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Awesome Transformer Birthday Party under $80!

I soooo did not want to do a birthday party this year!  I just didn’t want to take the time to research, plan, search for deals and put it together in addition to my jobs – COO of Casa de You, Me & B; Director of Education at You, Me & B Academy; and Editor & Writer of You, Me & B Blog.  I just wanted the three of us to do something special together or to take B and a friend or two to do something fun.  *sigh*  But B really wanted a party  and, since he was turning 12, this would be the last birthday party.  So I caved and agreed to do it and accepted his desired theme – Transformers.  I went online that night, looked up ideas and saved some links in my favorites (without reading them) for later.   Then I proceeded to procrastinate for a month.

Two and a half weeks before the party, I finally realized that invitations needed to go out, so B and I spent the morning creating them.  Actually, he spent the morning creating them and I was his lighting and prop gal.  He selected a picture of ours and pulled it up on the computer screen.  I stacked a small suitcase in front of the monitor, covered it with black material and B arranged 3 of his Transformers on it.  Smokesceen is in pieces in the background on the left (destroyed by Bumblebee) and Deep Desert Brawl has a gun to Bumblebee’s head in the forefront on the right.

B spent a lot of time with the camera, focusing in on one part and fuzzing out the rest, then trying a different part, then another and another and another.  Then he decided he didn’t have the lighting he wanted, so I stood over him with a desk lamp pointed at the computer screen, and he moved my arms around until the lighting reflected off the computer screen to get the effect he wanted.  What looks like fire in the middle of the screen is from the lamp I’m holding.  Finally he had The Shot.  We uploaded it to the computer, added wording and ordered copies from Staples.


I’m so proud of him; he did an excellent job on the invitation!  Staples had a minimum order requirement of 25 invitations even though I only needed a dozen.  They were printed out on 4″ x 8″ cards and came with envelopes for $14.99.  They were ready for pick up at our local Staples in a few hours.  Some we delivered in person; some we had to mail.  Then, I still procrastinated until one week before the party.  But once I got started, I was on a roll and the kids had a blast.  The hubs and I did, too, to tell you the truth.  I received ideas from BirthdayPartyIdeas.com and Pinterest.  Here’s what we did.

Once everyone arrived, we went into the kitchen where I had covered two tables with plastic, yellow tablecloths and put bowls of regular sized marshmallows and thin pretzel sticks.  We told the kids to build themselves a robot out of the pretzels and marshmallows.  Some kids were finished before others and asked if they could eat their creations, but we made them all wait until everyone had a robot completed.  We all admired the robots and then threw the kids a loop: using only the pieces already in your robot, transform it into a vehicle.  Some complained they didn’t have enough pieces to make a vehicle, but we asked them to at least try, use their imagination, a vehicle doesn’t have to have 4 wheels, etc. before they they reached for more parts.  They got creative!  🙂

Since they were all so keen on eating their creations (but we hadn’t washed hands before everyone dug into the bowls of pretzels and treats) we had everyone wash hands and eat the snacks I’d set out: veggies and dip; crackers & hummus; cheese sticks; pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.  While they munched, I filled cups with water and passed them out.  Each cup had the child’s 1st name written on it with a Sharpie, as well as their Transformer name.  They loved to hear all the names I got from this Transformer Name Generator.

20141019_165438   20141019_171441

After they’d all had something to eat and drink, the hubs took the kids into the front room to play a Transformer Memory Game.  I got the idea from Tip Junkie, but did not use their free printable (I don’t have enough ink in my printer!).  Instead, we took pictures of 6 of B’s transformers – one in robot form and one in vehicle form – and uploaded them to Costco’s Photo Center.  The twelve pictures costs me $1.65 and were ready in a couple of hours.  I glued the pictures to blue construction paper and laminated them with a laminator and sleeves I already owned.  Punched holes in the bottom and top of the laminating sheets and connected with red yarn so that each card could be turned independently.  I hung the game on the coat closet doors.  Although only a few of our guests had ever seen a Transformer movie, I told them they would still be successful at the game by matching colors of the Transformers in the pictures.  The hubs played the memory game with the kids while I ran out back and hid several items in our backyard and my neighbors backyard.  I came back inside just as the memory game ended.  All the kids were up at the board asking the hubs if they could take one of the pictures home with them. 🙂

I told the kids that in the 1st Transformer movie Sam Witwicky’s dad told Sam if he got A’s and earned $2,000 he’d buy him a car.  I was going to ask each child a question and they had to get it right in order to get their A.  For the younger children, I asked them how old they were, what their last name was, their favorite movie, favorite animal, etc.  For the older kids I asked them what the capital of the US is, what country is our neighbor to the north, to the south, etc..  The homeschool mom in me had to inject learning into the party but still ensure they would get their question correct.  😉

After they’d all answered a question correctly, (we cheered & hi-fived everyone when they did), I told them how to earn their $2,000.  Items were hidden all over our yard and the neighbor’s yard (the fence is open between us so the kids can run back and forth easily).  Some of the items had price tags on them and some didn’t.  Each child needed to find and bring to us $2,000 worth of items to buy their car – no more, no less.  If they found a disguise item that did not have a price tag, they would have to put it on and perform for the hubs and me and we’d give them “money” based on their performance.  We had white ping pong balls (representing the ice that Megatron had been trapped under in the Arctic) with $1,000 written on them; we had glow sticks (Sam’s great-grandfather Captain Witwicky needed light down in the ice cavern where he found Megatron) with $500 price tags on them and Captain Witwicky mustaches with no price tags.  We made sure everyone knew that this was not a race to be first nor to collect as many items as possible.  They needed to use their Math skills just to get $2,000 and then help the others.  I loved the accents they came up with when they talked to us with mustaches on!

So, they’d earned their A and $2,000 and it was time to get their cars.  I told them the car picks the driver, the driver does not pick the car.  We went into the alley behind our house and lined the kids up at the base of the neighbor’s driveway (because it is on an incline).  The plan was to roll the cars, one at a time, down the driveway and whomever the car went to, the car chose that child.  Unfortunately, I was using B’s Hot Wheels and the small tires didn’t go but a few inches on the blacktop.  So, we just had each child reach into the bag of cars and select one.


I hadn’t used a sifter in a really long time and I shook too much sugar on the cake! Don’t worry, when I cut the slices for the kids, I knocked it off before they ate. The top middle section actually has an upside down triangle of card stock inside of it that I was supposed to remove after shaking on the sugar. However, it was so covered, I forgot it was there until I started cutting that part of the cake. It was removed and no one ate any.

We went back inside for cake & singing, next, because the scavenger hunt was the last planned activity and they could burn off sugar marching through the neighborhood.  I made B’s favorite cake (which was my fav as a child) Triple Chocolate Cake.  No icing needed!  The hubs cut our an Autobot symbol stencil for me and I used that to shake powdered sugar on the cake (I used too much, but shook it off before putting slices on their plates).  The kids were impressed.  We sang, ate cake.  Remember the invitation B created?  The Decepticons were holding the Autobots hostage and we had to find them before it was too late!  There were 8 clues that sent the kids up and down the alley.  I sent the kids outside to receive their 1st scavenger hunt clue.  Here are all the clues:


I found these Decepticon & Autobot symbols online and glued them to each clue envelope.

  1. If you’re looking for your Autobot brothers,
    It’s not hard to see;
    You’ll find your 1st clue
    Where you watch a movie.
    (They successfully went to the living room DVD player and found the next clue.)
  2. If you want a clue to help save Ironhide,
    Look where B puts his drink when he goes for a ride.
    (They successfully went to the garage and found a clue in the water bottle holder on B’s bike.)
  3. Someone on this street
    Makes lemonade popsicle treats.
    So don’t sit a spell.
    Go ring her doorbell!
    (After some debate over who’s mom made the best Summer popsicles, they decided on the correct mom, rang her doorbell and she handed them the next clue.)
  4. He dribbles the ball.
    He shoots; he scores!
    He finds another clue
    At one of these outdoors.
    (There are 2 permanent basketball hoops in the alley out back, one at each end, plus a couple of the kids have the Fisher Price ones in their garages.  They had to search them all to find the right one and they did.)
  5. When you take out the trash
    You have to choose-
    Will it get thrown away
    Or can it be reused?
    (They realized it was a recycle bin and since most of the kids lived on the alley, they all wanted to check their own recycle bins first.  B thought it made sense to check his first, so that’s what they did and they found the next clue.)
  6. The enemy is scared.
    Your search has been bold.
    Now look in the box
    Where milk stays cold.
    (Everyone yelled, “THE REFRIGERATOR!”  and started to head for the house.  But B stopped them and said we had a fridge in the garage and that’s where we keep the extra milk.  They found the next clue.)
  7. The Decepticons are getting close to defeat.
    Your next clue lies where The Smiths wipe their feet.
    (They all yelled, “DOORMAT!” and headed to the Smith’s house.)
  8. You’ve found the last clue
    But you’re running out of time!
    Put this puzzle together
    To get your last rhyme.
    (Then they dumped several cut up pieces of paper out of the envelope and they all worked together to fit the pieces of the last clue together.)
  9. There’s a honeysuckle bush
    That smells so sweet.
    It’s real close by
    But you must cross a street.
    Will you pick the right one?
    Which way will you go?
    Will you save them in time?
    Or will they fall to your foe?
    (Their first guess where the honeysuckle bush was located was correct!  They found a clear Ziplock bag full of Autobots behind some thorns at the base of a honeysuckle bush.)

There were 20 minutes left before the parents would pick up their kids and we went to the alley out back to play.  Everyone who lives on the alley shared their bike, scooters, swords and Nerf guns with those who didn’t and there was a mighty battle of Decepticons vs. Autobots.

When it was time for a child to leave, I gave him or her their personal Allspark full of Energon to keep them going.  I decorated plain cupcake boxes to look like the Allspark and each one contained 2 Honeycrisp apples and a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin.



This morning, B decided to do another Transformer picture to include in the Thank You notes.  We had 10 guests, including 3 sets of siblings, so we ordered 7 pictures.

Thank you note 2 copy

Cost of party breakdown, with tax:

Invitations $15.89
Pictures for Memory Game $1.65
Thank You Notes $0.96
Decorations, plates, napkins, cups, tablecloths, ping pong balls, glow sticks and mustaches from Dollar Tree $13.78
Cupcake boxes from Webstaurant.com ($11 of that was shipping) $19.98
Broccoli, hummus, pretzel sticks, marshmallows, organic Honeycrisp apples $27.34
Cake & muffin ingredients, carrots, dip, crackers, cheese sticks I already had $0.00
Total $79.60

Brave Writer’s The Arrow


Last month we added Brave Writer’s The Arrow to our Language Arts studies and I’ve noticed the difference in our homeschool already. We’re having so much fun with “The Brave Writer lifestyle”. Our own language as well as our awareness of language around us – written, spoken and performed – is heightened. Here are some examples of what we’ve done.

Two weeks ago, on Movie Wednesday, we watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off! Beforehand, we discussed the meanings of plot, plot twists and climax. I paused the movie as we went and we discussed who the good guy and bad guy should be according to the rules of right and wrong and who the good & bad guys were in B’s eyes according to their personalities. We discussed how important the script writing and each actor’s portrayal of their rolls were in getting us to root for Ferris and relish Principal Rooney’s mishaps.

I stopped it a number of times for B to tell me what the plot was, what he thought would happen next, his reaction to the “next” not being what he thought it was, etc. When it was over, he excitedly told me when he thought climax began and when it ended. We had this long, animated discussion about how people are not just black and white; we are all full of grays – good and evil, making right and wrong choices for the right and wrong reasons, etc.. It was so wonderful to see him expressing and discussing without just using the words, “Awesome” and “Amazing”.

Yesterday, I asked him to write using descriptive language. I wanted him to paint a picture with his words. His writing in the past has been, “I played outside with my friends.” I asked him to use words to describe the feel of the sun or the warmth of that Spring day. Playing outside was just an example I gave him; he could write about whatever he wanted.

He chose to describe tasting a macadamia nut, which he did for the first time earlier that day. I have to share his description with y’all.

“Today I tried a macadamia nut and it was awful!!(There was a frowny face with a tongue sticking out under the 2 exclamation points.) It was so unbearable and repulsive I had to regurgitate it into the trash.”

Now, he didn’t try to describe what he thought it tasted like, an old gym sock, for example, but that’s something to work on. The fact that he wrote more than, “I hate macadamia nuts.” or “Macadamia nuts are awful.” and he wrote two sentences makes me very happy. He took the assignment seriously and I can give more detailed direction in the future.

Most importantly, he’s enjoying language and writing. He’s getting how important it is to his understanding and entertainment and we’re (Julie Bogart and I) are stoking the desire in him to write like that for others.

Life of Fred – Homeschool Happens Everywhere

This is what homeschool looks like.

I’m grateful for all the wonderful ideas my friend Julie @ Creekside Learning has given me to homeschool B.  When she told me about the Life of Fred Math curriculum, it sounded like something that was right up B’s alley and we gave it a try in the Fall of 2012.  B really loves his Fred!  He does not have to be told twice to work on Math and he does it independently.  :o)  A year and a half later and we’re still happy with Fred.

B likes to settle into a niche, under a blanket or find a friend when he does Life of Fred and I posted several pictures of him on Instagram last year.  Julie suggested that I do a blog post, compiling all of these Life of Fred pictures and I knew she’d come up with another good idea.  Of course, then my muddled brain completely forgot about it.  Well, it’s almost a year later and I just remembered, so I’m sitting down to post some of these pix before I forget again!

Life of Fred Collage

Cheesy Mushroom Chili from The Mushroom Lady

We were on vacation last week on the Delmarva Peninsula.  It lies between the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays and consists of land belonging to Delaware, Maraland and Virginia.  On Tuesday afternoon, we visited the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware Farmers Market in Grove Park.  We arrived a bit early so B happily played in the playground while we waited.  At a couple of minutes to noon, a bagpiper walked from the end of the market to the beginning while he played.  Once he reached the beginning, a big bell rang, signally the start! What a wonderful variety of vendors!  In addition to the fruits, vegetables, fresh meats and local honey you expect to see at a farmers market there were homemade pastas, snacks, candles, wreaths, breads and sweets.  There were even vendors selling lunch items and the hubs had to drag me away from the tent making the best smelling grilled burgers!  (We did an excellent job sticking to our vacation budget, but I think my vacation would have been enriched by that burger!) At one of the vendors, Davidson Exotic Mushrooms, The Mushroom Lady was serving up free samples of her Cheesy Mushroom Chili and giving out copies of the recipe.  It was so good, I have not stopped thinking about it so I decided to make it for dinner tonight.  YUM-O!  Only 7 ingredients and cooked in 20 minutes.

The Mushroom Lady’s Cheesy Mushroom Chili

1 quart Crimini Mushrooms, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp Cumin
3 cups Salsa
1 cup Frozen Corn
1 can White Beans (16 oz), rinsed and drained
1.5 cups Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded

Saute mushrooms in oil a few minutes, then add Cumin and cook until mushrooms are soft.  Add salsa, corn and beans.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of cheese.

Ladle into bowls, top with remaining cheese and serve with toppings of your choice.  Can also be served as a dip with tortilla chips.

I halved the recipe but still used the whole can of beans (didn’t want to waste it), replaced the olive oil with canola, and cut up a few Colby-Jack cheese sticks since that’s what I had on hand.  I made a batch of The Pioneer Woman’s Restaurant-Style Salsa because we looooove it in this house, but just use whatever fresh, canned or jarred one you like. The chili was done before 4pm so I went outside with B to talk with the neighborhood moms while the kids played.  We came in an hour and a half later and I heated the chili back up.  Just like The Mushroom Lady, I served it with sour cream and had to put a dollop of the homemade salsa on top. Since everything was eaten, cleaned and put away so easily, I decided to bake Money Saving Mom’s Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins for tomorrow’s breakfast.  I halved the recipe and got 18 muffins, using 1/3 whole wheat flour and 2/3 white flour.  I’m not the biggest fan of muffins because they tend to be dense and a little too dry for my taste, but not these!  They are light and moist and sooooo gooood!  They are a freezer cooking recipe and she provides instructions for freezing and thawing your muffins.  However I know for a fact, since I have already consumed 2 tonight, that these muffins will not last long enough to see a freezer. I hope you try both of these recipes and let me know how they turned out.

President in a Bag – George Washington

After reading about our first president, B chose 5 things to represent his life.

I receive The Idea Book for Educators, a free publication from A&E, History Channel, H2 and Biography.  Inside you’ll find study guides to assist us teachers with educating children through shows featured on the four sponsoring channels.  The guides include vocabulary, discussion questions, extended activities and additional resources.  My favorite section is “Creative Ideas From Our Teachers”.  Teachers write in and share ideas they’ve developed and used in their classrooms to get their students engaged in learning and have fun.  It is amazing to read their ideas!  The teachers whose ideas are published in the magazine each receive a $1,000 grant.

One of the winners in the Fall 2013 edition was Bethany Dabel of Grandview High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and her idea was President in a Bag: Exploring the Executive Office.  Each student was to explore the life of a former president and collect 5 objects in a bag to represented their president.  The students then made a presentation to the class, explaining the objects they chose.  Brilliant!  I love hands-on learning as well as tapping B’s creativity.

We are studying American History for the first time this year, including presidents of The United States.  When I read Ms. Dabel’s idea, I knew if would be a great addition to our lessons.  We’re starting at the beginning, and the picture, above, shows 5 of the 6 items B chose to represent George Washington.  He really insisted on adding a 6th one.  Last night, he presented his objects to the hubs and me and this is what and why he chose:

  1. B’s tricorne, the three-point hat he received during our trip the Williamsburg, Virginia earlier this year.  This hat reminds B of Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s oil painting Washington Crossing The Delaware.
  2. B’s toy flint-lock pistol he also received during our Williamsburg trip.  The pistol reminds B that General George Washington was the leader, the top dog, the big cheese of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
  3. A tape measure reminds B how unusually tall George Washington was for his time – 6′ 2″.
  4. The one dollar bill – not only does it have George Washington’s picture on it but he was also the first president.
  5. Our front door (not shown in picture) represents the fact that George Washington was always welcoming people into his house as long as they dressed nicely.  He even went outside to find people to come in and converse.
  6. A tea bag because all hosts offer their guests refreshments, even if they are a stranger you met on the street, and George Washington had to be a proper host.
I’m so thankful to Ms. Dabel and The Idea Book for Educators for sharing her idea!

Science Class – Weather Experiments

Great hands-on Science experiments – a homemade barometer and a thermometer and the pushing air trick.

We have been learning about weather in Science class for the last month, and this week we did some experiments.  We learned that air pushes up, not just down and side-to-side, with an experiment that made B feel like a magician.  We made our own barometer to see how the air pressure changes with the weather and demonstrated how a traditional thermometer works.  These experiments can be found on pages 58, 59  and 65 of  “The Usborne Book of Science Activities, Volume Three”.

1.  The Pushing Air Trick
We learned that even though we don’t feel the air around us all the time, it’s there and pushes on everything. We feel it push against us when it moves as wind, but this experiment showed us that it pushes in all directions, even up.

B filled a plastic cup all the way up to the brim with water, then covered it with a plastic-coated postcard and pushed the card down.  He kept one hand flat on top of the postcard and held the bottom of the cup with the other hand.  Then, over the sink, he turned the cup upside down and removed the hand holding the postcard.  He laughed with glee when the postcard stayed under the cup, exclaiming. “I’m doing a magic trick!”  The air under the postcard was pushing up enough to keep it in place.

2. Homemade Barometer

To measure how much and when air pushes more than other times, we made our own barometer with an empty mason jar, balloon, straw, rubber band, tape and cardboard (cut from a cereal box in the recycle bin).
I cut the “neck” off the balloon, stretched it over the mouth of the mason jar and B secured it with a rubber band.  I cut one tip of the straw at an angle to form a point and B taped the other end of the straw to the middle of the balloon.  Then B taped a piece of cardboard to the jar.  Using a pencil, B made a mark on the cardboard where the straw pointed and checked it several times this week for movement.
We’ve had a lot of rain and thunderstorms come and go and the straw has mostly been pointing down. Yesterday morning, B woke me up, pouncing on the bed in excitement, “Mama!  Our barometer is finally pointing up!  We’re out of low pressure and into high pressure, finally!” It was a clear, sunny morning.  When the air pressure outside the jar became high, it pushed down on the balloon, causing the pointed tip of the straw to rise.  When the air pressure outside the jar was low, the air in the jar pushed up and the pointed end of the straw lowered.
3. Homemade Thermometer
B had been asking exactly how a mercury thermometer works.  His Nana has one at her house but we only have a digital ear thermometer.  So this experiment came at the right time.
B took a bottle out of the recycle bin, pulled the label off and filled it with water.  I added some blue food coloring to the water.  With modeling clay, I sealed the top of the bottle with a straw sticking out of it.  B put the bottle in a glass bowl and I poured simmering water into the bowl (see photo, left).
As the blue water inside the bottle heated up from the simmering water outside of it, the blue water expanded and rose up the straw (see picture, below).  As the water cooled, it contracted and the straw emptied back to the way it was at the beginning of the experiment.
As the air around a thermometer warms up, the liquid in it rises.  As the air around a thermometer cools, the liquid inside lowers.
Water inside our thermometer rising from the heated water outside of it.
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