How A Sweet 16 Party Can Be As Painful As A Root Canal (Or Not)…

Sweet 16 Cupcake

It’s just over 2 months from our eldest daughter’s 16th birthday…just under 6 months from our Disney vacation – and along with living within our normally tight budget, I’ve had to come up with ways to cut costs from her big party, while trying not to make it seem like we are partying on a seriously limited budget. I thought I’d share a few of the tips I’ve learned so far while trying to plan a budget-friendly Sweet 16 party. 

First – location, location, location! If your house is not a viable option (ours is a good space for some of the parties we’ve had, but just isn’t workable for this one)…then you’ll have to rent. A place for your party is a must -breaking the bank to rent that place is not. We were very lucky, in that a friend of my mother’s manages a community building that you can rent out for just $50 for the entire day. It’s not in our town, but in a small town nearby…good enough for me! Really research this one, you may be able to find a hidden gem like we did – and don’t just check the usual suspects! There may be buildings for rent you’d never think about – for instance in our small town you can rent out the Senior Center for the day (we’ve done that quite a few times). Ask around, there may be something out there that you aren’t aware of that is available to rent, and a lot of times it’s just a matter of asking the right person who might know of a place. So put out the word that you are looking for a place! Another option for us would have been a local park, if her birthday were in a weather-friendly month. There is a local park overlooking a lake that has cabin-type buildings for rent for just $35 a day, including electricity (but no air, just large shuttered windows that open). Unfortunately August around here is a bit warm and muggy for an outdoor party with no air-conditioned refuge! 

As for music, I would say it’s almost a requirement for a Sweet 16. However, for those on a budget, a DJ is not a necessity – there are other options! Borrow or rent a Karaoke machine…or see if you know anyone that has a music sound bar which you can hook up an MP3 player to. That will give you a better sound for recorded music, and in fact I’ve read that some sound bars made for TVs can be utilized with MP3 players, so you may already have one with this capability. But if you must have a DJ (my daughter really wanted a DJ…luckily for us she has grandparents who felt that hiring a DJ would be a good birthday gift!), look around for someone just starting out in the business – or someone, like we found, who has a very simple set-up – who may very well charge less than a DJ who is already established in the area or one with all the bells & whistles. Do your homework – a Sweet 16 is not a wedding (that’s our mantra around this household!). For a wedding, you might want a DJ with all the bells & whistles…but if you are just looking for someone to play good music, keep the party moving and keep people entertained, you may be able to still have that and save a bit of money in this area. We (I should say, her grandparents!) were able to save over $100 by hiring someone with only start-up equipment. 

Another area where it can be so easy to blow your budget to pieces is food. If your party involves teenagers – and, well, if you’re throwing a Sweet 16 party without teens, that’s more than a little odd – you are going to have to feed them. I don’t care what time of day you plan the party…teens want food. If you are on a budget, although it might be more stressful, you are going to want to handle this area yourself. If you aren’t on a budget – first, I’m jealous – second, hire a caterer! However, if you’re like me, that’s not realistic at all, so creative menu planning is key. Have you ever heard the phrase “Keep it simple, stupid!”? That applies here. Most teens aren’t complicated eaters…so keep your quiches and prosciutto-wrapped-whatevers for your Bunko parties and book club nights! Our plan is to make a large quantity of my mom’s recipe for sloppy joes, and to set the food table up with hamburger buns, hot dogs & hot dog buns and tortilla chips – along with some toppings and a few sides like potato salad, etc. This way, party-goers have their choice of regular sloppy joes, “coney” style hot dogs, regular hot dogs or even sloppy joe ‘nachos’ with all the toppings. Of course we’ll also have cake and/or cupcakes – but since we are the Cupcake Couple, that will not break our bank either, as we’ll be doing the baking. If you aren’t a baker – maybe someone in your family is? In fact, family members might be able to help out with all the food by ‘donating’ a dish for the party. If you don’t know anyone who is a great baker – that is one area you will probably want to splurge a bit. The cake is an important part of any birthday, and that’s definitely true of a Sweet 16 as well! 

In a few days, I’ll share some of the ways I’m saving money on other aspects of the party like party décor, favors and activities. Stay tuned! 

Blessings,
Mariah

An OCD Planner’s Dream…And Also Nightmare

Over the next year, our family has several ‘big’ things happening. Things that need to be well thought-out and planned in advance. This August, our daughter turns 16 and we’re planning a “Sweet 16” party for her. In November we have 2 non-milestone birthdays that we’ll need to plan parties for. December is our big all-out holiday trip to Disney World. And then next June we are planning a destination vow renewal in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.                          

For a somewhat OCD, planning-obsessed person like me, the next year is both exhilarating and terrifying. This may well be the most stressful, expensive year my husband and I have ever experienced. Why are we doing this to ourselves? Well, birthdays come around every year, and there was no getting around the 16th birthday this year whether we are ready for it or not. The Disney trip…well if we want to have one final Disney trip that includes our whole family, there isn’t really much putting it off since we only have a few years left before kids start sprouting wings and planning their own adventures. We took a vote last year, and everyone unanimously decided they wanted to go back to Disney again one more time before that happens.

Our vow renewal is the one thing that really puts everything in the ‘too much’ category. We planned to renew our vows on our 10th anniversary, but then we moved that year and changed jobs and it was a whole thing, so we pushed it to 15 years (which would have been last year). So we planned a trip to Hawaii…but then only my parents were able to go (we wanted it to be all of our parents). We thought about going ahead with it – after all we were going to be in Hawaii! What better place for us, it was our dream destination. But the more we thought about it…well…we really wanted our kids involved too – and we just couldn’t see spending what it would have cost to take them to Hawaii with us. The plane tickets alone would have cost us almost as much as we spent on our entire trip for the 2 of us. So we decided to push it back, but with my dad’s cancer diagnosis we didn’t want to push it back to our 20th anniversary. We want him there and with the kind of ‘life expectancy’ MCL has…we just knew it had to be sooner. So we decided – why not make it our 17th anniversary? 17 has always been ‘our’ number. Among many other smaller things – the 17th is the date I found out I was pregnant with our daughter, it was her due-date and ultimately her birth date also, it was the day we were married and it was the day our 3 youngest moved in with us. It’s our number…so what more perfect anniversary to renew our vows anyway? And now our renewal which originally included just 8 people (our parents, step-parents and ourselves) has grown to about 23 people to include our children, siblings and their children and a few of our absolute closest friends. 

I will probably be making lots of posts regarding party planning, vacation planning and vow renewal planning in the coming months. I hope to share some tips I learn along the way, some DIY projects and maybe – hopefully – some very budget friendly ideas since I will be trying to cut costs as much as I possibly can so I can fit everything we really want to do into all of our plans.

As of right now, my brain is consumed with different ideas about our 3 “big events” just bouncing back and forth, smacking into each other. I’m quite afraid at this point that I might end up inviting Disney Princesses to my daughters Sweet 16, reserving a beach house for our Disney trip and wearing a hot pink & zebra striped wedding dress to my vow renewal…

Stay tuned!

Blessings,
Mariah

November 29, 2011

Like a Phoenix, Redux

Well, well. Here I am, again. Once again feeling like I owe someone an apology for being so neglectful of this space. Myself, more than anything. Because this is my space, a space I carved out for me, to come and unload whatever is on my mind – and there has been A LOT on my mind. It would help for me to come here, purge my thoughts…but I just don’t make the time for myself to do it. That is a shame, and something I deeply need to rectify. I tend to internalize my feelings way too much…which would come as a surprise to some, since I talk so much. I just tend to not let people peek into the dark and twisty of it all, most of the time. Not that I want to only be dark and twisty here (can you tell I love Grey’s Anatomy? I’m so unoriginal!), and not that all my hidden feelings ARE that way. I just have a lot to say, and usually I have deep ongoing conversations with myself in my head…I just wish I could motivate myself to log in and type those thoughts out here. It might be mostly boring, but sometimes it can get pretty interesting in there.

So, at least I can console myself that this time it has not been over a year since my last post. Is that sad or what, to congratulate myself on it only being 8 months?? Or, closer to 9 really but who’s counting? But again, as last time, many things have happened over the last year.

First and foremost, our adoption is STILL not yet final. More snags, this time all to do with the state not having filed for my son’s SSI back years ago when they should have. He is autistic, and was supposed to already have been approved for SSI, which automatically qualifies him for federal adoption assistance. Unfortunately, that never happened even though it was marked in his file that it did – and if you know anything about the government and disability, you know it takes forever (plus one day for good measure) to get anything approved as far as that is concerned. So we waited…and waited. Fortunately or unfortunately (you can look at it both ways), our 3 youngest have been in the foster system for 5 years as of November 9th, and once kids are in the system for a consecutive 5 year period, they automatically qualify for federal assistance. So on November 9th, we went ahead with the adoption without waiting for the SSI approval. We were worried that our promise of adoption in 2011 would once again prove to be untrue…but alas…with a wonderful caseworker and adoption attorney on our side – everything was pushed through VERY quickly, and we have our adoption hearing on December 9th!! It will be a VERY Merry Christmas this year! FINALLY! Our kids will legally be ours. No more monthly visits, no more different last names causing odd looks…FINALLY! My Facebook friends better watch out on December 9th, because that afternoon 2 years of memories I haven’t been able to share with them, oh how they will be shared now (insert scary laugh here)!

Another thing I want to talk about is my dad’s cancer. It’s been a long road this year for my dad, but finally he is feeling better. Thank God above, he can enjoy -truly enjoy – the holidays this year. He is not feeling sick, in fact is feeling better than he has in a long time. This isn’t due to some miracle cure, sadly, but at least a temporary miracle nonetheless. You see, he had a bone marrow transplant this summer. It was a hard process for him – I can’t go into details because for one, it was so much a blur of scary but also…it’s still hard to think about all he went through. But at any rate, it was done, weeks in the hospital and months afterward of feeling bad…but I am glad to say he is now in a sort of ‘remission’. We don’t know how long, and quite frankly, I don’t want to know. I just want to enjoy it. I won’t forget about the cancer or the prognosis, it will still be there lurking in the back of my mind…but I think seeing my dad looking healthy and feeling good again – and happy because he’s feeling good – will help me to not think predominantly about the “C” word, and just be able to enjoy the time we spend with him.

Amidst all that was going on with my dad this summer, and actually WHILE he was in the hospital recovering from the bone marrow transplant, we also lost a very special part of our family. My husband’s grandmother, or Nonnie, as we called her. Words can’t express what she meant to me and she deserves more than just a paragraph in this update, so I will save that conversation for later…but losing her has left a strikingly large hole in our lives.

Obviously there has been a lot more go on in the last year than those few things, but those are the “big” things that have weighed on my mind over the last year.

On a happier note, although I don’t want to rush what is left of this year since we are now in the midst of my very favorite time of the year, I am looking forward to what I just know will be a FABULOUS year for my family. We already have many things in motion that will happen in 2012, and being that it is the first year we will start out as a full, complete family (legally anyway), I think that sets the tone for a year with good things on the horizon. I don’t want to jinx myself, but it does look like (praise God!) financially things are going to be looking way, way up for us next year. There is also a vacation to Hawaii in the works…and I am hoping to be able to get back to discuss that more in depth later. It’s something we’re so excited about…the trip of a lifetime for us that has been a ‘dream in the works’ for over 14 years now.

So at that, I would love to say “stay tuned”…but I don’t want to leave you hanging on promises that may not come to be. But hopefully, you will see a lot more from me in the coming year.

Love and peace,
Mariah

And then…nothing. Not for over a year. I stopped writing altogether. 2012 was a busy year, very busy. House renovations, an anniversary trip to Hawaii with my parents (their 40th, our 15th), paying ourselves out of debt, surgeries (albeit minor) for my daughter and husband which put us back in the debt we had paid ourselves out of, a major health crisis for my mother-in-law (which she is now on the other side of, and doing well)…but even with all of that, it was a good year overall. It was our first year as an “official” family, it was a year of health for my dad. He had been in so-called remission (not ‘real’ remission because his cancer will never fully go away), and feeling great. And finally, things had gotten back to normal enough for me to start feeling like I could take time to write again, so I, once again, started over. Started fresh. And here we are. Now you are caught up as to some of the nuances that have brought me to where I am today. Of course I didn’t share all of my past writings, that would take way too much time and space, but I shared the ones that have the most bearing on things I might write about here today. There are things I have never written about that I probably should. I have never written about how Jeff and I met…our oldest daughter’s scary-but-happy-ending arrival…our adoption story. Those are things I’m going to try to get down in writing someday soon. But for now, you know the basics of me.

Blessings,

Mariah

February 4, 2011

This post was made over 2 years ago on my old blog…but it still brings up as many emotions today as the day I wrote it. In those 2 years, we’ve made lots of memories, had lots of trying times…and felt the fast-paced ticking of time like never before. I wrote only one more blog post on my old blog after this, and I will share that in a few days. Then I’ll stop with the whole living in the past thing, I promise. I just wanted readers of this blog to be able to know me a bit better so that you might understand a little more when I talk about things I’m dealing with concerning my dad, our kids, etc. 

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes

You thought I was gone right? Never to return. I’m sure you’ve seen it many times…a blogger who just can’t find the time to write, eventually drifting off into the great unknown, all but forgotten by everyone.

Well, I have returned. I make no grand promises as to this blog of mine…I’ve made that mistake before. But I am still here. I do still have a lot to say. I just need to learn to take time for myself, so that I can say it.

Life has been crazy. Insane. A brief update…and then hopefully I’ll be able to keep up from there. There were 2 major events since the last time I wrote. Not by a long shot all that has happened but the things that have most affected me, for sure.

In December of 2009, I wrote about how we had gone from a family of 3 to a family of 6 and that in the year 2010 our 3 “new” kids would be officially adopted and part of our forever family.

Well, our not-so-“new” kids are doing really well…we are all still adjusting to life with each other. That will be on-going I’m sure. But we are a family now, with all the bumps and bruises and hugs and kisses to prove it. Just not the paperwork. You see, although they were supposed to be adopted in 2010…they weren’t. It just didn’t happen…the boys (10 & 9) have a lot of issues, one has autism and one with a LOT of emotional problems. However, “for real” this time, they will be adopted in 2011. We are filing the paperwork this month, and although we were told it could take up to 5 months to finalize, they WILL be adopted this year. It will be nice to have things finalized, although to us, at this point it is just a piece of paper which will say what we already know.

The other thing that happened…is the hardest thing for me. I have still not dealt with all of my emotions surrounding this, and I think that is in part why I felt the strong urge to come back to my blog. I need to have somewhere to go, somewhere I can say how I truly feel without worrying about how someone else is going to take it. Almost 2 years ago, in April 2009, I wrote about how they had found a tumor in my dad’s brain. How it wasn’t cancerous. How we were all happy about that and were adjusting to life as it would be – with my dad having radiation treatments and then lifelong monitoring of his brain to be sure the tumor wasn’t growing. The tumor shrunk and we all moved on, although it was “a new normal” for us. It made me realize the frailty of life, and the fact that my parents truly weren’t going to be around forever.

This year that fact was hit home even harder, with a much more forceful awakening. My dad was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a rare form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma which makes up only something like 5% of all cases. The VA has said that it is related to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. The life expectancy of MCL is only on average about 4 years, but it could be a few more or a few less. Nothing they can do will extend that, barring some new treatment becoming available in the next few years. This has been so hard to come to terms with. It’s still hard to even think about, and I don’t think the full realization of it has hit me yet. My dad is dying…and I can’t even say those words out loud. It’s hard enough just to type them without backspacing and erasing them from the page. As though it would erase them from being true…I wish it would. I wish there was a backspace key so I could edit that stupid disease from my dad’s body. But for now, until some brilliant scientist comes up with a medical backspace key that will save my dad…I am going to have to learn to enjoy every day I have left with him and make the most of it. I don’t necessarily think I’ve taken my family for granted a lot…but this has shown me that every day with them is precious. You may think you have all the time in the world with someone, but you just don’t. You just never know when some tragedy will take away someone – it could be a cancer diagnosis that might give them a few years, or a car wreck that will take them away tomorrow. Hold the people you love tightly, let them know they love you every day. That is the lesson I’m learning, I just wish it wasn’t such a tough one.

Until next time…Love,
Mariah

December 28, 2009

Relax, Refresh and Renew

I sit here at my computer, thinking about my blog and realizing it was almost this exact same time last year that I thought starting a blog back up was a great idea. Now here it is…a year later…and I’ve made a seriously pathetic number of posts so far. I started this blog as a way to remind myself to be motivated, be creative, be inspired…maybe even to help keep my goals. I still want this blog to represent that…and everything about life that I love so much – God, family, home, writing, crafting – living my life to the fullest. Enjoying every moment and hoping that I make the people in my circle feel as blessed as they make me feel. There are reasons…or excuses…as to why I have neglected to post – we really have had a very busy and very productive (!) year. We went from a family of 3 to a family of 6 almost overnight. That all started about mid-year…right after we were licensed to be foster parents. We started on the fostering journey thinking eventually we might adopt a child, maybe even two that came into our care along the way. That all changed pretty suddenly when 3 little blessings came our way, and the only way I can describe how it all happened is that it was meant to be…pre-destined, pre-determined…God’s plan for our life. Everything that happend was simply too unbelievable, too coincidental to have happened by some happy accident. These 3 kids were meant to become a part of our family, from the very beginning…all roads have led us here. I know this. So…now our happy little family of 3 is a happier, larger (and of course, busier) family of 6. The 4 kids we always dreamed of but knew we could never have…well now we have them. Life is good, God is amazing. So now, here I am…seemingly back to where I started. Right after Christmas, vowing next Christmas I will be more prepared, ready ahead of time and have made most of our family gifts. That didn’t happen for this Christmas – but I am even more determined than ever to make that happen next Christmas. I realized this Christmas just how hectic it is and how fast it goes with 4 kids…so much faster than it went with just our daughter. I think I took for granted her first 11 Christmases, the calm, the time we were able to spend together just enjoying the season. Things sure went differently between work, therapy appointments, doctor appointments, shopping for more gifts than I’ve ever imagined buying for one occassion. And although next year we will also be busy, decidedly so, at Christmas…that is pushing me even more to vow that I will be 95% ready for Christmas by December 1st (5% reserved for baking which can’t really be done that far in advance, haha). The reason we need to be ready so early? Because over the week of Christmas, to celebrate the first Christmas after finalizing the adoptions, we will be on a family vacation to Disney World! I am so excited about that…and want everything to go smoothly. The first 5 days of vacation will be spent at the parks, and the last 2 relaxing and enjoying each other. We plan to drive to the coast and spend Christmas Eve watching the sun set over the Gulf. So you see…I really do need to be more organized, more productive and more prepared for 2010. I have set several goals and I am hoping that I can see most of them to fruition. 

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. For me, although hectic and crazy, and except for a few not-so-great moments, it was one of the most wonderful Christmases yet.

God Bless and have a happy and SAFE New Year!

Mariah

May 5, 2009

A New Normal

We finally, after weeks of waiting, got the results from my dad’s biopsy. The tumor was graded a 2, low-grade, benign tumor. While that is wonderful, WONDERFUL news – it doesn’t erase the fact that there is a tumor the size of a golf ball in his brain…which will have to be dealt with. It’s also a recurring type of tumor, so that will mean life-long monitoring to make sure they catch any new ones. But, it is NOT cancer. So…we’re mostly back to normal. It’s just a new kind of normal, where my dad has a recurring type of brain tumor. It’s still weird to say, hard to imagine, and makes me sad to think of. But, it is NOT cancer.

On the foster care front, things are going. Not smoothly, mind you, but they are going nonetheless. We had our first training class on Saturday. We can only do the 3-in-a-row Saturday classes which are 7 1/2 hours long…so it’s tiring and makes the weekend go really fast – but it is interesting and informative and so far we’ve met some great people.

On the way home from our first class, however, our van decided to suddenly stop shifting. It still drives, but only in one gear…so we were able to get it home and tonight will be able to drive it to the dealership – the manual says that this is a safety feature which automatically kicks in when something is wrong with the tranny so that it will still be drivable to get it to a service station. So, that’s good I guess…maybe that little safety feature will help us not have to buy a totally new transmission. But, on the downside, no matter how much it costs to fix it has to come out of the money we were going to be putting in our foster fund…$200 that my mom and dad just gave us for our foster fund for an anniversary/birthday present, and another couple hundred from the extra paychecks at the end of May. I have a feeling most of that money is now going to have to pay for the van to be fixed. But, we have to have a vehicle – it’s a non-decision. We will just have to really get with it and start listing on eBay (so far I haven’t listed much of what I have), and hope that some of that stuff sells. We also have a yard sale coming up in June, which is town-wide, so that should boost the foster fund at least a little. If we could just sell those darned concert tickets, we would be able to build the bedroom…which is the biggest hurdle right now. That part we need to be done to be licensed. After that it is just finding beds & bedding, etc, which we can do with our extra paychecks in July (thank goodness for 5-pay months!).

Thanks for stopping by – and thank you for the prayers for my dad – they definitely worked!

Mariah

April 16, 2009

The One About Life Coming To A Screeching Halt

For the last year, my dad has been having recurring headaches. They come on fast, are super painful, and then go away just as fast as they came. My mom had done some research and she decided she thought they were cluster headaches – they fit the description pretty well. So my dad went to the doctor, who did some routine testing and put him on some medication that was helping with the pain of the pain of the headaches, but not lessening them at all.

He kept going back to the doctor, who kept running tests…in the meantime he was also applying with the VA, as he’s been laid off from his job, and in checking into insurance possibilities was told he should be going through the VA for any health issues.He had always thought the VA was only for “retired” veterans, and because he was drafted into service during Vietnam and honorably discharged after his service he isn’t considered a”retired” veteran. Come to find out, he qualifies – he started the application process.

Meanwhile the doctor he was seeing sent him for an MRI. The MRI showed a small(ish) spot on his brain, which the doctor wasn’t all that concerned about. He said it could be from a recent fall, or even something that had been there since he was a child. Of course, my dad having been in Vietnam and all of the physical “altercations” he had been in throughout his teenage years (it was the 60’s…what else did you do for fun, right?), it was basically just a mild concern. The doctor scheduled him for another MRI in 6 months, just “to be sure”it wasn’t growing.

Skip to this year…and he was just recently approved for the VA benefits. He’d had a couple appointments with the local VA hospital, and they decided that although it hasn’t been a full 6 months – since he was still having the headaches – to go ahead and do the follow-up MRI.

It grew. My dad has a brain tumor. The doctor at this point thought low-grade astrocytoma…which was on the ‘not so bad’ side of things.

The past week has been spent (for me) realizing that my tough, military, non-emotional dad really isn’t invincible. It was so heart wrenching for me to see my dad cry. I have seen him choked up while visiting the moving Vietnam Wall, or watching a particularly “real” movie about the aftermath of Vietnam on a soldier. But never, never have I seen a tear. There was a roller coaster of emotions for him, and we were afraid the anti-seizure medication they put him on was causing him serious depression, so much so that the doctor prescribed an anti-depressant, and all firearms were removed from the house temporarily. The whole thing has been entirely too ridiculous for me to wrap my head around, although I know people go through this every day. I just don’t know how they come to terms with it.

Yesterday, the entire day was spent at the hospital with my mother, my husband, my brother and my sister-in-law. Waiting on my dad to get out of surgery. SURGERY. That is what they consider a biopsy of the brain. Because, well, it’s a brain.

He came out well, in fact in pretty good spirits (I think he was very worried about them drilling into his brain, which, who wouldn’t be?). The tumor however? Not so well. The doctor now believes he was correct that it was an astorcytoma but thinks that it is more of a mid-grade instead of low-grade. They grade on a 1-4 scale…originally it was guessed that the tumor was a 1-2…now it is estimated at a possibly 2, likely 3. 4 is the worst, so you can imagine how I feel about a 3. Words like radiation and oncologist were being thrown around, although to me it just sounded like “cancer! cancer! cancer!”. I don’t even know how to cope with this, I hope learning more about it will help with that part. We won’t know for sure the grading for a couple of days while they examine the tissue.

We are praying it’s a 2. If you happen by this blog in the next week…I’d really love it if you would pray for a 2 as well.

God Bless,
Mariah