Our Chicago Birthday Trip

This was Calvin's first year to have a trip for his birthday rather than a party.  It was weird to not have a birthday party. 

Weird and sad.

I think I need to just go crawl into a ball and deal with these emotions for a few...

Why is it the things that can make us the most stressed are the things we end up missing the most when they are gone?  Here I'm talking birthday parties.  Last year I couldn't wait for the thing to be over...the party favors, the food, the decorations, I was feeling pretty burnt out from it all.  I was thinking that a break would be nice but here we are a year later and I am already missing the parties. 


This year Calvin wanted to go to Chicago and spend the night downtown.  He is so adorable and loves big cities with all of the lights. 

So that's what we did!  I was a little apprehensive because, with Calvin having Autism, some things he may really, really want to do end up being way too much for him and it ends up disasterously.  I think him wanting them that bad and then them not working out is what makes matters that much worse in the end. 

So let's just say I had my doubts that this would work out.

We took the train to Chicago.  We were going to drive until we did the math and realized it was going to be at least $70 to park our car at the hotel. 

So we decided to take a train.  It was a fun experience for the kids and it was super easy to get into town.  We got off the train, hopped into a waiting taxi and $4.50 later we were at our hotel.  Easy peasy! If you live somewhere that you want to go to Chicago but not drive INTO Chicago I highly recommend the South Shore Train Line. Easy and cheap!

Let me just say, our hotel was amazing!  Nick upgraded us to a suite and it was so nice to have the kids in one room and us in another!  We also had a dining room table and a full kitchen.  It was super fun! Not to mention that our hotel was adjacent to Eataly so it was a perfect excuse to stop and drink loads of amazing hot cocoa and coffee.

After we got checked into our room we decided to try to make our way to Dave and Busters.  We do not have one by us and Calvin has been begging (BEGGING!) to go there since I don't even know when.  So Chicago was a nice location to go.  I say nice but it was 6 degrees outside.  And it is called "The Windy City" you know.  So we decided to set out and see how far we could make it before we needed to hail a cab but by golly we walked the entire way.  I was so proud of us! 

And at Dave and Buster's let me just say, I was so proud of our kids!  We gave them each a power play? card and let them loose.  They didn't ask for more money or complain or anything.  They are just the best kids in the world!  And they had the best time!  Calvin loved playing two-player games with Nick while Emma spent the majority of her time at the skee-ball because that is what she loves. 

After a couple of hours we were done at Dave and Busters so we walked our way over to the kids' favorite part of the trip...cupcake ATM! 

It was so much fun to get to choose birthday cupcakes from the atm and then watch on the screen as the machine fulfilled our order.  The kids LOVED it and I thought it was so adorable!  The cupcake ATM is at Sprinkles.  If you get the chance check it out.  I can vouch that the chocolate peanut butter cupcake was incredible!  Emma got strawberry and the birthday boy got Smores.  They both said they were amazing too!

After gourging ourselves on cupcakes we made our way to do some shopping.  We bought a lego set for Cal's birthday, meandered through Dylan's Candy Shop, and then decided it was high time we had some Chicago pizza.  We went to Gino's which, by the way, is our family's favorite.  There are a million different places but that is our fave.  Supreme with the patty sausage please and thank you!

By that time it was the late hour of 6 in the evening so we walked back to our hotel but not before getting some more drinks at Eataly.  Nick and I were about to crash so caffeine was definitely in order.  Can someone please tell me why we were so tired at 6? 

The kids then wanted to go swimming but not before we vegged in our living room watching the Lego Movie.  So we spent the night watching movies, snacking, swimming, and then repeating the whole process.  It was a perfect night for our family. 

When it was time for the kids to go to bed Nick was trying to find a light for them as a nightlight that wasn't too bright.  Calvin said "it's okay Dad, we have the city lights for a nightlight."  That boy melts my heart, he is just so cute! 

The next day we left our hotel at about 8:30 and walked to the American Girl store. Oh and by the way, it was now a frosty 2 degrees.  I thought we were going to die.  Emma and I always have the best time there! The best Jerry, the best!  Even though this is a no-spend year we surprised her with $30 to spend at the store.  For those that know American Girl you know that that barely buys an outfit. One outfit.  But Emma was so taken aback.  "That's so much money!"  She said.  She was so surprised!

It was a lot of fun to shop with her and to pick out an outfit.  In the end she picked an adorable outfit from Kit's collection (we have Kit) that she thought was a good choice because all of her other dolls could wear the whole outfit or parts of it.  I love how she is so thrifty like her Momma! 

After the American Girl store (and yet another trip to Eataly!) we went to lunch at Harry Carey's Nick's very favoritest restaurant. 

It was an incredible way to end our fun weekend before hopping back on the train.  We were all exhausted but a perfect amount of exhausted: we were all ready to get back to our home and decided we had just enough fun. 

And that was our trip!  Hope you enjoyed visiting Chicago vicariously through my photos :)

Week 1 Recap of Our No-Spend Challenge

This was a pretty tough week to be thrown into for our first week on the no-spend challenge. 

Although the weekdays went pretty smoothly.


We started school back up and that prompted Nick and I to have the discussion about how/if the challenge would affect the way we do our schooling.  We had said it wouldn't really before in our talks but it came up again when I introduced a new "motto" for our classroom to the kids.  Nick said I should enlarge it, laminate it, and hang it up in the classroom.  That prompted the discussion on if that was in fact a need or simply a want. 

The jury is still out on that one so we'll have to see what I decide.  It may in part be decided by the price of making the poster.  $20 for a poster?  No thanks...

But I think we kind of narrowed down that in terms of what the kids are learning and the core of what they need we absolutely will not waiver.  The fluff stuff we may reevaluate and see what we could use that we already have.


Calvin threw a wrench in our plans by declaring that instead of taking the train to Chicago for his birthday as planned, he wanted to go to LEGOLAND.  So after calling Nick and having him approve the change, I frantically hopped on line to try to track down as many deals as possible. 

In the end it proved to be way too much money to change our plans so we decided to stick with the original plan to go downtown for his birthday.


My best friend and I took all of our kids to Sky Zone (a trampoline park) to get the kids to shake out all their wiggles!  What a fun time we had!  It is so fun to have a friend with kiddos that my kiddos love! 

I know, I know SkyZone is in no way a "need" but thankfully the kids got giftcards to there for Christmas so we used those to go.  Hooray for fun things to do!


Why do companies feel the need to try to get you to spend money after you just had Christmas?  Besides the fact that everyone went out and spent tons on gifts I know that we do not have any more room for more STUFF! 

How to Avoid Spending on things you don't need.

These catalogs always get me!  Lakeshore Learning, an educational store gets me every time.  I always ooh and ah over all of the stuff that is in there.  Surely if I get all of this stuff the kids will learn more, right?  I rationalize to myself.  But the truth is that even though we've decided the no-spend year will not affect our schooling, we do not need any more supplies.  I've over bought as it is. 

American Girl was a difficult one (for about half a minute) to toss.  I don't want Emma to miss out on childhood because of the no-spend challenge.  But then I remembered that the dolls themselves are what make childhood so great, not the shopping, so I tossed them.  She needs to be grateful for the 4 dolls she has and not be shopping for more. 

Ulta always kills me. Do you see that?  Do you?  The one day sale thing makes me want to almost get up and run out of the house.  Almost.

How to Avoid Spending on things you don't need.

I must buy the things!  But it is an almost feeling and so I restrained myself.  But it was hard! 

The Weekend

This past weekend was a blur!  We went to Chicago on the train to celebrate Calvin's birthday.  He turned 9!  How did this happen?  Can anyone tell me, please? 

I still feel like I am about 25 and have no clue what I am doing with motherhood.  Or Autism.  Or mothering a child with Autism.  There is still so much to learn, but anyway.

We realize that a trip to Chicago is not a NEED but we have a son who has talked about this trip for basically a year so then telling him last minute that he doesn't get his birthday trip due to his parents' weird challenge was not an option. 

We did however go through this weekend with a clear idea in mind of what we were going to buy and what we were not.  While these trips usually end up with us finding "deals" and stocking up on every little thing we see, this time, we did not. 

Dylan's Candy Shop?  We let them get a tube of candy and a small little something else.  Calvin got to pick one thing out at Lego as his gift.  We got Emma something at American Girl. 

For Birthday cake?  We decided on a couple of cupcakes from the Cupcake ATM rather than a whole cake. 

How to Avoid Spending on things you don't need.

I saw SO MANY awesome things I wanted to buy mainly because there were gobs and gobs of things marked down on Christmas clearance. And it was really, really hard but we didn't get anything we hadn't planned. 

We had a lot of fun throughout the weekend, everything we got was a deal or at least a planned expense, and we were able to come home and not feel completely janky because we had spent way too much. 

It was a nice feeling. 

One of the not nice things about this weekend was how my view could get so a skewed by all of the nonsense of the stores in Chicago.  We stayed downtown so there was plenty of walking past stores like Cartier, Tiffany's, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and more.  We came back to our hotel after a night of shopping and I couldn't believe how burdened I felt about those things.  Was it Jealousy?  Envy?  I don't know but after talking about it with Nick I boiled it down to the fact that when we are at home I feel content with what we have but when I am in Chicago I start to realize everything that I could have.  Do you know what I mean?  It was not a nice feeling.  In the end I reasoned with myself that that could forever be a never ending cycle.  If I had a new Tiffany ring I would want a Cartier or a newer one or a bigger one.  This could go on forever. 

So I am learning from this that it has to simply be the fact that you have to make the decision to be happy with yourself and what you have whatever that may be.  Sometimes it is a lot easier said than done.

I can't believe in the short time of one week how dramatically altered my viewpoint has been. I now go through our home looking at things with hushed tones and gentle fingers...it's all a reminder of how amazingly blessed we are. 

And while I could probably say, "let's go back to how things were, we're changed already" I don't think I can say that yet at all. I want to go through a hot, sticky day and teach kids the value of cold hose water; the joy of hard work and how good it feels to lay in bed after a long day and feel content and pleased with the work you've accomplished. 

It was a great week.  A difficult week at moments but a week that made us feel perhaps even more grateful for gifts and possessions than we would have.  For that, the difficulty has been worth it. 

How My Birthday Rocked Its Socks Off!

Last week was my birthday.  I am officially in my late 30's. 

That was a whole gulp of reality right there.

It was such an amazing time! 

My very first gift was my sweet Nick taking me down and gifting me with the keys to our very own lake cottage! 

Lakefront Cottage (Small Homes)

I cannot believe I am 35 and we own our first vacation property.  I say first because I 've learned over the years to never underestimate God's plans. It's amazing what He does. 

So anyway, we went down to our cottage and took some measurements, wrote a big list of what we know we are going to need, and just in general started dreaming of what we can do with the space.  We are so, so excited!

I will be writing another blog about the cottage so stay tuned!

The next day (my actual birthday!)  we went to a celebration with my fantastic in-laws.  It was a Thanksgiving/chili cook-off/birthday celebration and between the brownie bar and all of the gifts I sure felt loved.  I am so blessed to call them all family!

The morning of my birthday the kiddos gave me some wonderful gifts!  Calvin gave me a piece of pottery he made in his class and Emma gave me a cross stitch plaque that she made for me all on her own.  It was so sweet! She even took me on a special scavenger hunt around the house to find my gift.  I just love them so much!

How I celebrated a wonderful birthday

The day after my birthday we went to my mom and dad's for one of my mom's "farmhouse dinners" that she always has for our birthdays.  She lets us pick out whatever we want for dinner and she makes it. This year I picked a haystack dinner which is like a torn apart taco with rice on the bottom of the pile of toppings.   It's just the sweetest thing and we always have so much fun! She even had a birthday cake for me and then we all enjoyed looking at pictures from when we were younger. 

Farmhouse Dinner Table Setting

I got some really amazing gifts!  My baby sister, Kelsey bought me a really fun Starbucks mug and my middle sister, Lacey bought me some Pioneer Woman jar glasses.  I've wanted some of those for a while so I was tickled.  My sister in law, Natalie bought me the cutest bags and an adorable Christmas decoration.  She knows I love Christmas and bags...perfection!

Anyway, I will be putting together a blog about our cottage so stay tuned for that! 

Thank you all for the sweet birthday wishes and messages!  It was such a great day (and Birthday week!) I really appreciate you all!

Muah! xo

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party

Well this was it.  We had our last big hurrah as far as Birthday Parties with family go. 

Eight is your cut off here in our household.

For Birthdays from here on out the kids can choose to have a party with their friends or to go on a small weekend trip. 

So for Calvin's last big party he wanted to have a Calvin and Hobbes party. 

How stinkin' adorable is that? 

I was super excited until I found out that there isn't much in the way of traditional "Calvin and Hobbes" Birthday decorations. I love getting kits from Etsy to support local moms and to have unique and fun decorations I can personalize and print off as needed.

But there were none of those kits either.

So we got a little creative.

And by the way I was able to spend next to nothing when it came to this party.  I didn't set out for it to be that way but it's amazing when you look back and think "thank you Lord for putting this idea in my brain that didn't cost one red cent."  Can't wait to share with you!

So first of all, I found a long sleeved striped shirt from Gymboree  back in Autumn and it was completely a Calvin and Hobbes shirt.  Not to mention it was on sale for only $8.99 and then I had an additional 20% off coupon.  Who doesn't love Gymboree

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Learn all about it at Super Busy at Home

After that I had invitations made at Shutterfly.  With a January Birthday, invitations had to go out the week before Christmas.  In November I was emailed a Birthday gift (my Birthday's in November, yo!) for $20.00 off anything and free shipping.  So I ordered Birthday cards. I think the total for 25 cards was about $10 with tax.  Woohoo!  I love saving money, ladies! So my advice is if you get a coupon code or a freebie from somewhere, think of upcoming events you could use it for. 

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Learn all about it at Super Busy at Home!

Then in December Tiny Prints sent me an offer of 5 sets of address labels for free!  If you are not members at these places you really need to create an account.  They send you some of the most amazing deals!  So I was able to make adorable Calvin and Hobbes address labels for the envelopes. I used one of their address label templates where you can put a picture in and then downloaded a picture of Calvin and Hobbes together to put on there.  And as luck would have it Tiny Prints had the Calvin and Hobbes type font so it looked perfect!  Plus I got Valentine's address labels and two sets of regular address labels.  But let me tell you about my awesome out of the box idea:  I was racking my brain while looking at these address labels trying to figure out what other cool things you could do with them at the party.  Think about it: stickers for water bottles, on napkin bundles: the options are endless!  But then I found their wrap around labels to put around the corner of an envelope and I thought those would be perfect to put on the goodie bags for guests! Voila! Again I chose a label template with a photo option and imported a calvin and hobbes photo. 

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Learn all about it at Super Busy at Home.

In the books Calvin liked to make sandwiches to run away from home so I thought simple paper bags worked for the goodie bags.  Those were super easy as I have a million of those already.  I love using things around the house that makes things way easy for me.  Plus it was Calvin approved.  Our Calvin.  He spent weeks researching everything for how the party should be by looking through the books and books of Calvin and Hobbes comics that he has. 

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Learn all about it at Super Busy at Home.
Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Learn all about it at Super Busy at Home.

I have to tell ya, I think I stink at the role of party mom.  Cute craft kits or something remarkable you are guaranteed not to find in our goodie bags.  Nope, throw some food, candy, and a toy or two in a bag and there ya go.  I know, I know, I'm lame but I figure I could be worse, right?   I put fun dip in there (because who doesn't love fun dip?) Cheetos as tiger tails, Birthday Cake M&M's and some googly eyes to play with.  Done and done.

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Learn all about it at Super Busy at Home.

Once goodie bags were in the bag (ha!) we started with some decorating.  Guests first saw the Duplicator box and the Time Machine box on the porch.  Are you kind of getting that these decorations are cheap?  Um, cardboxes leftover from Christmas were free, 'yo.  I am a frugalista after all here. And seriously if you were short on cash this would be a perfect party theme to go with!

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Learn all about it at Super Busy at Home.

Emma made snowmen that we put in the foyer for people to enjoy.  Many of them are trying to slaughter each other.  She got the idea to recreate the snowmen made in the comics so I gave her a slab of clay and let her go to town.  She's cute like that :)

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Learn all about it at Super Busy at Home.

Nick free handed some of the snowmen with signs and we put them in the windows of our foyer and solarium so people could see them as they walk up to our home.  There were three of them.  They were so funny.  I would have loved to of made some of the actual snowmen but alas, we were short on snow that weekend.  Boo.

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Learn all about it at Super Busy at Home.

I decorated Calvin too! Isn't he adorable?  I think I just showed you this picture but I cut his darn feet off so I wanted to show you the whole ensemble.  He had black chucks on, a Calvin and Hobbes shirt, and jeans.  We spiked his hair and he had his Hobbes with him.  I love this sweet boy so much!

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Learn all about it at Super Busy at Home.

We decorated a little bit around the house.  I love the Christmas Tree Shop and got all of our decorations from there.  If you have one around you I am sure you love it as much as I do.  Things are do cheap there!  Decorations?  $2 a pack.  Plates? $1 a pack.  Calvin was insisting on everything being red and black so that's what I bought. Red straws, red and black balloons, red and black. If you don't have a good party supply store near you I have linked everything to Amazon so you can find everything I've used. 

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Learn all about it at Super Busy at Home.

We put the pom poms and the spiral doo-hickeys all around the house.  I also bought crepe paper.  I am totally old school and believe crepe paper to be a party must.  In the 80's I remember every party having crepe paper.  I'm here to bring it back folks :) I bought LED lights for the fire place from the dollar section at Target.  They say "Happy BDay!" and are so cute!

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party!  Get all of the details at Super Busy at Home.

For food we had lots of snacky food and then we ordered Jimmy Johns sandwiches.  I think we ordered 45 sandwiches.  Calvin as I said researched for the party and found that Calvin seemed to always be eating a sandwich.  Plus Jimmy John's is our Calvin's favorite so it was a perfect fit. This picture was before the sandwiches were delivered but you can get the gist of it.  I used newspaper as the table runner on the buffet since Calvin and Hobbes was in the newspaper!  We had "tiger tails" and "chocolate frosted sugar bombs" from the comic.  We also had chips, rice krispy treats, and then pasta salad and cannoli bites that my amazing Mother-in-Law made.  Oh, and the fave, my sweet sister-in-law brought white chocolate mix, or white trash or whatever you call it.  Yum! 

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Details at Super Busy at Home.

For cake I really had this doozy of a story.  So our neighbors decorate cakes and we've always gotten our cake from them.  Then I realized (duh) that we have been trying to keep Cal off gluten so I was going to make my own cake for him so I was able to order just a fondant topper.  Then after much debate we decided to let Calvin have what he calls a "gluten day" so he could eat regular cake and the bread from Jimmy John's.  But by then it was too late to order a cake. 

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party!  Get all the details at Super Busy at Home.

So we got a cake from Costco and I did the handwriting on it and we put the fondant topper on it. I put the message on it Calvin asked for.  If you have a kid with Autism you know that sometimes they like to have things exact.  I do have to put in there that this was some janky looking cake from Costco.  See that wave of frosting on the bottom edge of the cake.  I mean, what the what?  And the frosting was riddled with cake crumbs.  Weird people just weird.  It was yummy though!

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Get all of the details at Super Busy at Home.

I also made gluten free cupcakes.  I found this ladies sweet website and decided to try frosting these.  Mine don't look nearly as amazing as hers but Calvin thought they were neat and that's all that matters.

Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party. Details at Super Busy at Home.

We all had such a great time at the party!  We had one very happy boy after he opened all of his gifts.  We are so truly blessed by all of our friends and family members.

A Calvin and Hobbes Birthday Party.  Get all of the details at Super Busy at Home.

So I hope this helps you with planning your own party.  I know there were about three parties I oogled over on Pinterest with a Calvin and Hobbes theme.  Feel free to use any of my ideas!

Happy Planning!