My oldest girl turned seven this month. For the past year, she's been saying she wants a pool party and I kept telling her it might not be able to happen in October! But we just so happened to join the YMCA in September and they offer great rates on indoor pool parties. Even though it seemed a bit out of season, we had a blast celebrating with an Under the Sea Mermaid theme. There are so many cute ideas out there and I couldn't help but do more themed food than I usually do. Of course, first things first, I had to come up with a new invitation design. It was a good excuse to play around with my new iPad Pro and Pencil. I've been using the Astropad App to draw directly into Illustrator and it has been life-changing! The invitation is in my Etsy shop here!
I know party favors can get out of hand, but I do like to do something. The trouble is I always end up inviting tons of kids and it can get expensive! I knew I was on to something when I saw this great tutorial for homemade Sea Glass Candy. I put my own twist on the packaging and wha-la, party favors for about $10 total! I had to make 2 batches to fill 18 bags. For the couple of really young kids that came, I filled their bags with fish-shaped fruit snacks. You can download and print the tail template for FREE.
Then there was the food. I have to admit, after being away from the US for several years and not having access to Hobby Lobby, I was so amazed at all of the creative stuff you can buy now and had to control myself from buying EVERYTHING. But I couldn't pass up food spray paint. Apparently the kids had never seen it before either and were unsure about the gold oreos that I was inspired to make from this post. One of my friends was so quick in her wits to explain to the kids that ALL the food they were eating had some sort of artificial coloring and that they didn't need to worry.
The adorable crab sandwiches were inspired by All That Glitters and the jello oceans cups I put my own spin on after seeing a bunch of different versions. The seaweed celery sticks were my last minute attempt to provide something healthy for the adults!
There are a lot of really amazing mermaid cakes out there! Most of them are far beyond my cake decorating talents! I was inspired by this simple, yet cute cake done by RoseBakes.com. I avoid fondant at all costs, so I made the mermaid using the "Frozen Buttercream Transfer" Method. I have done it for one other cake in the past. Its a great option if you feel confident with piping, but not with fondant.
I hope that you found some helpful tips and party ideas!
Growing up, my mom always got us an Advent calendar. You know, those cardboard ones with the perforated boxes hiding a chocolate? I loved them and she even sent me (ok, the kids) some last year, all the way across the world. Except of course, no chocolates because they would have melted for sure. One year we spent way too much on a Lego advent calendar. And while I'm pretty sure we could reuse it, none of us are willing to dig back through the sea of pieces to find the Christmas ones.
I've always had noble intentions of making my own Advent calendar with scripture verses and candy. There are so many amazing ideas on Pinterest, for cute little DIY boxes and envelopes and displays. But I knew it had to be really simple or it would again be just a fleeting idea. When I stumbled across this great one using socks and clothespins, I knew I had a winner. Right then and there I ordered a bunch of kid socks off online.
The most important part of the Advent calendar is what goes inside. Of course, the kids wanted candy, so I picked up some of that at the store. But I also wanted a good mix of Bible verses to share the Christmas story with the kids throughout the month. I looked around for a good set of verses that mixed both the Old Testament and New Testament. I loved the collection that I found at Sweeterthansweets. She uses little object lessons each day, which I thought was brilliant, but I wasn't sure if I'd be able to find everything in time. So I meshed up the ideas with my own graphic magic and came up with these Advent printables.
You can print these and use them in whatever type of DIY Advent Calendar that you plan to make. Download them for free, print them back to back, and then cut along the dotted lines. Wallah! If you are not crafty at all, just print them and place them on the dinner table each night for everyone to read and enjoy!
Yesterday we celebrated our fifth Thanksgiving off of US soil. Did you know that Thanksgiving is not a thing anywhere else in the world? ;) I have got to say, this year was one of my favorites. When we first decided to travel abroad, I thought the holidays would be so difficult. They were hard at first. But it has been so good for us to create holiday traditions as a family. Now it seems like they keep getting better and better. Throughout the year, we interact with a lot of different cultures and foods, etc. At Thanksgiving, we get to pour out our culture with our friends and neighbors.
This year we hosted 26 adults, representing three countries and even more languages. We had an amazing time stuffing ourselves and doing cheesy things like Thanksgiving charades and crossword puzzles. Luke gave a mini lecture on the first Thanksgiving and we all went around the table saying what we were thankful for. Everyone left with full tummies and full hearts.
Now the sad part, today is the part of Thanksgiving that I miss more than anything else - Black Friday shopping with my mom and sister. Though all the deals are online now, the deals were never the appeal. The appeal was waking up at 3 am, bundling up while it was still dark, and setting out on a quest that wasn't complete without good coffee and a nice lunch. If we saved a few dollars along the way - that was just the cherry on top! So, since I can't participate in the mob shopping, I will at least be part of the fun by passing along some savings to you. From today through the end of the money, take 40% off anything in our Etsy shop - Christmas cards, wedding stationary, birthday invites and more. I'll even be discounting custom design quotes, so contact me for special pricing!
Happy Shopping, wherever you find yourself this holiday season!
As a veteran packer and traveller, I have nailed packing for my family down to a science. For me, its all in the list. I start my list a week in advance and then begin packing only hours from departure time. Its my fail-safe way from forgetting essential items.
As I started my packing list last week for our trip to Bangalore, India, I began toying with the idea of going digital. Luke tried for a good three years to get me to go digital with our grocery list, but I thought it overcomplicated things to the point of inconvenience. I liked my pen, my paper, and the joy of physically crossing off each item on the list. But the definite advantage to a digital list is that it does help you think through the items that you need to put on the list. I decided to at least give it a try for this trip.
Since it was an experiment, I didn't want to spend any money up front. I downloaded three free apps before settling on one that suited our needs.
Pack by Dejal Systems - This was the first app I downloaded, which I quickly deleted. I didn't like how it organized the items by alphabetical order rather than category and the overall look of the app didn't give me enough motivation to try to re-sort it.
SimplPak by Simpl Studios - This one appealed to me, because as the name says, it is simple. It gives three categories, which is how I also categorize my packing (clothing, accessories, essentials). But it ended up being too simple. I could not figure out how to change the category names or even how to mark off packed items.
TripList by Enabled Apps LLC - This one was a winner! While there are quite a few functions available only with the in-App purchases, it was versatile enough to suit my needs and simple enough to navigate.
Pre-built Item Catalog - There are 8 categories, which can only be changed with the paid version, but they were pretty accurate to my list anyways. Inside the categories, there was no option of adding different items, but you can add new items to the packing list and have them directly saved to the catalog.
The Packing List - Once you've added items to your packing list (either manually or by selecting them from the catalogue), you can adjust the quantity and even make sub-items with the item. This was my favorite!
To-Do List - I liked that the To-Do list was incorporated into the packing list. You inevitably have a to-do list before any trip, so its great to keep track of them in one place. You can set deadlines and reminders for these to make sure you don't miss anything. What a great feeling to see all of the items crossed out!
The Paid Version - If you upgrade, you can access features like weather forecasts, color and theme customization and adding your own categories. For the time being, I don't need it, but if I stick with the digital list I will probably upgrade.
Two years ago, one of my long-time clients asked me to design a Donuts and Pajamas party invite for her daughter’s birthday. I thought it was brilliant and am not surprised that they have exploded in popularity. However, my girls didn’t really see the appeal and despite begging and pleading from me, they insisted on Rapunzel, Hello Kitty and Princess Sofia. But this year, I was finally able to convince Evelyn, who was turning six, to go for it.
That was just the first obstacle. Where we are currently living, birthday parties operate a little differently than in the US. Here’s what I was up against. One - Parties are never in the morning! I scheduled it for 10am, assuming people would come around 11:00. I actually had a parent call me and ask if it was supposed to be 10pm! Two - People do not eat donuts for breakfast. There is only one donut shop in the city that is even open before 11:00am. Even though they open at 7:00, I had to beg and plead for the donuts to be ready by 9:00. Three - Pajamas? Really? Most girls get decked out for their birthday party. We are talking BIG, frilly dresses! I wasn’t sure if people would think pajamas at a party was too weird. Four - You simply cannot not have a cake. The cake cutting part of the party is a big deal. Donuts would not be a replacement for cake, I would still need to make one.
All that aside, the party ended up being fabulous, and one of my favorites! Every kid came in their pajamas and no one had issues with so much sugar, so early. Here are some pics of our donut bash.
Decorations - The donuts are pretty much decor of there own! I found these donut shaped balloons online and couldn’t resist. However, I was definitely disappointed when only 3 of the 6 were usable.
Craft - I love starting with a craft, cause it gives the kids something fun to do when they first arrive, but allows time for everyone to come in before we start the games. The kids made Donut Tic-Tac-To Boards. Here are a few more of my favorite party crafts, and why I like them more than games!
The Disappearing Donuts - I let the birthday girl do the honors of picking the first donut, and then in one minute flat, all of the choclatey, sprinkly, donuts had vanished, leaving only a handful of original and cinnamon for the stragglers.
Pass the Donut - Here’s Luke demonstrating pass the parcel - donut style! You’ve got to put your whole body through the inner tube, pass it on, and when the music stops on you, you’re out. By far my favorite moment of the party was 20 incredibly hyper kids rocking out to "All About That Bass."
The Cake - Since cake cutting is a must, I made a donut cake. I was originally planning to use this tutorial since I didn’t have a bundt pan, but I stumbled upon a clearanced one for $3 and decided it was worth it! The surrounding truffles were my attempt at cake balls. After getting frustrated by the dipping process, I gave up and mixed the cake, icing and chocolate all together in one bowl. They were delicious!
The Printables - Here are the printables I used for the party, which are all available in my shop. The Tic-Tac-To and Bingo are new additions. Just click on the pics for more info!
As a requirement for my graphic design degree, I had to take a few fine art drawing classes. I am not a naturally talented illustrator, so I really liked when they taught us the grid method for drawing. But in fact, you don't need to go to art school to learn this method. It is there in most children's activity books! It breaks down the drawing process into manageable pieces, which will work together like a puzzle to make an impressive final product. It also happens to be one of my favorite ways to decorate a cake. For me, not only is fondant difficult to work with, I just don't like the taste of it as much as I like buttercream. But I am no pro and my buttercream cakes can end up looking sloppy, and like a kid DID do it. The grid method enables me to decorate a clean, creative and great-tasting cake!
Step One - Pick and Print a Picture
Find a google image of whatever character, object or theme you want on your cake. Print it out, preferably at the approximate size that it will be on your cake. After flip-flopping a few times, my son Sam settled on Geronimo Stilton, his favorite book character, for his 8th birthday cake..
Step Two - Grid Your Picture
For a 9x13 cake, grid your picture into equal squares 7 wide and 5 tall. If you've printed it to size (you need 11x17 paper for this), they will each be about 2 inches. You'll see how I compensate for the extra inch when we grid the cake. I did mine on the computer, so it looked like this.
Step Three - Bake and Ice your Cake
This part is mainly up to you to figure out, but here are a few of my favorite recipes for White Cake, Chocolate Cake and Carrot Cake. If your picture is going to cover most of your cake, you don't even need to worry about a crumb layer.
Step Four - Grid Your Cake
For a standard 9x13 cake, I line up my ruler from .5in to the 13.5in on the long edge, and make subtle marks with a toothpick at the 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12. On the short edge, line it up from .5in to 9.5in and mark at the 2, 4, 6, 8. Do this on all four sides, and then draw connecting lines to make your grid. If your picture only takes up one section of the cake, only connect the lines in that area to reduce the amount of touch-up you need to do later.
Step Five - Draw Your Pic, Square by Square
Start with the easiest square, probably the one with the least amount of lines in it. Then go square by square, connecting the lines. If it is still too intimidating, take some scrap paper and cover up the squares that you are not working on. It doesn't need to be perfect, because you can make adjustments as you fill in the color. I used a Wilton #2 tip.
Step Six - Color Your Pic
Switch to a Wilton #16 tip and fill in your picture, color by color, with little tiny stars. Make sure to leave a small gap where your white icing is. This will make it easier to outline later.
Step Seven - Outline
Once you've got all the color filled in, mix together all of your icing colors, add some cocoa powder, and you will have a pretty dark icing that will make your image pop! Trace your white outline, and add any extra detailing to make it fabulous.
Step Eight - Touch It Up!
Most of your grid lines should be covered up by now, but if not, you can easily touch them up. Take the back of a spoon, get it a little damp, and *very* gently pat your lines to slowly erase them. This gives a smoother effect than trying to fill them in with icing and prevents your from messing up all of your hard work!
Step Nine - Take lots of Photos!
Please, do it before the guests come! Then you won't even be upset when someone drops their cell phone on your beautiful handiwork while taking a photo of it at the party. Yup that really happened.
Step Ten - Eat it up!
Of course, this is the whole point of the cake, right? I love this method because the cake looks great and tastes great.
What are your favorite cake decorating tips for an amateur like me?
Rio 2016 is officially underway and the Thompson family plans to spend a lot of time binge watching sports and athletes that we do not normally follow. During the 2008 Olympics, I was 37 weeks pregnant with our first kid and by the time the 2012 Olympics rolled around we had three kids. Can I just say I am thankful we only added one more since London? Now I am excited that my kids are old enough to watch the Olympics with me. Together we will be awed by the dedication and ability of the world’s top athletes.
As a kid, I was a total Olympic junkie. My childhood heroes were Nancy Kerrigan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Shannon Miller and of course Kerri Strug, who’s dramatic clenching of the gymnastics Team Gold in ’96 is still a regular topic of conversation between me and my sister. My childhood villains were the likes of Tonya Harding and the whole Romanian gymnastic squad. I read books about these people, dreamed about being in the Olympics, and occasionally pretended to be a figure skating champion. On my driveway. With my roller blades. All this to say, the Olympics was pretty big and special to me.
Since we have chosen to live far, far away, there is a lot about my childhood that my kids will never experience. Sometimes it hits me while talking to friends back home. There is a longing somewhere within me to live out the nostalgia of my childhood through my kids, to see them experience the same things I did. I know those things. I can navigate those situations with confidence, understanding the system. Instead, I often feel clueless about how it feels to be a third culture kid! Perhaps that is one reason I am so excited about watching the Olympics as a family. Maybe this is something our childhoods can share.
As we watch, I know that I wouldn’t trade my childhood, but I wouldn’t trade theirs either. When my son excitedly roots for a Thai weightlifter because “My friends live there!” or as we all cheer on the first Indian gymnast to make it to the Olympic stage, I remember and appreciate the value of their experiences. My kids will grow up with an awareness of the world’s people and cultures that I have only begun to understand my own lack of. I cannot wait to see how their childhood shapes them and I pray that they will be agents of peace and change in our broken world.
The summer travel season is coming to a close. We took three trips this summer - one out of the country, one out of the state, and one just outside of our city. Travel has become part of every day life for us. We have spent the last five years in planes, trains and automobiles across the world.
There is one time I remember other passengers complaining about someone in my family. Honesty time... it was ME. I was 13 and traveling on a plane for the first time. That was also the one and only time I have ever been upgraded to first class due to overbooking. My ears hurt so bad that I didn’t realize I was stomping loudly on the floor. A stewardess politely came over and asked me to stop because I was disturbing people. Oops. I was humiliated and stopped immediately. But when my 2 month old has been screaming during the ear-popping descent, I don’t ever remember feeling judged by anyone. Or maybe I was too tired to care.
When I plan a birthday party, my first thought is the cake. My second thought is the food. My absolute, very last thought in the planning process is what games are we going to play. My assumption is that the kids will get there, eat some food, and run around in circles having the time of their life, while we adults try to block out the noise and have a semblance of a conversation. However, kids seem to have expectations here. This has resulted in awkward situations of children asking what games we are going to play and Luke and I desperately googling some easy last minute games. And its worked okay. But something that's been a hit as of late at our parties is CRAFTS. This is a double bonus for me because 1) I love kid art and 2) apartments like ours are not always conducive to wild and crazy games involving tons of kids. Other benefits are that kids can do them as they please, so no need to wrangle 20 kids at once AND the crafts can double as party favors. WIN. WIN. WIN! So here it goes.. some of my favorite party crafts from the last few years...
Set up a table of assorted "beads" and let kids turn make their own wearable treat! You can purchase actual candy necklace beads, or go to the candy aisle and pick up whatever has a hole through it. Lifesavers are a bit too sticky, but gummy lifesavers, mints and cut-up Twizzlers are a few great options to get you started.
Most quick print shops like FedEx Office or Staples offer large-format black and white posters for just a few dollars. Find any free coloring sheet online, at a website like ActivityVillage or AZColoring, and get it printed out as large as 36x48 inches. Put this on the wall and kids can color and go as they please. Whats even cooler? Hang it up, post-party, in your kid's bedroom and they can enjoy their friends' work for the whole year!
Again this is a win for you. Not only do the kids have a blast, but you don't have to spend hours intricately decorating cookie by cookie. You may not have a roll of pinterest worthy photos, but you'll definitely have some adorable pictures of your kids making delicious food art.
During one of our many princess parties, I cut up a big sheet of yellow posterboard and set out all of the miscellaneous stickers, paints and glitter I've stored up over the last couple of years. Its a great way to purge your craft closet and entertain a bunch of kids! They had so much fun making their own crowns. For a superhero party, you could make masks. Or for a more generic party, kids can decorate their own party hats.
Overall, the best party crafts are the ones that are simple enough for kids to do on their own, yet also have some room for creativity to keep them occupied. After doing crafts at a couple of parties, I had kids asking "What craft are we doing?" at the next! Its a great alternative to the same old party games. Have you done some great party crafts? Let me know in the comments. I've got approximately 23 more parties to plan until all of my children hit the double-digits, at which point they can plan their own parties!
Yesterday Luke and I celebrated our first decade of marriage. We booked a room at a super fancy hotel and splurged on good food and spa treatment. But honestly, it felt a bit anti-climactic in light of the last ten years. Last month we passed our record of longest time in a home (currently 2 years 4 months and counting). We've moved 6 times, been 'homeless' for 6 months, had 4 kids, earned 3 degrees, visited 6 countries and immersed ourselves in a completely different culture. Pretty much the only thing that hasn't changed is the fact that we are married! In light of that, I felt compelled to reflect on a few things I have learned about marriage along this crazy journey.
1. It's Universally Different
As I have integrated with other cultures here in Asia, hands down the most frustrating difference is marriage. Some of the ideas about marriage are so different than mine that it is impossible for me to accept them as good and right, even if I understand the reasoning. I have had to break down my thoughts about marriage, picking apart what is truly right and what is shaped by my own time and culture. The things I'm writing here are pretty general and widely applicable across borders, but I have learned that what I value in my marriage may be completely offensive or unpractical in another.
2. It's Possible!
In the last ten years, I have known lots of other married people from a variety of backgrounds. Luke and I have both been blessed to have really amazing and faithful moms and dads who modeled marriage well to us. Not all of my friends have had that. I have learned to be incredibly grateful for the faith my parents passed to me that marriage can work and is good and worth it. What a gift!
3. It's Not a Competition
"The Luke Special" is when Luke goes into the kitchen, does some crazy cleaning magic and leaves it more spotless than I ever could. It's awesome! But sometimes I actually get angry. Why? Because I think he is trying to "one-up" me, to point out that I was being lazy, just sitting on the couch. I am still learning this one, that marriage is not a scoresheet or a competition, and that this attitude will never produce selfless acts of service or love.
4. It's Best in Community
Luke and I have always had great friends. We even lived with our best friends for a whole year! I think having common friends that you can have fun and laugh with is a huge blessing. So many times it has helped eased our tensions with each other and bring us closer together.
5. It's Never Perfect
The advice I find myself giving most to friends that are getting married is this : "When you are struggling with something in marriage, go ahead and assume that everyone else has also struggled with that and talk to someone!" A lot of times we look at other people's marriages and think that they must be perfect and happy all of the time. We think we can never share what it is actually like at our home. Be vulnerable and talk it out with people. You will discover that you are not so weird or terrible after all, and you will probably come away with some great wisdom.
6. It's Not Just about Us
One of my absolute, favorite things to do with Luke is to host dinner together. I prep in the kitchen, he cleans up the house, and we welcome friends and strangers into our home for a fun night of games and laughter, a casual night of chilling in front of our favorite series, or a serious night of talk and reflection over struggles. There are a lot of other ways we serve together, but this is my favorite. Using your marriage to bless others takes the focus off yourself and puts selfishness into perspective. For more about this, check out this great book!
7. It Needs Quality Time, but not too Much
We have had times where we are with each other all day, every day. And we have had times where we saw each other once a week at Chick-fil-A (slight exaggeration, but that's why I thought the cow deserved a spot on our collage!). There is really something nice about missing each other and reuniting at the end of a hard day's work. While finishing school, I hated feeling like we were living two separate lives; but now that we work together, I find myself taking Luke for granted, way too much. So don't got to either extreme. If you find yourselves constantly arguing over petty things, examine where you are on the pendulum.
8. It's a lot of Little Days
Most of our lives and marriages are not shaped by big cataclysmic events, but little tiny moments one after another, after another. One thing that has kept me going in times when I didn't feel like it, is the knowledge that small moments of pride and selfishness over and over reek terrible consequences that are harder to reconcile. I don't want to get to that place. So don't give in to the small temptations and apologize quickly when you do.
9. It Gets Better with Time
Just the other day, I was really missing the first couple years of our marriage when there was less pressure, less responsibility. We worked a normal 40 hour week and could not wait to get home each night. We'd spend a whole Saturday watching Lost. We painted our house crazy colors and tried building flower gardens in our yard. Yeah, those are nice memories, but I know the importance of the hard ones too. They are the ones through which I have really experienced Luke's love for me, and in which I have been challenged toward better love for him. I know that by the grace of God, the difficult times make us better people, and in the end better spouses, resulting in better marriages. I am hopeful and excited for the future us, grown and matured for years and years, knowing and loving each other so much better.
10. It's Just the Beginning
Ten years seems like a long time to me. It's an entire third of my life! But if God gives us a few more decades, I am sure this first little decade will only seem like the beginning. I have learned that I still have a lot to learn, and a long way to go to consistently practice the things that I have learned.
Luke and I are married and have four little munchkins that travel the world with us. I blog about living overseas, travel, kids, education and graphic design.
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