Monday, January 27, 2014

Project 2014: Mark Twain Marathon

Mark Twain
At the beginning of 2013, I embarked on a year-long journey to read all of the children and YA books (171 total) I collected as a middle school English/Language Arts teacher. When I made the decision to leave the classroom, I boxed up the books but couldn’t bear to let them go. Click here to read how that project went.

For 2014, I’ve decided to read (at least attempt to read) our collection of Mark Twain books. We inherited them from my husband’s parents. The hardback set contains 16 books, plus some miscellaneous paperbacks. I’m not sure what is included, but a brief glance tells me I am in for a treat! Quite a Twain variety! Let’s just say I’m super duper excited. Adding to my excitement is the aesthetics of the books. Faded navy blue hard backs, yellowed pages, fragile pages, fragrant with the musty scent that feeds my addiction to old books. 

Keep your eyes open for the Project 2014 tab, appearing soon on my blog. Join in my journey!

How about you? What is your favorite Twain piece?

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep it Real. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Unleash the Power: How to Host The Ultimate Lego Legends of Chima Birthday Bash

Image from
Two of my favorite people in the universe turned 7 yesterday! Yep, my twin baby girls are growing up. We hosted a Lego Legends of Chima birthday party for a few of their closest friends (translation: the friends they happened to be interacting with on the day I asked who they would like to invite). They invited five friends each. We ended up with 9 8 kiddos (keep reading). I implemented the Five-Friends Rule after 20 kindergartners showed up for last year's Harry Potter/Unicorn party. Only one invited kid was a a no-show. So much for the 25% rule.

Thankfully, the peeps agreed on this year's theme. Unthankfully (?) Legends of Chima party paraphernalia is tough to find, so my non-crafty self had to get creative. I found a few ideas on Etsy and Pinterest, but ultimately decided to wing it. Here’s what I came up with.

  • I posed a Laval figure (I used a Laval-shaped pen) next to a number “7” created with some Legos I found in random places around the house. I snapped a photo and inserted it into a Microsoft Publisher invitation template. Staples printed them in color on white card stock, and I had enough spare envelopes for mailing.
Lego Chima Invitation
Homemade invite


  • Fruit tray
  • Cheese cubes
  • Jelly Belly's in Chima colors (red, blue, yellow/gold)
  • Capri Sun (Pacific Cooler blue)
  • Cake balls. One of the main elements of Legends of Chima is CHI, which is orb-shaped. I brief moment of craziness, thought about making these myself, but decided to let Hy-Vee help me out. I ordered 2 dozen; ½ chocolate and ½ vanilla with red, blue and yellow sprinkles. Yum.

Cake Balls! 

More Cake Balls! (I just like saying Cake Balls. Try it!)

  • Chima coloring pages from the party kit on the Lego web site and a honkin’ bucket of crayons kept party-goers busy while we waited on everyone to arrive.
  • Chima video (20 min). We had some technical difficulties at first, so we played a few kid-friendly music videos, such as “What Does the Fox Say.” (Ok, so that one may or may not be kid-friendly. I’m not sure.)
  • Pin the CHI on Laval or Eris. I drew the characters on some foam board and made CHI out of card stock. If I can draw these characters, you can. Seriously. Laval turned out really well; Eris is a little beefy. 

Pin the CHI on Laval or Eris
  • Chima version of Hot Potato. I called it Hot CHI, which sounds a little naughty, but we went with it. It got a tad out of control, what with 8 kids whacked out on Jelly Belly’s and cake balls. We used a small blue ball (CHI) and Pandora music set to a children’s channel.

  • Tablecloths. I had blue and yellow on hand. Perfect Chima colors.
  • Paper plates and napkins. I found gold on sale at Michael’s.
  • Paper lanterns in royal blue and yellow. Party City has packs of three 9-in lanterns.
  • Waterfall. Another central piece of Chima. I created a crepe paper waterfall with some royal blue streamers. It turned out sort of lame, but the kids loved it.  
  • Balloons. No party is complete without them.

The kids loved the lanterns!

Lame Chima Waterfall

Party favors:
  • Bags. We had blue lunch sacks on hand from the summer. Perfect!
  • Giant gumballs. Yep. I sugared those kiddos up at the party and sent them home with more. Each bag contained three gumballs (two blue, one yellow).
  • Chima character necklaces. This was a bit of a splurged. I found a set of 20 homemade Chima-themed necklaces on Ebay that are pretty awesome.
  • Stickers. I found a Lego Chima sticker book at Wal-Mart. It is the ultimate, with more than 1,000 stickers. I put a few inside each bag and decorated the outside with more. Bonus: There were still tons left over for my peeps to fight over, not to mention stick to every surface with which they come in contact over the next few days/weeks/years.
  • Blue glass beads. CHI, baby. Paired with the gumballs, I’m anxiously waiting for parents to thank me.   

Blue lunch sacks made the perfect Chima party favor bags!

I must say, I was feeling pretty good about my party-creatin' skillz. We totally Unleashed the Power!

As for our attendance dropping by one, one our sweet friends threw up within 10 minutes of arriving at the party, so she had to leave. On top of that, one of my own peeps raced out of the party in tears. I guess what they say is true, “It’s not a party until someone barfs or cries.” We scored both! It made me a little nostalgic for my college years.

Are any of these ideas useful? Or did you create your own ultimate Legends of Chima party? Share please!

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing … Keep It Real.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Submissive? Candace Just Might Be Onto Something

Your Way My Way
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /
Last week, Candace Cameron Bure (you know, DJ from Full House) created a minor kerfluffle in the universe by speaking out about her decision to be a “submissive” wife in her 17-year marriage.

I suspect her statements had something to do with promoting her new book, Balancing It All: My Story of Juggling Priorities and Purpose. (I’ll help her out a bit, too, by providing y’all with a link). I mean, really, it is the perfect sound bite to grab media attention and with which to anchor an interview. Purpose served because it got a few people talking on web sites and social media venues, such as Twitter.

That word, “submissive,” boy, it gets people riled up, doesn’t it? Especially women. I won’t lie. That word makes my bones itch because I equate it with being weak. And I hate to be thought of as weak. (Shudder.) But when I listened to Candace’s explanation, I found myself agreeing with her on a basic level.

You see, I’m an arguer. Big time. I argue about things that, when I take a step back, really don’t even matter. I argue with my kids. I argue with my husband. I argue with myself. Candace’s comments have me wondering how things might be different if I just shut up on occasion. If I just let things go. At least the small things.

My husband is wise and smart and logical (and handsome!), and in my heart I trust him to make good decisions for our family, and he trusts me to do the same.  I know he values and respects my opinions as much as I do his. What positive changes would come to our sweet family if I showed him that trust and respect by not arguing? By being a tad more submissive?

Might be a goal worth pursuing.


Wherever you are, whatever you're doing ... Keep It Real.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Thou Shalt Get Your Butt in Gear: My Personal Commandments and Goals for 2014

Personal Commandments and Goals 2014

When I read Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project for the first time, I loved it for the simple reason that it made me think. Not just about my happiness, but about  my short- and long-term goals and about who I wanted to be. I wrote a series of blog posts around those concepts. Check out the links below. 

One of the posts involved creating a personal set of commandments. I recently reviewed those commandments and decided to stick with them for 2014. While I've made progress in each area, there is also much work to be done. I've also added two new ones*. 

Be Mari.
Be a joy.*
Do it now.
No fear.
Let it go.
Cultivate your swagger.
Listen with both ears.
It's not always about you (aka Don't take it personally).
Do your best always.
Recognize and appreciate love languages.
Cut yourself - and others - some slack.
Say YES.*

I've also created some goals for the new year. I won't call them resolutions because that will ensure my failure. These are just some things I'd like to accomplish in the coming months. 

Spend more time in my reading nook.
Boost my digital media skills.
Crack at least two new publications through article pitches. 
Build a website.
Explore viable opportunities for my beta reading services.
Cultivate the new relationships that sprouted in 2013, both professionally and personally.


Wherever your are, whatever you're doing ... Keep it Real!