August 21, 2014

Thoughts on a Thursday




My best girl and I are having a girls day today.  Getting our nails done, shopping, lunch.  Matching dry-clean only dresses.  Frolicking in the sunshine.

Just kidding.

I haven't looked this nice since Church on Sunday.  Two weeks ago.  It's a dry shampoo day for the third day in row.  I'm putting on clean yoga pants and calling it good enough.  I totally look like I've just been to spin class or barre.  My favorite "who me?  Oh, I've just been working out" look.  Sorry, only locals are lucky enough to see that up close.   Who wants those kinds of pictures of themselves floating around the internets?  That's where I draw a line at keeping it real. 

And does anyone really do those things for fun with their kids?  Small children?  I tried having one of those with Wells earlier in the summer and it ended with a trip to the target and lots of crying.  I can do that on a normal day.  If I could swap out my kids and put in a girlfriend or two in their place for the morning then I would be down.  But that's not my life. 

And my life?  Man.  Life has been so full lately and I'm so thankful for that.  I've hit the best stride with the babes lately and it's nice.  My heart is full.  Of course that's when thoughts of throwing that balance off creep into my head.  I'm fending those off for now.  My heart is happy.  Let's leave it that way.

I'm taking my girl to her 4 year old checkup today.  Her brother will come too, because let's face it, that's a waste of a babysitter.  Even free ones.  I PRAY we don't catch anything in that office today.  The curse of the well visit is that somebody always leave sick.  Tagg is having surgery next week and he can't afford to catch a germ right now.

I can't wait to go to our first check-up of her little life with no issues to discuss.  No updates on conditions, serious or otherwise.  This appointment is such a blessing.  It's really the first in four years where we didn't need to discuss another specialist or update on something.  Not even shots.  Apparently in Virginia you get those bad boys at 5 not 4.  She's a bright, sweet, thoughtful, healthy, strong little girl.  The doctors will confirm that to her today.  Thankful.

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Oh, and J.Crew is having 25% off right now with code SHOPNOW.    I'm pretty sure I'm going to pull the trigger on this shirt in flax, these pants in navy, and these sneakers in pale sandstone.  They've all been sitting in my cart since the last sale.  I waited too long to pull the trigger and waited it out.  I'm glad I did.  I hate paying full price for stores that always have sales.

And GAP is offering $45 off a purchase of $100 in honor of their big Birthday!  Perfect time to stock up on some staples for the babes for fall.

August 19, 2014

Pink Desk | A Lady-Like Work Situation

Summer has been sun-up to sun-down fun with the babes and I'm thankful for every minute I've been spending with them.  I've been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to fill up our days with laughter.  It's been nice to put my phone down and be present with them more.  I've said yes to actively playing with them and letting them direct the games.  I'm not feeling down or overwhelmed; In fact, I'm most certainly feeling happy and blessed.  But I'm feeling like I've lost a little bit of myself too.

I feel a little silly saying I need a physical landing zone to find myself, much less an office space.  Let's be real, I'm no poster child for working moms.  But I do have a need to keep paperwork and stationery and mailing supplies and other random things of mine corralled.  Now, what I really need is a giant work room with a painting station, mailing station, laundry folding station, an espresso machine, and good wireless access.  But that's not going to happen anytime soon and I do still want a little spot reserved just for me.

I've settled for my pink desk centered along the brick wall in our playroom.  It makes me happy and it displays the things that remind me of myself.  Things that are just mine.  Things that are just meant to be pretty.  I painted this desk pink almost two years ago on a whim.  And while it never exactly goes with anything else I have it still me smile.


Recently, I cleaned off the entire surface of the desk in order to start fresh and the first thing I wanted to put back on top was a yummy candle.  Scents have a way quickly improving my mood and I'm pretty obsessed with using them in every room.  I found this one and so many other awesome options at Nordstrom while checking out their home decor section recently.

I was pretty surprised to see so many pretties I could use to spruce up my little space.  They've always been my go to for clothes, but I'm thinking I need to start putting them on my permanent radar for home and gifts too.  I really wish our local store carried more home items but with free shipping both ways it's not a big deal. 

Black and white, pink, and gold are always my go to when I want something a bit more fun than my typical all neutral scheme.  Everything I've rounded up is under $200, even this insanely gorgeous antiqued mirror.  I'm not convinced I don't need this for our bathroom.  And the rest is way under that price point.  I'd be happy to see any one of these items under my Christmas tree in a just a few months.


 SHOP THE POST

1 Vera Wang Pillow 2 Kate Spade Scented Candle 3 Kate Spade Travel Mug 4 Kate Spade 2015 day planner 5 Crosley Songbirg Pink Radio 6 Kate Spade Odds and Ends dish 7 Antiqued Mirror 8 Navy Kennebunkport Blanket 9 Kate Spade Daisy Place Keepsake Box 10 You Really Are Canvas Wall Art 11 VOLUSPA Candle 12 Wear Pink and Make the Boys Wink Dish 13 Gold Dot Magnet Board






*This post was sponsored by Nordstrom. As always, all opinions and selections are purely mine. Thank you for supporting the companies that help support me.

August 18, 2014

Keeping White Sofas Clean With Kids

Before I get started I just want to let you know that the Lilly After-Party Sale is starting at 8am today!  You can make fun of me all you want but I swear up and down that the Lilly shift is the most practical piece of clothing Wells has in her closet.  The pattens hide any mess she can find and the sturdy made dress washes in the machine time and time again.  The short style allows my girl to climb and play and you can pop a turtleneck and leggings underneath when it's cold.  If you catch them on sale, don't think twice.  The cost per wear on those shifts is amazing.
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I get a lot of questions about how we like our white sofas and how we keep them clean with small children.  I absolutely love the look of them and am willing to do a few extra things to keep them looking nice!  I think that there are a few things you can do to ensure the longevity of any upholstered piece with kids but it's especially important with white.  These things are so easy and there really is no reason to be scared of an all white room just because you have kids. 


1. Slipcovers
This explains itself, but really and truly you can pop them off and wash them.  It's so easy to stain treat because you can use bleach if necessary.

2. Off-White Denim
When held up next to other white fabric our slipcovers look every so slightly darker.  I think this makes a major impact in looking nice all the time.   There is no obvious reside from someone's skin touching the fabric for long periods of time.  I think a bright white or a less thick fabric wouldn't wear as well and you'd spend more time washing.


3.  Blankets
As you can see in the pictures, I have a white fur blanket folded in half and placed down the center of the sofa.  It's fully machine washable and opens up to twice the size.  This is Tagg's spot.  I didn't tell him he had to sit there, I just put the blanket where he naturally plops down.  This is much easier to wash than the slipcover and keeps me from cringing every time he sits there.   Wells never lounges without her giant frosty blanket so we haven't needed to do anything like this on her love seat side.

I'm really into neutrals and look to texture to bring in some interest, but, if color is your jam this is a really great opportunity to bring in some wow factor. 

4. A Flat Sheet Picnic Blanket
I keep a flat sheet highly accessible in a basket underneath the end table and I pull it out every single time the kids want to eat in here.  Every single time.  It's so easy.  Our television is in here and its unrealistic for me to never allow them to eat in this room.  If it's especially messy, they enjoy a picnic on the floor in front of the tv.  The sheet keeps ketchup or other hard to clean foods off the carpet and the furniture.  And they think its fun.  If they're just having a regular snack, say a banana maybe, then I just throw the sheet down on the sofa or unfold the blankets mentioned above first and let them eat right on top.

5.  Indoor/Outdoor Rug
I placed an indoor/outdoor rug on top of our upholstered ottoman to keep dirty feet from spoiling the fabric.  I actually love the way this looks and am investigating ways to give it a more permanent feel without actually stapling it on.  I'd like to also get one to go over the sisal rug to help that stay a bit cleaner long term.


Do you have any advice or tricks for dealing with white upholstery with kids?  I've been really happy with ours and would absolutely suggest it to anyone else!

August 15, 2014

Twenty Minute Pasta Recipe

Twenty minute meals are super important for my family.  I personally lose interest in cooking altogether if it takes much longer than that.  And in the summer, we spend so much of our day outside that it's hard to come inside to cook an elaborate meal.  I'm also a huge fan of dinners that I can cook over and over again with just slightly different ingredients for variation.

This recipe is super easy to follow and the variations you could make are endless.  Swap out the hamburger meat for ground turkey or sausage; change up the spinach with peas.  Use goat cheese instead of ricotta and toss in some red peppers.  Another trick is to always use a different pasta.  We've made them all over here and more.  It's a good way to clean out the fridge and it's always simple and good.


Cook a package of mini shell pasta according to the directions on the box. 

While you wait for the water to boil, go ahead and brown one package of hamburger meat seasoned with oregano over medium heat until thoroughly cooked.  Reduce heat to low and leave on the stove top. 

At this same time, steam a package of spinach and set aside.

To the cooked hamburger meat, add either 2 cups of jar tomato sauce or the contents of an entire can of Italian style crushed tomatoes.

Stir in a 1/4 of ricotta cheese.

Add the steamed spinach and mix well.

Add more tomato sauce as necessary and continue to mix.

Toss over cooked pasta and enjoy!


August 14, 2014

DIARY FREE, EGG FREE CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM RECIPE

My aunt gave us an ice cream maker at the beginning of the summer and I let it sit in our pantry for weeks because I was too intimidated to use it.  I stumbled across a few recipes while browsing on pinterest that looked really easy and decided to give it a whirl.  It was amazing.  Like crazy, lick the pan delicious.  I've yet to find a store-bought vegan ice cream that I liked and I'm really excited to be able to make our own now.  I'm not going to call this clean eating but I do love the short list of ingredients and the ability to make this treat with a tremendously reduced preservative and additive list than traditional store bought ice cream.  Plus as you know, I try really hard to keep a low dairy diet and ice cream has always been a challenge for me.  Not anymore!


Please note that you need to freeze your ice cream maker according to the directions (mine said 17-22 hours) before it's first use.  Be sure to do that before you promise your children real ice cream in twenty minutes like you saw on the recipes you read.

Dairy Free, Egg Free, Soy Free Homemade Soft-Serve Chocolate Ice Cream
1 can of unsweetened coconut milk
3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
2 teaspoons of honey (or agave syrup) OR 1/2 cup sugar
you don't need both.

Mix ingredients over medium low heat until smooth and then remove from stove top and allow to cool.  Add the mixture to your ice cream maker according to the directions.

I have been making this daily since I first posted this recipe (oops) and I've found that for best results, heat the mixture on the stove top and allow to cool in the fridge overnight.  This helps speed up the ice cream making process significantly.  For instance, I made a batch and left it in the frigde while we went out of town for the weekend.  I poured it into our ice cream maker a few days later and the ice cream only took 7 minutes to freeze instead of 20+.  Bonus!

This recipe really could be considered a personal size if you aren't careful with your portions!  All four of us were able to enjoy a small bowl like you see pictured above but were left wanting more.  I can also just imagine the possibilities of this simple recipe going forward.  With the coconut milk as your base you can mix in so many different flavor combinations!

My plan going forward is to make two batches back to back and place in a loaf pan, or air tight container to store in the freezer until it's ready to be enjoyed.  I'm hoping that will help with the quantity issue as well as help it to harden up a bit.  This recipe is definitely for a soft-serve style of ice-cream.  I'll be sure to keep you posted!


August 12, 2014

New House Progress: Kitchen Range Cover

Over the weekend Matthew and went room to room and wrote down a punch list for phase 1 jobs.  Nothing that you would file under renovation, just putting up switch plate covers, replacing the shoe trim from natural wood to white, things like that.  One big change on my to-do list was to hide the wires leftover from the old built-in microwave.

 He fitted a piece of wood and nailed it in place, then used dap to fill in the nail holes and around the edges where the new trim piece meets the cabinets.  Finally, he painted it white to match the cabinets.


This was such a simple project with a really big visual impact.  It's a really good short-term solution until we make a decision about our oven/stove/vent placement.

Next up, I need to finish painting the back splash.  Because we are planning a larger kitchen renovation in a few years, it seems really wasteful to throw up a true back splash now.  I think once it's painted white it will work just fine.

You also may notice that amazing new lantern hanging now.  I found that in the outdoor section of Lowe's online and picked it up in the store.  It was crazy cheap and looks super nice.  I'm amazed at how many of the outdoor lanterns are cheaper and better looking than what they showcase for interiors.  Have you ever used outdoor lighting inside?

August 11, 2014

Tory Burch Private Sale


The Tory Burch Private Sale just started!  Last Spring I splurged on three pairs of shoes during a great sale and I'm being super tempted to pick up one more pair of closed toe shoes for fall.  Must step away from the computer!  I always recommend waiting until you see one of these sales to make such a splurge purchase.

Here are my top picks!





LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT | GALLERY WALLS

Now that we've been in our house for just over a year I feel like I'm finally starting to feel like maybe this is really where we'll be for a while.  I'm picking up speed on completing small projects and finding a home for everything.  Part of my commitment to hanging things or painting things stems from the fact that I have moved a lot in the past fifteen years.  A whole lot.   In fact, I've lived in 12 different places in 15 years.  Seeing as how I slept in the same room in the same house for the first 17 years of my life, this leaves me feeling perpetually unsettled.

So you can see why many design things live forever in my pinterest files alone.  I'm ready to change that, but my old fear of commitment comes creeping back and I'm curious about your thoughts.

Love it or leave it, gallery walls?
One of the design elements that I've always wanted to try but haven't for fear of repairing nail holes, is a gallery wall.  So now that I finally feel like the time is right and I have accumulated some art and family photographs that I want to use for it, is it over?  Did I miss the boat?


I know we've seen about a million and a half gallery walls floating around Pinterest.  Some organic and others more uniform in scale.  Mostly filled with calligraphy, free printables, and deer antlers.  All things collected for the sole purpose of meshing well together on a wall. 

Or the later, a series of Ikea Ribba frames in a grid.  Mostly used for family photographs or a grid of calendar page art.  I love the idea of displaying lots of photographs of our family in our home in an organized manner on the walls, keeping small frames from crowding our tabletops.

It's basically a prerequisite for any good blogger house tour.  But is that because they're the fad de rigeour?  Or because they're awesome and translate well into real homes full of pictures and memories and quotes we love and don't want to miss stuffed in a box somewhere?


So tell me, do you love it or leave it?

August 8, 2014

Cute Mom Clothes | J.Crew Sale

J.Crew is still offering 40% off wear now and final sale items with code: DEPTOFSALE.

I've had these four staple items in my cart all week.  Plus these pink skinnies for Wells.  I sometimes have trouble pulling the trigger on basics because it's so much less exciting than a showstopper piece.  But really, this is what I wear 99% of the time and I feel so much better when I have fresh, good fitting basics to pull out in the morning.

I posted earlier in the Spring about my love of shorts and tees and swore I would never pair them with running shoes.  I have to say, I'm totally converted after seeing so many pairs of low-key sneakers.  I guess I just didn't love it with my neon running shoes.  Especially now that my babes are more into having races and bike rides and kicking the soccer ball around in lieu of going down the slide or just running loose at a playground.  Having a sturdier shoe is more of a necessity and I'm fulling willing to publicly show my change of support!

I'm also thinking that colored chinos might need to make a reappearance in my fall wardrobe once the weather gets too cool for shorts.  I'm loving the casualness they lend over my jeans.


What are some of your low-key staples?  Are you taking advantage of summer sales with an eye on fall in mind?

Water Child

This girl loves the water.  She spends her mornings at the pool and then begs to play in the hose in the afternoon.  She'll wash cars, make swimming pools for her girls (the barbies and princesses and such), run through sprinklers, and dump cups of water on her head until dark.

There is a part of me that feels guilty for moving this water loving girl away from the beach.  I picture the kinds of summers we could be having there now that she's older and a bit less cranky mid-day.  That wouldn't really be the case though if we had stayed.  That would certainly have guaranteed a fear of the waves, right.

Her brother, on the other hand, will sit quietly playing with his trains in a chair under the umbrella, careful not to get wet.  The best we get from him is to sit on the side of the pool, with his feet swimming, until just the right game lures him in for a minute of careful splash-free fun.  Such a different spirit.


We've had the longest few days visiting old friends and staying up way past bedtime.  I'm so ready for the weekend!  I hope you have a good weekend too!

August 7, 2014

Southwestern Ranch Chicken Wrap

One of my most favorite new dinner ideas is to make a wrap with the leftovers from the night before.  The possibilities are endless.

I typically eat a giant salad every day for lunch so I always have extra lettuce and tomatoes on hand.  Wraps are a really easy way to get your kids into eating some greens if you struggle with that.


Southwestern Ranch Chicken Wrap
Flour tortilla Shells
Lettuce
Tomatoes (I actually used drained canned tomatoes for the wrap pictured above)
Chicken Strips (baked or grilled and seasoned with taco seasoning)
Southwestern Ranch Dressing 
*I make the hidden valley fiesta ranch packet according to the directions on the package.

August 6, 2014

Green Bathroom Cabinets


It's time for me to get off my butt and paint the cabinet base in the kids bathroom.  I know we're still years off from gutting this bathroom but I think I can make some big impacts for cheap in the meantime.  With just one tiny window above the toilet, it's really hard to photograph this room.  The third image, with the diy dip-dyed stool, is really the most accurate picture in terms of wall tile and floor tile color.  So keep that in mind.  And I've been in love the way that bright green really tones down the tile color. 


Kind of like in this image from BHG.  Overall, it's not my most favorite bathroom styling ever.  I wouldn't bring in all those other shades of green or have any wood tones that dark.  Basically I'm focusing on the wall color paired with the bright grass green.  Are you with me?

Because the sinks and tops are a solid piece of beige, painting the cabinet white is out.  I think a nice grey would be a really pretty and safe option.  But after adding in some splashes of color like you saw above, I'm kind of loving the idea of bright green.  And this doesn't need to be a permanent love because the whole thing will be removed in a few years anyway.


Here are two other examples of green sinks.  Pretty fun right?

 

I also love this bathroom Bailey of Peppermint Bliss redecorated keeping the same pink tile in tact.  She just embraced the uniqueness and played that up.  Such fun!

So what's your vote?  Am I crazy to go green?

August 5, 2014

Serena and Lily Summer Sale

Y'all know my most favorite sale for home decor of the year is the Serena & Lily Summer Sale!  Almost everything in Wells' room came from Serena and Lily and we have been so happy with the style and the quality.  Many of the items in her room below are part of the sale in various colorways.  Also included, the linen bedskirt from Tagg's room.



Now is the perfect time to stock up on a few new favorites.  I'm thinking about snagging this shower curtain and these pajamas (girl and boy).  Or this raffia runner I've had my eye on since first seeing them here.  And the rolling storage crates I wanted to use in the playroom are also on sale.


http://rstyle.me/n/nc8s2pxrn

TACO SOUP RECIPE | DAIRY FREE

Taco Soup is one of my most favorite things that Matthew cooks.  It is hearty and packed full of flavor, makes a ton, and freezes well.  It's not too heavy or spicy for a hot summer night.  And it's so easy to make that even I can do it!  As soon as he mentioned it this past weekend, I knew I had to grab my camera so I could show y'all how to cook it too. 

We almost always make a giant stock pot of this soup on a Sunday and then freeze smaller portions to pull out throughout the week for a really easy weeknight dinner.  Just transfer the frozen soup to the fridge the night before you want to eat it.  We don't own a microwave so I can attest to the fact that you can also heat this soup up entirely from a frozen block to the stove-top in about fifteen minutes too if you truly need a last minute option.  This soup is also dairy free which is really awesome to be able to enjoy it as a family or bring to a new-mom.


Grocery List:
1 package of low sodium chicken stock
1 small vidalia onion
1 large can of petite diced tomatoes with (don't drain the juice)
1 large can of whole kernel sweet corn (drained and rinsed)
1 can mild rotel
2 cans of black beans (drained and rinsed)
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 bunch of cilantro (chopped)
1 package of beef sausage (chopped)
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
taco seasoning
salt and pepper
beer

 The first step is to top a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts with your favorite taco seasoning and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes on 350*.  Set aside.

Next, sweat onions on medium heat in a large stock pot and then add sausage to brown.  De-glaze with beer (or wine).  Add in the chicken, corn, beans, garlic, and cilantro to the stock pot and mix.


Add tomatoes with juice to the pot along and the chicken stock.  Mix in 2 tbsp of taco seasoning.  Add in cold water as needed to achieve desired amount of liquid.  Cook for 30 minutes and then reduce to a simmer for 1-2 hours.


Serve with Frito Scoops!  It's also really good with shredded pepper jack cheese but we make a real effort to eliminate dairy for our entire family when possible.

* I use wildtree seasoning because it's organic and dairy-free (some taco seaonings contain milk product so you need to be careful if you want to keep this a dairy-free recipe).  I typically bake a lot of chicken at once and keep it on hand to pull out for several dinners in a row.  You could also use rotisserie chicken.

August 4, 2014

Tips for hosting a Children's Birthday Party | Purple and Pink Princess Party

I'm sharing a few of the tips and tricks I used for Wells' Birthday Party with you today!  She wanted a pink and purple princess party.  I wanted a non-Disney theme so I chose to translate that into a color scheme rather than a specific character.  Right now Wells is into "all the girls" so I didn't want to go out and buy all new theme decorations for one year when I have so many pink napkins and cups leftover from her previous parties.


I kept the food really simple.  I purchased popcorn and animal crackers from Trader Joes for the kids to snack on at their leisure.  My mom made the cupcakes and I dip-dyed marshmallows for something sweet.  I also did a cheese plate for the moms and left that in the kitchen.  Having everything accessible to everyone allowed for me to play host but not server the entire time.  It also kept the budget really low because I wasn't trying to provide a variety of things.  Also, it's a kids party.  It wasn't the time to showcase my best dips or fancy spreads.


I found these pink lemonade pouches and chilled them in the fridge for a few days before placing them in a giant silver punch bowl.  This went on the food table as well.  The pink cups and fancy straws were filled with water.  I didn't want a sugar overload or spills all over the house!


For the adults, we had La Croix, iced tea, beer, and wine.  I set out a bottle of red wine, white wine, and prosecco.  I also had a pitcher of pink lemonade from Trader Joe's for making a sparkly cocktail!  Everything was set up in the kitchen so people could help themselves.  I found it helpful to keep this separated from the kids drinks as well.


 Set up ahead of time. If at all possible, set up as much as you can a few days before the party.  Get out, and wash off, your serving pieces.  Set a sticky note on each piece so you know what goes where.  This is also really helpful in case you have someone to help you put the food out just before the guests come.  Check on your paper plate or napkin supply.  Decide if you need any utensils or not so you aren't running around town two hours before the party trying to locate one last thing.

I've found this really helps me to relax the day of the party.  Essentially all that is left is a quick clean of the house.  I'll pour myself a drink and set the food out right before our guests arrive so I'm already enjoying my own party from the start.


Decorations.  I always find one spot to really decorate and then leave the rest of the house alone.  It's not in my budget to make multiple areas look festive.  I set up a card table  in our dining room for all the food and drinks for the kids.  I placed a plastic pink table cloth over a white linen which made a big colorful impact.  I also strung a little line of twine at the ceiling to go across the top of the table and hung pieces of scrap ribbon in various pink colors.  I also cut a piece of flower garland into several pieces and hung that as well.  It made for such a pretty table backdrop and didn't cost anything!  I'm going to do this from now on!

My mom surprised us with a dozen balloons in various shades of pink and purple which also made it really festive!  We tied four to Wells' head seat at the table, which also had a giant pink gauze ribbon around it.  And a few by our front porch and around the dining room.  The kids loved playing with the balloons!


I also bought a gorgeous handmade bunting from my girl Elisabeth.  You might already be praying for her little dragon slayer George, but if not please add him to your list. He is Tagg's age and is currently in Boston healing from his third open heart surgery.  I also proactively bought one for Tagg's Birthday in blue and green!  She supplied the letters to spell out Happy Birthday but I ran out of time to iron them on.  She made it double sided so that the non-lettered side could be hung in Wells' room throughout the year.  I already have it hanging above her mirror!  LOVE!  You can find her on instagram (@erob77) to find out more about George and supporting his cause for childhood heart defects and the miraculous melody valve.

I snagged the How to Be a Princess print from Wells' room and set up that up on the food table for another layer of color and fun!  I spray painted two dollar clearance art pieces from Walmart in a ballet slipper pink.  I interned to do a gold glitter letter project with those but ran out of time.  The cupcake pinata is from Target.


The only activity we planned was a pinata filled with dum dums for the end of the party.  The children all had full access to our dress up and toys and books so I didn't see any reason to pay for something extra for them to have fun.  I think that worked perfectly and everyone had a blast!


Overall, it was such a fun time!  By planning ahead I saved myself so much stress on the afternoon of the party.  I kept the food simple and pre-made so I wasn't worried about cleaning up the kitchen or burning a dip right before my guests arrived.  Focusing on one area for decorations helped make a large impact for a low price.

What are some tips and tricks you've found helpful at your parties? Children's or otherwise.  Please share!