Monday, June 16, 2014

Our Completely Average "Best Day Ever!"

Summer is in full swing at our house! While we've been really busy and having fun, I didn't think we were really doing anything blog worthy.  But then it occurred to me that both you and I live in the real world, and sometimes it can be quite refreshing to read about something that isn't Pinterest Perfect!!

The first weekday that we had no school was really fairly average in my mind, and while I felt bad (just for a minute or two) that I didn't plan some big trip to the beach or park, at the end of the day the boys said they had SO much fun.  What did we do?  I needed a couple things from the hardware store, which meant they got a bag of free popcorn from the popcorn machine.  

We had a little time before lunch so we stopped at our local Caribou to go agate hunting in their landscaping rock! (I come from a family of Lake Superior Agate lovers!) But first we ran in so Mommy could get a Mint Condition, and I got a tiny 2-pack of butter cookies for the boys.  They looked so proud and excited to sit at a tall bistro table and eat a tiny cookie! 

We searched around the parking lot and Sam found the best agate of the day!
Sam's nice find!

Toby filled his pockets with quartz and was done rock hunting!

Toby lost interest pretty quickly in agate hunting but had a lot of fun finding and pointing out all of the sprinkler heads! He also was pretty excited that there were fluffy dandelions growing, and I would allow him to blow them all he wanted (we'd rather not spread the seeds around our yard!)!
Picking and blowing dandelions

Before heading home we stopped by another spot where they were starting to build some new townhomes.  Sam and I looked at a dirt pile and found more agates, but were even more excited to find a pile of river rock hiding behind it!
Mommy's finds
Then, we went home and I made them a very non-nutritous and not at all magazine-photo-shoot-worthy lunch of frozen corn dogs because I was feeling too lazy to even slap a sandwich together. (Okay, I did throw in some carrots and strawberries too at least!)  They were thrilled.

Okay, so let's recap.  We ran an errand, I spent $0 on popcorn, less than $2 on butter cookies, we picked weeds, dug through rocks, and had frozen corn dogs.  Toby's words at the end of the day: "This was the BEST. DAY. EVER!"  

I think sometimes we forget just how much fun simple things can be for kids! So get out there and do something average! Sometimes it's just your own attitude about the mundane that can make it fun for the kids!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sick Kid Tote!

Uh oh, Toby has a cough and fever today, so in bringing out my "sick tote!"

I got two of these tiny little plastic totes in Target's "one spot" area a few years ago (one for each kid, as we often have two sickos at once!).  They work great for toting around my sick kid essentials around the house! They also stack for easy storage in the linen closet.

Here you can see this one loaded up with an Ibuprofen and an Acetaminophen to alternate for fevers, a digital ear thermometer (my #1 best baby gear investment by far!), a pen, and a piece of paper to jot down times, temps, and meds given!

I love how this keeps me from having to hunt around the house for where I set the thermometer, etc.  Hey, when it comes to motherhood, it's those little things that can really make our lives easier, am I right?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

April Fools 2014!

The boys and I had a little fun with a couple harmless April fools pranks this year! Here's what we did, so you can be prepared for next year!

It only took a quick trip to the grocery store to prepare for these fun little pranks.  First, we bought a leek and put it in the bathroom.  (And the boys learned what a leek was!)  When Daddy got home, the boys screamed, "Daddy!  There's a leek in the bathroom! You have to come fix it now!!)

"There's a LEEK in the bathroom!"
 He could tell something was up so that one didn't fool him, but did get a great laugh!!

For our next little prank, we actually did "get" daddy!!  We mixed up a bowl of candy that included m&m's, Reese's Pieces and Skittles!  We set it on the counter and it wasn't long before Daddy took a handful.  The first handful was just m&m's and Reese's, which isn't bad.  But the second helping had a Skittle or two, which totally messes with your taste buds! ;-)

Candy confusion!

This one didn't trick anyone because the boys have seen it before, but I thought that "dirt & worms" would be a fitting dessert with our dinner that night.  I made some Oreo pudding with a gummy worm hiding in each cup...
Dirt & Worms!!
 It was a fun day for the boys...the whole night they kept making up things to say. ("Mommy! All of your plants died! April fools! HAhahahah!") 

Last year we cut some letter E's out of brown paper, put them in a pan, and told Daddy that we made "brown-e's!"  A couple years ago Sam and I made a fake hot chocolate spill by mixing school glue with a little brown paint, pouring it on wax paper, sticking some marshmallows in it and letting it dry!  :-)

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Public Letter to "Mr. Samsky"

My 5th grade class photo! That's me in the front with the pink sweater and stone washed jeans, tightly rolled at the bottom... I remember thinking that fish necktie was SO cool...
Do you remember any of your teachers from as far back as elementary school?  I have several friends and family members who are teachers, and I can see how much they love and cherish letters from their past students.  So, it got me thinking about my elementary school past.  I remember two teachers well from my elementary school first grade teacher Mr. Larson, and my 5th grade teacher Mr. Samsky.  So, I thought I'd make this post a public letter to Mr. Samsky.  Got a teacher that you remember from your past?  Look them up and send them an email!  It just might make them smile today.  :-)

My Yearbook! 5th grade was the only year I got a yearbook in elementary school.

Dear Mr. Samsky,

My name is Gretchen, and I'm not sure if you'll remember me, but I was in your 5th grade class at Woodland in  1989-1990.  My last name then was Brandt.

Me in 5th grade

I remember you telling us at the end of our school year that there was just one thing that you wanted us all to do.  When we graduated from high school, we were look you up in the phone book (you assured us you would be the only "Stu Samsky" listed in Eagan), call you up, and tell you, "I did it, Mr. Samsky."

It's been 24 years now, but I remember more about the 5th grade than I do about any other elementary school grade!

Mr Samsky in the schoolyard - taken outside with my first real camera! Remember when cameras required a commitment from your parents to buy film and develop it?  Thanks, Mom and Dad! ;-)

I remember that you recognized my talent for art, and weren't satisfied with how often we had art classes for me in 5th grade.  So, you arranged for me to have extra time with another teacher (or counselor?) who helped me to come up with my own special creative projects to work on.

I created my first claymation "movie," based on a book I chose from our library called "Hiccup."  I built little hippopotamuses out of clay, filmed each frame, and the whole class watched my little "production."  I apologize for how painfully slow it was...I think the woman working with me didn't realize that we did not need several second shots of each frame. ;-)

I remember you taught us the word "Tchotchke."

I remember that I dressed as a California Raisin that year for Halloween, and the 5th grade put on a Halloween "wax museum" where the school got to walk through and view all of us in our costumes, posing as statues.  The other kids had to partner with at least one other person to create their back drops.  But nobody else's costume really made sense with a California Raisin, and I wanted to paint my own back drop my way.  So, you bent the rules a little bit and allowed me to work on my own....thank you! (Trust me, I had more than my fill of group projects throughout the rest of my school and professional career, so this did not hurt me!) ;-)

My official bus patrol card, stapled in the back of my yearbook...this is serious business!

I remember how proud I was to be an official, card-carrying "bus patrol," and how seriously I took my duties!

Me sporting my Girl Scout vest, with my fellow bus patrols in the yearbook...
I remember how much you loved your hot pink and zebra striped "Zubas," although your wife was not so crazy about them.

Well heck, maybe you do remember me still...after all you did put it in writing that you would! Ha! ;-)
I remember how much you went out of your way for me, to help me stretch myself, and to let me know that I had something special. The confidence I gained in the 5th grade would later be a huge help as I moved, changed school districts, and went through some awful bullying in Junior High.  I never was one of the cool kids...always picked last for gym...yet I somehow became very popular when it came time to choose a group to work with on an art related school project!

I wanted you to know that I didn't forget that you wanted us to call you up after graduating high school...I think I was just still to shy and chicken to call you up at the time.  But, I wanted to let you know that I DID do it! 

Lakeville High school graduation, 1997
I graduated from Lakeville high school in 1997, having started earning college credits as a junior in the PSEO program at Inver Hills.  I went on to study Graphic Design at UW-Stout, got married, moved to Ohio, and then ultimately earned my bachelor's degree in Industrial Design from The Ohio State University.  During college I worked as an intern for the Scotts lawn care company, a design firm called Design Central, and two internships with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnatti.  I graduated from college in 2003, came back to MN, and went on to design retail fixtures for Best Buy at their corporate headquarters in Richfield for four years.  In 2007 I had my first baby boy, who is now in kindergarten!  I left Best Buy to become a partner in a small 3-person design firm, which was a great experience. 

Me and my high school sweetheart with our two little munchkins!
Today I have been happily married for almost 15 years and have two fabulous little boys.  I run several businesses from my home in Mound.  I still do freelance design: graphic, product, and retail fixture design.  (  I create and sell gifts made out of my recycled junk mail, which is carried in multiple retail stores around the globe (  I keep the most busy lately with my company Paintertainment, a children's party entertainment/talent agency representing multiple artists in the Twin Cities.  ( In addition to offering entertainment at parties, pregnant belly painting, and theater makeup sessions myself and for other artists, I also own and operate an online retail store.  In my store I sell face painting and balloon twisting supplies to artists all over the country, and have recently self-published my 4th book on the subject. 

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you, albeit 24 years LATE, that I did in fact graduate!  :-)  And the 5th grade in Mr Samsky's class brings me more happy memories than any other grade that I can remember.  Thank you!!  What you do makes a difference!  :-)


Gretchen "Brandt" Fleener

Monday, January 20, 2014

DIY "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" Birthday Party!

Saturday we had a fun 4th birthday party for my little man!  The official theme was "Jake and the Neverland Pirates."  Here are some photos of what we did...

The invitation - I did this in Photoshop.

Balloons! I made a balloon column with a pirate ship on top (Toby is standing in front of it), and then a tabletop base to hold the Jake balloon which sat on the table.  I wanted to make that one float but my helium tank ran out on the ship!  Boo!  He loved them both though.  I realize everyone out there isn't also a professional balloon twister, but if you live near me you can certainly hire me to make you a balloon centerpiece, too!  ;-)  Here you can see he is wearing his Jake Halloween costume I made him!

 The cake was really fun.  I made a treasure chest and if you'd like to see every step of how I did it, check out my Snapguide!

See the steps to make this cake, here!

Rather than spend a ton of money on decorations, I usually try to work with what I have.  Since we gave him a couple Jake toys earlier in the day, I cut the pictures of the characters out of the boxes and used them in various places as decoration during the party, too.  I also took this white bowl and made it into a pirate-y skull with some black construction paper and tape:

We have this "FurReal" parrot that my parents gave us, and he made a fun decoration with an eye patch added!

Doing projects rather than coloring sheets was such a huge hit at our last Angry Bird party, I decided to go that route again for this party.  I put out supplies for the kids to make three things...a telescope, a treasure map, and a pirate flag!

Supplies in a divided food dish

The sample flag and telescope I made.  I spent $2 on four black t-shirts at the thrift store, and cut rectangles using my zig-zag scissors for the hems needed!  I then used some scrap felt that I had on hand to cut a few skull and bone shapes, and some noses/mouths.  The telescopes I cut from wrapping paper tubes and attached the red yarn.  The kids then could decorate them with colored tape, stampers, stickers, markers, etc.

The treasure maps were fun! I had a huge pile of this brown paper that was used as packing material from Amazon, which is where I ordered some of his birthday gifts.  I simply cut the paper into rectangles and they were perfect!  Looks like old, worn, wrinkly paper like an old map.

Goodie bags! I lucked out and happened to be in Target when they had only their pirate stuff on clearance.  I got the pirate hats for $0.60 cents, and wrote their names on them with t-shirt paints.  The package of pirate bags was $0.50 cents.  The filling I got mostly on Amazon....eye patches, stampers, tattoos and gold coins.  I also found Jake stickers on clearance at Target, and then added some Hershey nuggets and fruit snacks too.

The pinata was fun to make!  This one felt easy to me compared to others I've done because I didn't have to make any paper mache paste.  No mess, and no waiting for stuff to dry!  Just cardboard and tape, covered with paint.  Click here to see my Snapguide that shows all of the steps I took to make this pinata.

Being a balloon twister, I had to also make some balloon swords for all of the little pirates!  The boys had fun having (safe) sword fights!  I still have yet to ever do face painting or balloons at my own kids' parties...I'm always too busy hosting!  But, these I could make ahead of time so it worked out great!

I drew a few skulls and "4's" on the window with some window paint...a fun and quick way to add decorations without spending a lot of money or storing a lot of "stuff!" Our dollar store sells these window paints!
Overall it was a really fun party!  We did a baked potato bar for dinner which was yummy, plus some hot dogs for the kids.  Usually the kids have so much fun just playing, we don't try to cram a lot of games into our parties.  We put out some project stuff on the table which allows them to come and go as they please, and then the pinata is the perfect time to hand out goodie bags, which they then add to with their pinata "winnings!"  We do the pinata right before gifts, so then all the kids have their own "gifts" as they watch the birthday boy open his gifts.  It works well for us, anyway!  Have you hosted a pirate party?  If so, please feel free to post your own ideas in the comments!


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