Monthly Archives: October 2011

Happy Halloween!

Wishing all of you the safest and spookiest Halloween!

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Enter Our Halloween Costume Contest!

That’s right! 4smartypants is hosting our very own, first annual costume contest! To enter, post a pic and we’ll select and announce a winner next Wednesday, November 2nd. The picture can be of yourself in costume, your kids, pet or, my personal fav, a group theme. Get creative and show us your smartypants!

To help inspire you, I have included a portion of a post from one of my blogs last Halloween. I hope it helps to launch you into your own zone made up of equal parts creativity and whimsy!

Let me start this entry with a confession.  I am one of those parents who tend to get a
little particular about what my children wear for Halloween.  Make no mistake, however.  Over the years, I have learned to reel myself
in and remind myself that Halloween is about the kids and not about how absurdly
creative I can be.  I know that I am not
alone in this as I have seen other parents lose their heads when it comes to
kids in costume.  I guess confession
number two would be that I justify my obsessing over the perfect Halloween garb
by telling myself that “at least I’m not as bad as some.”  Realizing the error in this thinking, I have
decided this year to set aside this poor excuse for justification and write
down some helpful suggestions.

Many parents think that they need to purchase the latest and
greatest costumes available online or in stores in order properly capture the
Halloween spirit.  There is nothing wrong
with this.  I have certainly been known
to scour the net and the greater Seattle area for the perfect frock for my
little ones.  One of the lessons I
learned as a foster parent was that whatever I perceived as the cutest “must have” costume may not be along the
same lines as what my children wanted to wear. 
For this reason, I changed my tactics a bit and still use these simple
self-imposed rules today with my biological children.  Now that my eldest is old enough to choose
for herself, I always consult her first and then, without fail, make my first
stop our dress-up boxes which hold dozens of costumes ready for the picking.  I am always surprised at the time and money
that I save in altering something that we already own.  My daughter gets a thrill out of helping me
create her one-of-a-kind costume and shows a certain pride in wearing it for
Halloween.

Okay.  So here comes
confession number three… I am one of
those parents to look for a theme in dressing my kids for Halloween.  I’m sure this will be something they roll
their eyes at later, but for now, I indulge. 
Because my youngest is still too young to have an opinion, I try to
avoid making her an accessory while trying to match her costume to whatever
theme my eldest thinks up.  Last year, my
eldest wanted to be Sleeping Beauty.  We
were lucky in that we already had the costume leftover from a recent family
vacation.  I was then able to use my
limited hand-stitching skills to convert a pea costume and matching hat from a
mermaid tail that had been handed down from an older cousin.  This year, my daughter has chosen to be
“Awice-in-Wondawand”.  Naturally, I was
able to make some additions to a bunny costume we already owned and have our
youngest go as the “White Rabbit” from that story.

Once the perfect costume has been selected, many parents
lose their minds and become anxious about actually letting their children enjoy
their costumes.  I have seen some parents
make their children take off their costumes before enjoying certain Halloween
treats, or even scold them for getting messy during Halloween events.  I know that it is fun to keep costumes for
dress-up later, but I do wonder what the problem would be with a little
spillage or even a stain if the costume is just intended for play anyway.  To avoid the worry, I recommend setting aside
a time to get the cute, keepsake pictures done ahead of time.  Some parents opt to get professional shots
but pictures taken at a park, a local garden center with fall color or even at
events with cute Halloween scenes can be just as perfect for capturing the
memories.  Once the perfect pictures are
taken, parents should let their children enjoy their costumes, messes and
all.  Chances are it is those memories
and not the costumes themselves that they will cherish.

Okay, so clearly the above post was meant for parents, but if you can use costumes or clothes for something else to create a unique look for this Halloween, I say go for it! I am all for everyone bringing out the whimsy of Halloween and enjoy seeing adults and pest all dressed up for the occasion. This year, my family is going as the cast of principals from The Wizard of Oz. My eldest is going as Dorothy, my two year old as Toto and my baby as the Lion. My husband and I have been left with the task of creating Scarecrow and Tin Man costumes. I have yet to create these last two costumes so I am just as curious as everyone else to see how they will turn out.

The 4smartypants agree that there is probably no better way to celebrate costume creativity than to host a costume contest on our very own website. Hint: If you need a little help, Martha Stewart has some fun hints that you can link to from her blog www.themarthablog.com. So whip out that whimsy and let’s see what you all can come up with!

 

Categories: children, Crafts, Entertaining, Family, Parenting, Party Planning, Whimsey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Host A Halloween Party!

Ah, yes. It is now, once again, time for Halloween parties
and all of the trickery that entails. Now I don’t plan to be a contemporary to
Martha Stewart or any big wig host, but I once was a party planner and know a
few tricks of the trade. This post is written for those who are looking to
create a party environment that ensures that each guest has a spooktacular
time!

When planning any party, after deciding on a theme, I always
consider my guest list. Once that’s set, I move on to decorations. I’d
recommend that when hosting you make your party appropriate for your guests. For
instance, when choosing your décor, you might not want anything too spooky for
young children. If your party has a mixture of ages, I recommend having little designated
areas of interest for each age range you are entertaining. You may want to plan
a haunted house in your basement for older kids and adults while younger kids
might prefer a huge hay pile to jump in.

Party games can be super fun! Here are some ideas I have
found to be a big hit!

  • With little ones, I recommend a cupcake walk
    done to the song “The Monster Mash”.
  • Pumpkin bowling
  • Pumpkin 4-square (played like the playground
    game, only w/4 adjacent pumpkins instead of squares.
  • Flashlight tag
  • Candy/caramel apple eating contest
  • Jack-o-lantern corn hole (game played
    w/bean-bags and a jack-o-lantern target)

If you choose to have trick-or-treating as part of your
party, I recommend sending out two separate chaperoned groups. One for slow
trick-or-treaters and one for the kids who take trick-or-treating to a whole
new level! I also recommend that you give away flashlights and glow necklaces
to all participants. This is a fun and safe way to tend to your guests.

For an outdoor party, garage bands are huge fun. Just a
warning though… AUDITION your band before hiring them for your event! My
husband and I ended up deciding against a garage band this year due to lack of
talent. The best band we could find had two mediocre songs and spent the rest
of the time tuning. L
Whether your party is indoors or out, you should definitely plan to have music
to at your event. I’m sure you can find some fun Halloween dance mixes in most
stores but I recommend visiting iTunes and downloading your favorite Halloween
throwbacks like “The Purple People Eater” and “The Monster Mash” to name a few.
Quick hint: An adequate selection of party music has a minimum of ninety
minutes of play so as not to sound too redundant.

For later in the evening, I recommend planning different
activities for guests of different ages to retire to. Young children might like
to watch fun Halloween movies like “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”. Older
kids might like to see how far they can get through a “Harry Potter” marathon. Teen
girls, of course, will probably want to watch “Twilight” while teen boys would
probably want to just play video games and eat Halloween candy.

At the end of most parties and functions, adults tend to like
to visit and relax. I recommend you create the perfect environment for your guests
to do just this. You may want to have a sitting room decorated with a fun
Halloween theme along with fall smelling candles, but if you’re able to, I’d
use this as a back-up for inclement weather. For plan A, I’d take the adult
party outside where you can all snuggle together and chat by outdoor fires
while sipping on cocktails and cider.

After planning party activities, all that is left is your
menu plan! After checking with each guest for food allergies (there seem to be
a lot these days), be sure to plan food to fit the taste preferences of your
party goers. When planning, I always like to couple sweet dishes with savory. I
also like to have the menu reflective of the season. When planning your table,
try to have pops of color throughout to make it beautiful. Lastly, I always try
to make sure that the food can be held with one hand and eaten in one bite so
as to allow for easy conversation.

For younger children, you may want to include items like macaroni
and cheese on a stick, cheese puffs, carrot sticks and chicken fries (witch
fingers) dipped in green ketchup (goo). For some over-the-top amazing kid
Halloween party food ideas, visit http://www.hostessblog.com
and prepared to be wowed!

Teens like all things junk, so why not cater to that just
for one night? You could make personal nacho bites by loading scoop tortilla
chips w/nacho fixin’s and serving them on a platter. Bite-sized pizzas are also
a hit as are Nacho Cheese Doritos. Caramel/nacho cheese popcorn mixes tend to
be a hit as are sliced candy and caramel apples. Because teens have slightly
more mature audience, they might really enjoy the gruesome recipes found at http://www.tipjunkie.com/creative-halloween-party-food.

Adults tend to like a lot of savory dishes when the weather
is chilly. You may choose to celebrate this by hosting a chili cook-off! Party
supply stores carry shot glasses that will hold warm liquids. I find this the
best way to serve soups at parties. Other savory dishes include fondues (use
toothpicks), cheeses, fig and goat cheese crostina and stuffed mushrooms. I
recommend calling in the big guns and visiting http://blog.foodnetwork.com for more
recipes that your adult guests will find hauntingly delicious.

For the sweets, I love the classics like popcorn balls. Kids
and adults alike tend to really enjoy these. I do recommend, however that your
popcorn balls not be too gooey and that they are made as small as possible.
Some skilled ballers can make these little delectable desserts bite-sized! Other
classics include spiced cakes, again, sliced caramel apples and caramel corn. To
splash in some more Halloween color, I add treats like candy corn and Reece’s
Pieces. I also like to serve warm apple fritters with hot apple cider. De-lish!

I recommend continuing your theme with the beverages you
choose to serve. There are lots of fun Halloween punch recipes, but if you’re
too strapped for time, just toss some ginger ale, some cranberry juice and
orange sorbet into a punch bowl and you’re golden! I also love the smell of hot
apple cider this time of year. Who doesn’t? You can be like Stephanie and heat some
in a big pot over your open fire or be like me and take the simpler route by
keeping some warm in a crock pot. Either way, your guests are sure to enjoy!
Orange and brown juices and sodas are always fun to serve at Halloween parties,
for their festive color and because they usually go with whatever you’re
serving. For adults, some fun Halloween cocktails might be in order. Many adults
are big fans of the Oktoberfest beer which, I might add, just happens to pair
really well with most chili recipes (hint!).

Whether you choose to trick it or treat it, Halloween is
super fun! With a little bit of planning, your next Halloween party can become
the hauntingest event of your dreams!

Categories: children, Crafts, Entertaining, Food, Party Planning, Social Life, Whimsey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s So Much Different the Second Time Around

Shew!!! In case you haven’t noticed, half the SmartyPants bloggers have been busy giving birth over the past few weeks. I’m not promising to be officially back from “maternity leave”, but I thought I’d gift the world with a short sloppy post about all the ways I’ve decided to change my style between baby #1 and baby #2, two and a half years later.

Just a note, I don’t claim that I know what I’m talking about in any way, shape, or form.  There’s nothing like having a newborn in the house to remind you how little you know about anything!  If this post is of any value at all to you, perhaps it will be to help you develop a postpartum plan.  We put so much thought and effort into birth plans, but I’d argue that what happens in the three months AFTER birth should require much more attention.  You can’t plan everything, but thinking about your style, what sacrifices you may or may not be willing to make, and the unique circumstances you may be facing in that first couple months before “normal” sets in, can go a long way in making life with your newborn GOBS less stressful!

Feeding on Demand and Crying it Out
With #1 we did our darndest to get our baby on a feeding “routine”. Practically every pediatrician and lactation consultant will tell you that nursing on a schedule is a bad idea, but the fear of the inevitable life changes had us clinging to scheduling method that PROMISED us a baby that would sleep through the night by 8-12 weeks. Several close friends we love and respect swore by this method, but 11 months later, our kid still had never slept through the night!

This time, I’m just going on the assumption that out kid won’t sleep through the night for a year or more and I’m sticking some sort of food in his mouth almost any time he fusses! Ironically, his feedings have turned out to be far more predictable than our first son’s ever were! I track them with the iBaby Feed app for iPhone, and he seems to nurse like clockwork throughout the day!

Rocking, Wearing, Soothing
With #1, we were taught “Fed and dry?  Let him cry!”  Oh goodness!  Some folks would say that’s just plain cruel, others say it’s the first step to proactive parenting.  Either way, it was probably way harder on us than it was on our baby!  This time, we’re just not up for being punished!  Having a newborn is hard, being a newborn is hard…  But it’s all much, much easier when we just keep everyone happy.  It’s still inevitable, especially with two children, that the baby will cry himself to sleep on occasion, and while that’s not my preference until #2 is older, it feels like a good balance that my baby has the opportunity to cry and learn to put himself to sleep when our toddler has a more urgent need.

But on the whole, I’m spoiling this kid rotten! Pacifiers, rocking chairs, and when all else fails, the Moby Wrap! And plenty of that skin to skin contact that gets the oxytocin hormone flowing! Not only does oxytocin help with the bonding process, but I try to hold the baby close to my face and chest every time I start to feel that weepy anxiety we call the baby blues! So far they’ve been far less severe than they were with #1!  (Word of warning though, the skin-to-skin contact was SO effective at first that holding my infant felt like holding some sort of poisonous tree frog or something!  Every time I’d pick him up or stroke his face I was met with instant, horrible contractions!  Good for healing, but YOWZA did they hurt!)

Bottles! Quick!
Call me crazy, but I’m way more paranoid about getting a baby that won’t take a bottle than getting a baby with nipple confusion! I remember all too well the three week mark when we finally allowed my husband to give #1 his very first bottle! Freedom! I could go places alone, again! If something were to happen to me, my child would still be capable of eating! It seems like a silly thing, but this tiny bit of independence means so much to me that I’ve had kiddo switching back and forth between breast and bottle since 1 week old! No problems yet!

Slow Down!
With my first, I had this drive to jump right back into life ASAP. With this one, I’m at least TRYING to take it slow and steady! I begged my parents to stay for two weeks, and they did. I’m happily accepting prepared meals from friends at church. (Cooking is my least favorite chore!)  I’m being a horrible daughter-in-law by asking my husband’s parents to wait till Thanksgiving to meet the baby.  (Thank goodness for FaceTime!)  And, generally, I plan to do the minimum of my responsibilities for at least the first six weeks.  Right now, my days aren’t really starting till noon, when the coffee’s had time to take full effect.

Other Random Stuff
For having already gotten one child to survive into toddlerhood, you’d think I’d know what I’m doing with a baby, but there’s still just so much I’m learning for the first time!

Kangaroo care, for example, is this thing they did at birth with #2 that they didn’t do with #1.  As soon as the baby was born, they slipped him into a “pocket” they had formed with my hospital gown, so that his first hour was spent skin to skin on my chest.  All examinations and pricks and eyedrops were done right there on my chest, and frankly, it was a really pleasant bonding experience.  My poor husband, however, went two or three hours before he got his chance to hold the baby!  I didn’t even realize it!

The umbilical stump is another great example.  I’m totally freaked out and grossed out by this part.  With my first, I applied rubbing alcohol around the base with every diaper change.  With my second, when I asked where my alcohol swabs were, the nurses said, “Just don’t touch it!  It will take care of itself!”  Man!  Newborn diaper changes are complicated enough (especially with a circumcision)!  I wish I would have known I could skip the umbilical stuff with #1!  It seems like such a small thing, but any tiny bit to reduce our stress level is invaluable right now!

And nursing?  I’ve found the kiddo latches on better when I support him with my arm and not the Boppy pillow!  Oh, I still use the Boppy, but we’d better get him hooked on good beforehand or I’m just asking for soreness!  Also, skipping the lanolin cream has helped me heal up from soreness faster!  It’s weird, but I guess what I needed was more air circulation!  Also, I’m keeping all the information for local lactation support close at hand this time around!

So, there you go!  If you’ve had more than one, what changes did you make the second time around?  Were you able to make those newborn days easier with a little experience under your belt?  Do you have any tricks and tips to share?

Categories: children, Family, Parenting | Leave a comment

Words of Wisdom for a Hurting Nation

Regardless of what phase of our lives we are in, no U.S. citizens can deny the recent changes in our economic climate.  The political climate has shifted as well. I would even go so far as to say that both are in direct correlation with one another.  Some feel that these changes are for the worse. Some for the better. No matter your personal political views, all can agree that many individuals and families in this country are hurting. Businesses are closing, joblessness continues and families are being displaced as homes are being foreclosed on in countless neighborhoods. We can’ t help but be reminded of the struggles our country is currently experiencing because the telltale signs of a hurting nation are all around us.

I can go on and on about the difficulties our nation is facing, but that is not what this post is about. On the contrary, the objective of this post is to pose a question or a challenge, if you will. Looking back over the history of the United States, a pattern of resilience has persisted regardless of the struggle our country was facing at the time. Given this, allow me to pose this question to you… What if we as a nation used our current struggles to rally ourselves and make a lasting change for the better? What if we were to allow the political climate of 2011 to spark a unified change for the betterment of all Americans in 2012 and beyond?

To heal our nation’s economic climate we must first create a climate for change. As any personal trainer, teacher or life coach will tell you, creating a lasting change begins with a change in the way that one thinks. Creating the climate for change that I am proposing requires that a desire for prosperity, unity and hard work be at the very core of our nation’s set of values and belief systems.  I would argue that these core values are in the hearts of every American.

Dear Oceania,

                This is the former president, President Ortiz, and I just wanted to write a letter of inspiration. last year was full of ups and downs. Many feared the downs but as one united nation we motivated and supported each other. Do not fear failure holds a purpose. Always keep a positive attitude. What I advise you to do as a country is to become one of value and not just success. I can’t express how important it is to stay true to you and be leaders. the biggest mistake you can make is to be followers. Others will try to persuade you to do things that will hurt you if you act impetuously.

                As leaders you are also thinking and trying to better situation. When an idea is introduce do not juts act immediately. you need to think deeply and thoroughly about the pros and cons of the idea and topic. If everyone is thinking the same then nobody is thinking. Do not be pressured into anything and everything. do whatever it is you want. Do not do want the other countries want you to do. I once read in a  book that true happiness is dependent upon the morality of cooperation, friendship, care, and concern. Look out and be welcoming to others. But as much as I love people in general they can be cruel and backstabbers. so on that note, please be careful who is eating at your dinner table.

                I encourage you to be creative and intelligent when it comes down to the senate. You know that you have a successful senate when someone is always talking. Every job is going to play a keep role. Everything that is constructed in this world must start from the ground up. A building needs a foundation or it is not very stable. I also want you to keep in mind that it is not how you start, it is how you finish. yes the start is important that you try to start right; but CHANGE is always an option. Like I said earlier, failure results in lessons and the lessons result in some sort of change. Be loyal and disciplined. You have greatness in you, so do not make excuses. instead get the results.

                When I was president I did not view this as a game and I did not think I was higher than anyone else. Every piece of a puzzle is important. I encourage that everyone think of bills to propose. Take pride in your country but do not get big headed. There are many things I wish I could share with you but I can’t. I do not know you guys very well but I believe that everyone has greatness in them. if you want to find that it is you want on this long road, then don’t you dare leave a stone unturned. most of us in this day and age need to change our mind set when it comes to a task like terra nova. Please do not get me all wrong many stones will be harder to turn then others. The harder ones are the most important to turn over because those are the very stones that are unexplored.

                I really want to stress out the concept of patience. I was in my oval office, or living room, and was looking at the fish tank. I decided t to hit the glass vigorously to see if the fish would come to my finger. Well the fish actually backed away from the glass and looked frightened. So then I decided to just gently place my finger on the glass and WAIT. Gradually the fish drew closer and closer to my finger. Eventually the fish was face to face with my finger tip. What I hope that you get form this story is that patience gets you what you desire. When the glass was being banged on, my purpose was lost and was frightened to approach me. The purpose went away from the direction I wanted it to come. Some want things to happen. Some wish things could happen. And others make things happen.

                You always achieve what you believe. The saying ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is the worst saying you can advertise. This is because what you speak you believe and what you believe you achieve. the ideas of tomorrow are planted today. I want you guys to be the best, not one of the best. Always be prepared to redraw, redesign, and rebuild. Concentrate. Concentration is a lack of distractions. Be humble, grateful, and always seek knowledge. Be righteous and just.

                Now I want to quickly describe Oceania last year. We did not start off to strong. We owned islands and a little slice of mainland. My cabinet was greatly discouraged when we were well into December. I had never been in this type of position before. I had a nation under my guidance. So on winter break I really gathered myself and had several meetings with my cabinet members. After winter break a great change occurred that was very discouraging. I really then started to step up and encourage my country. We started on the right track. we as a country were very peaceful, hospitable, and calm. by the end of the year we had so much land that we went over, up and to the side wall (ask Mrs. Fetch). My point is that we started off discouraged. But patience brought us to placed that we never had imagined. Our success, I think, originated from our patience and unity.

                Another thing is that do not be discouraged if another country is bigger than you. It is not how much land you have it is how you establish what you have. Please always keep in mind that our actions, words, and thoughts are the foundation to our buildings. I wish the best of luck to you. I can’t tell you how to run your country but I do hope you are wise in your choices and gain something form this letter.

                                                                                                                                                                Sincerely,

                                               

                                                                                                                                                                President Ortiz

                                                                                                                                                                (Democratic Party)

I realize that it’s easier to tell someone how to create positive change than to actually do it. But if the concept is simplistic enough for a young person to understand is the reality of that concept really  that unattainable? Sure, many changes require that these values be in the hearts of our elected officials, but if they are truly representatives of the people these values will prevail if they truly are, as I say, in the hearts of the American people. These are some sobering thoughts as we enter into an election year.

 So what say you in doing your part to meet the challenges I have presented in this post? Will you meet my challenge to do your part in creating a positive change in our economic and political climate? Doing so would require that you use your core values of hard work, unity and prosperity to achieve these objectives. Begin by doing your part in fostering unity and advocating for those belief systems that you hold dear. In addition to doing all that you can in your own communities, contacting representatives and voting is one of the best ways to begin creating a lasting change. Enough discussion. Let us now  take action for the betterment of our nation. It is up to us, America.

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