Thursday, August 7, 2014

Calling All Superheroes!

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Look at this Justice League. Ready to battle evil, leap tall buildings, and blaze into action!

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The boys have been anticipating their first "real" birthday party for half a year. Many discussions ensued regarding a theme, who to invite, and what to do. Although we didn't work out the details until last month, just the idea of a party was big. When they were upset with us (or anyone else), the offender was immediately uninvited to their party. (I was uninvited several times.) 

One day in the grocery store, an older gentleman teased one of the boys and Spencer didn't find it funny. As we rolled to the end of the aisle, Spence tugged on my shirt and said, "He's not invited to our birthday party." I laughed out loud.

We worked through the uninviting thing and settled on a Superhero theme. But with two boys and two opinions, it was impossible to narrow it down to one Super. So we embraced them all!

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My sister-in-law, Shirlee, crafted the invitation. When she saw me sitting down at the computer to print a handful of images I planned to cut and paste together, she stopped me and offered to do it on photoshop. Man! Am I grateful! Talk about saving the day! (And saving some time!) Thanks Shir.

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So last Saturday, Doug mowed and readied the yard.

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I finished up the Captain America cake. Fondent people. It doesn't taste great, but it makes cakes like this super easy.

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Ali set the tables all on her own. She did it better than I would.

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As guests arrived, the boys experimented with the stomp rocket.

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Love this picture of Michael airborne. Stomp rockets are our new favorite toy. Have you tried them? They launch up to 200 feet in the air!

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Now I know, this is frightening. The tights and green fruit of the loom undies. Even now, I'm blushing as I type. I had to swallow some pride to dress up as Robin. But it was all for the cause. Because wherever you find Robin, you're sure to find his buddy Batman, right? So... be on the look out.

And my sister Deb? She was amazing. Especially to wear her famous Wonder Woman costume. She hasn't put it on in about 10 years. Right before we took this pic, she said, "I can't breathe in this thing!"

What we do for our kiddos!

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We set up three stations in the yard. Station 1? 

The Hulk Smash

We spray-painted a bunch of boxes, had the boys put on hulk hands (which are awesome - you can find them on Amazon), and let the boys go nutso. They pounded the boxes to bits.

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Check out that enormous fist.

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Station 2? 

Spiderman Web Catch!

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Using silly string, the boys webbed all the evil villains hung up throughout the yard.

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Even Spidey got a bit of his own weaponry.

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Station 3? 

Ironman Blast! 

Knocking down paper cups with water guns.

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Spence was dancing to tunes while waiting his turn.

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Then we did an obstacle course.

Up the rope ladder, down the slide. Scramble over the tower of couch cushions. Weave in and out the cones. Stomp the rockets.

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Karate chop the bad guy Eliza drew.

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Crawl through the tunnel.

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Pop a balloon with your bare hands. (Or teeth. If you dare.)

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Then bust through a brick wall (okay, cardboard). 

Lots of pics of Super Gus. He ran the course about ten times. With great determination and intensity.

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Then we took down the Captain America piñata.

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A small crowd of older neighbor kids began to gather on the backyard wall.

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Then we stopped for cake, singing, and super hero wishes.

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At this point, I asked the boys, "If you could meet any superhero, who would it be?" Top picks? Ironman, Spiderman, Captain A, and Batman.

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I adore these sweet boys.

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While they ate cake and ice cream, I went to check on our special guest. He was almost ready. I helped him don the last accessories then ran outside with the camera. Figuring he wasn't far behind me, I kept watching for him to come down the stairs on the side of the house.

Nothing.

No black cape. 

No black mask. 

Anywhere.

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Suddenly, behind us, on top of the south wall, a shadowy figure rose to full stature, high above the boys.

"It's Batman! It's Batman!" they yelled.

Stretching his cape into full black wingspan, he sailed to the ground.

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He kinda rolled his ankle and almost fell on his rumpus. (Left that photo out). But to my surprise, he made a remarkable recovery.

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Pacing in and out of the boys, he ruffled hair and examined faces. Then he took a call from the Commissioner.

In his deep and husky Batman voice, he said, "The Jokers? Yes. I have them. They go by SJ and G-Bob. I'll bring them in."

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He hefted the boys into the air.

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Gave them a talking-to, while they just giggled and tweaked his nose, saying, "Daddy? Is that you? I can tell by your eyes."

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I always thought Doug would make the perfect Batman. His performance sailed beyond expectations.

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Then he asked the kids in that same husky voice, "Who wants to race Batman?"

There was an uproar of squeals and cheers.

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This moment was the highlight of the party. Racing Batman.

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Nick finally busted a move and sprinted ahead, victorious!

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Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

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Don't mess. We mean business.

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Then just like that, Batman was gone. So we opened presents.

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And handed out party favors.

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Including these masks my friend Amy made. Talented girl. I had her follow some patterns my sister designed for a superhero party a couple years ago. You can find her on Etsy at The Bees Knees. 

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After Wonder Woman left in her invisible plane and all the mini Supers headed home, I kicked off my pinchy boots and picked up the boys, kissing them both on the cheek. Gordon wiped my kiss off with the back of his hand. Sigh. They're definitely growing up. 

Oh, I would do anything for these boys. Anything. Even dress up as Robin. Un-cute as it was. I hope they know that. 

I smile when I hear them talk now. A small question mark still lingers in their mind as to who Batman was. (Doug denies all associations with the Dark Knight.) But the truth is, he'd do anything for them too.

It was a party we'll remember for a long time. With super friends and super help. (Bec, Neil, Marilyn, Deb, Shir, Sarah, Kara). A league of real Superheroes. Celebrating two super boys.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Eliza's Birthday Books

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This year for Eliza's birthday party she wanted to invite a handful of friends to join her for two favorite activities. Painting. And sharing good books.

I loved the idea.

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So we scheduled a date at the painting store, as my children call it. And for what they provided (including the fact that I didn't have to plan, prepare, or clean up - sometimes that is priceless), I thought the cost was quite reasonable.

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Each girl chose a small animal to paint. They settled into chairs and swabbed color onto panda bears, turtles, elephants, kitty cats, geckos, and dolphins. 

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Eliza was in heaven. The girls chatted busily about Les Mis (no kidding), painting techniques, and what they were doing with their summer. This is Eliza with her favorite backyard friend, Delaney, who is moving to London for a year. Sigh... we're gonna miss this dear girl.

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After all the animal creations were finished and slated for the kiln, we brought out cupcakes and tuned our singing voices.

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I love these girls. Full of personality, grounded, kind to each other. I'm getting to know most of them in new ways since being called to teach their primary class at church. I love watching them read from the scriptures, ask difficult questions, make real connections. 

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I hope these friendships for Eliza always bless her life.

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She blew out nine candles.

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Then we came back to our home and opened presents on the front lawn. In lieu of regular gifts, we asked each friend to bring a book. One of their favorites to share with Eliza. 

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Eliza was elated at the stack of reading she unwrapped. Each girl told us a handful of her favorite titles. I wrote them all down and rounded out the list with some of our favorites from the last year. And now, I share it with you!

(I could go on and on about some of these. Like The Tale of Despereaux and its powerful message of forgiveness, all the Roald Dahl books - he's simply masterful. Or the way we cried when we finished Stone Fox and The Hundred Dresses.)

Moving Day – Meg Cabot
Regarding the Fountain – Kate Klise
Because of Mr. Terupt – Rob Buyea
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon – Grace Lin
Wonder – RJ Palacio
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Doll’s House – Rumer Godden
Stone Fox – John Reynolds Gardiner
Sarah, Plain and Tall – Patricia MacLachlan
Big Susan – Elizabeth Orton Jones
Betsy-Tacy Books – Maud Hart Lovelace
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – Kate DiCamillo
The Tale of Despereaux – Kate DiCamillo
Dragon Slippers – Jessica Day George
Tuesdays at the Castle – Jessica Day George
Wednesdays in the Tower – Jessica Day George
Pollyanna – Eleanor H. Porter
Ivy & Bean Books – Annie Barrows
The Hundred Dresses – Eleanor Estes
The Little House Series – Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Family Under the Bridge – Natalie Savage Carlson
Nancy Drew Mysteries – Carolyn Keene
Mr. Popper’s Penguins – Richard Atwater
A Wrinkle in Time series – Madeleine L’Engle
The BFG – Roald Dahl
Clementine Books – Sara Pennypacker
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library – Chris Grabenstein

Explore the list and feel free to add your favorites in the comments!

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I will say, Eliza loved Wonder so much, it inspired the writing of her own book. The story of a flying book that takes you to different spaces or memories from your past. She called it Seen. 

This list is great for young readers ages 6 - 12. And I recommend any of them for reading aloud.

So far this summer, I've read aloud Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, The Tale of Despereaux, The BFG, and we're currently working through The Long Winter (Little House Series).

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I recently received an email from a very engaged father who was curious as to how we read to not one or two children, but to five, and how we get our children excited about reading.

I told him good books are key. I rely heavily on trusted recommendations  And most evenings, reading is the reward at our house. I try to make it fun by reading in new and different locations. Like outside on the lawn chairs, on a blanket in the backyard, on the neighbor's trampoline, or in one of the kids' bedrooms.


The couch is also a standard spot, with children flanking us on both sides. I've said it before but I believe reading aloud is one of the best ways you can prepare your children to be good students. As well as strengthen family relationships.

And while it isn't the most popular thing to say, the truth is, we have very little screen time. My kids don't own any devices. We have a few games and learning apps on an iPad. But most days are totally screen-free. Unless it's Khan Academy, movie night, or a moment of desperation when I've GOT to take a shower without kids maiming each other and destroying the house.

I also encourage the kids to read on their own. This summer the girls have had a goal of reading at least 30 minutes every day from a chapter book and scripture.

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Eliza's newly shelved books.

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A week after the party, we went back to the painting store to get the girls' animals they painted. And picked up this cute plate the store painted for Eliza. 

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Ali and Sami (who are a little younger, age 7) have been enjoying the Ramona series this summer, along with Mr. Popper's Penguins, Pippi Longstocking, and Milly-Molly-Mandy. Some of which I know I've recommended before.

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One last way we love to digest books is via audio. In the car. This summer we've listened to A Wrinkle in Time, Ivy & Bean, two Nancy Drew mysteries, and Little Women.

Even my boys listen without complaint. I love to stop the audio sometimes and discuss what is happening, drive home an important point or observation. Like how Beth treats her sisters in Little Women, or how Meg's love for Charles Wallace conquers darkness and evil, as illustrated so beautifully in L'Engle's Wrinkle.

Good books teach truth. And sharing them with my children brings me so much joy.

As for our sweet Eliza? Some day I'll write about her creative mind and how I can barely keep up with her projects and ideas. How is it that she is nine?

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