Another Magical Trip Around the Sun

It’s no secret that I love throwing my kiddos’ birthday parties in our backyard. Each celebration revolves around soaking up summer and soaking in the fact that another wonderful year has passed for them. I love the planning and the creating of the festivities as well as the remembering of so many fun moments from the year. How are my babies so big anyway? And how are they still so incredibly sweet? Can they never stop laughing and loving and hugging me the way they do? PLEASE, Time, stop going SO FAST.This party is from last summer (I mean really, Time, you can slow down for real). We celebrated Pace turning 8 with less of a theme or character and focused more on color and play.We chose all blues and greens. I designed the invitations to be modern and clean, making a logo out of Pace’s name and the number 8. The invitation style for his party is growing right along with him. This strong, lean, clean font and design fits his style now. I incorporated the Pace logo throughout the party, and especially love how it looked stamped onto the napkins.The water bottles have become tradition for our parties. I designed the labels using the party colors and Pace logo and digitally printed them on waterproof, adhesive paper. The kids and I then spend an afternoon together sticking them on the bottles.Deciding to serve the food the way I did for Pace’s party all began when I found these biodegradable lunch trays. I love them and find them extremely practical. Before the party we filled the trays with carrots, pretzels, fruit and half a sandwich. We stacked them in the refrigerator and when it was time to eat, I pulled them out and set the tables super fast which helped the food stay fresh. We kept the top right spot in the trays empty and I designed a little square to put in that spot. The photo of Pace paired beautifully with the word EAT, so I did half that way and half using the Pace logo once again. By the way, a bonus for serving the food this way that I hadn’t immediately thought of was not having to fuss with a serving table.With so many of the kids in the 8-10 year old range, I decided to have an activity but made it optional. It was an illustrated obstacle course I called Pace’s PLAY LIST. I printed and laminated them and set them out on the tables at the party. Some kids found them and immediately went to work doing each activity on the list. Some kids even did it over and over. Each time they came to me winded, smiling and asking for another tattoo—their reward for finishing the list. Some kids chose not to do the Play List in particular but played nonetheless. Either way I was happy to slather them with fake tattoos. The tattoos all came from Tattly which I ordered on Amazon. I love their quirky, modern feel.The giant slip and slide is a favorite at birthday parties especially here where it is so hot and humid, that it keeps everyone cool and happy to be outside. Baby pools full of water and water balloons are also always a mainstay at the our kids’ parties now. And how fun are these amazing people?An hour or so before the party, my talented brother went all around our home covering the sidewalks with festive chalk drawings. He took requests from the birthday boy of what to draw and where. Brady whips out amazing illustrations and funny comments that fill every inch of pavement.Oh, and about that cake….it is becoming funnier and funnier to me each party. I always let them choose what kind of cake they want, and I always make it. Not because I’m good at making pretty cakes, but because I love the idea of them not turning out perfect. Pace wanted a chess game. I made it double layer so that we would have more cake. I ordered the chocolate chess pieces from an Etsy store. They were perfect, but huge and heavy. It was comical to see me hacking off the bottom of each piece just so they could fit on the cake without falling over. And it still didn’t really work. It was all too tall and awkward. So I stuck the whole cake, chess pieces and all, in the freezer. The idea was to freeze those suckers in place a little. Nothing worked, the pieces still tipped and leaned and fell, but the kids and adults agreed that it still tasted good. Pace loved it and the kids (and some of the adults) got a huge kick out of screaming to me which chess piece they wanted.A good friend of mine did all of the flowers for the party. He is a gem of a human being, and I love how happy they came out. My favorite part about having such gorgeous flowers for their parties is that afterwards we take all the little arrangements to neighbors’ houses. It’s fun to deliver flowers to nice, unsuspecting friends for no reason other than you have them and you want to brighten someone else’s day. My kiddos enjoy making the deliveries too.The party favors were travel tic-tac-toe bags. We stamped the Pace logo on one side and a tic-tac-toe board on the other side. Inside we had small, flat rocks that we drew X’s and O’s on.This party marks the 12th one I’ve thrown for my kiddos in our backyard. For each party, so much of the same décor and supplies are used. Just look at his brother’s 5th birthday celebration. And each and every one of these parties is possible because of my village, my family, my husband and my kids who all help create, set up and take down each and every bit. These moments and these people are priceless and precious.I see the happiness it brings our family, and I get completely giddy. Time may not slow down those revolutions around the sun, but I’m going to enjoy every minute of each one and celebrate their journeys with these backyard parties for as long as they’ll let me.

Photography by Rebecca Sanabria, who was splashed at least 836 times and didn’t complain even once.

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PLAY PLAY PLAY

“I really regret playing,” said no one ever. Here is where I will share a photo that could make me happy forever. If you’d like to see all of the photos in my PLAY, PLAY, PLAY series, click here.

{ My hope is that everyone is rolling into the weekend and feeling amazing. }Feliz fin de semana everyone!
Photograph by Brooke Schwab.

My Hot Library Dates

Did you know that with your single library card you can check out boat-loads of books at one time? I didn’t either. But my incredibly resourceful friend did and this little fact changed how much I love going to the library with my kiddos.

Before I knew this, I’d walk into the library with my two kids and my purse. My big, not-so-detailed plan would be to have them pick out a couple of books that they would enjoy. In reality, they’d run all over the place while hurling the books they’d want to take home in my general direction. All while begging to play on the computers. And not whispering. And not staying together, or next to me, or near me. Mainly they would get lost in the maze of large bookshelves and plop down on the floor in a corner where inevitably I could not see them. Thus, I would spend my entire library outing looking for my two library bandits on my hands and knees.I’d end up at the counter with an armful of books, mostly falling to the floor, worrying already that I was going to lose one or five. By the time I’d get to the car, I’d be in a full sweat and on at least one occasion have already lost a book. Plain and simple, it was not fun. The version of “Going to the Library with My Kiddos” that played out in my head was always a great experience. We’d enjoy the book selecting process, go home, get completely engrossed with reading and looking at great illustrations while soaking up happiness and knowledge. And there would be rainbows. While eating kale. And speaking Mandarin.Realistically, we’d get home and they’d look at 2 or 3 books for 2 or 3 minutes. Those books would without a doubt end up mixed in with all of our other books on our bookshelves at home. If not the bookshelves….in both kids’ closets. Or under my bed. Maybe a few in the bathroom. More in my car. I’m pretty sure I found one in the freezer.

Needless to say, we loved having a few new books to read, but it did become a big hassle to me because I knew we would end up losing a few and having to pay fines. Because of this, for a while I decided it was best for us not to go to the library at all. I know, I know, I am a stellar mother. See here, Bandits of the Books, I give up! No library experiences for you the rest of your entire childhood. See how I fixed that problem!Well, real problem was, I actually like going to the library and so do my kids. And my mom is a retired librarian, so you can imagine how well that new plan sat with her. And I knew in my heart that giving up the library experience entirely was a completely dumb and irrational idea.

Enter the NEW system! Remember my resourceful friend? It’s her system that we totally stole. But now we enjoy going to the library, rarely misplace books, avoid late fees and I no longer have books hurled in my general direction, or at my face. I called our local library to confirm how many books we can check out at one time. 50. We can bring home 50 books. So, here’s how the system for library dates with my kids works:

Main component: a library book bin or basket. It’s sturdy, has handles and everyone in our house knows that it is the library book basket—this is key. Once at the library, we all peruse the shelves and pick up any book that looks interesting to us and walk it over to the library basket which I strategically place next to a shelf in the corner (AKA not my face). We put in whatever books we pick. We pick and pick and pick. Remember, you can check out 50 per library card (here in Houston anyway, check your city’s library for all your rules).Once the basket is full, we go check them out. We ask for a printed receipt and tuck it into one of the book jackets. This beautiful receipt lists what books we’ve got, when they are due and a grand total of how many books we have. For you fancy people, yes, you can view all of this information online. But my kids can’t. Our printed receipt, which we treat like gold, is how MY KIDS can keep track of how many books we have and precisely which ones we have.When we get home, we take the entire library book basket upstairs and place it right next to their bed where they can unload, read, snuggle, whatever they like (well almost) with those books. They know that when they are done reading or looking at a library book, it goes right back into the basket. So every night, the library books sleep with all their library book friends in their little library book basket.

Our new system brought the joy back to our library dates. Since they basically bring home their own personal, mobile library that lands right in their room, they truly enjoy sitting and reading and reading and reading. Granted, no one is speaking Mandarin or eating kale while they read, but I’m pretty sure I have seen rainbows coming out of their ears and mine because we are all so happy about our books and getting to spend a ton of time reading them.

Once 2-3 weeks have gone by, we count the number of books to ensure we still have them all and dutifully take them back to the library. That same day, we load back up with new books. We’ve been doing this for a few years now and it has so many advantages for my family.First, they get the time-tested true library experience. For zero money, borrow 50 books and read them at your leisure with the promise to return them in a timely manner. Sweet! We also get the experience of community because we always seem to bump into people we know there.

Second, they get to choose books that I normally don’t buy for our home library. By this I mean books about things they may be interested in for a hot minute, but not into the next.

Books they pick:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
FlyGuy
every Marvel Superhero ever created
DK Readers on every TV show they have ever watched
Mo Willems entire library

These differ from the books I buy which include:
Timeless stories without TV characters
Books from authors we love
Books illustrated by artists we love
Caldecott winners
Most of Mo Willems entire libraryAnd hey, don’t get me wrong, I am not the all-knower of great books. Sometimes my kids pick out books I’ve never heard of and they become books we LOVE. When that happens, sometimes they get a little surprise via Mommy and Amazon. We can add books to our home library this way, knowing that we really love them because we’ve checked them out a few times and still enjoy reading them.

Third, they learn a bit of responsibility and autonomy. If we do have a late fee (which we haven’t since we started this system, although I’m sure I’m jinxing it right now while typing this sentence) we all chip in to pay it. It’s not about shaming or placing fault. It’s just that we all got the books, we all said we’d take care of the books, so we all chip in to fix it if we don’t. Live and learn. Together.So, the next time you’re at the library and a book is being hurled at your face by a 5 year-old book bandit, remember they just haven’t learned how to aim. Then buy a library book basket. It will change your life.

Photography by Rebecca Sanabria, the hippest bookworm I know.

Rebecca Sanabria - My favorite family!!! Love this post. That book basket idea is brilliant. Stealing it from you, who stole it from your friend…

Suzann Broesche - Hi Jill,
Great article/post! I’m a spinner in one of Wooch’s classes at TL and a retired middle school librarian. I learned from your hubby this morning about your blog. I too raised two book bandits and, needless to say, we spent lots of time in the local libraries. My “boys” are now in their 40’s and are both still avid readers. My 11-year-old grandson is very dyslexic so reading has not been as pleasurable for him although he is a decent reader (thanks to the wonderful Quaker school he attends in Brooklyn, NY). His little sister (8) reads like a champ. Keep that basket full!
Suzann

admin - Thank you so much Suzann. I loved hearing about your family :) We’ll do our best to keep our basket full!

Allison Lyons - Great idea – stealing it!!

PLAY PLAY PLAY

“I really regret playing,” said no one ever. Here is where I will share a photo that could make me happy forever. If you’d like to see all of the photos in my PLAY, PLAY, PLAY series, click here.

{ Our home has been full of little viruses and therefore lots of big time playing. }Feliz fin de semana everyone!
Photograph by Rebecca Sanabria.