Sunday, September 24, 2017

Warriors Birthday Party

At last year's Harry Potter birthday party, one of the guests brought my boys a few books. One of these books was the first book in the Warriors series by Erin Hunter. When I talked with the mom about why she chose it, she said it was just "on the table next to the Harry Potter books." It was a pretty lucky pick though, because Thing 2 LOVES cats, and therefore became obsessed with this book series. Not typically much of a reader, he had the whole thing read in a weekend, and we were using his birthday Barnes and Noble gift cards to go buy the whole set!

Come October, Thing 2 decided he wanted to be a Warrior cat for Halloween. (He chose to create his own Warrior character named Snowstar.)

By the time their birthday rolled around in June, for the first year ever my twin boys wanted different party themes. Thing 2 really wanted a Warriors birthday party. But Thing 1 wasn't "really into" Warriors, and wanted a Splatoon birthday party instead. Knowing I was NOT going to host two separate parties, but not wanting to make one boy feel disappointed, I racked my brain for a fair solution. Another factor was that I knew Thing 1 really wanted a Nintendo Switch for his birthday (which is a very expensive present and much more than I'd spend on a present), but Thing 2 really didn't care about getting a new gaming system. So in the end, I helped them reach a compromise that they would ask for a Switch from their grandparents (which Thing 1 wanted) and have a Warriors themed party (which Thing 2 wanted), and all were happy. 

Because Warriors is a book series, I created invitations that mimicked a book. I printed the following on a thick piece of card stock, then folded it in half.
Back page and Front cover
Inside book
As you can see from the title of the book, and the inside page, the set up for the party is that there is a new clan in the forest that is seeking cats. So the birthday party will be a try-out of sorts for the new cats to prove themselves worthy of joining the new clan: The Skyteam Clan.

Decorations and Snacks
As per usual, I planned a post-lunch party so that I don't have to do lots of food, just light snacks that fit within the Warriors theme.

On the menu was bird's nests (made from mini pretzel sticks and birthday cake flavored peeps), a fishing pond (made with blue jello and swedish fish), squirrel tales (string cheese wrapped in croissants), and bunny tales (powdered donut holes). 

2:00-2:30 – Become a Warrior Apprentice
In the weeks leading up to the party, I made 20-some mini-versions of the cat mask I made for Thing 2's Halloween costume. (I was sweeping fun fur out of my craft room for weeks after the party!) Upon arrival to the party, each guest chose a cat mask and a tail (I found these giant chenille stems in white, black, brown, and gray that were perfect for easy tails!) and then chose a unique apprentice name (usually based off of something about their looks or a characteristic of their personality).

Note: I have started allotting more time for the first activity at the party, to make sure the late comers aren't too behind the fun when they arrive.

2:30-3:15 – Going on Patrol
The main activity of the party was a scavenger hunt where the cats had to work together following clues to collect mini animal plushies (bunnies, mice, birds, etc.) that I had hidden around the neighborhood. Since not all of the kids were familiar with the Warriors series, I began with a simple powerpoint style movie giving the origins of the Warrior clan. Then I issued this instruction:

“I am Hazelstar, the Clan Leader for Skyteam clan. You loners have been paw-selected to join our clan because of your reputation in the forest. However, before you are officially accepted into the clan, you must prove yourself worthy of being a member of the Skyteam Clan. Our clan values intelligence, compassion, teamwork, and bravery. We are looking for warriors who can work together as a team to effectively patrol our territory, defending against threats, solving problems as they arise, bringing home fresh kills, and of course, taking care of one another.

If you pass this test, you will be initiated into our clan and promoted from apprentice to Warrior status.

Furthermore, I am getting old. My fur is turning gray. It is nearly time for me to join the Elders. During the patrol we will be looking for a new Clan Leader who will take my place as the one who rules the clan. We will also be looking for a Deputy who will organize patrols, keep the clan in order, and be prepared to take over for the Clan Leader when the time arises."

3:15-3:30 – Fresh Kill
After the scavenger hunt, the cats piled their found fresh kill (plushies) on the fresh kill altar (dining room table), then we sang Happy Birthday and cut the cake (a red velvet cake in the shape of a giant field mouse).

3:30-3:45 Warrior Ceremony
After cake, the cats all gathered in the backyard for the Warrior Ceremony. It was here where they chose their new Clan Leader and Deputy while paying respect to the elders of the Star Clan (euphemism for the cats that have died) who rewarded them with gifts (aka a pinata).
Thing 2 with the cat pinata

3:45-4:00 Offerings
Historically I haven't allotted time for opening presents at my boys' parties, but as the kids have gotten older, their friends like to see them opening the gifts they have brought. So, this party, I left the last 15 minutes for opening gifts.

Overall, the Warrior party turned out pretty great. All the kids had fun, I had fun organizing it, Thing 2 was very happy, and yes, Thing 1 got his Nintendo switch (thank you grandmas and grandpas!).

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Realization for Mother's Day

In the Steel Magnolias of life, my mom is a Ousier Boudreaux. Like so many young woman, I know she started out life with optimism and perseverance; however, as she has aged and faced hard times, heartache, and chronic illness, she has admittedly become “not as sweet as she used to be.” It’s for this reason that I often find myself frustrated with my mom and wishing she were a little sweeter, softer, and less cantankerous. Often in my frustration I forget that there is more to my mom that her cynical, stubborn, and cantankerous outer shell, so this Mother’s Day I am taking the time to focus on her softer traits within that I love and admire so much.

Halloween 1984
For beginners: My mom is an artist. No, she isn’t an artist for a living. In fact, as far as I know, she has never sold anything she has ever made. However, she has the mind of an artist, always coming up with fantastic and elaborate ideas, usually for her kids or grandchildren, and executing them to painstaking precision, often at the last minute and staying up until the wee hours of the morning to do so. Like the Christmas we were stationed in Hawaii and didn’t have a Christmas tree, so she made one out of tinsel and garland. Or the Halloween when my brother’s costume was an elaborate robot made entirely out of cardboard boxes and plumbing supplies, or the year I was a 3 ft tall butterfly with a 6 ft wingspan. Speaking of butterflies, there was the year she spent all of her spare time for nearly 6 full months crocheting hundreds of little pastel colored butterflies for me to give away as favors in the masonic organization I was in.

The care my mom took, with every homemade Halloween costume, with every personalized birthday cake, with our school projects (because yes, she earned more As than we actually did), with planning all the big events in our lives: holidays, birthdays, weddings, births… says so much about who she is as a person. She is an artist. She loves to create things. To see the joy her creations bring to others. She takes pride in the things she makes, and she rarely wants anything in return except gratitude.

My mom is selfless, sometimes to a fault. I couldn’t, if I tried, recount all of the times my mom went without so that us kids never had to. She has never worn wear fancy clothes, had expensive bags, or spent lots of money on makeup or skincare products. She never in her life has had a regular hairdresser. For years, she just colored her own hair with boxed color from the supermarket and let months go between cuts. Yet, we kids always had everything we needed and most of the stuff we wanted too. That bicycle we wanted, that homecoming dress, that game system, and all the specialized sporting equipment we swore we needed. In fact, for most of my childhood, she worked not one, but two jobs to make sure we were never deprived. Sadly, even now that her children are grown and times aren’t so lean for my parents, I think she has still never really learned to take care of herself, because for her entire life she was accustomed to taking care of others and putting their needs before her own.

Mother's Day 1979
My mom is also fiercely loyal. Sometimes infuriatingly so. You can tell her a story about someone you are having a problem with, and she instantly dislikes this person she has never even met. I get irritated and say “Mom, you don’t even know that person. How can you have such a strong opinion on them?” She just waves me off and states matter of factly “They hurt you, that is all I need to know about them.” She has always been like this…unapologetically protective and defensive of the people she loves. And while I often protest, admittedly it has always made me feel safe. It is a special gift to always feel that loved and protected by someone. In fact, I find myself now repeating this same kind of fierce loyalty with my own sons, because deep down I want them to always feel as loved and protected as I did.

My mom is playful. She loves playing games. One of my sister’s favorite stories to tell is about the time she had asked for an Atari 2600 for Christmas. During the weeks leading up to the holiday, my sister would lie in bed at night and hear strange bee-boop-bee-boop sounds coming from the basement below her. On Christmas morning, it became clear what all those strange noises were. Mom had gotten us an Atari, and she had been staying up late playing all the games and setting them with her high scores! To this day, I don’t think anyone ever did beat mom’s high score on Qbert.

During our family holidays, after clearing the table and putting away the leftovers, it is always board game time. Pictionary, Scategories, Tri-Bond, Cranium, Spy vs. Spy. We often play game after game into the early morning. Mom is a night owl anyways, so she is usually the last person at the table, outlasting all us younger people. She talks and plays and talks some more. Funnily, I don’t remember my mom ever caring about winning any of the games we have played, she has just always seemed content playing the games and being with her family.

My mom is probably best known for talking too much, or as I like to say being a storyteller. Whether reminiscing about her childhood or retelling one of her infamous stories about her many other places of employment, her stories have almost developed lives of their own. Each time they are retold the details have gotten bigger, better, and more fantastical. Yet each time she tells them she swears up and down they are 100% true. Sometimes we argue about the revised details, but most of the time we just let it go. Because they make her happy. And she loves telling her stories.

In writing this blog post, I submitted a draft to my sister to read and give me feedback. She quickly pointed out that all of these characteristics I admire in my mom: being creative, playful, fiercely loyal, talking too much, exaggerating stories, going over the top for special occasions, and being selfless to a fault with friends and family, are all the ways I am just like her.

In this way, my Mother’s Day gift to my mom has really turned out to be a gift to myself. I realized that when I stopped to take the time and appreciate who my mother really is, instead of comparing her to the Hallmark one-dimensional sugary sweet mother and grandmother I sometimes wish she was, that I’m actually really freaking lucky. She might be a Ousier, but she’s my Ousier, and I wouldn’t trade her for all the M’Lynns in the world! #MyMothersDaughter