Reflections of life…

Being a Mom of many when I go places I do head count, after head count, after head count. Trying to keep my ducks in a row isn’t always easy but I love it. So when we get in the truck to go anywhere I typically do a roll call but it’s really turned into more of a fun thing for the kids. You see our 4 year old can’t just say ‘Here!’ or ‘What?’ like the others. When his names is called instead he has to let us know that his little brother is here, “Peter is here!!” Reflections

One lovely day while we were heading out to grocery shop I did my normal count and roll and briefly looked in the mirror one more time. As I glanced back I saw their beautiful smiling faces. For a moment, all happy and smiling. I immediately thanked God for each of those blessings he has entrusted me with.

I couldn’t get over the reflection in the mirror. It seemed like yesterday I was glancing in the mirror to check my lipstick or make sure my hair was ok. Just one face, me. When I glance in the mirror now I still see part of me but I see so much more. Seeing part of my face yet all of their faces. It’s still me, just a different me. I see me in each of my children and I see me with them.

I feel so blessed even if they aren’t always happy and smiling. I like reflection I now see. It’s bigger than just me.

Yet Another John Deere Birthday

 

It was no surprise to me when my tractor lovin’ little boy told me he wanted his 4th birthday to be a ‘John Deere Birthday’ theme. He and my 6 year old son both had already enjoyed John Deere birthday parties in the past so I already had some John Deere decorations in my stash of supplies. (Frankly, my older boys had done repeated Thomas the Train birthday parties year after year so this was pretty common place in the Menne house…AND saves $ to reuse items!) I got out all of the John Deere party supplies and started planning with the almost 4 year old. He quickly decided he wanted a “big John Deere combine cake!” I wasn’t sure what that was going to look like because the thought of making an actual combine seemed overwhelming. I asked him about a sheet cake with a combine ON it or making one with frosting but he wanted a “real big combine” so to the world wide web I went hunting through images of John Deere cakes until I stumbled on this amazing blog A Quiet Life in a Loud House which had not only the best, most amazing John Deere combine cake but also had awesome DIRECTIONS!!!! I was over the moon excited to give it a try. Her photos were great and explanation was perfect. I have to give her credit for the whole thing! Decorations I used leftover John Deere napkins, party hats, balloons, crepe paper and signs from last year’s party. I got a green table cloth, green and yellow napkins, yellow cups, yellow plates and green plastic silverware all from the dollar store. I also found green and yellow ‘grass’ that is used for Easter baskets but it wasn’t the plastic kind so I grabbed a couple of those bags to fill glass cylinders to add to the color. I had white and yellow flowers left over from a baptism celebration the previous week which also were great to add to the tables. The last thing I did was raid the toy room to use the small John Deere toys the boys have as decorations.

The Cake I found some scrap pieces of 2×4’s in the garage and covered them with aluminum foil. I had to make sure it would fit on my round cake base. Then I baked #2 9×13 cakes. I started creating the combine cake by cutting the appropriate pieces ensuring it would fit on the wood base. I used skewers I had left over from another party to help hold pieces together. I frosted it and then added a cut bendy straw for the auger just as Lora did in her blog. I also used ding-dongs and donettes for tires and big wheels. (The boys liked eating the left-overs). I was wondering what I was going to do for the combine head but was able to find one of the boy’s toy combines had a removable combine head. Sweet! I attached it to a popsicle stick and it totally fit! I was then able to push that popsicle stick under the front of the combine to look attached to the actual cake. Needless to say I was pretty pleased with myself. I think the hardest part of was locating candy corn but my husband was able to find a bag for me. My son so so happy when we filled the hopper with the candy corn. He really thought it completed the cake. I used the rest of the cake pieces to make a square cake which worked great as a ‘tractor in the field’ kinda cake. I decided to make it look like the farmer was planting although I know plants aren’t instantly visible it was necessary for a 4 year old. I used a small toy tractor and frosting for this cake. Nothing too fancy. 😉 I made the lines on the cake with a frosting comb and used a small star tip for the ‘plants.’ Done! We ate the ‘field cake’ at our small family celebration on his actual birthday and ate the ‘big combine cake’ at his birthday party a couple days later. He liked them both and was thrilled with turning 4.

DIY Tractor Cake

I have a few little boys who are in-love with John Deere and all things tractor. In their minds it must be yellow and green! I have done a few John Deere themed parties but prefer not to pay for the actual John Deere party favors and cakes. For this one I decided to give a DIY tractor cake a try and here is how it turned out.

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I baked two 9×13 cakes & then cut them to stack up the pieces in order to make the right shape. I used toothpicks & skewers to support the frosting holding it together.

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I used the Wilton small star tip to frost most of it & the small round tip to make the lines & write. The small front tires are made of Hostess chocolate donettes.

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It was a pretty big cake but turned out alright. He loved it and that’s all that mattered to me. 🙂

 

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Happy baking!

Cowabunga Birthday!

My 5yr old was super excited to have a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle party for his 6th Birthday. He really enjoyed checking out all of the cool pictures of other kids parties online to decide what he might like. Honestly I think planning was as fun as the party itself.

As always I try to execute my children’s birthday parties spending as little as possible. I want them to have wonderful memories of their birthdays and I want them to feel special. I just don’t want or don’t feel the need to break the bank in the process. After all, we live on a budget. 🙂

This cowabunga birthday turned out pretty well and did include some DIY. It does take time for those parts but it saves money. Here is what we did..

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I used a photo from the web and inserted it into Microsoft word. If I remember correctly I was able to print four per page. I also opted to do a screen shot and save it as a JPEG so I could email his friends from school as I didn’t have their addresses. (The address & RSVP are cropped out for privacy. They were at the bottom).

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I made the piñata using discarded newspaper & one of those dollar store punch balloons. After it dried I cut a hatch opening, covered it with snipped crepe paper, added the eyes & mouth (construction paper) and then filled it with candy. I did learn the hard way that I should use a small square if cardboard to support the holes where it hangs so it doesn’t break away from the string before the kids bust it open. My hubby helped me with that one,

IMG_6597The kids treat bags were made of green bags I found in the wrapping paper section of the dollar store. I used crepe paper, construction paper & sharpies to give them the ninja turtle look. They contained a ninja turtle cup, stickers & other small green trinkets from the dollar store. They worked well for the kids to put their piñata candy in as well.

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Decorations were pretty basic. Crepe paper is a standard supply for me. (I have a laundry basket full of party supplies organized in large zip bags so I can easily find the colors of balloons or crepe paper I might need). I used balloons, crepe paper, construction paper & sharpies to make Ninja Turtle heads. I found a fun round green decoration at the dollar store and did the same thing to it and hung it above the table. For the birthday sign I used my scrapbook die cutter to cut ovals of 2 sizes, glued them together & used a green sharpie to make them look like turtle shells. I then printed off the letters using a free downloaded Ninja Turtle font. I also snagged all of his Ninja Turtle toys to add to the decorations.

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The food was easy; homemade pizza, green Kool-aide (green slime), and Ninja Turtle fruit & veggie trays. I found green napkins, cups, plates, napkins & plastic table clothes that I had leftover from a previous John Deere party that I was able to use-score!

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The cake was actually made of a batch of cupcakes. It meant a ton of frosting but was so easy to serve. The white frosting was dyed green and I started with chocolate frosting and added dye to make the black frosting.

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My son loved this party. His exact words were, “It was awesome!” The smile on his face was rewarding but I also liked how inexpensive it was to pull-off.

Happy party planning!

Grocery Shopping for a large family

With such a large family it takes a lot of planning and preparation to feed everyone. I never thought I could get behind a meal planning calendar but for budget’s sake it needed to be done. I had the kids sit down with me and plan a 2 week rotating calendar. We do this in the fall for a winter meals and again in the spring for summer meals. If I or the kids decide a particular meal isn’t working we just change it.
I have the menu on a clip board in the pantry to whomever has the kitchen for their chore that month can get out the ingredients and possibly prep. Under the menu I have the recipes for those meals clipped as well.

imageBelow that clipboard hangs another one. This is the special ‘shopping’ clipboard that has a lovely spreadsheet clipped into it. (Yea, there are probably a few post-it’s on there too so I don’t forget to add things) The spreadsheet includes items we typically buy in alphabetical order as well as a separate list of what I call the ‘target’ items (toothpaste, diapers, etc.). I don’t buy all of those things at Target (after all we are talking cheap) but that seems to sum up the contents of the list for our family budgeting purposes. As we run out of things we can simply mark it on the spreadsheet or add it to the bottom. So each month when we go shopping (yes, it’s a monthly trip) I bring along a clipboard with the items needed highlighted in yellow and as they get tossed into the carts (yup, we require at least 2 carts) I can cross them off with a blue marker.

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I am a BIG FAN of Aldi although most folks think we shop at Sam’s Club or Cosco. The reality is those stores are great for some items but the vast majority of the grocery items are cheaper at Aldi and I can get the family in and out quicker because it’s a smaller store. (They carry all but a couple items on my list it’s just that they don’t carry a bunch of different brands of the same product) What works best for us is bringing 2-3 quarters for carts, 6 laundry baskets and a baby carrier. I can do all the shopping on my own if I put the little one on my back and the toddler in a cart and have one of the older kiddos push the second cart. The Kids are great at helping put items in the cart and have gotten accustomed to how this operation works. We discuss our budget with them and how that whole process works in hopes that they will be fiscally responsible adults. They have fun trying to estimate the cost at the register.

We purchase most of our groceries at Aldi, a few at Walmart and Sam’s club. I try to get most ‘Target’ budget items at the Dollar Store or Walmart. I also LOVE the thrift stores. I have a big selection of thrift stores to shop at and love that I can find treasures at a great price and the little ones can always find a toy of $1 or less.

After pushing 2 or 3 full carts out to the suburban the real fun begins ;). Those laundry baskets I referred to early come into play. I load the groceries up into the baskets in a manner which my hubby calls “Tetrus” but really I just put the cold stuff in 2 baskets, heavy stuff on the bottom and the lighter stuff on top with one basket reserved for chips, breads, etc. This process can be a quick one depending upon the weather and how the kids are behaving. On one occasion I did have a lady sit and watch me load the whole thing because she said she didn’t believe I could fit it all in. (I kinda enjoyed I proving her wrong .)

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When we get home those baskets then get unloaded one at a time placed in a super cool wagon and wheeled up into the kitchen. To get up into the house through the service door I use a ramp my hubby made for the kids to ride their bikes over but it works just fine for my needs. I can get the whole suburban unloaded fairly quickly this way and the organization helps so I can get the cold stuff put away and take my time getting the rest put away.

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I’d love ideas from other large families. How do you do it? Any tips for me?

Birth Photography

My youngest is 16 months now but I am still catching up on scrapbooking his first year. I have a tone of photos and as I look through them it’s almost overwhelming. I have a few favorites on my phone, ipad, framed, etc. but none of them hold a candle to the ones taken on the day he came into the world. THOSE are the photos I still have on my phone, framed by my bed, and in the nursery. THOSE are the photos I look at almost daily. Birth photos? Daily? Sounds crazy right? Maybe…But I assure you they are ah-mazing! (Here are a few to share via the phenomenal RedBird Hills Photography) When I first heard about the concept of birth photography I was like, “What the heck!?!? Why would I want another person I don’t really know in there watching the crazy, unfiltered me in labor??? Who in their right mind would want to see photos of THAT?” So I did want anyone would do I read up on it and checked out some birth photography websites. I was very impressed by Redbird Hills photography. I read a snippet of a birth story and I looked at photos of 3 strangers bringing their babies into the world and was bawling my eyes out! What she captured with those photos wasn’t just rated G, it was beautiful. I knew right then, I HAD to do this!! As luck would have it I have the bestest hubby in the whole-wide world. He knew I wanted this and despite the cost he booked Redbird Hills. What a guy! She was amazing. She intuitiely knew when to give us privacy but yet was able to capture the whole birth story from laboring to the baby meeting his big sister and brothers. The way we looked at one another, the emotions on our faces when we first saw our baby, seeing the baby so fresh, us bonding and the big kids reactions to the baby-precious memories.

It was also fan-stinkin’-tastic to NOT have to rely on my husband to take photos whilst trying to be there for me through the whole process. He was able to focus on helping me through labor and birth.

I don’t take out the video and watch it but I do look at the birth photos regularly. They remind me of what a miracle birth is, how much love my honey and I have for one another, and how amazing a newborn is. I was skeptical of birth photography when I first learned of it and couldn’t fathom this as a trending thing but I am so glad I checked it out. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was worth every penny. If you are even thinking about it I encourage you to check it out.