Friday, November 22, 2013

Awesome Boys

I was sitting at my desk and heard the calm yet excited voices of young boys playing in the living room. They had an electronic version of battle ship ($3, thanks Goodwill!) and were excitedly playing. The game would say things like "impact at Juliet 3" for "J3" or "Bravo 2" for "B2".

This being new to my boys, they modified things unbeknownst to them and used their new version throughout the game.

It was awesome listening to them use their own version - and wonderful hearing them play with each other. They got a reward of an extremely rare TV watching during a school night.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fall at the Dallas Arboretum

A few weeks back, we headed up to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to go camping with the Wolf scouts. I took advantage of us being somewhat in the vicinity of the Dallas Arboretum, and insisted we head there to see the pumpkins. I've wanted to do this for a few years, but between soccer and scouts, traveling weekends are few and far between.

The pumpkins were just amazing, every bit as fantastic as all the pictures I've seen in years past.

Even Carl, who very grudgingly went to the Arboretum, was impressed with the pumpkins.

I could have done without a few hundred of the people there, but I suppose I can't really blame everyone from wanting to come out and see the pumpkins, too.

The Pumpkin Village is possibly one of the coolest designed places I've ever seen.

All these little homes. Built by pumpkins.

Straight out of Fantasyland.

With pumpkins EVERYWHERE!

We spent the big part of our visit here, though, in the new Children's Adventure Garden. It just opened a few weeks before our visit, and its a very cool place to go.

It just opened a few weeks before our visit, and its a very cool place to go.

I tend to think this would be a big hit for some slightly younger kids than mine. Or with some slightly less boy-kids than mine. ;) But we still managed to find a few favorite places for Team Danger.

The "secret garden" was really a maze.

Complete with its own fairy garden, and dragons.

Even a sword to pull out of a stone.

The adventure gardens are beautifully designed.

Fun for the kids, and stunning for us parents.

The bottom of the garden focuses on wind and water energy. So its an educational garden, as well as an adventure garden.

By far, the boys' favorrite part of the garden was this wind machine they got locked up in.

It blows tornado-style winds at you.

And they LOVED it.

Just look at their gleeful faces.

Still.. the highlight of the visit, for me, was the pumpkins.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Spy Party

Alex has been asking for a sleepover birthday party for a number of years. I have been declining hosting a sleepover party for a number of years. But this year, we caved, and told him he could invite some friends to sleepover and celebrate his big day. Despite being the mom of two boys, the idea of a household of boys overnight scared the cr@p out of me. I knew we needed to have activities and a timeline, or else there was a good chance I'd hit the wine well before lights out for the 4th graders.

Which is how, fresh off our summer visit to the International Spy Museum, my soon-to-be ten year old fell head over heels in love with the idea of a spy-themed birthday party. As long as it was a sleepover party, of course.

Because of family issues, I had very little time to plan this party - most of it happened within two weeks of the party itself, and I only sent the evite out a week beforehand. Thank you, pinterest, etsy, and amazon prime for making this happen this year! With less than seventy-two hours to go to the party, I purchased this downloadable, personalized spy party pack - I loved it! This is the kind of thing I would normally have Carl make for me, but this was so much easy, and a bargain at only $14.99. It came with all sort of printable goodies that really help make a party, like this sign.

And this banner.

We went with the red, black, and gray color scheme with the paper goods, balloons and cupcakes.

I ordered a bunch of red and black cupcakes, and then made some cupcake toppers from my spy part printing pack.

We also used the pack to print out some water bottle labels.

And I used the pack's code sheets to help the boys decipher some of my clues. I can't tell you how happy I was when I realized it was the wingdings font, so that I could make up my own clues for them to solve.

Now for the specific party details... Invitation via evite - they didn't have anything spy-themed, so I had to just word it carefully. With more time, I would have dressed Alex up more like a spy for the picture, but I went with a recent photo on hand.

Next - the boys ran wild upstairs while we waited for everyone to arrive. Once they did, I gathered them together and explained they were going to enter Spy Academy. First up - they needed a secret agent name, and they filled out their name tags. In an ideal world, these should be laminated, or done on sticker labels. Safety pins just ripped through my paper and they didn't last long at all.

Second, we played "Pass the Dynamite." My dynamite wrapped in red construction paper didn't look nearly as cool as it did on pinterest, but this was one of those items I ran out of time on and I was literally taping the dynamite together an hour before the party at Ryan's soccer game.

The boys LOVED this game, though, (go figure), and we played several rounds of it. I had downloaded a couple of spy songs (the Mission Impossible theme song, the Pink Panther song, and "Secret Agent Man" - most ten year olds aren't well-versed enough with James Bond movies for its theme songs, but I think that would work well for older kids). Alas, the boys seemed to enjoy the game even more when Carl switched to a playlist with the Thriftshop song on it. sigh...

Next, MI-6 needed to collect their fingerprints for safekeeping. This was messy with ink on their hands, so I'd recommend skipping it.

Finally, we were ready to begin our big spy mission. I spent most of my time planning all the different clues out, and plotting the best way to make them work on it and running around everywhere so as to pass more time (again - not very keen on all these boys in my house for hours on end).

Basically, I told the boys that some ninjas had invaded the house while we were busy fingerprinting and had stolen something very important for the party, something every spy needs, and something belonging to all of them. What could it be??? Our fist clue from the evil ninjas was hidden somewhere in the living room. It took them a few minutes, but it was my son who finally noticed it.

They worked in teams to use the secret password cypher.

This clue led them to the hallway closet, where we had printed out the next clue in size two font and then placed the clue in one of thirty-six red and black balloons in the closet. Each balloon had a piece of paper in it, but most of them said "Try Again" or "Better Luck Next Time." the boys LOVED popping the balloons, and they quickly found ways to expedite it.

Since the font was small,  they had to use magnifying glasses to read the clues (all spies need magnifying glasses), and I found some favor-sized Phineas and Herb ones at the party store.

This clue led them to find the wrapped present sitting all alone in my reading room. When we were on vacation in Williamsburg this summer, the boys loved doing the RevQuest, and using a cypher wheel. So this present was a cypher wheel, and they all took turns turning the wheel to the correct letters.

They also picked out their spy glasses and their mustaches so they could learn the art of disguise.

Next, they were sent outside to the front porch.

They had to cross the laser-beam covered porch without tripping or causing the bells to ring, so they could open the mysterious box at the end of it.

Inside the box, I had bought some little composition notebooks and with my etsy spy pack, personalized them for the boys. All good spies need a secret notebook in which to write down their clues!

Next, we headed upstairs, where I - er, the evil ninjas -  had a new clue waiting for them. It was written in invisible ink that could only be shown with a black light. I had ordered some of these fantastic pens, and they are great.

They then headed outside, and the ninjas wanted them to do an obstacle course of sorts before they ziplined to where a secret, locked briefcase was discovered.

Waiting for all the boys to zipline was VERY difficult for some of our young men.

Finally, the ninjas called us and delivered the code to unlock the briefcase, containing ten nerf guns for each boy. All super spies have to have a small gun easy to hide in a pocket, so we splurged and bought these small nerf guns for each boy, and they came with three foam darts each.

They were thrilled, and spent a good chunk of the next hour shooting each other, outside. Whew!

They only stopped when the pizza was delivered and it was time to eat dinner.

After pizza, it was time for cupcakes.

I ordered a box of little dynamite stick candles, which I thought was perfect for my little spy to disarm and blow out.

My two favorite spies. :)

After cupcakes, the birthday boy opened his presents.

While we cleaned up a bit, they went back to nerf shooting.

Our last big activity was they all set down to watch "Spy Kids 4" together. It was rather miraculous - mostly silence in my house for a good two hours.

More nerf shooting and musical beds/sleeping bags/rooms kept them up until almost midnight. And of course they woke up WAY early, and put on "Catch That Kid," a second spy-themed movie we had rented for the weekend. Somehow, the boys ended up swimming in the pool that morning, so kolaches and orange juice was poolside.

More nerf shooting wrapped up the morning, and fortunately, most parents were right on time for pickup. We were ready to part ways with all these boys!

The birthday boy had a great time. I can't believe he is ten now!

And to celebrate his turning ten, he and I went to see Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5 in concert the night after his birthday.

I still remember seeing Olivia Newton-John for my 10th birthday, and I liked the idea of giving my son his own wonderful concert memory. He's got the moves like Jagger, after all.

Happy 10th Birthday, Alexander Brice!


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