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Star Wars Birthday

Papa-Bug and I used to plan Poetry Slams and art events. We did a lot of theatre. We like costumes and props. All that creative passion finds its way to our kids' events now – birthdays, Halloween costumes, and similar. This year, enamoured with all things StarWars, the birthday party ideas were easy for Brother-Bug. And thanks to the thrift store and plenty of experience from the past event creation, also easy for me.

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The cake is just a frosted sheet cake, piped decorations, and an awesome Millenium Falcon I found while thrifting. Score! His face when we revealed the cake (it is a surprise every year) was perfect. I wish I had a picture of that, but I was holding the cake and Papa-Bug was holding the baby. Oh well. I'll just remember.

What this party brought out for you, my loyal readers' enjoyment was a couple of ridiculously simple tutorials. First, Princess Leia. Of course, dress up was key for Brother-Bug, and it follows that Sister-But wouldn't be anyone but Princess Leia. Halloween is coming up, and some of you might need to make your own preschool Leia, so here you go.

Pillowcase Princess Leia

Get a white pillow case a the thrift store. I ended up spending fifty cents on ours. Mark a neck hole on the center fold (bottom) of the sack and armholes along the sides.

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Cut the neck and armholes out. Cut small. It's far easier to make an armhole bigger… The pillow case we are using here is a standard size. A taller kid could use a king size. The standard made about a 3T sized costume.

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One one side cut a slit about 4-5 inches down, to make the neck hole big enough for Leia's head to get through.

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Try it on your aspiring Princess and adjust the neck and armholes. Twirl a few times. She's laughing because she's wearing a pillowcase. It was so funny to her.

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Run gathers on both shoulders. Cut a strip of white fabric or ribbon to use as a belt. I tacked the belt to one side so it would stay on and in place.

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From here you can finish it off as much as you want to. Bias tape on the raw edges, facings, Velcro on the neck opening… I just left it all raw and unfinished. It was a chilly day, so we layered it over a white turtle neck (leftover from her Dorothy costume from last Halloween). It was perfect.

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Princess Leia and Han Solo. Bless you, thrift stores.

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Our Death Star piñata was a ball that I covered with tissue paper, white glue, and then an layer of glittery wrapping paper, the details were just sharpie.The light saber is a dowel with the red side of the same glittery wrapping paper and a duct tape handle.

There was a last minute project. I had made, per Birthday Boy Request, a lemon cake. There was a layer of home made lemon curd in the middle. Which meant I had a bunch of egg whites to use up. What to do with 5 egg whites, little time, and a Star Wars party….

One more easy tutorial!

Light Saber Meringues

Use a basic meringue recipe. We dyed our light sabers red and green, flavored almond and peppermint respectively. Color and flavor are up to you.

With a wide piping end, pipe 3-4 inch tubes on to parchment. Get them as straight and smooth as possible – these are elegant weapons for a more civilized age, right?

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Sprinkle most of each light saber with matching colored sugar. Bake as your recipe recommends.

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Melt some chocolate, and dip the un-sugared ends to represent handles. Brother-Bug and I both wished for a red candy dot of some kind to accent the handle. Maybe another time…with more planning.

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Voila! Easy light sabers. And ever so tasty, too.

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All in all, it was a fun, fabulous, successful birthday. I think my guy feels fully seven and we all had a great time at the party.

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In Character

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They're everywhere. Dora, Thomas, Lightning McQueen, Tinkerbell… There is a ridiculous glut of “licensed characters”, a tsunami wave of appealing individuals that tempt our kids with this back pack and that sticker sheet.

As a parent, you can't avoid them.

A friend recently expressed surprise that one of my kids has shoes that feature a Disney character. I shrugged. What's a mom to do?

Brother-Bug knew so few of these characters, in his pristine first-child environment. Sister-Bug could identify the Pixar pantheon before she turned two. And don't think that characters are limited to Disney and conglomerates. Books and PBS get into the racket too – with Very Hungry Caterpillar toys and Fancy Nancy dress-up ensembles and Max & Ruby t-shirts. But there are some things we do to control the amount of characters that invade our world.

Limit the Cast

We choose who we invite to grace their lunch boxes or t-shirts. There are only so many hours in the day, and so much space in our brains so we don't go in for every single character. We are picky.

At the heart of the choice is what I am willing to deal with. We choose characters who don't make Papa-Bug and me insane – after all, we have to live with these individuals too. I loathe and despise Elmo's infantile yammering. We don't do Elmo. We think the overall message of “Cars” is great, and the Tinkerbell movies are watchable, so we give those players more traction in our home.

We research into the messages behind the characters and their stories, looking for themes of peace and respect, love and community, because these things matter to us. We try to bring in characters whose stories mesh well with our family story. “Cars” is a good example – Lightning discovers that it is the love and support of your community that really makes life awesome. I've seen that movie. A lot.

Expand The Story

We try to bring the liscensed characters out of their written story and into our own. When kids get into a story, sometimes it is hard to play any other story, any other way. So we make up new characters to use in our own bedtime tale, and sometimes work Tinkerbell or Luke Skywalker into that tale.

We introduced the Little-Bugs to the idea of “mash-ups” so that Sister-Bug could play a Princess game as Cimorene (from the book Dealing with Dragons) while Brother-Bug was Han Solo. This has led to some wonderful play I have overheard:

“Okay Cimorene! Jump into the Starship Enterprise. I'm Luke Skywalker and we are flying to see Yoda and Tinkerbell at the hot springs!”

Our effort is to support imaginative play and not get too hung up on who those players are or from what corporation they came. So far it seems to be working.

Supporting Certain Characters

When they find someone they really love, like Lightning McQueen, we support that new friend and bring him into our world. A ball cap, a pair of shoes, a sleeping bag. When we buy character items I try to buy things I would buy anyway – like shoes or a t-shirt – instead of more extraneous items that we don't need.

The thrift store is a great place to get character stuff, because kids go through their favorite characters as fast as they go through shoe sizes…so there is usually lots to choose from. And I am happy knowing that I put my money toward a thrift store I like instead of directly into the Disney Machine.

Forbidden Fruit vs. Just Say No

For good or ill, characters exist. I can't keep my kids blindfolded in public, nor would I want to. I have my favorite charters too – Mr. Darcy doesn't have his own line of merchandise, but I'd probably get a t-shirt if I could find one.

I'm not going to forbid liscensed characters because that only increases their allure. I am going to be clear about my limits on these characters and why. I'm comfortable telling the kids “No, I won't read that Dora book. Dora makes me crazy. Let's read something else that we both like.” I don't tell them they can't check out Dora books from the library – but I do tell them I won't read them. I don't limit what they can buy with their own money – but I won't spend my money on Dora or Sponge Bob.

As Brother-Bug has gotten older I have explained more in-depth, and found that he retains the general ideas of annoying characters and making choices for quality. He understands that there is a limited amount of time and energy we have for reading and playing and that I want to spend that time with books and movies and toys that are actually enjoyable to me, that feed me in someway.

Balance – As Always

Like anything, it is an act of balance that we keep refining as we grow and change. Ultimately, I'm trying to teach the Little-Bugs how to navigate advertising, how to find their own real interests, and how to keep each brain for their own personal use instead of a tabla rasa for the advertisers to write on. I may be adding to the list they someday share with a therapist… But my hope is that they remember fun times and toys, fondly recalling Fancy Nancy or Bob the Builder and that they learn to look for quality in their media and merchandise decisions as they grow older. Here's to hoping!

And of course, I am interested… How do you deal with liscensed characters in your household?

 

The Fort Kit

I love concocting gifts out of recycled, up-cycled, and thrift items. It feels so clever to get s five-star gift out of ingenuity. One of our most successful gifts this Christmas was the Fort Kit we made for Brother-Bug.

Fort components. Of course we got the most flamboyant sheets we could.

We got a couple of sheets at the thrift store. Brother-Bug was even there when I bought them and helped pick them out…I told him we were buying table cloths. Papa-Bug hit the hardware store for assorted clamps and rope. We got a couple of flashlights. I pulled some clothesline out of winter storage.

I sewed a large bag (a pillowcase would also work) with a drawstring. We put everything in the bag and I painted “Brother-Bug's Fort Kit” on the bag.

I'm actually not sure who loves the kit more – Brother-Bug or Papa-Bug. We have had such fun stringing up forts in every room in the house (except the bathroom). When the Christmas Crazies were taking over the Little-Bugs' brains on Christmas Day, we made a fort for watching a movie and the cuddled up inside with a Frosty the Snowman.

The movie fort, over the couch, around the laptop, kids are quiet inside!

 

In The Stock Pot

In the autumn we make broth. And I don’t mean we enjoy some brothy chicken soup. Nope. We have been saving bones for the past year and we make a lot of canned broth to compliment our soups in the coming year. We eat about one soup each week, so that means I need around 50 quarts of broth. That is 12 1/2 gallons of broth. And we are up to the challenge.

One of my favorite aspects of making broth is that it is almost free, made out of scrap and what would otherwise be trash or compost. This gives me an especially warm and thrifty feeling when I see the cans and boxes of broth in the store for dollars. I have to pay for jars…but less and less every year as I acquire more and more jars. I have to pay for the heat to can them and the water to make the broth, but these are negligible expenses. When we buy meat by the side, we often get soup bones or “dog bones not intended for consumption”. Those cost a little.

These instructions are based on filling a 5 gallons stock pot. You can make adjustments for your own family if 5 gallons seems like a lot. From a 5 gallons pot, you will end up with between 2-3 1/2 gallons of actual broth.

The boiling of the beef broth…thank goodness for 5 gallon brew pots.

Meat (Bone!) Broth:
Simple. Save all your bones. Beef in one bag, chicken in another, pork in a third (I usually add lamb or goat bones to the beef). Label your bags! If I have the slow cooker out I will cook my bones with a quart or two of water over night to pull out the really deep nutrition and make an almost jelly-like bone broth. Then I throw this broth and bones in a labeled bag for the next broth day. If the slow cooker is not easily available or I am in a rush, I just toss the bones in the current bag. I use about 3-4 bags of bones per 5 gallons stock pot.

Vegetable (Compost!) Broth:
This is so thrifty it almost hurts. Save your old veggie ends. Nothing moldy, manky, or rotten of course, but anything old (wilty carrots and celery, just past gone potatoes, etc…). Store them in a labeled gallon ziplock bag in the freezer. When you are cooking, throw your vegetable ends in the bag (mushroom stems, celery tops and bottoms, onion and garlic ends and peels, kale stems, whatever…). When you steam or boil veggies, cool the water and add that to the bag. To fill the 5 gallon stock pot, I use 3 bags of frozen veggie ends.

Broth Day!!
Make one batch in a day. It’s a low, slow process for most of the day. At the end of the day your house will smell warmly of your broth of choice, which I find very comforting.

Put the contents of your broth bags into the stock pot. Add water to about 3 inches from the top. For veggie broth, do a quick check of the fridge for anything that could go in the broth instead of being wasted. For meat broth, add 4-6 firm potatoes (I prefer smallish red ones and I will explain why) to increase the potassium content. Bring the stock to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Leave it simmering for 2 or more hours. It really can’t cook for too long; in the case of bone broth, the longer it cooks the more nutrients you get out of the bones.

I don’t add any herbs or salt. I can always add those at a future time. What I want is plain broth that I can fix up later, depending on what I am cooking.

Once it’s cooked, I pressure can my broth in quarts. My freezer is usually packed, and I don’t want to wait for broth to defrost anyway. I want to pour it into the soup pot and get it going right away. I use the reliable instructions from Ball Canning. You must use a pressure canner when canning meat or vegetable products. If you don’t have a pressure canner, freeze your broth in freezer bags.

With bone broth, I cool the bones and pick them over for meat scraps. I always fill at least a quart freezer bag with “pulled meat” for later. I also pull out the potatoes that have been cooked full of brothy-goodness for frying up with dinner or breakfast…or just eating right there as I pick the bones over. This is an entirely optional procedure, but I hate to waste any part of our meat. Sister-Bug’s favorite part is sorting the bones and she’s getting pretty good at it for a 2-year old.

This all takes time, but it’s mostly down time while I wait for the broth to cook down or the canner to vibrate at pressure, and having ready-to-pour broth of all kinds at hand is more than worth taking a couple of days to make our broth.

And it tastes SO much better than the broth from the store.