Thursday, March 25, 2010

How To Throw A Kid's Birthday Party for Less Than $5

I close my mouth and yell into the phone, “You want how much? For a bounce house? For two hours?”

As an ex-boyfriend of mine used to say at a restaurant, looking at the bill: “I just wanted to eat, I didn't want to buy the place!”

At our house, along with spring comes birthday parties. One at the end of March and the other just a week and a half later. It was bad planning on my part - I should have told their dad I had a headache. I mean, my son was only a year and 9 months old! What was I thinking? Saying "I'm not in the mood" for another 3 or 4 months then would have saved me a lot of frustration now.

So, now that the kids and I live on one income (that doesn't quite pay the bills), birthday parties have become a big issue. Throwing two parties in three weeks makes it that much harder. But, where there is a will, there is a way. The kids have the will, so I have to find a way. Cheaply.

Trick #1: Think of free games
Cost: Whatever paper, a bit of computer ink, and creativity are going for nowadays

“We are going to play games at your parties!” I tell them with as much excitement as I can muster.
My son looks up. “Oh, cool.”
Normally “oh cool” would be a nice reaction, but I know my child too well – he misunderstood me.
“Not video games. Regular games.”
Blank faces.
“Like pin the tail on the donkey!”
“Pin the what on the what?” they say, more or less in unison.
“Pin the tail on the donkey.”
“Hey, Zoe. Did you know another word for donkey is -”
“Okay!” I shout. “No time for vocabulary lessons. We need to plan.”

Trick #2: Activities
Cost: By using items you already have, activities can be free.

I hope all the little girls want to have their faces painted like Spiderman. Red is the only color lipstick I have left. I think I have an old black eyeliner around here somewhere too.

We made a pinata using an unused balloon found in the corner of my son's room, a newspaper stolen from a neighbor's recycling bin and old, green house paint. We call the creation: A Springtime Egg Pinata. I thought that was clever. As long as it's filled with leftover goodies from the other birthday parties we've attended, the kids won't care how it looks.

Trick #3: Decorations & Food
Cost: Time, some gas, and a few “thank you”s

We'll be visiting every Publix Supermarket from here to Orlando the day before the party. Did you know they give out balloons AND cookies to the kids? I'm figuring one cookie per kid, so we really only need to hit the closest 10 stores. That's not bad.

I found out last year that, for the life of me, I cannot decorate a cake. What started out as a ambitious design of Dora's head turned into a lopsided, black-and-pink-smeared pile of yuck. Not even the kids ate it. So, this year I'm making the kids do the hard part – they'll each get a cupcake to decorate however they see fit. I provide the frosting and sprinkles, they provide the artistic talent.

Trick #4: Goodie bags
Cost: If you do it my way, it's free!

Just don't do it. They got the random crap from the pinata, what else do they want?! Those goodie bags can be expensive! Cute little plastic bags and matching useless toys that will be their parent's worst nightmare 10 minutes after they get home are not necessities. Plus, all that plastic is terrible for the environment. So, in effect, by not giving them anything, I am really saving their lives.

Trick #5: Happy kids
Cost: Priceless

They are kids – put them together, give them something to do, and they are happy. Their parties are about them, not the stuff we surround them with. They will have a wonderful day and remember it for approximately one week – the same amount of time they would recall the expensive bounce house, visit to Chuck E. Cheese, or the guy dressed up like a Power Ranger making balloon animals. By the way, you can buy a “make your own balloon animal kit” at the Dollar Store for, you guessed it, a dollar. It even comes with directions. So what if all the kids get swords – you've just created another game!

The kids are happy and Mom is happy. Primarily because she didn't go into debt over a five-year-old's birthday party. She can breathe a sigh of relief knowing the debt won't come for 15 more years. My next article will be “How To Throw A Wedding For Less Than $500”.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


There are pharmaceuticals for every disease, addiction, disorder, and syndrome in existence. We are drowning in pills, caplets and extend-tabs for every possible problem. Except for the REALLY important ones.


Why have they not come up with a decent weight loss drug yet? One that doesn't make you *cough* all over yourself. No, not cough all over yourself - *cough* all over yourself (as in *cough* shit *cough*). I can buy something that will make my boobs bigger, but can't find anything to make my butt smaller. Who's in charge around here? Oh right - a man.

What about an anti-procrastination pill? Cocaine doesn't count, I'm talking over-the-counter here. Plus, how much could you really get done with your nose running faster than your feet?

For that matter, sleep in pill-form would help me out a lot. It would have to be better than the No Doz caffeine pills you can buy. Firstly, that's what coffee is for. And secondly, three hours after I take the pill, I crash faster than my computer. No, the new drug needs to knock me out so I sleep like a baby, and then be able to wake me up like a baby does (about an hour and a half later). Without the need of a diaper change, of course – that would be an unpleasant side-effect.

A cure for stupidity would have to come in an aerosol form. You know, like the ones you can shoot up your nose if it's stuffy. That way you could walk down the hall at work and spray in all directions. Can they make an aerosol strong enough to get from my window into the car next to me? We could combine that one with a dose of driving improvement.

What I really need is a listen to Mommy and do what she says tablet. In chewable form, or maybe gummy. It'd be the one drug I'd actually encourage my children to become addicted to. Especially if it's side-effects included inability to concentrate on video games and possible OCD-ish behavior with regard to cleanliness.

The bottom line is that before all of these life/sanity saving drugs can be developed, we need funding. Research and development, attorney fees, and kick-backs to the FDA all take money. So, while I start sketching out the grant proposal, you get to work on our product names. Use the comment box on this page to let me know what you come up with.

Come on, People. Let's do it for humanity.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I Can't Believe I'm Doing This

A brilliant writer requested I do this chain-letter-ish thing. Normally, I'd hit delete faster than I can drain a bottle of beer. But, seeing as I currently am on my second bottle, I seem to be doing it. Forgive me, Mom.

I'm supposed to answer each thing with a single word. One-word answers are hard for me in the best of times. Do hyphenated words count? Wish me luck. And if I respond with any embarrassing answers, I'm sorry, Mom.

Your cell phone: Appendage
Your hair: Messy
Your life: Messy
Your mother: Forgiving :)
Your father: Integrity
Your favorite food: Ice Cream (oops, 2 words)
Your dream last night: Forgettable
Your favorite drink: Pina Colada (oops again - 2 words!)
Your dream goal: Published
What room are you in: "Office"
Your hobby: Dreaming
Your fear: Giving up (2 words - couldn't help it)
Where do you see yourself in six years: Successful
Where were you last night: Home (boohoo)
Something you aren't: Speechless
Muffins: Chocolate chip (2 words - dang it)
Wish list item: Agent (really good agent - oops)
Where did you grow up: California
Last thing you did: Beer-run (kidding)
What are you wearing: Shoes
Your TV: Crap
Your pets: Heli
Friends: Generous
Your mood: Unpredictable
Missing someone: Always
Vehicle: Subaru
Something you aren't wearing: Taffeta
Your favorite store: Office Max (one place, two words)
Your favorite color: Red
When was last time your laughed: This morning (2 words, I give up)
Last time you cried: Sporatically
Your best friend: Liz
One place you go to over and over: Laundry room (one place, two words, multiple visits)
Facebook: Infrequently
Favorite place to eat: Sublime

We've just proven that I cannot follow directions, and, despite being on my third beer now, brevity is not a quality I possess. And I really was trying...really.

A Belated Valentine's Gift

Every-so-often a writer touches on something so wise, so true, that we all stand up and notice. One such writer is Winston Groom. He wrote the book Forrest Gump. His line of truth is often quoted, but seldom fully considered.

“My momma always said, 'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.'”

Truer words were never spoken... by a fictional character in a book later turned into a blockbuster movie starring Tom Hanks.

Of course, in my experience, you need to get that box for yourself 'cuz no one is going to give it to you. Not even on Valentine's Day. I've gotten flowers, cards, and, long ago, a slinky pair of underwear, but never chocolate. That says something, doesn't it?

So, in order to get a life/box of chocolates, I need to go to a store. A store filled with people who ignore me except for the occasional and totally insincere “sorry” if their cart is blocking my way down the aisle. Once I get to the candy section, my eyes flit from one red, cellophane-covered box to the next. There are too many choices. Lining the top shelves are huge, dual-level ones of fine Belgian goodness that I can't afford. My gaze drifts downwards to micro-mini boxes filled with cheap and probably stale chunks of brown that resemble something made from what comes out of the end of a cow rather than her utter. The latter is the only type I'm comfortable spending money on. I mean, it's just for me, and is therefore not really important.

I didn't mention the guilt that goes along with even standing in that aisle. Glancing both directions with my arms tightly crossed in front of my chest, I'm embarrassed. Sure, it's somewhat humiliating to have to buy your own Valentine's Day gift. But I can brush that off - I have my excuse all prepared. If someone looks at me funny, I'll just shrug and say, “I never know what to get him.” No one knows that the “him” I'm referring to is my cat who doesn't like chocolate. But I'll “help” him enjoy his gift by polishing off the box while he and I watch a romantic comedy. No, the embarrassing part is that I'm in the candy aisle. Period. It's a law from the female handbook. I'm paraphrasing here, but the gist is: Thou shalt not buy sweets without feeling mucho guilt.

So, after sneaking up to the cash register, avoiding any judgmental eyes, I ask for my forbidden fruit with no fruit (I take my chocolate straight, thank you very much) to be double-bagged for privacy's sake. Porn, chocolate – it's all the same. Back at my lair, after queuing up the film, I unwrap my heart-shaped prize and settle back onto the couch with my cat beside me. I like to think he's happy because it's the thought that counts.

While finer chocolates have the guide as to which chocolate has coconut-filling and which has nuts in it, the cheap ones do not. As in the rest of my life, I have to guess. I force myself to take a tiny bite when what I really want to do is shove them one-by-one without chewing into my mouth. But, in this and, sadly, in only this, I have learned patience.

This oval one is...raspberry. Eww. Like I said, fruit and chocolate - not good. I put the rest of that one back in its little spot.
This one with the swirl of white chocolate is...oh god, I don't even know what that is. Sugar-flavored? Yeah, I'll eat that one.

One by one I go through them, tasting and disliking. It doesn't take long because I couldn't rationalize buying the big, ridiculously-cheap one. But there is one shape I recognize – the square. Regardless of size of box or quality of chocolate, they always include that one, and it always has the same interior. You know which one I mean. I keep that one for last. Until then, I taste each one, decide I hate most of them, put them down, and then go back and finish them off anyway.

And finally, the square. The perfect closure to a life experience of humiliation, nervousness, and filling myself with almost-good-but-not-good-enough. The square - sweet caramel enveloped by milk chocolate. It may be hard and difficult to swallow, but I love it as I love my family – totally and completely.

So, is life like a box of chocolates? Let's consider. No one is going to give me a life. I have to get it on my own. Life is full of embarrassment and, occasionally, shame. I hide myself behind at least two layers of baggage. Patience has its rewards; even mistakes sometimes have their rewards. I push myself to try new things, but they never seem to satisfy me. And, most importantly, I keep the knowledge that, someday, I will have something that, though it may be hard and difficult to swallow, will be bring me the joy and fulfillment I long for.

Life...if only it came in a pretty, red, cellophane-covered box.