Saturday, March 31, 2012

A visit to Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine

For the boys' birthday this year we decided to take them to enjoy a few days at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas.  It's essentially an indoor water park located inside a hotel.  Perfect for the kid who wants to go to Schlitterbahn all year round.  :)

Not that you will see any pictures of the waterpark here... We were apparently having too much fun getting soaked to bother with taking any pictures actually inside the water park.  And by we I mean Kevin.  Because in mid February I still hadn't found my camera.  I misplaced it in mid December and didn't find it until mid March.  The day after I ordered a ludicrously priced replacement because they discontinued my camera, which I LOVED, and the replacement camera didn't have nearly so rosey of reviews. 

But in case you are wondering this is what the lobby looked like.  :)

It's actually a beautiful hotel with rustic theming throughout.

And kid friendly activities like storytime at the big clock.  Come in your PJs.  :)

We managed to get a nice spot for storytime the second night we were there.  If you are going, definitely get there early!

The kids (and their mom especially... :)) enjoyed MagiQuest as well.  It's a game where you get a magic wand and then run up and down all eight flights of stairs via the "hidden staircase" and explore the various public areas of the hotel looking for the items on the list to complete each quest and earn a rune.  The kids were excited to find the various items on each quest.

Like the crystals we found on our first Quest that lit up different colors when you pointed a wand at them.

They also really enjoyed pointing their wands at all kinds of things throughout the hotel and having chests open, pictures light up, and absolutely everything talk to you.

I have to admit the interactive stuff was awesome.  And addictive!  There were people of all ages playing for hours on end.

The waterpark of course was lots of fun, too.  The kids had a good time running around both the kid pool and the fort shooting water cannons and soaking anyone and everyone in sight.  They also checked out every single water slide that they were tall enough for.  From the 4 small slides in the kiddie pool, to the two bigger slides in the fort, as well as 2 of the BIG water slides that they were tall enough for (or almost tall enough for in Connor's case.)  When you come in the park area they measure your height and you get a different band depending on your height.  Red for < 42".  Yellow for 42 - 48 inches.  And Green for > 48".  The 5 biggest slides required either Yellow or Green bands to be able to ride.  Ryan managed to get a yellow band by a hair while Connor was well below the cut-off and ended up with Red.   The irony of course being that Ryan is the chicken who while he enjoys sides, it isn't his favorite thing.  Connor on the other hand would have ridden every single one.  As many times as possible.  :)  Maybe next time...

Connor's favorite by far was the lazy river.  He enjoyed swimming around in the river, dodging water at 2 or 3 places along the way.  His particular favorite was when I sweep him up and make a mad dash through the obstacle course section of the river dodging or attempting to dodge the 3 or 4 water canons as well as the dumping buckets manned by maniacal kids intent on drowning adults in particular.

Ryan enjoyed both the kiddie pool (wave runner sprayers in particular) and the wave pool with or without the waves. 

Kevin of course enjoyed the big slides.  Particularly the Green one where you plopped out of a chute into what I called the big drain to circle around and around before getting sucked in shot down the rest of the tube. 

Needless to say we will have to go back again when the kids are a little older, and taller.  And next time?  Next time I am taking my own water soaker to give the kids manning the guns above the lazy river a dose of their own medicine!  :)

How we spent the month of January

9 months of the year we spend weekends doing a little bit of everything.  But from January to the second week of March it just one birthday party after another.  There is literally one every.single.weekend.

On the bright side, 2 hours in a bounce place helps the boys run off some of that boundless energy.

But then again, they also load them up with enough juice, cake and frosting to ensure there is no rest for the weary... parents that is.  :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

It was green. And I ate it.

I repeat.  It was GREEN.  And I ate itDid you just hear that thunk?  That was my mother falling out of her chair.  :)

Though technically I am not sure it counts.  It probably wasn't a vegetable.  Though I suppose that green color could have been some sort of spinach, it was probably just green food coloring.

And it was very, very yummy.  Particularly when smothered in a nice pasta sauce with mushrooms.  Though of course the boys prefer to dip vs. smother.  And since it tends to be less messy that way I am all for it.  :)

We even carried the green and white St. Patrick's day color scheme to the vegetables, or baby trees as the boys like to call them.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Treats

As the boys finished up their first week at the new school and St. Patricks' Day rolled around I thought it would be nice to do a little treat for the kids at school.  Here's what I came up with:

A rainbow made out of multi-colored fruit slices, clouds aka mini marshmallows, and then of course the leprechaun's gold or Rolos at the end of the rainbow.  :)  Layer them all in a pretzel bag, twist and seal with a narrow band of tape, then add a little ribbon, and cute tag, and done! 

Lather, rinse, repeat until you have made enough for the class, or 3 combined pre-school classes for Spring Break week if you are totally crazy. :)

The boys were excited and since they couldn't eat it right.this.second wanted to "help" make them. I let them count out the rolo's and then tell me which color came next in the rainbow to make sure I got the fruit slices in the right order. Connor stuck it out for the first dozen and half or so before deciding his new Scooby Doo puzzle was more exciting. :)

Before you feel too bad for me I should mention that beacuse it was Spring Break about half the kids were out and even making something for all 3 classes, instead of just the 2 my kids are in I still came out making about 15 less than I would have had to have made otherwise.  Not to mention the fact that all 3 classes play together until 9am, nap together, and then come back together from 3pm until they go home.  Connor's new friend in fact is in the 3rd class (not his, or Ryan's).

Of course I couldn't leave the teachers out either.  And while I was looking through various tubs in the closet a couple of weeks ago I remembered seeing these little black cauldrons for Halloween that also doubled quite nicely as Leprechaun's pots of gold.  :) 

The gold packages for the mini-snickers were perfect, too.  6 of them fit perfectly in each pot.  The boys counted and stuffed the snickers in each of the pots for their teachers.  That might explain why despite the fact that I am positive there were 36 mini snickers when we started when we got to stuffing the last pot there were only 5 left.  :)

Connor wanted to do his all by himself.  So he helped me punch out the tags, tie knots in the ribbon, thread on the tags and then pull out one side of the bow.  Of course it took 10 times longer than it took me to make all the other ones, but he was sooo proud of himself and made sure to point that out to his teacher when he gave it to her.  :)  So cute.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

In with the new, out with the old. Schools that is.

It has been a busy few weeks around here.  We celebrated the boys' 4th birthday, changed schools, and have been running around pretty much non-stop.  Oh, yeah, and recuperating from a nasty case of never ending bronchitis.  :)

We are still learning how things work at the new school, but overall I think the boys are doing an amazing job of settling in.  Connor in particular really loves the new school, and has really hit it off with one of his new teachers - Ms. April.  He misses some of his old friends of course, but has already made a new friend, and is in puzzle heaven.  :)  Ms. April caught me the 2nd day as I was picking the boys up and told me that Connor has been an absolute delight and that she had never seen such a puzzle maniac before.  He is determined to work his way through each and every puzzle in the room and is off to a flying start.  When I asked Connor if he liked his new school he said that he did and that he "spent too many days at his old school" and wanted to "go back to the new school all the rest of the days."  I am so glad he's adjusting so well.  Even on day 1, he went right in and joined the class at circle time. 

Ryan's a little harder to tell.  Not that he's not talking about it, because both the boys in fact have been little magpies when I pick them up.  They are bouncing off the walls, and chomping at the bit to tell me all about their day.  They spent every second of the 23 minute ride home telling me stories and arguing over who gets to tell me what next.  :)  Ryan likes his afternoon teacher Ms. Claira who completely unprompted pronounced him full of charm and personality the first day, delightful the second, and told us the third day with conviction that we had nothing to worry about that both the boys in fact fit right in.  She seemed surprised at how well they were adjusting, as if they had been there forever.  On Ryan's 1st day he told me quite accusatorily that "there were NO CARS in his room."  And went on to tell me that in fact "there was NOTHING with WHEELS!!!"  The second day he discovered the location of at least 2 cars - including a yellow corvette that I am sure made his day.  And when I picked him up on the 3rd he had found a giant rug and a train set with plenty of track to build out to his hearts desire.  So I think he is starting to come around. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ryan & Connor's 4th Birthday Party: Lightning McQueen in Radiator Springs

It's always a little challenging to figure out what to do for the boys' birthday party.  They are just so different and like radically different things.  Ryan loves cars.  And Connor loves fish.  And while I like to think I can come up with some pretty creative ideas I haven't figured out a way to tie cars and fish together in one party just yet.  Since we had a fish themed party last year at the Moody Gardens Aquarium we decided to do a cars themed party this year. 

I originally started out looking for some place with go-karts that the boys might be able to drive, but couldn't find a place that would let shrimps drive.  Most places had 42-48" height limits to drive the cars.  While Ryan would have been tall enough to drive at some places, Connor wouldn't.  And neither would some of their friends.  (Ryan's actually been about 2 1/2 inches taller than Connor for a couple of months now - finally growing into those feet.  :)) 

So back to the drawing board I went.  I kicked around all kinds of ideas, but kept coming back to some sort of movie watching party.  The trouble with that of course was finding a place to show the movie the boys wanted to watch (Cars 2) 6 months after it had left the theater.  But the more I looked around and thought about it, the more I knew I wanted to do a movie on the lawn.  In February.  In Texas.  In the hottest winter I could remember.  But, I had already been bitten by the weather bug for the boy's 2nd birthday (originally scheduled for Old McDonalds farm, but had to be moved the week before the party to an indoor venue due to a cold snap) so I was leary of not having some sort of alternate indoor location.  Luckily our neighborhood has a clubhouse that can be reserved, and while a little on the small side, would work in the event that the weather turned south.  Which of course it did... :)  The Thursday before the party was a balmy 84 degrees.  The Saturday of the actual party a high of 56 was expected. 

Of course inspiration for a cars themed party wasn't hard to come by.  The boys both really liked the original Cars the movie and were thrilled when Cars 2 came out at the theater last summer and finally on DVD in the fall.  We have only watched it a million or so times since then.  :)  And of course the internet is an amazing resource.

Before long the ideas were rolling and here's what I came up with:

The invitations:

The invitations were designed to look like racing tickets.  As usual I am a little behind the technology curve, but finally moved to a smart phone about a year and a half ago, and relatively recently caught on to barcode or QR code scanning.  Since the invitations were tickets I thought it would be really cool if the barcode actually did something - like RSVP for the party.  :)  Yes, I know.  I am a nerd.  I spent far longer than I should admit trying to get a barcode that would send an RSVP email to my email address.  I finally gave up and switched to QR codes.  Since they are smaller than barcodes I went ahead and added 3 QR codes, 2 for RSVPs (1 for accepts, 1 for regrets), and a link to the map of the party destination.  When you scanned one of the RSVP codes it automatically opened up a compose email window, populated the email address, subject and contents  ("We are coming!") into the message body. The map code linked to a URL for the address at Google Maps where you could see a map or get driving directions.   I was absolutely thrilled - until I went into work to find some guinea pigs to try them out.  The problem with QR codes of course, is that everyone has a different reader.  While it worked beautifully on every Android app we tried, a Blackberry, and some Palm Pre's the iPhone both 3 & 4 were hit or miss with the RSVPs depending on the reader that was installed.  On the bright side the map worked for everyone.  :)

The decorations:

The biggest part of the decorations were a handful of posters printed from desktop wallpapers.  Despite the fact that they were fairly low resolution, they scaled really well.

In addition to the posters I had picked up a few standee's at a great price online.  The original Cars characters (Lightning, Mater, and Mack) ranged from about 3 feet to 5 feet tall and looked amazing!     Holley and Finn were a little bit shorter, but still a great size for the boys.  I ended up sprinkling them around the room in mini vignettes (that would have been awesome for pictures had we thought to take any!). 

Size wise they were perfect - Ryan on the left is 42" tall and the Lightning was just his size!  Connor was equally happy with his favorite character - Holley.   And on the bright side, we can reuse them in the boys' room for decorations when we convert them to their BIG "big boy beds!" and move them to their new room in a few months.

Solid red and yellow table cloths, Cars themed helium balloons, an inflatable cactus, and a 100ft long checkered bunting strung around the room completed the indoor decorations.  I had planned to pick up a dozen or so red and yellow helium balloons as well, but sent Kevin to the store to air up the balloons and completely forgot to tell him.  :)  Oh well, we didn't miss them too much.

Speaking of the red and yellow balloons - I ended up using  the almost 5 foot tall Mack outside along with some balloons to help folks find the party. 

I really loved the balloon banner - and it couldn't have been easier to make (unless of course I had used thread that wouldn't unravel itself the first time!).  The balloons are just blown up - no helium required (the first 30 or so using a hand pump we picked up at Walmart, and the rest by air compressor).  It was made using the directions found here (though in the 12inch balloons we used we only needed 3 balloons per cluster instead of 4).

The balloons were strung between two 6ft tall plant stands that I use to hang various birthday and holiday banners throughout the year. 

I also added eyes to a sunshade that was put in the front window of my car.  I backed the car in so that the front "face" was facing out for folks to see as they pulled into the parking lot.


I went round and round on activities, and even changed a few plans at the last minute (like scratching Mater's redneck bowling with human gerbil balls and inflatable bowling pins) because of the weather.

As the guests arrived we had 3 stations set up inside:
  • Doc's Fix it Shop - with wood puzzles ranging from 12-24 pieces
  • Ramone's Paint Shop - personalized story coloring books and colors
  • And Ramone's Body shop - where the kids could get tattoos
Doc's Fix it Shop (Puzzles)

Doc's Fix it Shop was a BIG hit!

I had originally only put out 6 different puzzles, but ended up breaking out 3 more from a box set when the first table filled up and had a waiting line.

Connor in particular is a puzzle fiend.  He can't get enough puzzles.  And he's amazingly good at them - he regularly puts together 100 piece puzzles in not much longer than it takes me!  I am pretty sure he worked every single puzzle on the table and even helped me sort out two puzzles that got jumbled together in the box.

Ramone's Paint Shop (Coloring)

At Ramone's paint shop the kids picked up personalized story coloring books.

I started out just planning to print a handful of plain Cars themed coloring sheets online for the kids to color.  As I was downloading and saving off the pages to print it ocurred to me that it would be super simple to add a personal touch to the sheets and put something about Ryan & Connor's party on each sheet. 

Before I knew it I had a whole story book about the party with a variety of characters from Cars and Cars 2.  The boys loved it so much that they had us read it over and over, and even asked to take the proof of concept book to school to read to their friends at story time when we got to the book bag.  They loved hearing their name in the story and hearing all about the party.

So I decided to print them as booklets and personalize them with the kids' names ("Dean's Coloring book") and even add them to story ("Lightning, Doc, and Mater were so glad Dean could make it to the party!"

Ramone's Body Shop (Tattoos)

At Ramone's Body Shop the kids could get a variety of Cars, Princess, or Tinkerbell themed tattoo's.  Our great friends the Kunkels helped out cutting out and applying the tattoo's for the kids.

Once everyone had arrived we started some of the group games.

We planned to have:
  • Musical Tires (inflatable swim rings to Life is a Highway from the movie)
  • And then time permitting either Pin the Headlight on Mater or originally Mater's redneck bowling (using human gerbil balls and an inflatable lawn bowling set) which was swapped out with the Scavenger Hunt at the last minute.
  • And the Grand Finale - Cardboard race cars
Musical Tires

As we pulled out the swim rings to get ready for the game the kids immediately pounced on them and devised their own games to play with them.  Thank goodness they were soft! 

After a few minutes of free play we wrangled all the swim rings back together and played 3 rounds of musical tires to the song Life is a Highway from the original cars movie soundtrack.  I had decided to include musical tires as one of the games as the kids play musical chairs at school and really seem to enjoy it.  And while the majority of the kids enjoyed the game we did have a few tears shed from the younger kids when they were eliminiated from the game.  Thankfully they were consoled with consolation prizes and we headed on to other games.

Pin the Headlight on Tow Mater

I had planned to have two stations of Pin the Headlight on Tow Mater - simple 3" white cardstock circles that the kids would attempt to put where Mater's missing headlight goes after being blindfolded (with a sleep mask for easy on/off) and spun around.   However, with 26 kids we opted to skip the game and get them headed outside to run off some energy with a scavenger hunt.

Cars Scavenger Hunt

I stumbled across a bingo like Cars Scavenger hunt game at the party store that I thought would be fun for the kids.

The set contained bingo like cards with pictures of all 4 of the cars that the kids would have to find as well as 3" round circles that could be hidden.  We decided to hide one car from each card in 4 different areas - the playground, the tennis courts, the trees, and the kitchen.  One car from each card was put in each location and clues were written on the back of first the bingo card and then each respective card to be found after that telling them what card could be found in the next location.

For example:
On the back of the bingo card it might have said "Lightning McQueen plays tennis to stay in shape in the off-season.  Look for him on the tennis courts."  And on the back of the Lightning card it might say "When he's not racing Francesco loves to cook.  Look for him in the kitchen!"  And so on.

We had a pretty large group - 26 total kids.  And the cards came in sets of 8 so the kids had to play in teams.  In addition some of the cards in a set would repeat (i.e. there were multiple Lightning McQueens that weren't easy to tell apart - despite putting team numbers on all the cards we had at least one group end up picking up two other teams' cards making it a bit more challenging for them to find all their cards.  :))  Overall though I think the kids really enjoyed the game.

Grand Finale: Cardboard Car Races!

The cardboard race cars were definately a hit!

I made 6 race cars out of cardboard boxes representing various cars from both the original Cars and Cars 2 movies (Lightning McQueen, Mater, Finn, Holley, Jeff Gorvette, and Red the Fire Engine).  The kids took turn racing back and forth across a stretch of open lawn. 

The cars were made from a variety of large boxes I collected over the last couple of months (Amazon, B&H photo, even a toilet paper box I snagged from work.  :))  They were cut to shape, painted with spray paint, and then had faces, tires, and decals taped on.

I was pretty thrilled with how they came out!

And the kids definately had a good time racing in them.  Ryan loved the yellow Jeff Gorvette, while Connor had to fight the girls off for his favorite - Holley.  :)

At the end of the races each of the kids recieved a piston cup with their name on it.

The food:

I had originally planned to make a relatively healthy dinner with mini sandwiches, fresh fruit, carrots, chips and dip, etc.

But as the RSVP's topped the 70 people mark we opted to switch to pizza instead.

Food was setup at Flo's V8 cafe (in the kitchen).  I created a menu card so folks would know what the options were and then made placards for each of the 6 different varities of pizza.

We kept the kids drinks simple as well with 4 different flavors of Cars themed Juicy Juice boxes and a lucky find of cars themed water bottles.

The juices were iced in tubs with matching labels.

And for dessert/cake - we had tires (donuts) from Luigi's Casa Della Tire showroom.

Ryan doesn't actually like frosting so isn't a big fan of cake or cupcakes.  The boys both love donuts so the "tires" were a no brainer.

We picked up the donuts from our local Shipley's.  I ordered a variety of iced donuts with sprinkles (mud tires, Radiator Springs white walls, and Michael Shumacher Ferrari racing tires) as well as some bullseye donuts (iced donuts topped with whipped cream and sprinkles).

The donuts were laid out on pans in the Casa Della Tire showroom both to keep them pretty and make them easy to distribute.

The Movie:

After the games and dinner the party ended with an indoor showing of Cars 2 the movie.

We set up the projector and screen in the party room as we cleared away some of the tables.  The kids sat in the floor in front of the projector on the rug, and the adults ranged around chairs in the back of the room.

It was our first time using the projector for such a large group and the internal speakers even turned up to full volume were a little hard to hear over the noise of the crowd if you weren't close enough to the projector.  The great thing about the projector we have is that it has everything built in (DVD player, speakers, etc.) so we don't have to lug around and setup alot of extra equipment.  On the downside, however, plugging in external speakers requires an amplifier & speakers... We have some portable wireless outdoor speakers that I think would work really well to provide a little more volume if we decide to do something like this again - we will just have to find an amp.

About half way through the movie as some of the kids started getting restless we called a 10 minute Intermission and turned on the lights so the folks who were ready to head out could see to make their way safely to the door.  Once they were out we turned the lights back off and the rest of the group finished the movie.

All the activities plus the movie made for a pretty long party - about 4 hours total.  A little bit long for 4 year olds - particularly at the end of the day.  We had considered cutting out some of the activities or showing some Mater's Tall Tales shorts instead of the movie to cut the time down, but the Birthday boys really wanted to watch Cars 2 so we did.

The Favors:

I had been incredibly lucky over the last year to catch all kinds of Cars and Princess themed stuff 50-75% off clearance and had quite a selection for the goodie bags.  :)

All the boys got a metal tool box filled with a scene setter with stickers, sheet of Cars magnets, a cars necklace pen, Cars notepad, box of Cars Colors, some Cars Candy racers, a sucker, and a real die cast race car from Cars the movie.

And finally...

The Thank You cards...

Just a simple folded note card designed to fit in a 4x5 envelope. 

And someday (soon I hope!) I will actually get around to finishing getting all the cards in the mail!  Though it would certainly be helpful if this nasty case of bronchitis would go away so I could breathe first.  :)

And next year?  Next year I will be happily writing a check to one of those nice everything included bounce places.  :)  And bringing my camera to actually take a few pictures of the party!  :)

The END!


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