-Fashioned Birthday BBQ Bash

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

This weekend we celebrated Ethan’s 8th birthday with a good old-fashioned birthday BBQ bash for our family.  I have so many new recipes and ideas to showcase from this party, but today I wanted to share with you some of the decorations and strategies that I took to save money and make this birthday special. Over the next few weeks, I will be highlighting the new recipes that I used and tips for creating the dishes in your home.

We greeted our guests with this beautiful birthday wreath that was featured in our notebook and recreated in our home from How Does She. It can be created in about a half hour and requires zero craft skills. Everyone commented on how cute it was and it will be put away on a shelf until the next birthday. It took about $13 in supplies and I am sure we will get every dollar out of this wreath. Isn’t it adorable? I have a real adoration for anything that can become a part of our yearly traditions and the kids loved that this let everyone know we were in celebration mode.

One investment that I made into our future parties was a set of burger baskets. I found these at Gordon’s Food Service ($14.99 for 12) and I purchased one package of delicatessen paper ($4.99 for 500 sheets) for my family celebrations. I really am not a fan of paper plates and one time use party products.  I also hate the bulk of heavy dishes when you have an outdoor party. These seemed like a great  alternative and are a little studier than paper plates. I admit it is also a nod to my love of all things diner and retro. We can use these all summer long and everyone seemed to really love this idea!

When you are on a party budget, you have to evaluate every aspect of food preparation. A vegetable tray that is pre-made can be purchased for between $10-12, but making a vegetable tray at home cost about $5 in supplies. I saved a deli platter from a catered party that I had hosted and added to to my own party supplies. This sturdy tray has been reused multiple times and adds a more professional element to my party without the added expenditure.

Buying corn that has already been cleaned and is ready to go can save time, but it can add quite a bit to the party budget if you are trying to stay within your budget constraints and have many mouths to feed. With a little effort and time, preparing the corn yourself can shave an easy $5 off of your budget.

Drinks can also add a lot to a party budget and that is why we usually rely on a big batch of birthday punch to save on this category.  It is easy to spend $20 or more on the drink budget, but with one great batch of punch and a little decaf coffee for the dessert hour, I can spend $6 in supplies that will serve fifteen people with plenty of refills. Now that is a huge savings!

I will admit the cake process can be intimidating for me and many other moms. I took a cake decorating class and found the process to be a little…tedious. When I have more time, perhaps I will pick it back up. This year, I gave my son all of my cookbooks and he and his sister spent a Saturday morning flipping through them and selecting the most perfect birthday cake. To my surprise, he selected an easy chocolate bundt cake that he said would be, “the most perfect cake ever.” Do you think sometimes we put more pressure on ourselves as mothers than necessary?

This cake cost about $4 in supplies and still wowed everyone without the labor of homemade frosting and perfectly piped decorations. It was so simple, in fact, that I added a berry cake (another $4 in supplies) so our guests had two cake options. Both of them were perfection and cost a mere $8 versus two bakery cakes that would cost $15 to $25 each. Hurray for saving money and hurray for easy cakes! (recipes coming soon)

Thanks to waiting until after the fourth of July this year (instead of having a patriotic party like last year), we were able to take advantage of clearance party supplies to create the wreath and for the paper products that we did have to buy. A little ribbon added to a cake platter ties our theme in beautifully and we were able to take advantage of those clearance tables!

Does this look like the face of a child who has had the worst celebration ever because of his mother’s cheapness?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Birthday Party Punch

2 liter bottle fruit punch flavored soda or strawberry flavored soda (I found this at Walmart)
2 liter (half a bottle) Cherry 7-Up
1 (12 ounce) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 can pineapple juice

Mix all the ingredients together for the punch. This will fill one large punch bowl or two smaller ones.


Perfectly Pulled Pork Sandwiches (Adapted from All Recipes)

1 (4 pound) Boston butt (or pork shoulder)
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle root beer
1 (18 ounce) bottle your favorite barbecue sauce
8 hamburger buns, split and lightly toasted

Place the pork meat  in a slow cooker; pour the root beer over the meat. Cover and cook on low until well cooked and the pork shreds easily (I cooked for eight hours).  Shred the meat and drain the root beer from the slow cooker. Stir in barbecue sauce and toss gently. Serve over hamburger buns.

Many more recipes to come…

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

Monday, July 12th, 2010

This week we celebrated my son’s eighth birthday with two delicious little celebrations that I can’t wait to share with you. We decided to do a friend party and a family party this year and I let Ethan pick who he wanted to invite and what activity he wanted to do for his big day.  His idea of the perfect party involved two friends, one Wii, and lots of my homemade cupcakes. I have to say it was the cheapest party ever thanks to having everything on hand to make his celebration special right in my pantry and fridge.

If you haven’t tried this recipe for Snickerdoodle Cupcakes, you must try them because they are the most delicious cupcakes ever.  The cupcakes are made from a cake mix (you can use white or yellow cake mix) with the addition of a few pantry ingredients that takes the cake to another level. What sets this cupcake right over the top though is the homemade cinnamon buttercream frosting that made every single child at the table declare it, “the best cupcake EVER!” Oh yes, it is really is that grand!

I piped the frosting on the cupcakes with a Wilton 2D tip and just went around and around in a swirly motion, leaving the cinnamon cake edges peeking out of the side. I am not a fancy cake decorator, in fact, I will do anything to get out of decorating cakes right now. Fortunately, these cupcakes are still impressive without all of the fancy cupcake bells and whistles.

In a moment of spontaneity, I set aside a cupcake for his breakfast in the morning as a special surprise. He enjoyed his cupcake before the rest of the family had risen and we had a private little celebration for just the two of us. The efforts for this tiny gesture, I hope, will be one we will always remember. I also think we have created a brand new tradition that I can’t wait to repeat again for future birthdays.

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes/Cake (adapted from, “The Cake Mix Doctor Cookbook“)

1 package plain white cake mix or yellow cake mix
1 cup whole milk (I used skim milk and it still tasted delicious)
1 stick of butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 stick butter
3 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
3-4 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and flour & grease 2 9″ pans (for cakes) or line your cupcake tin. Place cake mix, milk, melted butter, eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Blend for three minutes (stop to scrape once). Pour into pans and bake for 27-29 minutes (for cake) or 22-25 minutes (for cupcakes). Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Beat butter until fluffy for frosting. Add all other ingredients.

This recipe yields eighteen cupcakes…or approximately one serving.

Ain’t No Party Like a LEGO Party

Monday, July 7th, 2008

What a busy holiday weekend this was for us! We celebrated Ethan’s sixth birthday with his dream party- a LEGO birthday party. I must say that I tried to put a lot of effort into this one and he was the happiest little boy I had ever seen!

What’s a LEGO party without a LEGO cake though? I had bookmarked a recipe in my notebook entry for a LEGO cake, but we were entertaining a lot of people and the cake would not cover the amount of people that I needed it to. I also did not want to try and cut and make shapes out of a sheet cake. I opted to prepare two cake mixes in loaf pans to create this cake. One cake mix per loaf pan, cooked as directed, but cooked for at least an hour (mine took approximately one hour and ten minutes to cook these cakes at the same time). I then froze the cake overnight which helped keep the crumbs at bay and made it easier to decorate. I did use the marshmallows, but opted for blue and yellow for colors. This cake was extremely difficult to frost around and on top of the marshmallows, but I think the results turned out great, even though it was not as smooth as I had aimed for. The cost to make these two cakes was $5.50.

We had the party outside so I kept the decorating simple. I made pinwheels out of my scrapbook paper. To make these, just fold your paper accordion-style. Then fold your accordion in half and fan these out. You can then staple these to one another (along the back side) to make your pinwheel. Each of these pinwheels had three pieces of paper on them each. You just want to make sure that the paper is very sturdy so it will hold the shape. I gave them a hole with a hole punch and then tied them on the underside of the umbrella with green raffia. They looked really lovely under the patio umbrella.

For the indoor food table, I did a big basket of LEGOS and I framed a letter that I wrote to Ethan about how special he was to us. This is the first year I have done this, and we read this to him as a bedtime story before bed the night before. He loved hearing about how much we loved him and how proud we were of him. The grandparents loved reading it too and seeing what cool things happened this year. Total spent on decorations and party supplies- $0

I did serve food at the party and opted for some take-and-bake pizzas to help save me some time. Our Papa Murphy’s is just down the road and I signed up for their e-club so that I could get a new batch of coupons. We printed these out and used these on four family size pizzas. Total cost for pizza for twenty $34 (with plenty of leftovers). We also served some fresh melon, spinach dip with carrot sticks, & tortilla chips with salsa, and soda. Overall, I spent about $50 on food (which includes the cost of the cake), but we also have a couple of dinners and plenty of snacks leftover to eat!

Entertainment consisted of dragging out every outdoor game and toy we could imagine to keep the kiddos busy. The kids also spent lots of time coloring on free LEGO coloring pages that I printed up from the LEGO website. They could take these pages home with them to color too so that filled in for those goody bags. Total cost spent on entertainment and goody bags- $0

All of that effort for this perfect moment right here. Ethan wished for a hundred kisses from his mom & dad. I think we can do that! How I wish he was always this innocent and that I could freeze this perfect moment forever. Perfect moment…oh, you know it… PRICELESS!

Total Amount Spent on LEGO Party for Twenty: $50

A Homemade Kind of Birthday

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

In a future episode of my segment on WSBT, I am discussing ways to simplify birthday parties and the birthday party process. Like everything, it easy to get caught up in the hype of the celebration and the focus becomes less about the birthday girl/boy and more about the giant bouncy house and enormous goody bags.

This year we opted for a simple homemade celebration for Emily’s 2nd birthday party. At this point, we are able to get away with just family attending. With just over twenty people in our immediate family, having family feels like a giant party without even having to invite any friends over.

Once again, I ran into a dilemma with holiday festivities complicating a birthday celebration. Emily’s birthday is on the nineteenth so I opted to have her birthday on the first, so that her party would not get lost in the mix of holiday get togethers. Unfortunately, Ethan’s Christmas concert fell on the same day at the same exact time, so I had to put together a meal that could be eaten following a Christmas concert.

I had hoped to do brunch, but trying to figure out how I could have everything immediately on the table for consumption was proving to be challenging and then with the time shift (meal following the concert instead of morning time) I thought a lunch would be more appropriate.

This is what our homemade birthday party looks like:

Invitations- I purchased really cute blank cards and envelopes for the invitations. They had sixty cards in the package and I used seven cards out of the box. I had a coupon at Michaels, so I was able to get the package of cards for about $6. I just used my number stamps to stamp the invites with a giant “2” for our party. I did purchase a party stamp that I used for the date/time and they had a sale on the stamps so I was able to get it for approximately $3. I can use this over and over so I did spend a bit for the initial investment, but I plan to use this often. The extra cards in my set will be stamped with the same “2” stamp and we will use these for thank-you notes. Total cost for invites was approximately $4.

Party Decorations- I purchased one bag of pink balloons, one package of white streamer paper, one package of party blowers, and a tiara for the birthday girl. We just used regular plates and cutlery so we saved on the paper products department. Total cost was approximately $3.

Slow Cooker Chicken BBQ- I made this the night before and it cooked all night long. In the morning, I shredded the chicken and then put it back in the slow cooker to cook. The longer this cooks, the more the BBQ flavor comes out. It ended up being perfect for the dinner. This cost approximately $4 to serve twelve people. (Side Note: I had BARELY enough of this for our party because, during the cooking process, my chicken breasts shrunk considerably and I had a lot less meat than I had anticipated. With chili on the menu though, we managed to make this amount work. I had used approximately 3 pounds of chicken. The buns were provided by my in-laws so I did not factor in this cost).

White Chili- I made this the day before and put it in a plastic container in our fridge, after it was done cooking. The chili was thrown back into the slow cooker to be cooking while the concert was going on. I served this with chili toppers like shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream. This cost approximately $6 to serve twelve people.

Tossed Salad With Balsamic Dressing & Homemade Croutons- I cut all of the lettuce up the night before and tossed it into a plastic bag for the next day. The croutons were made from leftover bread that I had from my Bunco night potluck that I had went to. The dressing was made the day before in a mason jar and I just gave it a shake and poured when we arrived. It made a beautiful salad and cost about $4 to serve twelve people.

Best Birthday Cupcakes- These were made and decorated the day before. I served them on my pretty cake platters. These cost approximately $1.50 for twenty-four cupcakes.

Total Cost for Party- $22.50

I find it very gratifying to see how much I saved by hosting and making my own homemade birthday party. The reason I shared this is because people sometimes say that it is cheaper to just buy everything from their superstore or that you would spend just as much money having someone else host the party, but that might not necessarily be true. There is certainly convenience in buying food that is already made, but there is definitely a cost involved.

Much like Meredith, from Like Merchant Ships, sharing about the cost of making a homemade pumpkin pie versus buying a pie, it is often easy to think that you would spend as much to have a birthday party somewhere else versus the cost of hosting it yourself. When I sat down to write this all out, I realized that there was a great savings by having my own party and I have to say that the food was a lot better than having it somewhere else.

It felt good to have such a fun and loving celebration for our daughter without spending astronomical amounts of money. We still had a beautiful day and I believe she felt just as special as she would have with a fancy celebration. After all, it is all about celebrating who they are and I think we were able to capture that with our homemade and inexpensive birthday party.

Here are a couple of additional recipes that we had used to make our birthday lunch:

Basic Vinaigrette Dressing (Courtesy of How to Cook Everything)

1/4 cup good vinegar, such as sherry, balsamic, red, or white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional, but I did use)
3/4 cu
p extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons minced shallots (optional, but I subbed with a teaspoon of minced garlic)

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

I placed all of these ingredients into a Mason jar and shook the ingredients. Taste to adjust salt and add more oil or vinegar if needed. Add shallots and pepper. This is best made fresh, but it will keep refrigerated for a few days; bring back to room temperature before using.

To make a small amount of Basic Vinaigrette: Combine 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon mustard, 3-4 tablespoons oil, and 1/2 teaspoon minced shallots. Prepare as directed above.

White Chili (Courtesy of

1 onion, chopped (I left this out because we don’t like onions)
3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
2 (4 ounce) cans canned green chile peppers, chopped (we used mild)

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

ground cayenne pepper to taste

ground white pepper to taste

3 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans (we used Navy beans)

5 cups chicken broth

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

In a large pot over medium heat, combine the onion, garlic and ground turkey and saute for 10 minutes, or until turkey is well browned. Add the chile peppers, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne pepper to taste and white pepper to taste and saute for 5 more minutes. Add two cans of the beans and the chicken broth to the pot. Take the third can of beans and puree them in a blender or food processor. Add this to the pot along with the cheese. Stir well and simmer for 10 minutes, allowing the cheese to melt.

Best Birthday Cupcakes in the World

Monday, October 8th, 2007
My sister-in-law’s boyfriend celebrated his birthday Friday night. To help out with the evening’s festivities, I offered to make the cupcakes for his special day. I found a recipe in my favorite cupcake book, “Cupcakes from the Cake Doctor” and picked her “Best Birthday Cupcakes” recipe.

These cupcakes are as close to a bakery cupcake as I will probably ever make. They are light and sweet, but not too sweet. They have a great consistency and are perfectly moist and sturdy enough to hold up to a good dose of yummy frosting.

I will probably never search for the perfect birthday cupcake again after sampling these. I paired the cupcake with her Chocolate Syrup Frosting which was the perfect way to top this delicious cake.

No more searching, ladies! This is THE cupcake for every celebration. Enjoy!!

The Best Birthday Cupcakes

24 paper liners

1 package plain butter recipe golden cake mix (I subbed with white and loved it!)

1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Syrup Frosting (recipe to follow)

Colored sprinkles or candy cake decorations for garnish

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line cupcake cups with liners. Set the pans aside. Place the cake mix, cream cheese, sugar, water, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend on low speed with an electric mixer for 30 seconds, until the ingredients are well blended then stop the machine and scrape down the sides. Increase the mixer to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again if needed. The batter should be smooth and thickened. Spoon or scoop 1/4 cup batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it two thirds of the way full (You should get between 22-24 cupcakes). Place the pans in the oven. Bake the cupcakes until they are golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 24-27 minutes. Remove pans from oven and place them on wire racks to cool for five minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool fifteen minutes before frosting. Meanwhile prepare your frosting…
Chocolate Syrup Frosting

1 stick butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup chocolate syrup

3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the butter, cocoa powder, and chocolate syrup in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until just combined (about 30 seconds). Stop the machine and add the sugar, milk, and vanilla. Blend with the mixer on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 1 minute more. Use to frost your cupcakes.

Teaching My Kid to Say Thank You

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

I decided to do some different types of thank you cards this year. I ran across a cute Martha Stewart stamp set with numbers on it, from the Michael’s Craft Store. The set included two sets of ten numbers (0-9) in two different styles for $14.99 for all of the stamps total. I figured I could use these in the future for each of the kid’s thank you notes and could also use them as invitations for our parties.

The blank note cards were on sale for $1.50 and included twenty cards. Each of the cards were stamped with the number “5” on it and we wrote out a note of thankfulness for the great birthday gifts he received.

It is important to me to teach my children to be thankful for what they receive. I believe it is the key to getting a lot of what you want in life. People take notice when you are grateful and will want to do more for you because they know how much you appreciate things. For me to just write a thank you note on his behalf, however, doesn’t involve him in learning gratitude. I want him to participate in helping with these, even if he can’t write yet.

Next to each of my notes, he drew a picture to help with the card. Of course, what he says the pictures are often become more funny than the picture itself. I ask him to explain what each picture is and write a subtitle. For this set of cards, here were some of his subtitled responses:

Picture of a Door: “You Can Always Come to Our House” (This sounded like he could write for Hallmark, don’t you think?)

Picture ?: Ethan begins laughing, “We don’t know what this is. It is a very strange thing.”

Picture of a Mommy with a giant dress:
Ethan: “This is mommy when you have a baby inside you.”
Me: (About to PASS OUT!) “But I don’t have a baby inside me.”
Ethan: “Yes, you do!”
Me: (Getting agitated) “No, I DON’T”
Ethan: “Yes, when you had EMILY inside of you. That is what I am talking about.”

Isn’t it fun what our children can come up with?

Sound Off: How do you teach your children gratitude?

Related Readings:

Why Being Thankful is So Important
Raising Creative Kids
Raising Financially Responsible Teens
I Heart You!
What is This Secret?

Celebrating With Cheap Class

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Can cheap and classy go hand in hand? Maybe I am wrong, but I believe these two can be intertwined, as long as you can try to not look TOO cheap in front of your friends and family.

Ethan celebrated his 5th birthday and had a wonderful birthday party to remember. We picked the Fourth of July for celebrating because we figured the majority of the family could come since it is a holiday. We offered to host a cook out and everyone offered to bring a dish and their gifts for the birthday boy.

I decided to make this delicious birthday cake out of ingredients purchased at Aldi. The results were fantastic! This tasted close to a DQ ice cream cake, but without the make-your-teeth-hurt sweetness from that frosting. I would recommend this cake to any mom whose child doesn’t like real cake (my sister was one of those children) or as a fun summer party treat. We decorated it with little cars on top from the movie, “Cars.”

Price Breakdown:

1.5 packages of frozen burger patties- $4.99 each or $7.48 total
2 packages of beef hot dogs- $1.99 each or $3.98 total
4 packages of buns (hot dog and hamburger) $.65 each or $2.60 total
2 packages of ice cream sandwiches $1.69 each or $3.38 total
2 containers of whipped topping $.99 each or $1.98 total
1 package of cookies for crumbling $.99
2 bags of chips $.99 each or $1.98 total
Homemade Pasta Salad $3.50
Birthday Banner $3.99

Total Spent: $29.88

19 Guests= $1.57 per guest

Things that we omitted this time:

Friends- If we had a small family, I would feel really inclined to do friends at the party, but our family is big and just a family party for me can feel a bit overwhelming. We are doing little play dates with friends this week and maybe we can polish off the rest of the cake as a small celebration of his birth. My nephew & Ethan are just nine months apart though and are the best of buddies so he still felt like he had a friend there to celebrate. Of course, he was the center of attention and who could possibly love or appreciate you more than your family? No one!

Party Favors- I have never been a big fan of these, personally, and so I avoided this cash trap this time. It helped that we didn’t have friends coming and the kids had the best time playing with all of his new things that I felt like the party favors would have been lost in the fun anyway.

Paper Products- With the exception of the infamous birthday banner, I didn’t do paper products this time (other than paper napkins that I keep for such occasions). I did do two loads of dishes, but everyone pitched in with clean-up so it wasn’t a big deal at all.

The “Only Me Mentality”- I was thinking that I wanted to ask people to bring a dish since it was a cookout, but then thought that might give the impression that I am cheaper than my usual cheap self. Instead, when I called to share that we were having a get together, everyone asked what they could bring to the party. Usually, I would say to just bring themselves, but everyone seemed insistent that they did want to do something to help. And you know what? I pushed my pride aside and let them. Everyone had such yummy dishes and they were happy to share. And that made me happy to not have more dishes to have to cook. It helped that it was the Fourth of July and we would have probably done a family cookout together anyway. Combining the two events helped me feel a little less cheap.

I know many people forgo the dinner/lunch portion of the party, but we live a bit of a distance for our family to have to travel just for cake. I love to sit and visit and share food with everyone so while this could have been more affordable, I still feel like we did really well for the money and we hope Ethan will have many happy memories of his special day!

Sound Off: Can cheap & classy go together? How do you save money when it comes time to celebrate?

Related Readings:

Kid’s Party Etiquette for Parents
Ten Easy Steps to Great Kid’s Party Pictures
Find an Activity
Birthday Party Ideas
McDonald’s Birthday Parties
Simplifying Gift Giving

Happa What?

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

I was so excited to finally get a chance to head over to Michael’s and check out the new Martha Stewart line that they are carrying. All of the trademark colors and quality crafts were there. The price was better than some of her other lines, but a bit steep compared to some of the other items that the store offers.

We are combining a Fourth of July family get together with my son’s fifth birthday. It was an easy way to still get together for the holiday and also enjoy a birthday party with our family. I hunted through the birthday goodies at Michael’s and found this beautiful birthday garland and some fun puppet crafts (no glue required!) for my nephew and son to do.

When I brought up our purchases to the cashier, I asked that the coupon be applied to a Martha Stewart rubber stamp set that I wanted to use for my thank you notes & invitations. The girl informed me that the store is not allowed to use the store coupons on the Martha Stewart line. She said that Martha had made a stipulation that she would carry the line on the condition that none of the items go on sale and none of the store coupons could be applied to the purchase. Then, muttered quietly under her breath, “She is SO greedy!” Disappointment set in, as I had many things from the line that I had planned to purchase utilizing the coupon. The quality on these items was there…or so I thought!

This morning, I was bustling around trying to get ready for our big event, I went to put the birthday garland together. The ribbon to the garland was already frayed and falling apart and the garland didn’t even have the right letters in it.

Would a five year old notice that his big banner said, “HAPPA BIRTHDAY” or would he be content with how it looked? Considering the purchase was made to be used more than once, I marched back in there and showed the girl what had happened. She told me that I could replace it and as I was walking away, I heard her say, “This is from the MARTHA line! I guess even she makes mistakes!”

I doubt I will buy anything else from the line, if this is a taste of the quality and craftsmanship that will be going into these pieces.

Regardless, HAPPA BIRTHDAY, Ethan! You are loved more than words and we hope to make your day extra special!
And for the rest of you have a HAPPA FOURTH!