Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tween Zebra and Moustache Sleepover Party


This was my daughter's first sleepover party. First, we decided on a number. I thought eight was manageable. The only rule was, "No drama girls."

About four weeks ahead of time, we sent out a Save the Date via Evite. We mailed invitations two weeks later. The photo above shows the photo card I created on Shutterfly. My daughter is an Instagramer, so this fit her personality.

Her theme started as leopard and hot pink, but as we were shopping for items, she decided she liked zebra and hot pink better, even though it's a bit overdone. I found plates and napkins at Big Lots for $1 per pack. At some point, moustaches were thrown into the theme, which made it a little more fun.


For gift bags, I used four hot pink and four black paper bags from Wal-Mart. My husband cut zebra Duck tape into strips the width of the bag and placed them in the center of one side. Pink bags had black fuzzy socks and black bags had pink ones. The birthday girl's socks were zebra striped. I have a ribbon hole puncher and used at the tops of the bags.

I found party mints at Wal-Mart in zebra wrapping and added candy and a chewable grape flavored moustache. I used a sheet of shipping labels to print each girls name with a little moustache above it and secured those to the back of the bags, which served as name cards for place settings.

I bought two 4-packs of clear plastic cups, and my husband again cut zebra Duck tape and secured around the tops of the cups. He first made a template with paper to determine the width that would fit without having wrinkles (which is the area of the cup before it begins to taper down). He used an Exacto knife and a plastic top to a storage container to measure and cut the tape.

Another cute Wal-Mart find were moustache party straws. The pre-cut holes in the moustaches were too small, so this was a bit stressful trying to attach without ripping the cardboard. These could easily be made with card stock, a Google image, and hole punch.

For the sleeping area, we used one of my boys' rooms (they both were kicked out for the night). That room already has two futons, so we opened them as beds and then put one more mattress on the floor between the two futons. This was still a tight fit for eight girls, but we thought it would at least work for movie watching, and then as they became sleepy, they could always get up a find another place to sleep.

I found zebra striped pillow cases at Wal-Mart for $2.50 per two-pack. Pillows were $2.50 each. Of course, they weren't high quality ones, but they served the purpose of a cute party favor. We looked everywhere for hot pink, soft fleece blankets, and finally someone posted a lot on eBay and I snagged them. We set up each pillow and blanket on the mattresses, and my daughter and husband hung streamers from the ceiling.

The Party

Girls were dropped off at our house. My husband and I then transported them in our vehicles to the mall. In order to eliminate any drama over who rides with whom, I used one of the bags the pillow cases came in to create a drawing. My husband's vehicle was the moustache and mine was zebra. This made it quick and easy, and we used it each time we drove somewhere. It was also good for mixing up the groups so that little cliques didn't form.

The Photo Scavenger Hunt

My boys met us at the mall and were the leaders of the two photo scavenger hunt groups. The instructions were in sealed envelopes, so that no one saw them ahead of time. Again, we drew from the zebra bag in order to select teams. The rules for the game were as follows:
  1. No running.
  2. No screaming.
  3. Every girl in the group has to be in the photo.
  4. The group leaders are the photographers.
  5. Photos must be texted to Mom.
  6. The first one to text an item receives 2 points; the second one receives 1 point.
  7. Items do not have to be completed in order, so a good strategy allows more "firsts."
  8. The first group to return to Mom with all texts completed receives an additional 5 points.

The winning team took a photo making "We're #1" signs.
And the losing team made  the sign for loser.
Afterwards we had a snack at Auntie Anne's.

The Dance Class

After a stop at home for a quick change, we headed to my daughter's dance academy for a hip hop class and pizza. Even the non-dancers enjoyed the class, although one had to skip this part in order to go pitch a softball game. An alternative to paying for studio time would be to pay a high school dancer to come over and teach a dance to the girls.
We had pizza delivered to the studio and brought a cooler with drinks. Very easy.

Time for Cake

Back at home, we had cake and ice cream and opened gifts. I learned years ago to purchase individual ice cream cups and bottled or can drinks. However, because we had the cute moustache straws and zebra cups, we served milk or water this time.


I tacked a pink plastic table cloth on the wall and the girls had fun posing for pictures with photo booth props from Wal-Mart.

The Nail Polish Game kept them busy for at least 30 minutes. Girls who had recent manicures painted their toes instead of fingers.

After nails dried, the girls put on pajamas and their new socks and headed to the sleeping room to play Truth or Dare and then watch movies. I found a 4-movie Girls' Night DVD at Target.

Some girls were asleep by 1:00 AM and some stayed up until 4:00 AM, but they were quiet enough for me! Of course those who fell asleep first woke up with moustaches drawn on their faces.


Simplicity was again the goal. The girls served themselves and enjoyed a sleepy-head breakfast together before everyone was picked up at 10:00 AM. My daughter pitched in to clean up, gave me a big hug, and headed for her bed.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

To All the Moms I've Known Before

Matt with The Pinz
Scrolling through my Facebook feed, my heart sank as I read, "Just remembered this Sunday is my least favorite holiday of the year..." Matt, a friend of The Pinz posted that. His mom was killed when he was just a toddler. 

A week prior I read a post from Karen, a former student, "11 more days an I am not ready. Can we bypass that day? Its only a wish." Her mom died last year. Two childhood friends, both Pams, have put up pictures of their moms this week. Both girls have been left to raise families without the comfort and support of their mothers. Another friend, Milva, is again missing her sweet mama.

While many people are celebrating with gifts and meals and quality time, Mother's Day brings sadness to countless others. I used to be one of the latter. But then I recalled the advice of one of the many moms I've had the pleasure of knowing. Alta Bruce tells her girls, "When you're feeling down, do something for someone else." So I decided to send cards that year to my friends who had lost children during their lifetime or to those who were facing their first Mother's Day without their own moms. I've done this for several years now, and I always feel guilty when they thank me. Because I do it partially to help myself.

This year I decided that I would write something for all of them together. Partially to help myself. 


It would be so easy to have a pity party for having no parents and no grandparents. But negativity isn't something I cling to very often. When I was about ten, my Nona insisted I read Pollyanna. She fully subscribed to the find something to be happy about mentality. She trained me to think that way. Sometimes it's really annoying. You want to just be mad or sad, but those happy thoughts come creeping in. You start counting your blessings. And there it is. Your mood is lifted. So as this Mother's Day was approaching, my sadness was overcome by a feeling of being blessed to have known and been influenced by so many wonderful mothers.

In a birthday card to my son this week, my uncle proclaimed, "We aren't just the age we are presently, but all the ages we have been before." So true. It's why I love Facebook. While I'll admit, there are people on there whom I have no idea how I know them, most are near and dear to my heart and have contributed in some way to who I am or what my life story is.

My own mom was brave. She had polio as a child. She had me as a teenager. She taught me much
Me with My Parents in 1968
about life. It just took me awhile to understand it all. But hers is a story for another blog. With a crazy daddy who appeared and disappeared irregularly, I often  longed for a "normal" home; however, my Pollyanna attitude has always reminded me to be forever grateful for the two godly women who helped raise me. My grandmothers were amazing women. They poured love into me. Theirs are also stories for another time.

Of course I had other family members to stand in the gap as well - a special aunt who somehow managed to remember me in the midst of raising her three in a somewhat dysfunctional situation;  a happy-go-lucky sister; lots of fun cousins; and a few great-aunts who had no children of their own and thereby did extra special things for me. But it's not them I am writing about today. It's the moms who aren't family members who have enhanced my life. For them I am thankful this Mother's Day.

One of those moms is the latest loss. Her girls are facing their first motherless Mother's Day. I met this family as soon as I moved from Atlanta to Blackshear. They had no idea of the chaos that had ensued in the years prior to my move. They didn't know they were the first "real" family I had seen in action, other than the Cleavers and the Bradys on television  But they modeled for me the values I would later seek for my own life - family, faith, fun. And hard work. Theirs was a loving home. The girls had beautifully decorated rooms with plenty of clothes and toys, but they were expected to work. In tobacco fields. In the kitchen. I can still picture them scurrying onto counter tops to put dishes away in cabinets they couldn't yet reach. Much to my dismay, they even cut their Nanny's toe nails. And their mother was lovely. The epitome of a southern lady. She could light up a room. And she made everything into a funny story. Even the bad things her girls might or might not have done through the years. She knew how to punish them, but she also knew how not to take life too seriously. Paige and Mit, I'm blessed to have been a part of the Henderson family during those precious years of country living. I hope you are counting your many blessings this Mother's Day.

Another heart-wrenching Facebook post this week was a family portrait. Four beautiful, wonderful adult siblings and their families. Heart-wrenching because two of the siblings are no longer with us. The mother who posted it is one of the moms I'm blessed to have known. I laugh just thinking of the crazy fun she allowed us to have (well for the part she was aware of anyway). They had a big house full of children, theirs and anybody else's who wanted to be there, along with an enormous dog. No space was off limits. We made green muffins from scratch and had sleepovers in the laundry room, the back deck, the brothers' bath tub. We snuck out at night and went skinny dipping in the lake. When the lake was drained, we covered ourselves from head to toe in mud. We jumped out the window, rang the front door bell, and jumped back in. And if it wasn't enough to have the run of the house, they also let us get free bottle drinks from the Coke slider machine at their pharmacy. My favorite thing though was mealtime. Eating with that many people was interesting to say the least. And I was always amazed at how this family managed to get up on Sunday mornings, get ready for church, AND have bacon, sausage, and pancakes for breakfast - without killing each other. Ms. Janice, I am blessed to have been a part of the wonderful Smith family for so many years. I am glad to see that you are still able to count your blessings.

There are many, many others.

Jackie Houston who also allowed us to play all over the house, have grand parties in the play room, make big messes in the kitchen, and turn the music up loudly. Jami, I'm forever thankful for the memories.

Latrell Baggs who cooked for us and always managed to remain so calm and kind. Angela and Melanie, you two come as a package along with an entire clan of people who I am blessed to have known and learned about love, humor, and appreciation of individualism.

Joyce Dixon Fowler, who is still in my life, is a testament to the inner strength of a woman. After losing her husband in a military accident while living in another country, she pulled herself together and raised three girls by herself. They didn't always make it easy. But she has an endless amount of grace and love and mercy. And she gives it with all the class of a true southern lady.

Together we have all shared happy times. And yet we also share loss. We share pain.

My thoughts and prayers are with so many. Along with Paige and Misty, two other sets of sisters are experiencing their first Mother's Day without their moms. Verna Lynn and Carmen lost their mom almost a year ago. She fitted me for my wedding gown. Beth and Carol suffered their loss in the fall. A farmer's wife. The very essence of traditional American wholesome values.

But as difficult as it is to lose your mother, there are far too many who have lost a part of themselves when a child was taken so soon.

Em (sitting) and me (standing)
Mary Lane lost my cousin Emily Ann when I was about five years old. There have been many moments in my life that gripped Mary Lane's heart. I could recognize the pain in her eyes, even though I was often too young to understand it. Yet she kept smiling. She, too, was trained by that Pollyanna loving lady. She smiled at my Easter dresses at church. Even offered to take me shopping sometime. She smiled, through tears, when I walked the church isle in cap and gown and then again in a wedding dress. Her strength is a part of me. It's a part of her daughter-in-law, Melinda, too. Losing their Ann Marie a few years ago was seemingly unbearable. Yet no other life celebration has touched me the way hers did. Faith was the message. Maybe not from the preacher. I don't remember. But from the family. I'm blessed to call you all family.

My friend and former colleague, Jane, lost her Winston as he was just making the transition from boy to man. Jane's relaxed manner and funny stories about raising her three helped me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. She had the hindsight that I wasn't privy to yet. Cathy Landers also lost a young man, Adam. Theirs is a quiet strength.

Fratina Is a New Mom
Several friends experienced loss at the time when life was supposed to be the gift they were receiving. Amy, Teresa, Fratina have suffered something so delicate and raw. But God certainly sent other blessings to them. Fratina posted news of the finalization of her two adoptions this week! Mother's Day will have new meaning.

My cousin Melanie lost Denton, one of her twins, before ever being able to bring him home from the
hospital. She didn't allow her heart to be closed, however. Sister Blaine now has two beautiful siblings all the way from Russia.

My friend Michelle lost her precious MJ after watching him suffer as disease took over his little body. Michelle reminds me of the verse that says rejoicing comes in the morning. She starts every day with Him, and therefore, finds strength to bless others.

So many other friends are in my constant prayers.

Gina and Renee and I lined our babies on the sofa in their onesies. We teased Gina about using
Kaley, Wyatt, and Breanna
jelly on the pacifier. We never imagined Kaley's life here would be cut short. Gina's mother, Ms. Vera Sue, helped her through this unimaginable time, and then later lost Gina's brother Joey. This is another family that impacted my life, and so many others, by the fun times in their loving home. The Pophams are everybody's family.

My friends and former colleagues, Kim and Teresa, are still trying to figure out life without their handsome boys, Holt and Layne. While Pam, Kathy P, Jill, Aunt Shirley, Kathy C, Ms. Virgina have all had more time to heal, their hearts are no more mended. All share a strong faith that gives strength to those who miss their children, Rob, Beth Ann, Kelly, Jerry, Tag, and Austin.

Grandma Brenda (on the ground), my Walt & Alex Jr. (sitting)

My sister-in-law lost her teenage son, Alex Jr., who was born a month after his father was tragically killed along with her brother, Walt. My mother-in-law is overcome with this heartache. The other grandmother, Brenda, who also lost both son and grandson had already suffered the loss of her first born, Ardie, years earlier. It's almost too much to fathom. Brenda is one of my personal heroes. Her heart has remained open and she has continually given of herself and managed to find joy and laughter even after much tragedy.

Mary, Meghan, and Kelly
Another hero is Lynn. Lynn who comforted me at the funeral home. She and Robbie who are a walking testimony to what we can overcome. They lost both of their precious girls, her father, and a special friend all in one moment. Our little community thought we could handle anything together. But we fell apart. Robbie sent comfort to us through the preacher with a Word that would pull us back together. Collectively, we ensured the lives and grand memories of Meghan, Mary, Mr. Eldon, and Kelly were celebrated as the Gaskins ministered to us through their words and actions in the days that followed. Their faith held us together.

And because of that and the strength I find from all of these moms, I am blessed this Mother's Day. My heart still aches for my mother. But it aches profoundly more for these mothers who are missing parts of themselves. And yet they find something to be happy about.

As Robbie Gaskins reminded us, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28

Counting My Blessings

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Skip the Spring Cleaning

This post inspired by my newlywed cousin's blog:

Love, Pasta and a Tool Belt

My cousin Emily blogged recently about her first spring cleaning (see link above) and asked for readers to share their own tips. As I started to respond, I quickly realized that after 27+ years of keeping house, I had a little more to say than would fit in that comment box.

I was cursed blessed with a double dose of the organization gene, so I do realize what comes naturally to me may require much more effort for others. I used to call my teacher friend during our holiday breaks, and each time I asked what she was doing, I got the same response, "Cleaning out closets and drawers." I can honestly say, I've never spent more than a few minutes cleaning out anything other than a child's room when he was out of town.

So here are my tips for AVOIDING spring cleaning:

Tip #1: Get Rid of The Dump

It might be a spare bedroom, the kitchen table, a chair in your family room. Whatever...wherever you are dumping things that you don't yet know what to do with or plan to put away later, eliminate that spot first. Make it a priority to put things away immediately. Why move them twice? And who knows, you might just start eating at that kitchen table if you can see the wood. Find a place for your purse and phone and such, and put them there as soon as you walk in the door. I keep my purse on a bench in my bedroom and my phone on the table by my bed.

The only exception I have to this rule is allowing myself one junk drawer. No, not per room. Just one. This is where I put those little things that don't really have a place. I subscribe to the philosophy that  a cluttered life is the sign of a cluttered mind.

For homes with school aged children, a designated place for backpacks is a must. In a couple of homes, I have had built-in backpack benches, similar to what you might see in a mud room. In our current home, my husband refinished an old pew from my childhood country church, and that serves as the backpack bench. This has worked not only to eliminate clutter elsewhere, but also to ensure mornings move smoothly. I also use small baskets underneath the bench for hats, scarves, and gloves (for the two days per year it is cold in Florida) and hooks above for jackets.

Tip #2: Start the Day on Track

As I child, I spent many summer nights with my Grandmother Smith. She was an early riser and would make her side of the bed with me still sleeping on mine. I'm not advocating you do this to your spouse, but my mother taught me that a made bed makes a room feel clean, and cleanliness affects our moods. There have been two days in my adult life that I can recall leaving home after waking up late and not making my bed. Both days I had unexpected company who both requested tours of my home. This humiliation, along with the fact that my mother would roll over in her grave, has kept me on track with making my bed as soon as I get up each morning. It serves as motivation to keep the household organization on track.

Tip #3: Limit Your Hangers

Less is more. Once you have your closet in order, eliminate the extra hangers. Each time you make a new purchase, remove an item of clothing you haven't worn in a while. WAIT! Where are you going to put it when you take it out of the closet? You no longer have a dump spot. Use a recycled shopping bag labeled for the season it containers. When it is full, take it to Goodwill or a consignment shop. I make approximately $1200 per year at the consignment shop. And almost everything was purchased on sale to begin with, so this lowers the cost on the back end. EBay is another good bet if you have the time to learn the ropes first. I read The Silent Sales Machine several years ago, and I have had great success with selling high quality, gently used items.

Tip #4: Add a Shoe Shelf

Another only one rule I have is keep only one shoe box at a time, which is needed at least twice per year for school projects. When new shoes are purchased for our family, the box goes straight to recycling. It never enters the closet. If you don't have the luxury of having a built in shoe shelf, buy a hanging one at Wal-Mart or Target or use a small shelf underneath your clothes. You'll be much more likely to wear what you can see.

Our children were taught at an early age to take shoes off when entering the house, so a shoe shelf is also needed in the garage. I added a sock basket, because boys with dirty shoes typically have dirty socks (I never have understood how they manage that).

Tip #5: Save Time on Laundry

A family of five can create tons of dirty clothes by the minute. Determined to be efficient on things I detest, I came up with a system. First, each person has his/her own hamper, so no sorting clean clothes is ever needed. When children are old enough, they are responsible for bringing their hampers to the laundry room to signal clean clothes are desperately needed. I do ask that if one hamper is there, another doesn't appear. Each closet also has a different style hanger. Hangers are brought to the laundry room with the hamper. I invested in a high efficiency/large capacity washer and dryer which cuts down on the number of loads.

When I was little my mother used to have a Clothes Folding Party each week and I was always invited. Adamant that these parties not continue into my adulthood, I decided to fold and hang directly from the dryer. Again, why move it twice? This does sometimes result in an extra Touch Up cycle, because I also don't enjoy ironing, so I hang things when warm. Once a family member's clothes are folded and hung, that person puts them away.

My cousin Kellie, a mother of four and not a lover of domestic work, gave me excellent advice on shortening the time between loads: Buy everyone plenty of socks and underwear. My middle son, the Linus of the family, typically brings his hamper in every two weeks, which equals about fourteen pairs of socks and underwear. When my boys were younger and shared a room, and therefore a hamper, I bought them two different brands of socks so that sorting their clothes was fast. They wore different sizes of underwear then, so that wasn't an issue. I still buy them different brands now, so that socks in the sock basket are easily identifiable. Having only one brand of sock per person also saves time on matching them or looking for lost ones.


Tip #6: Create a Space for Everything

 Cords, Headphones, Phone Cases, Etc

For all things technology, we have a basket in the home office. If we happen to know what the cord belongs to, we put it in a Ziploc bag and label it.

School Supplies

During the Back to School sales, I stock up on everything the children use frequently during the year. Once they take what they need for the first day, everything else is put in a clear storage container for future use (clear because you know what's in it).

Because boys don't remember due dates for school projects until 10:00 PM the night before they are due, it is wise to have an Art Box. We have another clear container full of stick-on letters, fabric paint, stencils, etc.

Holiday Decorations

Both Halloween and Easter have clear containers. However, Christmas containers are red and green, because they are stored in the attic, and this makes them more visible to the grumpy husband who has to retrieve them. I used printer shipping labels to identify the contents of each box, so that I never again had to open 20 boxes looking for the Christmas tree skirt. Printer labels are also used for gift tags.


When my children were younger, I bought baskets for the family room and my room and any time toys were abandoned in the floor, I quickly tossed them in the baskets. Their rooms and playroom had baskets for organizing like items.


A key hanger is a major stress reducer. I walk in the door and hang my keys and sunglasses. I walk out the door and grab them as I go. My boys have yet to manage the few arduous steps from the island to the door, but the fact they put theirs on the island each day is routine enough for their age. I am holding out hope that if I hang them nightly, they will eventually get the hint. This is also where we keep the key to the community pool.

Batteries, Light Bulbs, and Such

I have two little plastic storage drawer sets from Wal-Mart. Each drawer is designated for something such as batteries, light bulbs, gift bags, tissue paper, and ribbon.


"Would you like your receipt with you or in the bag?" With me, of course. How will I ever find it again if it's in the bag? Once per week I check my receipts against my on-line account. This is when I sort them. Tax deductions are labeled at the top and put in a file folder. Clothing or small items that have the potential for needing to be returned are filed alphabetically, very quickly, in a 3 X 5 file box. I purge it every January, because Christmas receipts are kept separately for one year, and I typically only buy Christmas items for the last few months of the year, so hardly anything in the 3 X 5 is current in January. Big ticket items are filed in a file folder and also purged every January, depending on warranties.

Old Photos

If you are old enough to know what Kodak means, you may need to purchase photo boxes. I get them from Hobby Lobby or Michael's. Mine are only for the duplicates I acquired over the years. They are in Ziploc bags by year. I haven't quite figured out yet what I want to do with all the bulky photo albums that I spent hours and dollars creating. I may eventually scan the photos and create Shutterfly photo books.


Tip #7: Trash the Junk Mail

By the time I've walked from the mailbox to the garage, I have sorted the junk mail and toss it immediately into the recycle bin. I then open all envelopes, take out what I need, and throw the rest in recycling as well. Remember...why move it twice?

Tip #8: Forget about Rainy Days

Stop saving things in case I need it one day. You won't. And if you do, you probably won't know where it is. So get rid of it if you don't use it often. This includes small appliances; exercise equipment (ewww! so ugly in your bedroom!); lids to things you aren't sure if you still own; millions of plastic bags (use eco-friendly ones most of the time and have a bag holder for the times you forget); cups from everywhere you've ever eaten; sheets and towels from trends past; etc. Make a little money off the things that have value. Do a Craigslist Curb Alert for things you don't have time to fool with or think no one will want; you'll be surprised what people will come get!

I told you what I had to say wouldn't fit in that comment box.