Saturday, January 30, 2016

How to Have a Spy Party

When my baby turned six he wanted to have a SPY birthday. With only a week to plan, I jumped on Pinterest and looked for ideas. Using several I found there and a little of my own creativity, I managed to pull off a pretty great secret agent event!


Normally, I just text or Facebook the other moms but this time I found a really cute way to do the invites with minimal effort, so I went for it. This blogger over at birthday blueprint had a cute idea. I tweaked her idea and came up with this. I used free fonts called Top Secret and Special Elite that I picked up from here.  It's just a regular piece of scrapbooking paper (a little on the thick side, so it's probably card stock, but not too heavy) that I ran through my printer. Then I freehand cut the edges to look like a file folder. The final result is small enough to now fit in a 5"x7" manila envelope. I wrote the kid's names on the tabs at the top, last name followed by first initial. 

Inside, I copied pretty much directly from the birthday blueprint idea. I changed the seal a little bit. We wanted our spy school to be named Advanced Spy Academy, so I tweaked that, too, using the seal she provided as a start.

Because the party guests were mostly 4, 5, and 6 year olds, I didn't use the cypher. I used a simple picture code instead. I didn't want it to be too hard for the little guys. If your guests are older, there are lots of cyphers and codes which you could create or find on Pinterest pretty quickly.

Getting people to RSVP to an event is a task, so I added my own twist. Parents would need to text me the secret code to reveal the mystery location of the A.S.A.  Once they did, I replied with this:
Congratulations, recruit. You have used your spy skills and decoded the message. The secret A.S.A. training facility is located in (town), in the building known as (our church name). Remember to keep this location top secret and be sure you're not followed. 
The kids seemed to enjoy the extra bit of cloak and dagger. I think the picture clues were just about right for this age group.

As an extra bit of fun, the kids dressed in their "agent gear" and took an invite to the neighbors.


Upon arrival, I had my husband and oldest son stand guard at the door. They asked each kid for the password before admitting them.

Once inside, I met the kids at the Code Name Generation Station. Here they choose two slips of paper, one with a color and one with an animal. Together, they formed the code name. I glued the strips onto name tags and told the kids to use them, instead of their real names, for the party. It was fun to call out things like "Pink Platypus" and "Gold Unicorn" all afternoon. I just used regular paper for the name tags and stuck them to the kids' shirts with masking tape.

Recruits were given a stick on mustache by my eight year old son. He was very enthusiastic about helping the kids put on their "disguises." Several opted for eyebrows over mustaches. I picked up several packs of these at our local Dollar General. They were $1. I got two sizes, larger ones for wearing and smaller ones for a game that I'll tell you about if you keep reading.  The big ones were one to a package and the smaller ones came in sets of three.

The kids liked putting these on but they really didn't like wearing them for very long. Most lasted only a few minutes and several kids had red, irritated skin when they took them off. They were perfect for the game, though.

Once they were properly disguised, my daughter got a foil footprint from each guest. We found that this worked much better on the carpet than on tile. Later, we numbered and hung the prints. We used them for a game that I'll explain in a bit.

Once everyone was foot printed, we brought them all into the larger room and gave the "new recruits" a welcome. I warned them about Doctor Baron Von Evilstein and his minions, then put them to the test to see if they had what it takes to become spies.


PASS THE TNT: This was basically hot potato with "dynamite." My daughter made this for us out of three paper towel rolls, some red construction paper, rubber bands, black electrical tape and a minute timer. We covered the display so the kids wouldn't know how much time was left when passing it. If it went off while they were holding it, they were out. This was a hit. We played several rounds without anyone getting out, then one round where we eliminated kids when it went off in their hands. I randomly changed the amour of time on the timer, but with little kids, it probably didn't matter. I would suggest 10-45 seconds each round, depending on how many kids you have. We had 13 kids playing. This game probably lasted about 10-12 minutes.

Next, we split into three groups for stations. I did this because I couldn't set up enough for all the kids to be busy at once. In smaller groups, there was less waiting, which led to less problems for me! Keeping the kids busy is a must for a party like this one.

SHOE PRINT ID: Using the prints we took when they came in, the kids had to try to figure out which print was from which party guest. I gave them magnifying glasses to make this more exciting. Those were also picked up at DG for $1 each. At first we just had the kids try to guess whose shoes they were. It didn't really work. But the station leaders quickly adapted it, having all the kids take off their shoes and bring them to that area. The kids then got to look at the shoes and compare them to the prints on the wall. This made it much more manageable and I think, fun for the kids.  I wasn't sure how this was going to go but the kids really got into it. I think the magnifying glasses really helped to play up the spy part. My 10 year old manned this station along with an adult friend who stayed to help. I didn't get a good picture of the wall but I think you can get the general idea from this one.                                                                                                                     

LASER BEAM AVOIDANCE: This was by far the most popular activity of the day. My husband set up the course using some red yarn, a chair, a support beam and an air hockey table. The kids had to get through it Mission Impossible style. It was super easy to set up and great to watch! Every single kid absolutely LOVED this one.

TARGET PRACTICE: We traced around bowls, plates and other round things to create two targets. We cut the circles out with a box knife. The circles were labeled with points based on their size. Smaller holes were worth more than the larger ones. We kept score but didn't give prizes. The kids were fine with that. We placed a futon about six feet from the table and had the kids shoot from the far side of it. That helped to keep them a reasonable distance away.

My 12 year old manned this station. It was hard for him to keep up with both guns because he had to reload them quickly. They also jammed several times. If I had to do it again, I would have had 4 guns loaded and ready to go, so that each kid in the group had his own and we only had to reload between groups. Despite the technical difficulty, the kids seemed to enjoy it.

MEMORY BOOSTING: I had one of my kids put on some random bits of costumes (He picked them out himself.) and come into the room with the recruits. He then left and took off one item. When he returned, the kids had to remember what was taken off. We repeated this a couple of times. The recruits got a kick out the costume and it was surprisingly hard to remember what was missing when he removed the Viking hat.

When that was over, I took out a tray full of items I had put together that might be used by spies. I covered the tray with a towel (Okay, it was actually a Superman cape, but I don't know if you have one of those, so you can use a towel if you need to!), then gave the kids a few seconds to memorize the tray. We actually named all the items together because I wasn't sure they would know what a flash drive is. Then I removed the tray from their sight, and took off a couple items. The kids had to tell me what was missing. Because the kids were too young to write, we just did this orally as a group. With older kids, you could have them write down as many of the items as they could remember.  *And yes, those are 3D glasses form the theater. I kept them just for this after we saw the new Star Wars movie last weekend.

PIN THE MUSTACHE ON THE SPY: Saving the best for almost last, we did a Pin the Mustache on the Spy game. To make this life size, I had my son lie down on huge piece of cardboard and traced his body. I printed off a black and white picture of his face and glued it to the paper. Using the sticky mustaches from DG, we played a modified pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game. This was a big hit with the kids.

BOMB DIFFUSION: About the time we finished up with this and I was *going to* let the kids eat cake and ice cream, my cell phone rang. It was Major Monobrow, telling me that Doctor Baron Von Evilstein had somehow infiltrated the facility and needed our help. I put the phone on speaker so the kids could hear. (It was my husband, reading the script I had written out.) Lucky for us, DBVE had left a clue to where the bomb was hidden. The kids deciphered the clue, which led to a bomb shaped piñata. They had to "diffuse" the bomb and keep the candy safe. 

We didn't have a good plan for the piñata, so my husband decided that he and my oldest son could just hold it on a pole between them. This resulted in both of them ducking wildly several times while the moms all tried not to pee ourselves while laughing hysterically. I HIGHLY recommend you figure out a way to hang the piñata from something or at least have really good health insurance for your husband. I really wish I would have gotten some of this on video for you but my phone ran out of battery just before we started this. I'm sure we could have won America's Funniest Home Videos with that one!

After the piñata, we had cupcakes and ice cream. I used the A.S.A. seal from the invitations and some clip art I found in a Google search to make cupcake toppers. I mounted them on black scrapbooking paper and hot glued them to toothpicks. Easy peasy and cheap! My son then opened his gifts. When that was done, the kids got to play on the laser beam course until their parents picked them up.

Overall, I would say this was a very successful party. Most things were inexpensive and easy to make while remaining really, really fun. Every kid got to take home a bag of candy from the piñata and a magnifying glass as a souvenir. We scheduled the party for two and a half hours and it was probably 20 minutes too long. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Why I Don't Drink

What do a bunch of moms do when they get together? They talk about their kids and husbands while eating chocolate and drinking wine. Or sometimes painting while drinking wine and eating chocolate. Outside of Amish circles, it's pretty much the thing. Need proof? Check out numbers 10 and 11 on this Buzzfeed list. Or simply do a Google image search on moms and wine. You'll find a gazillion memes. Here are a few of my favorites.

Wine in a red solo cup . . . because trick-or-treating should be fun for moms, too.
I only drink wine on special occasions, like the days I have to do the laundry.
Being a mom makes me feel confident and sexy. No wait. That's wine. Wine does that.
The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink.

Those all make me laugh but not from personal experience. Brace yourselves for the unbelievable. You ready for this? I don't drink, like not at all. I can count on three fingers the times I've had alcohol in my body.

1. A sip of my dad's beer when I was around six years old. The verdict? Beer is gross. Haven't had one since.
2. A sip of my mom's wine at a wedding a couple years later. Same verdict. Same result.
3. A couple of sips of some fruity drinks from the bar while in St Lucia for my wedding. They were nasty and the very last alcohol I ever tasted. That was over a decade and a half ago.

I try not to make my teetotaling a big deal if I'm hanging with a drinking crowd. But somehow, even if you're almost 40, it's still a shock to many if you don't drink. You get these kinds of responses.

Like, not at all?
Not even wine?
Never? Ever? 
Are you in AA?

A few weeks ago I was hanging with a group of moms, most with wine glasses in hand, and it came up. I didn't get the AA question, but I got the rest. I think a couple of them couldn't believe it. One girl even introduced me to her life-long bestie with, I have a friend who doesn't drink at all! Can you believe it?  It was hilarious. Another mom friend, who I've known for over 20 years, described me to the group as her most pious friend. I'm pretty sure she meant it as a compliment, in the sense of committed to her God and her religion. A genuinely good person, rather than the more commonly thought of holier than thou Bible thumping bitch. Like I said before, I'm pretty sure that's what she meant.

With all the questions, I felt like they wanted an answer; a reason that I don't drink. And even after 39 plus years, I still felt compelled to have a good one. And so I told them some of my reasons.

1. I grew up Assemblies of God in the 80s and 90s. Alcohol consumption went right along with smoking, gambling, R-rated movies, and social dancing on the list of activities that would take you straight to the Gates of Hell. So, pious as I was, when most others were testing boundaries and discovering hangovers, I didn't drink in high school. It was part of my identity and a part of my faith walk. I took pretty seriously the message of 1 Timothy 4:12 that says Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young but set the example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. I was all about setting that example. Honestly, that still plays in for me.

2. I went to an AG college. To go there, I had to sign a Lifestyle Covenant that said I wouldn't partake in any of the afore mentioned Highway to Hell activities along with a few more. Drinking wasn't acceptable in my circle, even in college, and so I didn't do it then, either. By the time I graduated at age 21, I had already begun learning to live life as an adult without alcohol. It seemed like kind of a lame thing to start now that I was actually of legal age to do so.

3. I'm cheap. Alcohol costs money. I've never been willing to dish out that much for a drink. There have always been more important things to spend my money on. Like Twix and Skittles and Chap Stick.

That's what I told the moms. All of that is totally true but it's not the whole story.  I didn't list all of my reasons because no one wants to hear me talk that long and also because some of them can come off really judgmental or in that not-so-flattering "pious" way. Let me just clarify this for you: I'm not judging you or anyone else for drinking when I don't. We've all got our own stories and reasons and convictions. I really don't think less of anyone for a glass of wine (or a beer or a margarita or whatever. That is pretty much the entire list of alcoholic beverages I can name right there, so whatever.)

Second, although drunkenness makes me more than a little uncomfortable (more on that in point 4), I don't care if you have a drink or two when I'm around.

That said, here's my other reasons.

4. Drinking can make you do stupid and/or mean stuff. I don't think drunk people are funny or cute. I think they're scary and sad. A lot of that probably comes from a time when I was around 15 where someone very close to me ended up being taken to the hospital after running from the police while he was wasted. He's the only one who doesn't remember the night he got that scar on his arm. The rest of us will never forget.

How many times has alcohol been a factor in violent crime? In broken marriages? I've seen the fear in a wife's eyes when her husband comes home wasted and I've had happy drunks hit on me in front of their wives. I've seen people leave the bar together and not remember why the next day. Divorce. Regret. Abuse. Ruined careers. Not risks I'm willing to take with my life or my family. And I don't want to witness others in similar situations either.

5. I have an addictive personality. When I drink one Pepsi, I drink two. If more is around, I'll drink it all before I even realize it. Soda is bad enough. I don't want to risk that same behavior with something that alters my mind in much different ways than caffeine and sugar.

6. I don't want my kids to have problems with alcohol use. It may seem a bit cliche, but if you never take that first drink, you never become an alcoholic. As they grow, my kids will make their own choices and some of them may include drinking. I get that. But at least I can rest easy in the knowledge that they have seen in me an example of someone who doesn't need a drink to have fun or unwind. And that goes for the public school students I have taught and the kids I've taken to church camp, too. When the world tells them that everyone does it, they can know at least one person who doesn't.

My goal in this post isn't to win you over to my side, to make you feel bad, or to give you reasons why you shouldn't drink. It's simply to give you my perspective. To show you why I choose what I choose and to maybe help you understand me and those choices a little better. We don't have to choose all of the same things to be friends. We just have to choose to love each other, wine or no wine.