I do like a good party. I have even been known to go a wee bit overboard. Not like drop the down payment on a Winnebago overboard, but more like having fourteen four-year-olds crowded around my dining room table crafting with glue and scissors. Rest assured I drew the line at glitter. Never glitter. ::shudders::
For me, it all starts with a good theme I can sink my teeth into, but I am older and more exhausted now. Can you feel me? I now require my themes to be fabulous with a side of easy. So to that end, one of the easiest ones I have hit upon is a Flamingo Party. The best thing? It works for all ages and types of parties: birthday celebrations, baby showers, bridal showers, pool parties, and barbecues. One advantage to this theme is you can extend it cheaply and easily just by using color. Pink balloons, streamers, and netting can really extend the theme to fill your entire space.
My particular party was to celebrate a thirteenth birthday. For me it all begins with the cake . . . or in the case of the parties I orchestrate, cakessssssss.
Here’s the one I created for the family party:
Easy Flamingo Layer Cake
This cake is a great example of a wow factor that exceeds the effort. In other words, it’s easier than it looks. Always a bonus.
Next, frost it up with a base layer buttercream frosting.
Mix up a buttercream frosting and tint it with turquoise food coloring. You can find the food coloring I used here. Pssst, you can also use canned frosting. I won’t tell. Pillsbury even makes an aqua blue frosting that saves you all kinds of time.
If you need help with your frosting game, I recommend this tutorial. She mentions using a bench scraper to achieve a smooth frosting surface. I use this one.
The flamingo is made with fondant icing. I generally make my own marshmallow fondant because not only is it significantly cheaper than store bought, it is so much tastier, too. Your guests won’t be peeling it off into a discarded lump on the side of their plates.
I also find it more forgiving to work with. When you are rolling it and transferring it to the cake, I always have less frustration with breakage than I do with prepared fondant out of the package. This excellent video is EXACTLY how I make it.
She also has a video describing how to color it. Two caveats I have for that one, though. One, I almost always color mine by mixing my gel into the melted marshmallows as she describes in the beginning of her tutorial. It takes A LOT of kneading to mix color into a whole batch of refrigerated fondant. I’m talking kneading on the level of a P90X workout. And two, I always wear vinyl food prep gloves so that my hands don’t get stained.
One other tip: it’s not worth it to make black fondant. It takes forever and a ton of color to make it anything but a weird gray. I did it once, but never again. You can find it here. Keep in mind you can purchase a whole tub of white fondant, too, if you just want to skip making your own altogether.
I used leaf cookie cutters to make the feathers. I free-hand cut out the neck, used a small dish to make the circle for the head, and used the same dish to help gauge the size I needed for the beak. The eye was made from a dab of white buttercream and a speck of black fondant. Because the pieces are relatively small, it’s a much easier decorating process than trying to transfer an entire sheet of fondant to your cake. I have yet to be able to cover a layer cake with a sheet of fondant without curling up in the fetal position from the stress of it all. But just decorating with fondant pieces? That’s a hack I can completely manage.
Now remember I said cakessssssss? In my family, each birthday girl gets her own cake to dive into with abandon.
Fondant Flamingo Cake
This cake was also decorated with marshmallow fondant, but this one is all about the shape. I baked the body of the cake in a Pyrex oven-safe bowl. Once it was COMPLETELY cooled, I sculpted the body shape with a serrated knife making sure to carve out a complete shape that would work for the neck. The rest of the scraps went to the kids who were watching my every move.
The head is a cupcake. That little beaded necklace camouflages the joining of the head to the neck. Because this cake is personal-sized, I could basically pick the pieces up and wrap the fondant around them. In case you are new to working with fondant, you need to actually ice your cake with a buttercream first so that the fondant will adhere to it smoothly. I did not do that with the neck though. The fondant around that is very thick to achieve the rounded look I wanted. I figured there was enough cake-y goodness in the body and head to make it acceptable that the neck was just for decorative purposes.
And then there were the cupcakes . . .
Easy Flamingo Cupcakes
I’m going to be honest, by the time I got to the cupcakes I was TIRED. I ordered some pretty cupcake liners, some flamingo lollipops, let the kids ice the cupcakes anyway they wanted with the remaining blue frosting, and called it a day. See? Easy! You can’t accuse me of being a perfectionist.
But—and this is going to sound radical after the previous several hundred words—great parties need more than cake! Check out these fun ideas to rocket your party into the realm of success!
Flamingo Party Ideas
This post contains affiliate links? What does that mean? Amazon gives me a few cents when you buy something I suggest at no cost to you.
Many times in my nearly twenty years of parenting, I have felt the need to adjust my course and reroute us. This weekend was one of those times. Tempers were short starting at breakfast on Saturday morning. By mid-afternoon, we weren’t just crabby, we were ducking for cover. If only I could say what sent us careening off our happy family road, I might have been able to tame the tempest brewing in our midst. But alas, the usual culprits—misunderstanding, miscommunication, misfiring temperaments—were reeking havoc on our normally happy home life with no endpoint in sight. Sleep did not restore my people to their more human selves and Sunday dawned with no respite from the relentless bickering. With nowhere to retreat to, I issued a maternal decree: we were taking a family hike, all hands on deck, and now. Their response was swift and pointed, and it prompted this post: Nobody had the insight to see that they were the very worst versions of themselves. Nobody realized that they were making me long for the days of toddlers. Anyway, a little fresh air and exercise away from screens was just what the Momma ordered. Nature recalibrated my crew and set us back into our reasonably happy routine. This ability to take terrorists and turn them back into fully functioning and fun people is just one of the many reasons that I prefer to parent outside. But there are many more and I feel like I need to share this piece of parenting good news with anyone who will listen. Because this quick fix is cheap, easy, and packs a lot of family fun into its itty bitty price tag.
Other reasons why in no particular order . . .
1. I suck at crafts.
We are all living in a Pinterest world, and ain’t nobody need that kind of pressure. While Ellen can bust out container gardens, repurpose pool noodles like a HGTV host, and turn a picnic table into a coffee table, I am a Pinterest craft fail waiting to happen. Honestly, even simple t-shirts are outside my realm of competence. Just ask my oldest son about the “pink pumpkin” shirts I made for his soccer team to wear in a Halloween tournament. In any case, parenting outside is exactly the kind of hands-free parenting that makes Pinterest go ’round without subjecting me to sticky fingers. Also, I’m at least competent on a trail, not so much with a hot glue gun.
2. The open air wears my kids out.
Seriously, I’m raising puppies over here. Laps around the house are not uncommon. Trails, especially long, hilly ones, are my friends. If you too have offspring with boundless energy, heed this good advice.
3. They talk more outside.
If you have never been stuck on the other side of a sulky teen in a conversation, you might not feel me on this one, but it’s scientific fact. A good walk is the equivalent of popping the pickle jar open. The words which were few and far between in the living room flow free and easy in the great outdoors. There’s no explanation, but who really needs one. Results talk.
4. Nature’s buffer is most appreciated.
The herds whisper more than thunder in the open air. Trust me on this one.
5. I’m a sucker for a pretty view.
Aren’t we all? Well, all the good ones are outside.
6. It’s affordable travel at its finest.
We all have a heart for the wild blue yonder, but this cash-strapped mom with almost two college tuitions to fund needs her adventure to really have some bang come with every buck. Outdoor adventure brings the adrenaline rush without the credit card bill.
7. It’s my passion.
One of my friends said that the definition of joy was when your kids love something you love. Well, even though I have been throwing books at my kids since they were cuddled up in the womb, nobody is a bookworm yet. I love games too, but our competitive natures can turn family fun into bloodsport. And while we all do enjoy a good Netflix marathon, coming to consensus on what to watch can be tough. (Except for Sherlock. We all love Sherlock.) But the one thing we all like/love/tolerate well as a group is time together in the great outdoors. I’m taking this as one for the win column.
8. It’s solid gold for making the memories.
Because most of my life is like this up and down weekend, I sincerely hope in the overall balance of my parenting that my kids can point to mostly positive moments when they remember me and our family life together. The memories where we are stretching ourselves together in beautiful places with no real agendas are the ones that will knit tightly in the fabric of our family bond.
Because while I can’t make all their roads smooth, I can strive to let my kids know that they are not traveling alone. I want the things that stick to be the ones where we enjoyed each other’s company in a simple, uncomplicated way. But mostly, I just really want them to stick. I want, in the final sum of this beautiful family I am making, to find that this cache of memories is hardy and stands up to the harsh sands of time. I want these pieces of our life together to be the things that bolster them in hard times and walk with them on lazy afternoons. I want our special brand of family to burrow into their marrow and become the very fiber of their selves. And nothing, absolutely nothing, makes the kind of teflon memories I’m striving for like parenting outside.
If you think I’m just waxing poetic here, I also wrote about this here and here. I’m all in when it comes to the Great Outdoors.
Any great ideas for bonding with your crew outside? Drop those here.
Five years ago, we had THE TALK. Not THAT ONE, the other one—the one where you meet with the preschool teacher about whether to send the baby to kindergarten. Mothering a brood is supposed to make decisions like this one less fraught. Experience times 4 or 5 should make you wiser, right? Was I really supposed to still be wringing sweat from my hands trying to decide if my child was ready for kindergarten?
Unfortunately, there was no “GET OUT OF THIS CONVERSATION FREE” card for me this time. I promised my husband to muzzle it and let the teacher talk. The main arguments for holding my son back were that he was physically small, has a birthday in the late summer, and the majority of his class cohort has much older birthdays so he looks even younger in comparison. These were fair arguments, just not compelling ones—at least to me. With no concerns about my son’s academic readiness, his social skills, or his developmental readiness, the teacher felt strongly that another year could be a gift to him—another year to play and be a little boy. Who wouldn’t get on board with that? The only thing I said during our hour was “Thank you, we would like some time to think this over.”
And that’s what I did, except when I said “think it over” what I meant was give myself time to read everything I could find and poll every person I know. At this point, I want to be able to say that the research (the paper kind and the people kind) clarified everything, but what I found was. . . contradictory at best.
There were some very good reasons for holding him back. One study found that the youngest students were much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and were three times as likely to repeat a grade. Umm, no thank you. Another study found that the oldest students were most likely to become student leaders. Well, what parent DOESN’T want that? At this point, I started daydreaming about my sweet boy as class president circa Class of 2022! But by far the most compelling argument for another year of PreK was what my mother (former preschool and kindergarten teacher) said: “You cannot underestimate the power of feeling confident and capable in the classroom.” Maybe Momma IS always right.
I was all ready to give him another year, but, of course, then I kept reading. The arguments against another year of Pre-K pushed me right back on my fence. There were negligible long-term academic benefits. The differences between the oldest and the youngest are the largest on the first day of kindergarten, but the advantages decrease over time. Younger students catch up with the oldest by third grade. Even studies that matched each child who delayed entrance with a child of like intelligence who had not delayed entrance did not find any solid proof that this practice made any difference at all.
Wowzers. What’s a good girl to do with data like this? So I shared it with my husband and then with Ellen, who both love a good dive into some research the way I love me a Netflix marathon. In the end, this was the take-away: despite research indicating there is no real benefit, it is becoming a common practice to “red-shirt” for kindergarten. While there are no large studies with good statistical significance to show that it is beneficial to hold back, it is most often recommended to white males with summer birthdays. Quite frankly, there are also whiffs that it is recommended so that schools have better scores on their rankings.
But even after this fair-minded even-handed analysis, I was still undecided. I called my dad, the fair-minded judge and father of 4. It’s his daily work to evaluate two sides of an issue, balance interests, and come up with good solutions. He just said, “What did your mother say? Do that.” Well, that was helpful. Thanks, Dad.
And my girlfriends? I leaned hard on those who had a summer baby that had started school already, but I was open to all advice. The results, while very much appreciated, were mixed and, in the end, not all that helpful. Asking the question did help move the needle a little though. I heard validated time and again what I already knew: all of these kids, including mine, are going to be just fine no matter what side I came down on. The decisions to start preschool or kindergarten and when are important decisions, but they are not deal-breakers. Kids grow where they are planted and nourished and cared for. I knew that. I needed to remember that. And the fifth time around this tree made it easier to see that.
At decision time, despite having to surrender my Good Girl crown, I went against the teacher’s advice and sent my child to kindergarten. This conclusion didn’t arise from any single thing we read or brilliant insight someone shared. The readiness assessments, while they did make us feel better, weren’t the deciding factors either. In the end, our son went to kindergarten, because one night after we put him to bed, Steve and I looked at each other and at the same moment said, “He’s ready.” He went because he was ready, and we both felt that to be true.
So five years later, how did things turn out for us and our boy? Well, there were mixed results for awhile. While he adjusted to kindergarten well and was meeting academic milestones with his peers, when I had a meeting with his teacher in the spring, she still had some concerns. Chief among them was that he was the youngest in his class (sound familiar?) and because this particular class skewed old, he looked young. Was he still appropriate for his age? Yes. Was he a behavior problem? No. Was she concerned about him academically? Not really. Was he driving her a little crazy? Maybe. We repeated this pattern in the classroom for the next couple years. But by third grade, he was doing so well, he earned himself the Citizenship Award that earned him a dog. But that’s a story for another day.
Bottom Line for You: If you plow forward with your summer baby and keep him or her with their birth cohort, you might still be talking about this or thinking about this. For AWHILE. This means that if you follow this path, you may be sitting in the little chairs discussing issues a little more often than other parents.
Remember what the literature said: it can take until third grade until everything evens out. Or not. All kids are different.
We are still putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward taking one day at a time with this child, but that’s honestly just parenting as I know it. Now we ask questions like: is he ready for the next step, challenge, or opportunity? So far, with love and guidance, the answer has been yes.
People are generous with their kind words immediately after you have lost a loved one. Despite death being a inevitable part of everyone’s life, people often feel awkward about what to say; but at least the time and space provided by social norms are there to encourage them.
Unfortunately that window for condolences closes up fairly quickly, and the awkwardness morphs into the fear that they will upset you if they mention your loved one. You are now left with your own awkwardness surrounding how to talk about your grief, how to bring it up. Maybe a prescribed period for wearing black back in the day wasn’t such a bad idea. Black arm bands or those silicone bracelets could work nowadays. It just seems like we could use something to indicate “handle with care.”
“Time heals all wounds” is not so much a falsehood, as it is too simplistic. Yes, the hurt scabs over, and the pain dulls, but the loss is healed with a scar. A scar that tugs and throbs predictably, yet can grab you unexpectedly .
The holidays and anniversaries with their brightness and intensity serve to highlight the voids . . . voids you can often avoid staring into on a day-to-day basis once your grief scar has formed.
“My mom should be here baking cookies with my kids. She always had the patience to make cut-outs.”
“This is where my son’s stocking should be hanging.”
“My father always lit the candles.”
And while you can predict the holidays are going to be tinged with blue, it’s often the little things that surprisingly leave you with the most intensely hollow longing. To prepare for my college freshman daughter’s homecoming for winter break, I was changing her sheets, even though she had only slept in her bed a couple of nights over Thanksgiving and changing sheets is one of the household chores I inexplicably hate the most. I mean, there are so many tasks that are so much worse. Scrubbing toilets anyone?
But as I was grumbling at myself for performing this largely unnecessary task at 11:30 PM, I was overcome. I sank right down on the floor among the pillows and stuffed animals as tears slid down my cheeks. Changing sheets was my mother’s love language of comfort. Sick with a fever? Clean sheets. Home from college, just had a baby, recovering from surgery? Clean sheets. Facing my fourth Christmas without her, I was unconsciously following her script for loving, and grieving anew that she would never give this “love letter” to me again.
Rest assured, you are not the only one “still” grieving. You are not the only one who knows how grief and joy can snuggle side by side, neither diminishing the impact of the other. You certainly aren’t the only one who understands the bitter truth about how time actually heal wounds.
Since I know I’m not alone, this holiday season I am going to reach out to others to give them a space to share. The internet isn’t only about political rants and cat videos. It’s for connecting. I encourage you to try a post as simple as “I miss the way my mother descended on my house a couple of days before Christmas with a cooler bursting with pure deliciousness and a trunk brimming with presents. I miss the way Aunt Ruth delighted us with the latest musical holiday toy from Hallmark each year. What do you miss about your loved ones?” My friend Meredith of The Mom of the Year did this sort of thing in a Facebook group we share, and the resulting comments were uplifting. She is my inspiration.
Follow Meredith’s lead and don’t be afraid to create the space you need for your grief. You never know who you will help as you help yourself.
‘Tis the time in the season where we all hit gift gathering crunch time. Are you checking your lists and just now realizing there is nothing on there to “WOW” them? I mean, I know they really, really wanted that sweater and those boots, but will there be anything under the tree to surprise them and make them squeal “this is the best!”?
Are you thinking, “That’s a great point, but I’m also tallying up my credit card statement and there’s not a lot of ‘flow’ left to my cash.”
Well, delight can come cheap and easy, my friend. That “may” have not come out exactly as we intended, but with this list you can be a hero on par with Santa for not a lot of reindeer chow.
These right here are the entire reason this post was written. A friend told Ellen about them, and she was amazed! Every person Ellen has told about them has been amazed! Virtual reality for UNDER $10? It’s amazing!
So this is the world of Google Cardboard. You download the apps to your phone, pop it into this viewer, and you’re off to play games, explore ancient temples, or immerse yourself in the world of Star Wars. Just with this little thing. Really. These sturdy gems come fully assembled, and the only real complaint at this price point is that the cardboard hurts your nose. Some genius in the Amazon reviews discovered that slitting a Nerf dart along its length and slipping it over the cardboard edge provides the perfect cushion for your $8.99 wonder.
If you would like a bit more of a comfort upgrade, you can check out this plastic model. Still under $25!
Got a baseball player, tennis player, golf pro, or musician on your list? This fun little gadget can get them in tip-top shape in the most conversation-igniting way possible. You basically have to provide resistance against its spinning. It’s more addicting than it sounds. Trust us.
Never again get caught in the dark searching blindly through your handbag desperately trying to find your keys, cosmetics or other items that settle to the bottom of a cluttered purse. This little light is motion activated and turns off after a couple of seconds. Genius can be found in the simplest of ideas.
Speaking of losing things, we feel like we keep buying USB cables because we keep leaving them like breadcrumbs everywhere we go. Even if we have a plug or car charger available to us, we don’t have a cable. This beauty clips onto your purse or backpack to always be handy in a form meets function kind of situation. Works for Android and iPhone (there’s even a lightning cable).
Okay, maybe the last three gifts weren’t so much “wows” as much as they were “that’s pretty cool.” But seriously, just get the virtual reality glasses, be a hero, and call it a day.
It’s that point in the busy holiday season where we are all calling which corner we want to rock in later when we get a free moment. We say that you can keep on railing against the gods of time suck or you can make some adjustments. While we can’t stuff your stockings, hang your baubles, or roast your beast, we can help you find happiness amidst the hullabaloo. In fact, finding calm in the Christmas chaos is as easy as putting down the paper and scissors and putting on your thinking cap instead. We’re gonna keep this short and simple, folks, because quite frankly, who’s got the time, but here are five things better to give than presents. It truly is better to give than to receive, and these will bring you back to the holiday spirit in no time. Promise.
1) The Gift of Experience
We both believe that experiences trump things. To that end, over the years, we have given concert tickets, special trips, museum visits, and special lessons. We could say that the memories from those special moments were as much a gift to us as to our kids. But spending special time with their awesome moms is the ultimate gift for our kiddos AND they usually end up with a souvenir AND we end up with great pictures! Consider this idea a win-win-win!
Bonus that these gifts don’t need to be wrapped either.
The lads and Ellen AND her kids had a brilliant Christmas.
2) The Gift of Tradition and Time Together
We both be-deck our halls and weight our trees with as many memories as the walls and limbs can stand, but we never underestimate the power of unplugging.Erin’s family kicks it old school with a new puzzle every year. After they work as a family to put it together, then they mount it, and use it for a Christmas decoration the following year. A foolproof plan for fun and festive flair!
We both also give games. Sure, one might argue that our deeply rooted competitive natures might be at the heart of this one, but we offer this counter-argument. The Great Scrabble Rout of 2007? The Epic Camel Slaughter in Parcheesi? The time the four year old won the UNO tournament? These memories all rival any trip we have ever taken in the annals of family fun. So bottom line, you can think what you want. And if you are coming over this Christmas, be prepared to pick a card.
Every year, Grandma likes a photo with all of her grandbabies. It goes reasonably well most of the time. Not this year, apparently, but most of the time.
3) The Gift of Memory
Each year we both work our Shutterfly accounts like a boss to create calendars with pictures from the past year to guide us through the new one. We also both make family yearbooks. Because we started blogging in 2011, Erin is a little behind so her family is getting the 2011 yearbook this Christmas. Resist the urge to point out that we are now in the fleeting days of 2016. She knows. She KNOWS!
We like the also ran photos more than the album-worthy ones. These are the memories we hope we don’t lose.
4) The Gift of Acknowledgment
Every year Erin’s kids pick someone who has been an angel to their family. Then they give a plate of cookies and an angel ornament to that person. The conversation as they decide who to pick each year is a gift to them all as they realize how many wonderful people they have in their life.
5) The Gift of Each Other
As a general rule, the best gifts don’t actually fit in a box or bag. When Erin’s kids were young, they spontaneously created a play one Christmas Eve. Even as the kids have crossed over into Planet Teen, they have never given up creating a special performance for that night. It is, without question, the best gift Steve and Erin get all year and they are really hoping that one of the videos from these performances will hit it big on Youtube. Then it can keep on giving all the way to the Ivy League. How’s that for a Christmas wish?
Watching a little girl get all her big cousins to play trains with her is wish fulfillment of a different but equally great kind.
But that’s not all.
Our trees are trimmed to the nines with handprints, school pictures, and handicrafts of all skill levels. Our schedules are crammed with band concerts and Christmas plays and choral recitals. Our houses are full of trays of cookies, homemade decorations, and gingerbread houses.
Apparently when boys outgrow gingerbread houses, they get creative and start crafting things on their own. Like the TARDIS from DOCTOR Who.
We know that this is the good stuff. So we clean up the glitter glue and the paper confetti on the floor, work our crockpots to the max to get dinner to the masses before each performance, and buy more cookie sheets to keep our little cookie sweat shops cranking. The big wide world will be taking these kids soon enough.
For now, we will just take a deep breath, enjoy the chaos, and be grateful for our gifts.
And if none of this helps, we have found that nothing will help you get your holiday spirit on like a reluctant angel.
These are some things that have helped us find the happy sweet underbelly of Christmas in the midst of the madness. Think of them as the cookies before the main course. What? Cookies don’t come first? We’ll never tell. It’s the most wonderful time of the year after all.
Even on Planet Teen, the “making of the memories” part of parenting is the silver lining to all the other stuff that’s not fit to be shared on social media. We love investing in our family memory vaults even more when we can do it cheap and easy. That’s why this Christmas tradition is a slam dunk. On the one hand, you get a great family tradition to enjoy in the here and now. On the other hand, you get a holiday decoration you can pull out each year to relive the fun from years past while making even more memories. What is this fabulous unicorn of an idea? A Christmas puzzle. Here’s our short, sweet guide to an easy Christmas tradition you can start today and enjoy year after year.
Erin’s family grew up with this puzzle-making merriment, and she has spread this idea as far and wide as she can.
Step 1: Get a Christmas puzzle.
In Erin’s family, St. Nick brings the Christmas puzzle and leaves it by the shoes left by the fireplace on the Feast of St. Nicholas (December 6th, BTW). You can do it however you want. Heck, that crazy Elf could bring it. In any case, this whole thing will be a moot point if there is no Christmas puzzle to assemble.
There is already enough crazy this time of year. Just buy the puzzle already.
Step 2: Build the thing.
We highly recommend a puzzle with 500 pieces if you are new to puzzles. Traditions are supposed to be happy and bring joy, not take your family to the edge of sanity. Look for lots of different colors and patterns. Then designate a table with good lighting and have at it.
Bad lighting makes the natives restless. Proper illumination required.
Step 3: Stand back and admire your handiwork.
Not gonna lie. One man will carry your team to victory, and one other man (or woman or child) will claim he is the one who made the magic happen. That’s why it’s best to record these things for all eternity.
Erin may have said this when she placed the last piece.
Step 4: Mount the thing.
Do not skip this step. Puzzles do not go back into the boxes. It is now on its way to becoming your Christmas wall art. You must now carefully cut a piece of 1/4 ” plywood to the dimensions of your puzzle.
When we do this, we put a piece of contact paper on the front of the puzzle. Then we use a foam brush to put glue all over the plywood, and then we carefully attach the puzzle to the backing and remove the contact paper. But we are not awesome crafty people like Ellen. If there is a better way to do this, please tell us. We then let our puzzle dry for at least 48 hours before we move it.
Step 5: Record something special about the puzzle-making magic on the back.
Don’t skip this step either. We love reading the comments on the back of the puzzles almost as much as the puzzles themselves. We have no time for baby books or fancy journals, but this is so worth it. Honestly.
Step 6: Replace every last wall hanging with PUZZLES!
Not even every puzzle we own, but you get the idea. No more wall art. Only puzzles. All season long.
You get the incredibly awesome, super simple, relatively cheap idea. Join us in holiday merry-making at its most fun!
Enjoy you holidays! Feel free to share with us any great traditions you all have!
My college freshman daughter came home for Thanksgiving and it. was. glorious. Some friends who still have all of their chicks under one roof commented that Thanksgiving break came up pretty quickly considering it was only three months since I said good-bye. Only. I just again read my piece about sending her off in August—contemplating whether or not my “sweet spot of motherhood” was behind me—and it feels like it has been three lifetimes.
My “sweet spot” did indeed expand as I had hoped to encompass long distance parenting from Maryland to Miami. My daughter has communicated with us with a regularity beyond my wildest hopes via texting, Face Timing, calling, and Snapchatting. She is generous about sharing her new life, and has continued to seek my advice. I haven’t been kicked to the proverbial curb. For my part, I have become the master of high quality care packages.
She is still in my life, it’s just in a different way. In a way that is the epitome of life moving forward. In fact, life continued to march forward for all of us. As soon as we dropped her off, field hockey was in full swing for my sophomore daughter. And then I shoveled out her room. And then we got a dog. There really was no time for weeping or hand-wringing . . . or at least I didn’t leave myself time for that.
In general, I’ve handled marching forward pretty well. That’s why I was taken aback by the wave of emotion that hit me during the week she was home for Thanksgiving.
I missed her most while she was here!
I mean I have missed her since the moment she left, but I had gotten use to her not being around. And by “used to” I mean I just didn’t think about it that much. I really just couldn’t. Besides, she is happily hitting her stride, and we had a lovely visit over Family Weekend. How could I complain about a natural order that was going this well?
But, I have felt a bit off-centered and blah. Not exactly mopey, just unsettled. Beating her room into order and adopting myself some unconditional canine love helped, but I hadn’t really worked through it all. There’s not a lot of space to discuss ambiguous feelings. People can maybe handle hearing that you are sad, but they really just want you to say “I’m fine.” My kid was busy being everything I hoped she would be, so what right did I have to be sad anyway? And really, when people ask you how things are going with college, they want to hear about your kid and then get back to picking through the pumpkins at the farm stand.
While I had adjusted to her being gone like a swell little soldier—my life is pretty good after all—her being here for a week illuminated with LED intensity all that had been missing. It took the return of her vim and vigor for me to realize the full impact of its absence.
I felt unmoored because I missed the dynamic of her just being in our space: her wit, her clutter, her willingness to pitch in, as well as her exasperating insistence that we embark on a ten minute hunt for another tube of toothpaste because brushing her teeth in the shower “saved” time and her sister was currently using the only other tube. While I love her snip-its of news and Snapchats, I missed what her presence brings to our family unit under this roof: completeness. Her whole senior year through college move-in day was such a seismic shift, but when the earthquake was over, I just plowed ahead instead of assessing the aftermath.
When spellcheck bleated just now that “unmoored” was not a word, I looked it up to find descriptive perfection: tobringtothestateofridingwithasingleanchorafterbeingmoored bytwoormore. Eureka! This is it! After spending sixteen years with the tug and grounding of two kids with their schedules, activities and needs, I was suddenly lighter with only one at home. But instead of feeling free, I only had the uncomfortable sensation of buffeting in the breeze. In related news I may be prone to mini-panics that my youngest will be going to college in three short years.
More than once during the week I had to snap myself back into the moment instead of anticipating the empty space yawning wide again once she left. It really wasn’t hard because we had such a great time, but you know what? It hasn’t been that bad she she went back. I feel better now that my brain realizes the void my heart was flapping around. I still miss her, but I feel more grounded knowing that our family “completeness” isn’t gone; it’s just something I have to look forward to now when she returns. And boy, do I have a detailed answer for the next person who asks me how I am doing.
Every four years it’s like a civics lesson all over again: What the heck is the Electoral College? Wait, that’s not accurate. We only truly care we are not actually voting for a president—but for a slate of electors—when the popular vote does not jive with the electoral college votes . . . like it did in 2000 (Bush winning over Gore) and 2016 (Trump winning over Clinton). The Electoral College/popular vote disharmony happened in 1876 and 1888, too.
Since Clinton supporters are petitioning electors “to ignore their states’ votes and cast their ballots for [former] Secretary Clinton,” and I have these pesky offspring who ask questions that matter, I have found myself delving for hours through the internet, books, and ::gasp:: the Constitution. Yes, the ACTUAL Constitution printed on ACTUAL paper. This post is born out of the desire to not wash, rinse, and repeat this research when my youngest is able to vote in her first presidential election in 2020 because spoiler alert, I’m pretty sure the Electoral College will still be a thing.
The Basics of the Electoral College
There are 538 electors (one elector equals one vote), and a candidate must win 270 votes to become President. The number of electors for each state is determined by its congressional delegation: the number of Representatives in the House plus the two Senators. So, for my home state of Maryland that makes 10.
Such an unwieldy filter for direct democracy must be mandated pretty clearly in the Constitution, right? Nope. Different states choose their electors in different ways. Some states have nominations for electors during party conventions, while others choose their electors in primaries. It’s a hodgepodge free-for-all. The only two things that can really disqualify you from being an elector is holding a federal office or having engaged in some sort of insurrection against the U.S. government. In general, electors are loyal party members who can be counted on to cast a ballot that’s in line with their state’s popular vote.
However, only 29 out of 50 states, and the District of Columbia, have passed laws binding their electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote in their state. (Doing the math, that means there are 21 states where no such law is present at all.) Yep, the most powerful position in our country is really meted out on a wave of tradition. So what happens if an elector breaks rank? Uh, they get a fine, get called a “faithless elector,” and sometimes . . . become a folk hero. In 1972, Roger MacBride, the treasurer of the Republican Party of Virginia, was a pledged elector for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Instead he voted for the Libertarian candidate. That little move got him the Libertarian party presidential nomination in the 1976 election. There have been others who have broken rank, but it has never really made a difference.
In general though, the electoral votes in each state are allotted to the candidate who nabbed the popular vote there in a winner-take-all scenario . . . but there are special snowflake exceptions. Those crazy kids, Nebraska and Maine, decided to let each congressional district determine its own candidate while still awarding 2 electoral votes to the state winner (these account for the 2 electoral votes given to each state because of Senators). Although Maine and Nebraska have been using this system since 1972 and 1992, respectively, split votes have only happened once for each state. Nebraska’s electoral vote was split in 2008 with Barack Obama carrying a congressional district centered around Omaha, and his Republican rival, John McCain gaining the state’s other four votes. This year’s election marks the first time that Maine will split its electoral votes with one of its four votes going to Trump. It’s didn’t make much of a difference in either election, but maybe this split vote thing could make a difference in states with a greater number of electoral votes?
So when are these votes cast? Right after the election would make the most sense since we have the news outlets telling us who won the election by 2 am, but nay, nay. The chosen electors all meet at their respective state capitals on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their votes. (Seriously.) The votes are then counted in a joint session of Congress on January 6. Yeah, and the Inauguration is held on January 20th (20th Amendment), so by all appearances it is just for pomp and circumstance.
Why We Have the Electoral College
Since it seems like the Electoral College is just a bunch of curlicues and flourishes and is the very definition of “extra,” why do we have it?
The easy answer is that while we often throw around the word democracy, the United States is actually a representative republic because the creators of the Constitution valued federalism—meaning that power is divided between our federal government and our state and local governments. So in the most idealistic terms, the Electoral College was supposed to prevent a power grab by a tyrannical majority. Alexander Hamilton indicated in “The Federalist Papers” that the point of the Electoral College was to preserve “the sense of the people,” while at the same time ensuring that a president was chosen “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.”
So that’s the very verbose ideal, but while the end product of our government’s creation is pretty amazing, it was founded by real men with real prejudices and real self-interests. In 1787, at the Philadelphia Convention (where the Constitution was created to replace the Articles of Confederation), the Pennsylvanian, James Wilson, proposed direct national election of the president.
However, James Madison figured out that in a direct election system, the North would outnumber the South, whose many slaves (more than half a million in all) could not vote. The Three-Fifths Compromise was enacted to count each male slave as three-fifths of a person to determine representation in the U.S. House, and consequentially a state’s number of electoral votes. Of course the only “representation” was of pro-slavery interests since slaves were still not allowed to vote. (Did they actually listen to themselves?) States were basically rewarded for the number of slaves they bought and bred. Because of the Three-Fifths Compromise, for 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a white slave-holding Virginian occupied the presidency. (The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, abolished the three-fifths rule and granted (male) former slaves the right to vote.)
The Electoral College Was Almost Immediately Obsolete
So it seems obvious that a system birthed out of political slight of hand to gain advantage by abusing the rights of human beings might not be something we need today? Heck, before we exited the 19th century, the Electoral College became a clunker. The 12th Amendment establishing the Electoral College was ratified in 1804. So let’s just consider the noble reasons for it, and assume it was developed to prevent “the tyranny of the majority” and because people across the vast United States would lack information to make intelligent decisions when choosing a president. It was around the same time of the 12th Amendment ratification that our two party system began to emerge providing more balance to prevent tyranny, and effectively tying presidential candidates to state and local governments. The development of standard political platforms meant “the people” would know who and what they were voting for.
All pros and cons aside, the biggest reason we still have it is that it would take a Constitutional Amendment to change it. After including the whole “Alcohol is illegal! Nope, it’s legal again!” in the (18th and 21st) amendments of the founding document of our government, constitutional amendments are a hard sell because we are thankfully a bit more discerning now. (It literally takes an act of Congress, see below.)
Another bugaboo is that when the electoral votes don’t reflect the national popular vote, the party in power is the one that benefited from the Electoral College. Yeah.
In a more positive point, there are some analysts who insist that the Electoral College ensures that middle and rural America will not be ignored by presidential candidates, and that urban centers won’t determine elections. They argue it ensures that the President represents everyone.
Then there’s the ever popular “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Our electoral system has been stable for over 200 years. By all results, the Electoral College has effectively preserved federalism and prevented chaos. That is nothing to sneeze at. Building onto this thought, some believe that the Electoral College supports the power of the states in determining our president and ensures that presidents receive support from a diverse array of people around the country.
But Really . . .
The only “real” argument for why the Electoral College will endure is because it is in the Constitution. It is intentionally difficult to change the Constitution: two-thirds of both the House and Senate would need to vote to repeal it via a Constitutional amendment, AND THEN three-fourths of state legislatures would need to ratify the amendment.
However, there is a loophole to convening a Constitutional Convention: The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). In a nutshell, the compact is designed to ensure that the candidate who wins the most popular votes is elected president. Several U.S. states and the District of Columbia have adopted the agreement to award all their respective electoral votes to the candidate winning the popular vote. So if you use this election as an example, each state in the NPVIC would award its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote—Hillary Clinton—no matter if the state itself went red or blue.
So why is this not happening? Well, only ten states and the District of Columbia have joined for a total of 165 combined electoral votes. You can see a map of which ones have joined here, and by the way, they are all blue states. There needs to be enough states signed on with enough votes to make it to that magical number of majority: 270.
Oh and there is one more litttttttle thing. Even if enough states join, it may require Congressional approval. Article I, Section 10 of the US Constitution states that: “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress . . . enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power. . .” HOWEVER, it is being heavily debated in legal circles whether this article would actually apply to the NPVIC. While the legalities are convoluted, the takeaway is simple: the NPVIC is not an uncomplicated or straight path to circumventing the Electoral College.
Why the Electoral College is an Unnecessary Dinosaur
1. Small states don’t need the protection. First, states with smaller populations receive an unfair “bump” in voting power with the Electoral College, and that goes beyond “protection.” For example, there are 711,723 Californians for every Electoral College vote that state casts in the presidential election, but in Wyoming, there’s one Electoral College vote per 195,369 residents. How does this happen? Because no matter what the population, a state still gets those 2 electoral votes tacked on for its 2 senators.
So what about the argument that urban centers on the coasts would determine the elections without the Electoral College? I disagree. With just a quick look at population numbers (I realize not everyone in the census count can vote, but still, it illustrates the point).
California (38.8 million) plus New York State (19.75 million) equals 58.55 million people.
It only takes 13 red midwest and southern states (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Indiana, and Missouri) to equal a population of 62.27 million. (There were still 17 more red states leftover.)
I’m just not buying that if everyone came out to vote, California and New York would determine the President on their own.
2.Hey, the Senate ensures equality. The less populous states don’t need the 2 senator vote count advantage in the Electoral College (explained above) because they are already getting the advantage in the ACTUAL Senate. Every state gets two votes. Each presidential election year everyone seemingly forgets that the Executive branch functions under the checks and balances of the Legislative and Judiciary branches. Our government is constructed so that our state elections (which are direct, one person equals one vote, 17th Amendment) determines our state’s federal power.
3.The Electoral College can actually diminish the rural voice in an economically diverse state. In my home state of Maryland, every four years, five of the most urban counties determine the winner of our electoral votes. This produces feelings of disenfranchisement where farmers, watermen, and small business owners feel like the city of Baltimore decides who our president is going to be.
5. The Electoral College only acts to draw candidates to swing states. It’s also often argued that candidates would only focus campaign attention on huge states if the Electoral College was eradicated. Well, all the Electoral College ensures is that states split 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans (like Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida) get attention. States that are locked into their voting patterns like Texas (red) and New York (blue) get very little campaign attention despite their large number of electoral votes. Candidates ignore where they are hopelessly behind or drastically ahead. Basically, votes in swing states carry more power.
The Main Reason The Electoral College Needs to Go
It creates voter apathy.
Votes are “wasted” under the Electoral College. It doesn’t matter if a candidate wins by 1,000 votes or 600,000 votes in California, they still receive the same the power of its 55 electoral votes. Likewise, every vote for the candidate who doesn’t win the electoral votes goes into the metaphorical garbage.
In Maryland, many of my friends and acquaintances didn’t want Trump or Hillary, but they especially didn’t want Trump. They felt like they could just not vote, thus not supporting Hillary, but knowing Hillary would win our blue state anyway. There had to be Hillary supporters who didn’t vote because they knew it didn’t matter. With or without their votes, Hillary would get out 10 electoral votes. The fact is only 2.37 million people out of 6 million voted in Maryland.
Extrapolate this nationwide. How many people don’t vote because they know how their state is going to go? If more people voted would elections still be cutting it as close as they are now?
The Most Interesting Question I Have Not Seen Asked
If we eliminated the Electoral College would it increase voter turnout?
Only 57.9% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2016 election. That left over 90 million votes on the table. Would knowing their personal voices would be heard and not filtered through the Auto-Tune of the Electoral College bring more Americans out to the polls? In our nomadic, global society should our voices be drowned out by the choral “AMEN” of the state we happen to land in or should we all be allowed to sing our own solos? I, for one, would like my off-key soprano to be heard.