Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finally...A Fun Family Day

Yes, this summer that was supposed to be "the best summer ever" has turned into merely disappointing. I am hoping that some changes I am planning to make in the near future will make future summers less depressing, but for now we just have to take joy in a random fun day here and there if they come.

Luckily, this past Sunday was one of those days.

We had planned to take a day trip to Chicago yesterday (Monday) but after yet another bout of number crunching, it was clear that it couldn't happen. But since Hubby had gotten the day off from work, we tried to figure out a fun activity as a family on a smaller scale.

We came up with a trip to our state's capital, Lansing. It is about exactly an hour away and we have only been there once as a family.

We had seen two ideas that I wanted to try with the kids.

Hubby and I had to teach Sunday School Sunday morning so we hit the road shortly after church.

It ended up being a very fun day. Our first stop was a children's garden we had seen advertised on numerous mom websites around Grand Rapids. Yes, we are a Michigan Family (Go Blue!) but could we help it that the fun looking garden was on MSU's campus?

This garden was amazing! For starters, it was free, unlike Meijer Gardens here in GR, which is way out of our Poor Person's price range. The boys got out and started walking toward the gardens and I was afraid that the boyish "this is boring" would start. But it didn't. It was a beautiful sunny day and the boys were quite enthusiastic. There were so many little areas with different themes, including one made of all the plants to make a pizza, a spice garden that I couldn't stop leaning over to smell each and every plant, and even an edible garden, where Noah actually tried some of the leaves (YUCK!). I loved rubbing the leaves of the chocolate mint plants in my hands and smelling them afterward.  There was a huge snakelike topiary that the kids could run through and also a topiary maze. There was a small pond with a ceramic frog that "spit" water at you when you turned a lever and also a fountain. It was just really neat little spot and I definitely want to go back and take a lot more pictures of the flora if I get a chance again this summer.

After about an hour, we started getting sweaty and thirsty. So after a quick snack and drink, we were back into the car for our second adventure of the day. We went to the Impression 5 Science Msueum. Since this is basically a children's museum I wondered if the boys would be too old for it but I figured since it was new we would still have a good time.

Although smaller than we expected, there was a lot to do. Noah's favorites were the trebochet launch and the electricrty exhibits. Aaron loved building blocks. I made a huge tower all around him taller than him and he was actually patient enough as I was building to wait before breaking out. After about an hour or so, an announcement came on that we could pay a small fee to maker slime in the science lab. Oh, yeah, we're there! So the boys each got a bag full of liquid plastic, food coloring, and water and borax and made slime.  Needless to say, the slime has been a most played with toy every day since then. As a family, the four of us also had a blast making silly shadow pictures in the shadow wall.  The last time we had played with one of these was our trip to St. Louis when the boys were really little so it was fun to do it while they were old enough to understand how it worked this time.

After about three hours, the kids were starting to wind down but enjoying themselves and Hubby and I decided that we would rather leave while the boys were still having fun rather than getting bored so we headed out. Originally we had planned to take a short walk over to the capital building but by the time we got to the car, everyone decided that we were too thirsty and ready to head home.

After a quick run through a drive through for beverages and ice cream,we were on the road.  We were home by dinner time and all we could all say was, "What a great day!" Noah declared it the best day of the summer, which is high praise from a ten year old who has become extremely surly lately.

We are not able to provide big experiences (or even medium ones) for the boys this summer and I have had to say NO way more than YES this year, which has brought disappointment to everyone. But I am so happy that we had one fun day away that we can store in our memories of family time this summer.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend these places as fun family inexpensive entertainment.

PS. This is not a sponsored post in any way. I was not paid to explore these places, nor did I receive anything for free. I just wanted to share a fun family day we had.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Noah's Birthday and a GIVEAWAY

My "baby" is ten. The big double digits!

Because his birthday was a big one, we finally let Noah have a "friend" party at a local entertainment venue.  Being that the birthday was on the 4th of July, only two of his friends could come but they had a fun time.

This, however was not his only birthday celebration this year. As a matter of fact, by the time the week was over, we were COMPLETELY birthday'd out. But it was so fun that we are definitely glad we lived it up for him.

I was very excited to get an email from a representative at The Party Works  asking if I would be interested in blogging about their website, which I am thrilled to do. Throughout this post, I will be showing some of the fun ways that I made use of the package I received :)

I started a tradition a few years ago of decorating the boys' rooms for their birthday after they fell asleep.  Noah's room is by far easier, simply because a loft makes it easy to decorate. Last year I covered his loft with balloons. This year, I got a little more creative. Armed with the balloons and streamers from the gift pack, I patiently waited for Noah to fall asleep and went to work. He LOVED it! It is now a week later and only one out of five streamers is starting to fall but he is determined that they stay up as long as possible. I am curious to see who long they last :)

Another tradition we have is having a birthday breakfast followed by presents from us being opened first thing in the morning. This was because we were always out for fireworks at night. Noah picked out the Mario and Friends party pack so that is what I used to decorate his birthday table.

His present from us was a skateboard and helmet that he had been asking for for a long time. Just for fun, I also picked up a couple of throw away cameras as well. He used his camera to take a picture of everything the rest of the day.  Once again, the silly little afterthought present ended up being the favorite present of the day :)

After awhile, we headed out to the second birthday party of the day.  We lasted three hours and still came away with token cards for another visit. I am sure we will be back there again before school starts.

But the birthday celebrations were not yet over.  Due to a blended family, my boys are blessed to have a huge number of cousins to play with. So this past Sunday we had a simple cousin party for Noah in a local park with a splash pad. It was a very fun day. We set up a table and chairs under a tree and added a small scavenger hunt through the woods as well.  We went simple with food, but we still needed utensils with which to eat so I brought the remaining items from the gift pack.

So here are a few things I learned about the gift pack I received...
In the past, I have always hit the dollar store to get party supplies for all of our parties. I did indeed do that to make sure there was enough. But the interesting thing was that when I was putting the dollar store utensils in with the stuff from The Party Works, there was a definitely difference in sturdiness and the dollar store ones did break while the Party Works ones did not. Also, we noticed that the tablecloth from Party Works  was thicker than the dollar store one as well. The boys loved going to the website to look at all of the party themes and I was amazed at the variety. Actually, I was a little bummed since there was an Angry Birds theme and I looked everywhere for that last year at Aaron's birthday and couldn't find one. I will definitely remember this site for next time.

Would YOU like to try out one of these party packs for yourself? I am lucky enough to be able to offer a party pack of your choice to one lucky reader.  I know everyone else's giveaways have all those bells and whistles and hoops to go through.  But NOT this one. Just leave a comment below on what the next celebration in your family will be and which party pack from the Party Works site you would want.  I will draw a name on my father's birthday, July 21 (keeping with the birthday theme) to see who will win.

Yes, we had a blast celebrating Noah's birthday. The best part is asking him about his birthday and hearing how happy he is. Now we just have to get on him to finish those thank you cards.

So, refer a friend over for this giveaway if you can. I'd love to see some new names.

Wordless Wednesday Tree Trimming

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Independence Day 2012

I have always struggled doing a 4th of July post. Not because of the day itself, which I always enjoy. But because my firstborn shares a birthday with this all important patriotic day and I have always tried to figure out how to separate the two. Strangely enough, this year it was easier than most because we celebrated his birthday on the actual day with a party, which I will post about later after his final birthday festivities tomorrow.

Which frees me up to post about festivities for Independence Day.

In the past we have had Noah open his birthday presents in the morning of the fourth but generally not done much else for his birthday on the actual day, other than bringing a birthday treat with us to the fireworks with friends.

This year, since we planned to have a party on the day, we decided to forgo fireworks at the park altogether, instead deciding to purchase some small driveway variety, figuring we'd be too tired to go to the park and watch the big display after a day of partying.

But plans changed, and as I have been learning over the years, when plans are changed and we go with the flow, we usually have a lot of fun.

As Noah's birthday party was coming to a close, a friend mentioned that they were meeting some others and asked if we be joining them. Although we were tired, it was so nice to hear that they had been planning on us joining them all along and all four of the kids (Noah and Aaron and K and her sister) started begging so that we couldn't possibly say no.

So, after almost four hours at a local party place, we packed up the party stuff, ran home to PEEL our hot sticky sweaty clothes off, packed up our fireworks (which we thought we would have time to do before walking over to the park), grabbed drinks, and headed out to K's house. Yes, this is the same girl "K" whom Noah has been close friends with since they were five. We got there and reintroduced ourselves to some others there whom we had met a couple of years ago. Steve and Aaron made the mistake of settling into the couch for a few minutes and I had to take a picture of how incredibly whipped they both looked. Due to Aaron's nagging begging  polite requests, we did pull out a small variety of fireworks in their driveway before walking over to the park.

Some things never change. As the first big boom sounded, Aaron assumed his annual position of ears covered and slumped down in his chair, hiding from the noise. Steve settled into his chair and promptly FELL ASLEEP until the fireworks started. Actually, I think he probably slept through some of the actual show as well.

And Noah settled onto a blanket, next to his friend. I hope these two will always stay friends, even with all the crazy social pressures that they face in the coming years. This would be a good friendship to get them through the tough teenage years ahead. I hope they never give in to the comments of others and try to turn their friendship into anything more than what they are comfortable with. I wish everyone else would leave them be and let them enjoy each other without trying to "label" it. This is my hope.

It was very late but fun night after a very long day.

So the next day, we still had a pile of fireworks to light on our driveway. Being that we were all still pretty tired from the day before and neither boy had the patience to await until dark this time, we lit the fireworks up pretty early.

A few interesting things came out of our Day 2 celebrations in our yard.

Number One: Noah is still as much of a pyromaniac as ever. He even managed to figure out how to light his sparklers in the middle and make two sparks go out in either direction. He BEGGED us to let him light the bigger ones this year since "Now I'm TEN" but we told him that was a milestone for when he turns 13.

Number Two: Aaron actually held a sparkler this year. I couldn't believe it!

Number Three: Aaron learned that if you touch a burned out sparkler before it is cool, you will sustain burns that blister on three different fingers within a minute and need to spend the next hour with your hand in a bowl of cold water.

Number Four: We can figure out way for Aaron to NOT hide from night two of fireworks. After finding him hiding inside the house watching from the window, I convinced him to cover his ears with a pillow and then he could join us. He was thrilled with the idea and even made a game of it. I wonder how old he will be when the sound doesn't cause drama for him anymore.

So here we are...another 4th of July has come and gone. We are learning that sometimes a change in plans can be the best plan of all.

Tradition is a wonderful thing.

So is trying something new :)