With the Fourth of July looming, we’re taking a break from the camping series to provide you with all you ever needed to know about throwing the ultimate backyard party! There is nothing so fun as an outdoor party and you can really take your party to the next level by following a few simple steps….
Entertaining Tips and Tricks
Okay ladies, sometimes, as a mom, its very humbling to admit where you’re at in life. As much as we want to be a put together television/magazine/stock photo mom, the truth is the real mom life falls far from that ideal. Some days its too cold/too hot/too rainy to get out and you just need a break from the daily grind. On those days, its time to take a lesson from the 80’s, call up a friend and make a mom date at your local mall!
I know, you’re kind of freaking out right now. The mall? Is she serious? Who goes to the mall anymore? I’ll tell you who, desperate moms, that’s who! The mall has a lot of great options for moms with kiddos in tow and they all have nothing to do with shopping. So, call a friend or two and give it a shot!
Stretch Your Legs
Malls provide an endless stroller friendly loop for walking. Many malls open the common area early to allow mall walkers to get their exercise in before the shops even open. If your mall doesn’t do this, arriving early will help you beat the crowds as you power through. My mall has a huge mall walking culture. They even have a “direction” they walk and you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you try to walk the other way. Many people who mall walk are senior citizens but don’t let that fool you, some of them can leave you in the dust. They also LOVE seeing little kids out and about. You’ll become everybody’s favorite walking team.
Take in the Sights
Malls are full of strange things. From window displays to fountains to weird statuary and planter boxes; throw in the Christmas decorations and that takes it to a whole new level. These things can truly entertain kids for hours and give you a much needed break. Make a game out of counting how many things you see of a certain color. Bring some change to make wishes in the fountain. Judge which store has the best window display or which concessionaire has the silliest costumes. If you have older kids, you could even make a basic scavenger hunt. Simple games like this can really break the monotony and make the mall a fun adventure.
Hit the Attractions
No matter what size your mall, there is an attraction for the kiddos. Maybe it’s just coin operated rides or a photo booth – no need to put money in, just climbing around or looking behind the curtain is a lot of fun for the preschool set. If your mall is a little bigger, you might have an indoor playground which can always get the wiggles out while you enjoy a chat with your other mom friends. If you’re lucky enough to live near a big mall, nothing is off limits in terms of activities – movie theaters, amusement park rides and aquariums are just a few of the fun attractions found in malls across the country.
Sample the Fare
I regularly hit up our local mall without spending a dime. My kids and I have an agreement, mommy gets 3 laps to power-walk and then they get 30 minutes on the playground and then we’re out. My one exception is when I bring my mom friends along. Then, I love to get lunch or a treat. Frankly, this is one thing the mall still does very right. There are options for everyone! Traditional fast food, pizza, Asian food or, if you’re in the mood for just a snack, you can always grab a pretzel or frozen yogurt. I love it because my kids can get their usual chicken nuggets and French fries while I grab something a little more exotic.
This winter, we had record snowfall and all the kids were jumping off the walls. I planned for my MOPS table to meet at the mall for a couple hours of mom sanity. The kids played on the playground and climbed all over the coin operated toys for almost an hour. We took in the sights at the central fountain, (my daughter may have splashed a little bit too which I’m pretty sure is frowned upon). Then we had lunch – Korean BBQ Chicken for me, DQ for my kids and home for naps. It was a great morning, exactly what we needed. But, more importantly, it was a wonderful time of bonding not only with my girlfriends but with their kids. I wouldn’t change a thing.
So, tell me, have I at least caused you to reconsider the mall? Were any of you already doing this? Had you thought to try it as a group? Trust me, it’s a ton of fun. Let me know what you think below!
Last week, I wrote about sharing a meal with another family at a restaurant – you might call it a “family date” – which is a wonderful way to save yourself some work. But sometimes, it just doesn’t work for the other family to leave home. That’s why one of my other favorite ways to connect with people is to dine-in. You bring the food, they provide the place, you do all the work. It’s a great blessing to another family who feel house-bound.
When this works well
There are lots of reasons this family date might be a better approach. Maybe the family has a newborn and is more comfortable at home. Or their children have a firmer schedule and can’t deviate from it. Or someone might be injured/recovering from surgery and doesn’t move around very well. Whatever the reason, you can still bring some fun and joy into their home despite the restrictions. Of course, make very certain they feel up to the company. Make sure they know it’s not going to bring any extra work to them.
What to bring
I personally love to bring take-out to this kind of gathering. If someone feels housebound, it usually means there hasn’t been a lack of homecooked meals. They’ve either been cooking for themselves or they might have been the recipient of a meal train. Something about take-out makes it feel more like a treat and almost like getting out of the house. To minimize the impact on the family you’re visiting, make sure you bring lots of disposable plates and silverware. The last thing you want to do is leave the family with a mess to clean up when you leave. Family style meals are still great, no need to get orders in advance. Things like Chinese food or Italian are easy to share and usually a crowd pleaser!
Make it tradition!
We have friends who always seems to have a baby a few months after us. We’ve developed a fun tradition of treating each other to the most delicious Chinese food a few weeks after each baby arrives. We have a favorite restaurant and a favorite order. The family without the new baby, picks it up and arrives bearing dinner and the responsibility to clean up. It is literally the highlight of every new baby in my opinion. Celebrating with dear friends, in your sweatpants with your newborn in the Rock ‘n Play a few feet away. It’s so much fun! No pressure, no pretense.
As with anything, there can be challenges to this approach, specifically cost. But this doesn’t need to be a spendy. Pizza is a great low cost option, as is fast food burgers or tacos.
Have you ever brought take out to a friend in need? What did you take? Was there anything that worked really well or didn’t work well at all? I’d love to hear about it! Share a comment below!
I’m an old soul and I love traditional entertaining! I think it absolutely has a place in modern hospitality. I love planning large get togethers, with full sit down meals that include dessert. Getting the invites out weeks in advance. But, it’s also 2017 and I have two toddlers, so sometimes I have to throw out my grandmother’s rule book and find new ways to connect with people. I’m still the hostess, I’m arranging the avenue through which people are reconnecting, but it just doesn’t look like you’d think. This series focuses on thinking outside of the box when it comes to entertaining. Enjoy!
Some nights, no matter how much you plan, all you want to do is escape your house and the responsibilities of cooking and cleaning up. Dining out is a great time to invite another family to join you! Here are some tips to make it enjoyable and minimize the craziness!
Pick a Time
First step is to pick the time that’s best for your kids. For us, we’ve found that’s either lunch or an early dinner (like getting to the table at 4:30 or 4:45 so the food arrives shortly after 5). Just because you didn’t make arrangement way in advance, doesn’t mean you can’t invite another family to join you. I figure as long as you’re giving about an hour notice, there’s a good chance you’ll find another family that’s game to tag along!
Pick the Right Restaurant
I think we all know that certain restaurants are a better match for families. There is nothing worse than picking a stuffy restaurant and then have your kids be in a difficult mood. Unless a restaurant bills itself as family friendly, I strongly discourage you from test driving a new place with your kids and another family in tow. Some things that make for a good family restaurant are kid activities like a playground or arcade game area. Or a restaurant with a lot of interesting décor on the walls. This can provide endless games “I Spy” or counting or naming the different things you see. Buffets are also great for kids because you don’t have to wait on the food and you never have the problem of the kids not wanting to eat what they ordered when it finally appears on the table.
Pack for Success
A lot can ride on how prepared you are to be at a restaurant. I have had great success with bringing paint-with-water sets and magnetic drawing boards. I know a lot of establishments provide crayons to color with but I find I spend more time fishing those off the yucky ground then my kids spend coloring with them. I know other families who swear by Playdoh. I really like to have an assortment of vehicles to drive all over the table. It’s also a good idea to have your phone well charged and set up with kid friendly apps and videos. We don’t do a lot of phone time with our kids but we really take advantage of it in these situations. I also like to bring bendy straws (most places provide straight straws) which help prevents spilling, disposable bibs and lots of wipes.
Get Things Moving
The best distraction for kids at a restaurant is food. See if your server is able to bring you a basket of fries or some other kid friendly food right away, this will ward off wiggles more than anything else. If the adults can have reviewed the menu in advance to have a rough idea of their order that will help too. You could even tell your server that you’d like to have the kids’ food come out as soon as it’s ready even if you have to wait on the adult food.
Remember, the whole point, of inviting another family along to this craziness is to reconnect with the other adults. Don’t let yourself be too busy entertaining kids to forget to chit-chat with everyone else. If your kids are being challenging, you might consider trading on and off with your spouse so one gets the chance to visit while the other keeps the masses entertained.
What do you do to have a positive restaurant experience with kids? Do you like to go out to eat with others? Do you have favorite places you like to go with your kids? I’d love to know what you’re doing!
I’m an old soul and I love traditional entertaining! I think it absolutely has a place in modern hospitality. I love planning large get togethers, with full sit down meals that include dessert. Getting the invites out weeks in advance. But, it’s also 2017 and I have two toddlers, so sometimes I have to throw out my grandmother’s rule book and find new ways to connect with people. I’m still the hostess, I’m arranging the avenue through which people are reconnecting, but it just doesn’t look like you’d think. This series focuses on thinking outside of the box when it comes to entertaining.
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Comfort food is always a great option for a make and take dinner! Now that you’ve learned how to rock your next meal train like a boss, let’s talk dishes that meet the criteria! The first Thanksgiving I celebrated with my husband’s family, my mother-in-law made this amazing pot pie using leftover turkey! I don’t usually have turkey laying around at a moment’s notice but chicken is always easy to come by. This recipe also puts all other pot pies to shame by adding sausage to the mix! Um, YUM!!!! Plus, it has this delicious savory pastry to top it all off! So, here’s the scoop on a pot-pie to die for – either for your own family or to bless another family with!
Savory Pastry Ingredients:
1 C Flour
1 t Celery Seed
½ t Salt
½ t Paprika
1/3 C Shortening
2 t Water
Pot Pie Filling Ingredients:
½ lb Regular Pork Sausage
¼ C Butter
1/3 C Flour
¼ t Salt
1/8 t Pepper
2/3 C Milk
1 Can (13.75 ounce) chicken broth (1 ¾ C)
2 C Cubed, Cooked Chicken
1 Package Frozen Mixed Veggies
- Combine dry ingredients – flour, celery seed, salt, paprika,
- Cut in shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs,
- Gradually add water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture forms into a ball,
- Press dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes to 24 hours.
- In a large saucepan, brown sausage breaking it into pieces,
- Drain off the fat, melt butter in the same pan.
- Combine flour, salt and pepper add to pan with the sausage,
- Stir in chicken broth and milk,
- Cook, stirring frequently, until thick and bubbly,
- Add cubed chicken and frozen vegetables,
- Continue to cook until warmed through.
Assembling Pot Pie:
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Pour filling into a 9×9 baking pan (or a 9×13 if doubling the recipe),
- Remove pastry from fridge and roll out on a floured surface,
- (Optional) Use cookie cutters to cut out a vent hole in the pastry,
- Place pastry on filling, tuck under edges and crimp as desired, use a knife to cut vent holes if you didn’t use the cookie cutters.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes (longer if refrigerated before cooking) until warmed through and bubbling and the crust is golden brown. Cover with foil if the crust is browning too quickly.
- Buy grilled chicken strips, or chunk rotisserie chicken from the deli to save time on cooking.
- Substitute chicken or turkey sausage to cut back on calories.
- This pastry is super easy to make and totally delicious but you can use grocery store refrigerated dough if you prefer.
- This is an AWESOME “make and take” meal. Dress it up with cute disposable aluminum pans. The one below is from Mary and Martha but you can also find them on Amazon (Medium Baking and Take-out Pan).
- You can freeze this meal for an easy dinner later. Freeze the pastry dough as a plastic wrapped disk and the filling in a freezer bag, spread out flat. Move frozen components to the fridge 24 hours before cooking. Assemble and bake.
Seriously, nothing can be more helpful to a friend in need than a meal train. Taking the pressure off dinner and shopping so they can focus on what matters most makes all the difference. I’ve been on the receiving end of a meal train several times and I’ve seen what works well and what doesn’t. So, here are my top six tips to bless their socks off with the best meal train ever!
Set a schedule
Unless you’re serving a particularly large family, I always recommend an every-other-day approach to meal trains. Most people who bring a dish usually bring at least enough for two meals. There is nothing worse than making the recipient feel bad about wasting food that was lovingly prepared for them. When making arrangements, get a clear idea of when the family normally eats and the most convenient time to drop off food. For example, you might say something like “The Johnson’s like to eat around 5:30 or 6, meals can be dropped off any time after 4 but please allow enough cooking time if bringing something for them to cook in their own oven.”
Allergies and dislikes
Make sure you note any allergies or strong dislikes in the family. A beautiful tray of mac ‘n cheese if your gluten intolerant or a giant tuna-noodle casserole if you aren’t a fish person isn’t really serving the family well. If your designing a meal train for a family with a new baby, make sure to ask mom if she’s trying to avoid any specific foods. It’s fairly common for nursing moms to avoid garlic, onions or dairy.
In today’s fast paced, digital society, an online meal train tool is an absolute must to make your efforts successful. The ones I’ve seen used most commonly are Meal Train and Take Them a Meal – both are free. Personally, I like Take Them a Meal a little better because each participant doesn’t have to set up a password protected account which seems to make people a little more willing to participate. Once you’ve set it up its easy to share it with a variety of people through social media and email.
Both of these online tools have a field where the participants can say what they plan on bringing. Encourage people to plan ahead and use that field and not just write “TBD.” There is nothing worse than getting a bunch of the same sort of meals in a row. Even though you’re grateful, we all need a little variety. My husband’s family was once the recipient of a meal train that ended up being exclusively pizza delivery because the organizer used that as an example of an easy meal. They actually ended up throwing out whole, uneaten pizzas because they couldn’t finish them as fast as they were coming in!
Always encourage participants to bring their meals in dishes the recipient doesn’t have to return. Foil pans, paper bake ware, plastic bags, or cheap plastic storage containers are the best way to go. (Check out this great option from Amazon – Medium Baking and Take-out Pan.)
Bring a MEAL
Just like variety, remind participants to bring a whole meal including some sort of fruit or veggie (maybe even a sweet treat!) Some meals, like crockpot dishes or casseroles may be an all in one deal but, if you aren’t bringing one of those, don’t forget the rest of the meal. Eating healthy is always challenging but even more so in trying times.
There are six quick tips to make your next meal train the best it can be! Please share below if you’ve got any other tips to make a meal train run well!
There are many different schools of thought on how to approach first birthdays. Some families recognize that a one-year-old really doesn’t know what’s going on and they keep things pretty low key. Others pull out all the stops and throw what might be the child’s biggest birthday party ever! For my oldest son, we thought we were keeping it low key but his first birthday party packed out our house and involved lots of prep. For Ivy, I didn’t want her to ever look back and feel underappreciated. But, as a second-time mom, I had a different idea of what we’d be looking for in her first birthday. I’m going to do a second post about the theme and décor elements of Ivy’s “Its a Small World” birthday but in this post I want to talk about how to make a memorable first birthday without going over the top and creating unnecessary stress.
Rethink your strategy
For Ian’s first birthday, we went big on everything with good reason. Ian had been born four months early with only a 20% chance of survival. There were so many people invested in his little life from day one – they prayed, sent gifts, shared encouraging words. Chris and I saw this party as a true celebration of what we had all overcome and we wanted to include everyone. Family, friends, coworkers, other preemie families, everyone got an invite and our house was packed!!! We moved furniture, spent hours in the kitchen prepping snacks and baking cupcakes. It was a fun time but it was overwhelming and Ian actually took a nap for a good chunk of it.
This time around I chose to split up the party. I had a “friend” party in the mid-morning which is the best time of day for most young children and a family dinner for grandparents and extended family. I chose to have these parties on the same day but I don’t know if you’d have to do it that way. You might consider having the friend party on the weekend and the family party on the actual birthday depending on how schedules work out.
Refine your guest list
If your family is like us, we’re still very much at the stage that inviting “Jimmy” to the party means that Jimmy, his parents and all his siblings are coming to the party. I kind of like that, more parents to help manage the chaos, but it also means a lot more people. Before you start inviting everyone who is usually in the nursery at church with your kiddo. Take some time to add up what that really means. The truth is 3-4 families are more than enough to feel festive! If you invite 5, 6 or 7 families, it can start to feel like a zoo. Now, there is a trick to this approach – get firm commitments from the families and invite additional people as needed. I didn’t do a great job of this and when couple of families fell through last minute I thought I might have to cancel all together. But the two families who made it to Ivy’s party were actually a perfect mix and we really enjoyed connecting with them in a less hectic situation. When it comes to inviting friends without kids, use your best judgement about if they’d really want to come. A one-year-old’s birthday isn’t for everyone but some people love it and would be hurt not to be included. If you’re uncertain, you can even approach the invite from that perspective, “Hey, we’re celebrating Ivy’s birthday on Saturday morning. You’re important to us and we’d love to have you there but I totally get it if you have other things you need to be doing.” Easy out for them but they know they are welcome if they’d like.
Tailor the menu
Now, here’s where Pinterest Perfection can really get you – the menu. Remember your audience – one is a bunch of preschoolers who mainly subsist off of chicken nuggets and fish crackers and the other is your family who loves you and really doesn’t want to be a burden or put a bunch of extra stress on you.
With that in mind, pick a couple areas to really focus and phone in the rest. I’ve recently really taken a shine to cake decorating so I knew I wanted fun cupcakes for our kid party and a really cool cake for the family party. I was willing to spend time and energy to make this happen. The rest of it I kept pretty low key. For the kid party, I did a pancake bar. Chris manned the griddle with a box of pancake mix from the grocery store and I set out some plates of fresh fruit and sweet toppings along with butter and syrup. To round things out, I microwaved a bunch of frozen sausage links and the party was off. The kids loved it – even the picky ones found something they liked – and moms and dads could manage their own calorie intake too which is always a goal of mine when hosting a party.
For the family party, I went even easier and hit up Costco. We bought a couple of take and bake pizzas that we dolled up with some extra things we had floating around the fridge and pantry. Then we tossed together the kale salad kit you can get in the produce area. Throw in a couple bottles of wine and that beautiful cake I baked and you’ve got a party! Everyone loved the food and it was so low key for me with easy clean up – thank you, paper plates!
Go with your gut when it comes to presents. Every household is different and every family has different expectations. Here’s how I approach gift giving for my very young kids. For the friend party, I still say that presents aren’t necessary. In this case, the two families who came still chose to bring a small gift – both happened to be clothing items – each were probably under $10. That was perfect! Ivy really doesn’t need a lot of stuff.
For family, I try to make an Amazon gift list leading up to birthdays and Christmas to help give suggestions of the holes we have in our toy needs as well as provide non-toy options. Some things to think about are new plates and cups, gear for recreational activities like camping and swimming, new sheets or towels and, of course, clothes. If you throw out some different suggestions, it gets people thinking in unique ways and you end up with a pretty well rounded haul of presents that will be well used and appreciated. Whatever you receive, remember you are modeling being a gracious receiver for your kids. Be thankful and appreciative even if you aren’t sure what you’re ever going to do with the item you’re now holding in your hand.
I hope these ideas will give you some new ways to look at first birthday parties or really any young kids party. As always, families are so unique. If you have a way to do birthdays that works for you, stick with it. Oh, and share it in the comments below. I’d love to know what you’re doing for first birthday’s in your family!
We’ve all been there – the awkward overnight! You’re hungry but not sure how to ask for food, you forgot your toothbrush, the bed is terrible! All of these problems signal to a guest that they are not your priority and reduce the likelihood of a return visit. But, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a posh guest suite to make a guest feel at home, just a few thoughtful touches and preparation can make all the difference!
Start off by living in your house as guest for a night or two. Sleep on your “guest bed” whether that’s a bed, a futon, a fold out couch, or an air mattress. Does the mattress have that dip that makes you roll to the middle? Did the air mattress deflate at 2 a.m.? Is your couch guilty of having that awful bar in the middle of your back? Make an effort to change it! Inexpensive options like foam toppers or a new air mattress can eliminate a poor night’s sleep for your guests. Don’t forget to use your guest bathroom too! My sister was my first guest to my very first house, I’ll never forget her saying “You probably don’t know this since you don’t use your guest bath to shower, but there’s really no place to hang a bathrobe or a toiletries bag.” Whoops! Simple hook on the back of the door solved that problem.
Leave out essentials where it’s easy for guests to find them. Repurpose a basket you have kicking around the house to be a bathroom toiletries catch all. Stock it with extras and travel sized shampoos, soap, toothbrushes, feminine products, pain killers, etc. If you’re like me, these things tend to multiply like rabbits in my house anyway. It’s also a good idea to stick an extra roll of toilet paper in there so guests don’t have to dig around your cabinets in the middle of the night when the roll runs out! In your kitchen, set out a bowl of granola bars and fruit on the counter for easy, healthy snacks and put easy drinks front and center in your fridge.
Be prepared for bed and bath time. Nothing makes a guest feel more like an inconvenience then you scrambling to pull together linens and towels at bedtime. Even if you don’t have a guest room, you can still identify sheets, pillows, towels and washcloths and have them set aside for easy access when needed. If it’s been a while since you’ve used your guest linens, try to send them through the wash so they don’t smell weird and musty!
Give them a safe spot for their “stuff”. Once again, even if you don’t have a guest room, that doesn’t mean you can’t provide a safe spot for your guests to keep their luggage away from prying eyes and hands. A hall closest, bathroom linen closet or a home office are all good options. No one wants their skivvies accidentally on display in the living room for all to see! Teach kids and pets to leave guests things alone or encourage guests to close the door.
Leave reading material ready and think about charging needs. Once it’s time to retire, lots of people need a little something to read to quiet their mind but it’s often forgotten. Leave some magazines or other light reading in the room they’ll be staying for their convenience. Also think about outlet accessibility. If all your outlets are full or hidden behind furniture, add an extension cord with multiple plugs at the end to make it easy for guests to charge phones and tablets while sleeping.
I hope this gives you some new ideas about making guests comfortable! I’d love to hear what you do to make overnight guests feel welcome in your home! Comment below with your ideas