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Recent events in my life have led me to this decision to blog about a personal matter.  You might say, why Nicole, you blog about personal matters all the time. You blog about your home, your daughter’s birthday-for goodness sake, you blogged about your septic. Who does that?

While discussing your bathroom habits (and publicizing it to all your Facebook friends) does demonstrate a certain lack of modesty, what I want to talk about is more heartfelt. I’d like to share my experience with infertility.  Before I begin, I feel like I have to issue a disclaimer. I feel that, because I do have a beautiful, amazing daughter, I have to tell you that my case is really not all that bad or uncommon. I have known women who have tried for 10+ years before having a baby.  Some, after much grief, give up this dream and never have a  child to call their own. I have known several women who have lost their babies late in their pregnancies, one who opted to carry hers to nearly full-term. Others are afflicted by heartbreaking repeat miscarriages never to discover why they could conceive but not carry.

I feel like I have to tell you how blessed I am, and that I have no right to complain. Yet, what I really want to say to you- those who are going through it like me- is that you have all the right in the world to feel however you want to feel. If you want to wallow in a box of Kleenex – Gray’s Anatomy style- please do so. If you want to kick and scream and loudly announce your anger at the injustice, be my guest. If you want to lie in bed forever, I wouldn’t blame you. Each person’s experience is their own.  Who am I to judge? Just know I’m rooting for you to get back up because YOU want to.

I know my experience has changed me. I can’t say with certainty for the better or the worse. I do know that part is entirely within my control. So I am taking a first step towards making it something positive by announcing my intention to share what I have learned.  I am somewhat of an expert on the crazy and not so crazy things you can do to boost your pregnancy chances. That is useful to any couple with baby fever. And for those of you who are trying and getting frustrated or dealing with a pregnancy loss, sometimes it is just nice to know there’s someone else in the same boat.

I hope you will bear with me on this journey, however long it takes.

Thanks,

Nicole

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Nicole Austin, TX

I promise you this is my last installment. I am completely Dora’d out, and J has moved onto princesses anyway. She has informed me that she is having a Princess Ariel pool party this summer, a Princess Sofia birthday when she is 4, a Princess Rapunzel party when she is 5 and a Princess Aurora party when she is 7. Really need to work on her counting.

Decorations for J’s party were really easy. Earlier in the week, I had used this online kit from Shery K Designs to make cupcake toppers for J’s at school party (Yes, this child celebrated her birthday with not one, not two, but three separate parties. Soooo spoiled).

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Also in the kit are pendant flags, which I printed on card stock and hung on the fireplace and in the dining room.

The giant Dora and Diego balloons were a huge hit with J who dragged them around the house for weeks.  They were purchased at Party City.

Our friend Rachel works for a company that specializes in personalized invitations and stationary. She surprised us with three huge personalized Happy Birthday banners- two I hung in the entry way and amongst all the Explorer Stars in J’s hallway. The third I used to dress up the coloring table. You can buy yours here. The Dora and Diego coloring pages were downloaded at Nick Jr.

The cake, Explorer Stars activity and prize box and party favors were displayed on the entry way table. It was not long before someone put their finger in the cake! The cake came from HEB. It looked nice enough and was less expensive but not as tasty as a custom cake. I really need to either cultivate a dormant talent within me for cake decorating or make good friends with someone who rocks in this area.  There was also a copy of Dora’s Birthday Surprise that I intended to use as a guest book, but, alas, I forgot to make this announcement.

For food, we had Mexican. Some of the menu items included: Tico’s Taco Bar (a full taco bar with all the fixings), Isa’s Empanadas, Fiesta Flautas and Diego’s Animal Rescue Center (cheddar and pretzel flavored goldfish, Teddy Grahams and animal crackers).  I had full intentions to label the food with the corresponding character, but I ran out of steam at the end. I still think it would have been very cute.

Despite the cold and THE cold, the day was a great success.  I don’t know if I can be easily convinced to throw another large party next year. I may again require a two year recovery period. But if anyone can melt my resolve, it would be my sweet little Juliette. Love her to pieces.

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Finally, the week of J’s big birthday party had arrived.  And we almost did not make it! Several things conspired to get in our way.  First, the lower field of our septic’s leach field went out. Please click here to view my previous septic woes. We still had one functioning field, but septic issues are certainly not welcome when you are about to have 30-40 people over who, inevitably, would like to flush the toilet without issue.

The second was that Juliette came down with a cold and managed to have a fever which kept her out of school on both the Thursday and Friday prior to her party.  We went back and forth to the doctor’s to get tested for ear infection, strep and flu. All negative. J, herself, remained in high spirits throughout. However, I felt the need to proactively send an email out to her class to let the parents know that although she was fever-free and the party would go on, we would certainly understand if anyone wanted to drop out to avoid potential germs.  No one really did.  Getting sick is a constant thing in daycare. I think most everyone else has made peace with that.

Third, and most importantly, despite a beautiful fall here in the ATX, the weather on that day never really rose above freezing.  This put a huge damper on the planned activities, namely the Dora map adventure ending with a piñata and play time on J’s house with a slide. We were also going to borrow a bouncy house, but it was just too cold.

Not easily deterred, I abbreviated the map adventure and added an indoor component that required searching for Dora’s explorer stars. Dora’s explorer stars are cute pastel stars with faces on them that have the points of the stars rounded off. Needless to say, I did not have the time to cut out a bunch of stars on the night before the party. Instead, I found some foam stars at WalMart. They were red, white and blue- leftover from the 4th- so not ideal, but they had to do.

To start the activity, my helpers rounded up the kids, got them to quiet down for a moment or two, and each was handed their Backpack or Rescue Pack.  I explained to them that their first mission as Explorers was to find the explorer stars hidden in plain sight throughout the house. Inside their backpack was a magnifying glass to help them find the stars. Each Explorer who brought back at least one star could pick a prize from the prize box.

Next, we bundled up the kids and headed outside for the map adventure. I informed the kids that Swiper had stolen the birthday piñata, and we had to follow the clues on the Map in order to get it back. We had go through the Dancing Trees, around Crocodile Lake and onto to Play Park, and there we would find the birthday piñata.

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For the Dancing Trees, I had good intentions to actually go out and pin faces to my trees. Alas, I ran out of time, but I did have the kids take out the maracas in their backpacks and dance to the Coconut Conga. In the Dora TV series, that is how they get the Dancing Trees to open up a path to allow them to pass. I used the video below as my inspiration.

For Crocodile Lake, I placed a blue sheet in our fire pit and placed a blow up crocodile on top.  Actually, it was a blow up alligator ring toss game, but I figured three year olds would not be so discerning.  We did not play the ring toss game due to the cold, but we did need to find a way to get around the crocodiles safely. Fortunately, each kid had a flute in their trusty backpack. They played their little hearts out, which lulled the “crocodile” to sleep and allowed us to walk around without incident.

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Finally, we arrived at Play Park.  We were supposed to take our Dora and Diego blow outs out of our backpacks and sing the “We Did It” song, but it was really cold, so we went straight to the breaking of the piñata.  Each kid got at least one turn before the adults helped to liberate the candy.

The kids really wanted to play on J’s playscape at this point, and the parents really, really wanted to get back to the warm house, so cake time it was. I think the kids had a great time despite the weather. My only regret is not taking more pictures. But chaos does tend to ensue with that many three year olds!

I had not planned on a part IV, but I cannot NOT discuss the decorations. So I will gear up for one more blog entry before I conclude this chapter. Until then Explorers.

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I’ll be honest. After engineering over 20 Backpack/Rescue Pack invitations, I was pretty beat. But I knew my work was far from done.  The fear in inviting your child’s entire class to a party is that either a) no one will show up or worse b) everyone will show up. I had my work cut out for me if I was to entertain a bunch of three year olds. I thought a Dora map adventure might do the trick. I planned to follow the general format of the show and sent the kids out into my big back yard to search for the birthday piñata.  Why do they have to find the birthday piñata.  Well, Swiper stole him silly.  You really need to keep an eye on that Swiper.

There can be no map adventure without Map and Backpack. I knew I needed to fabricate both of these.  Also, there would undoubtedly be things we would need to do at each of the stops on the map. This solved the dilemma of what to make for party favors. Clearly, each of the girls needed Dora’s Backpack, and each of the boys needed Diego’s Rescue Pack. Inside would be all the items needed along the way. Once we reached our final destination and broke open the piñata, the bags would be very handy for storing all the candy.

As you know, there are many crafty mommas out there. I pinned several Backpack/Rescue Pack party favor bags on my idea board here. Some of my favorites were:

Using orange and purple lunch bags or gift bags such as these Rescue Packs by Reading Confetti

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Dying Oriental Trading backpacks purple as with these Backpacks by Googly Eyes and Glitter 

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Using drawstring backpacks such as these seen on Etsy 

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Or reusable grocery totes such as these on Mission Decorate 

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I really liked the idea of the kids having a wearable, reusable bag so I narrowed down my options to drawstring backpacks or reusable grocery bags.  I found both purple and orange totes and purple and orange drawstring  backpacks at affordable pricing online. Ultimately, I went with the drawstring backpacks as they were larger and could actually be worn as a backpack.

For Backpack, I used the template found at Nick Jr. to trace the face onto the drawstring bags using Elmer’s Painter’s Pens. I traced the template first in pencil and then went over it using a fine tip sharpie. I used paint pens rather than fabric paint to fill in the color so that the work could go quicker with less chance for mistakes. The downside is that the paint pens are opaque. This was not much of an issue for the red mouth but required multiple coats for eyes and eyebrows and just did not provide the coverage that fabric paint would have. Still, I think they came out pretty good.

For Rescue Pack, I also used the template from Nick Jr but needed to resize and tweak it a bit.

Map needs to go inside Backpack.  I used the Nick Jr map template above photocopied on one side of 8 1/2 x 11 white paper and photocopied a map of my own drawing on the other side. I searched and searched for an easy map template. The best I could find was this. I used it as a general template and then did separate image searches for the stops I chose for J’s adventure: The Dancing Trees, Crocodile Lake and Play Park. The last stop is actually J’s playscape, so I just drew that from memory. It came out pretty good for someone who doesn’t draw, and might help someone else out in the future. For PDF versions, please visit my free printables page.

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Inside the backpack were the items we needed for the adventure: a Dora or Diego magnifying glass, Dora and Diego maracas, a mini flute and Dora or Diego blow outs. More on the specific purpose of these items in the next post.

The finished product can be seen below.

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Again, I will not lie to you.  This is not a quick, easy project. Because I did not trust myself to free hand the face and was very careful with the paint pens, each bag took some time. I made 20 and was very thankful for one particularly long nap both J and D took one Sunday afternoon. J often sat at the table next to me coloring while I would knock out 1 or 2 bags. If I were to do it again, I would STRONGLY consider printing each of the faces in color on iron-on transfer paper.  There are several face template files available to purchase on Etsy and would have been well worth the money. I think this may have been 10x easier. Hindsight is 20/20.

Stay tuned for Party III- Party Time to find out how our adventure went.

Some of you may recall that I made my blogging debut by writing about my daughter’s first birthday party.  In fact, the helpfulness of other moms in the party planning arena was what pushed me to start my own blog. If you would like to refresh your memory, feel free to to take a glance at Once Upon A Birthday Party Part I, II or III.

Well, it turns out that kid parties- when you go all out in a crazy crafty kind of way- are exhausting. I needed a full two years to recover from J’s first. I vowed to hold off on another one until at least school age. And then J started day care, and we started to get invited to lots of other birthday parties. In fact, J’s entire class seems to have birthdays that fall between October and January. She naturally assumed that I too would throw her a party that included cake, a bouncy house and goodie bags. I could not disappoint, and that is how Juliette’s Big Birthday Adventure came into being. The theme- D-D-D-Dora… Dora, Dora, Dora the Explorer.

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I must admit that I was a little disappointed that she did not like my ideas for a Blues Clues or Peppa the Pig party. Ultimately though, I embraced the theme and found that ideas abound on the web for Dora/Diego parties. See my pinterest inspiration board here for a few examples.

The Invitation

Every great party must have a great invitation. When you google “Dora” and “Birthday,” you are sure to come across the DVD  or game Dora’s Big Birthday Adventure.

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I loved the DVD logo and the idea of the party being a map adventure. Both had to be incorporated in the invite. I also really loved all the hand made backpack invitations I saw online.  Here is one of my favorite examples from HighHeelsAndDiapers.com

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Super cute and there are several templates available online including this one and another FromBeccasHome.blogspot.com. Problem was I wanted both an adorable card stock backpack and a clever photo invite. This is how I came to spend several sleepless nights unsuccessfully attempting to build an invite on google docs (MS Word, Powerpoint and Google Art), downloading several free photo editors and even a free trial of Adobe Photoshop before finally begging my sister to help me. She is a pro at PhotoShop and came up with this invite (minus the personal details which have been removed). If you do not have a talented sister, may I suggest this invite template by Shery K Designs.

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I could not possibly be satisfied with this awesome invite by itself. Nooooo. I had to still house it in Backpack or Rescue Pack. Must not have gotten my fill of cutting and pasting as a child. Of course, since I wanted to fit a 4×6 vertical photo card in the backpack, I needed to draw my own template. I promise to scan it and post it here when I get a chance. Of note, I made a 2 piece template as I wanted to use 8.5 x 11 card stock that I already owned. I could have done it in one piece if I had purchased 12 x 12 card stock.

After another sleepless night of tracing, cutting and folding, I ended up with a pile like this:

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One more sleepless night for assembling and gluing and Backpack and Rescue Pack finally came to life.

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Did I mention that I made 21 of these? Do not let those Pinterest Mommas- present company included- fool you.  This was no easy feat. I delivered these invites to J’s classroom on a Monday. By the time Friday rolled around and some of the invites were still in cubbies instead of getting their due fridge time, I was very much inclined to give the evil eye.  Ok,  I might have. There, I’ve admitted it. But it was a labour of love- both for my J and all things crafty. Wait until you see what I came up with next in Part II- Party Favors.

Believe it or not, I am only now undecorating from Halloween and Thanksgiving. Ok, I guess it is not a stretch to imagine that given the fact that I am almost always behind in life. But this year I had three really good reasons: 1) There is less than one month between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2) I refused to decorate for Christmas until after Juliette’s Dora themed birthday party and 3) Autumn is truly my favorite season. I love it, and wish I could make it last all year.

I have a lot of experience with autumn decor from our 2007 October wedding as I shared with you here and here. I have also been forever pinning ideas on my autumn pinterest board found here. This year, I decided I would again get crafty to make the house feel like it was fall inside and out.

I started with making a leaf wreath. I bought a simple grapevine wreath form from Michaels as well as several packages of dyed preserved leaves. Given that pinecones are not plentiful in ATX, I bought a package of those as well. The steps are very simple. Insert the stems of the leaves into the wreath form. I did this bunches at a time to save a little time. You can secure with glue to better keep the leaves in place. Next, wrap floral wire around the pine cones and attach to the leaf form. Before you know it, you have a very beautiful, colorful fall wreath.

My next project was to decorate the outside front entry. I picked up two bales of pine straw from my local nursery. These will serve double duty as autumn decor and material for my composting garden beds. I also picked up pumpkins and gourds from Trader Joe’s, mums from WalMart and Indian Corn from Home Depot. The scarecrow was something Juliette picked out at Michaels. On each bale of hale, I placed one pumpkin and one mum. The mums were dressed up a little with apple baskets I got at Hobby Lobby. I made bows for the indian corn using this tutorial here and secured them to my pillars using fishing wire. I am pleased with the results. Next year, I think I’ll get larger bales of hay for a more dramatic effect.

Finally, it was time to dress up the mantle in the family room. This was not too difficult, as the accent colors in this room are gold and green, and it already decorated with a woodsy theme. All I had to do was add gourds near the candle pillars, relocate my apothecary jar of pears to the end of the mantle and fill a glass vase with coconut husk (from planter liners) and pinecones. The wicker pear and basket of large pine cones both live on the fireplace year round. Next year, I am going to add garland of either fabric leaves or painted pine cones. I think that would be a nice touch.

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Now off to finish decorating for Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho!

Ok, so I know I am a little late with this post also, but I really wanted to share with you my recent Halloween projects.  This was the first year that J was truly into Halloween. Last year, she was super cute telling everyone that she was going to be a “Baby Bug” aka Lady Bug. However, this year, she went as far to pick out her own costume- Princess Ariel- and was not shy about going door to door to beg for candy.  She is very aware of all the candy she received and asks about it from the time she wakes up in the morning to the time she goes to bed. Daddy could not get away with eating her candy this year. She would notice if a single piece went missing.

J also now goes to daycare, or “school,” several times a week and had a class party. I had been admiring some of the cute snacks folks were pinning on Pinterest, and thought I would like to give it a shot. See my inspiration board here. I did a little googling myself and decided on the following.

Witch’s Hats

These are made with a Keebler Fudge Stripes cookie turned fudge side up. Simply use a little cake frosting (the kind in a tube is fine) to glue an unwrapped Hershey’s kiss in the hole. Add more frosting around the perimeter of the circle to make it look more like a witch’s hat. Sprinkles are optional, and getting them to stick was the hardest part of this treat.

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Witch’s Brooms

Moving along to something a little healthier, I made witch’s brooms out of pretzels and string cheese. I used small stick pretzels and cut each cheese stick into thirds. I used my kitchen shears to make the cheese look like the bottom of a broom and inserted the pretzel in the top. As a finishing touch, many folks tie the broom with either chives or licorice. I initially tied mine with string licorice but didn’t like the cherry licorice-cheese taste combo and did not think my licorice tying skills were at all good.

An important note on this one. If preparing the night before, make all the cheese brooms ahead of time and then insert the pretzels in the morning. The pretzels will become soggy in the fridge. Of course, I brought them to school at 7 in the morning, so I am sure the school refrigerated them, but refrigeration for a few hours is probably better than a whole night and then some. No one likes a soggy pretzel.

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Jack O Lantern Oranges

And while watching the Red Sox win the World Series (Go Boston!), I began to fear that, perhaps, there were not going to be enough healthy snacks at this party. So I got out a sharpie and started drawing faces on cuties to turn them into Jack O Lanterns. I quickly found out that the citrus in the peel kills your sharpie and moved on to a kid friendly dry erase marker. Don’t worry, folks, the marker does not penetrate the peel.  I did take the time to confirm this and also that the marker did not rub off onto little fingers when held. I feel pretty confident that oranges remained 100% safe to eat.

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My Facebook feed was filled with a lot of cute pictures of snacks made by other mommas I know. I can’t wait to try out some more ideas next year. I love when I’m able to pull off a Pinterest project without a hitch as I could probably come up with several blog posts under the heading “Pinterest Gone Wrong.”

Happy Belated Halloween!

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