My Convertible Life

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Friday's 5: Quirky Children's Books

Last week I suggested that you include books in your kids' Easter baskets. But if you haven't yet found what you were looking for, I've got you a new list of five.

Today's list includes some quirky books, most of which I've been giving recently for birthday gifts. Hopefully my friends (and their children, of course) are appreciating my selections -- if not, well, at least I had a grand time reading them all at the book store.
  1. The Busy Beaver by Nicholas Oldland: "A clueless beaver discovers the impact his actions have on others." Hilarious illustrations ensue.
  2. The Little Bit Scary People by Emily Jenkins and Alexandra Boiger: Sometimes people who look scary on the outside -- like teenagers and police officers -- are really actually nice people on the inside. 
  3. Mr. Prickles: A Quill-Fated Love Story by Kara LaReau and Scott Magoon: The old joke about how do porcupines make love is spun into a G-rated version, with a little bit of a dark side. Plus there's a character named Miss Pointypants.
  4. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen: A little mystery, a little vengeance, a little irreverence. What more could you want in a children's book about a bear who can't find his hat?
  5. One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo and David Small: Elliott asks for a penguin at the aquarium. His father agrees, but fails to specify that he meant a toy. Oops.
Have any favorite odd ones on your kid reading list to share?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Women taking charge. Applications available now.

If you're like me, you regularly find yourself wondering why our elected officials make the decisions they do. And then you may think to yourself, "Why didn't they just ask me? I could have told them a better solution that that."

And if you're even more like me, then you procrastinate right up to a deadline.

If all of that is true, then have I got the deal for you!

It's called the Women in Office Institute and the application deadline is Monday. Ta-da!

The Women in Office Institute is an intensive seven-day residential leadership program that prepares women to seek elected or appointed office. Participants gain an incredible bank of wisdom about the political process and the confidence to explore or pursue governmental leadership. Participants hone their leadership skills, prepare for political campaigning, and develop tools for effective and ethical public service.

Now in its ninth year, the Institute is hosted by the NC Center for Women in Public Service. Featured presenters include state and local elected officials, professors, media experts, leadership trainers, noted political strategists and successful Institute graduates. The seven days take place over two long weekends this summer at William Peace University in Raleigh, NC.

Institute graduates are making a difference in their communities across North Carolina as judges, county commissioners, campaign leaders and public service board members. 

If you are interested in attending the Women in Office Institute, visit for more information and an application. Scholarship opportunities and needs-based tuition assistance are available. Application deadline is April 2, 2012. If you can't participate this year, but want to support the cause, you can make a donation on the NCCWPS website.

Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Protect Yourself If Your Wallet Gets Stolen

Consider this post your public service announcement from My Convertible Life for the month. Just another opportunity to take something I learned the hard way and share it with you so that you can learn it the easy way -- that is, sitting on the couch reading blog posts.

Earlier this month, my purse was stolen.
From the front seat of my locked car.
Which was parked in the driveway of a friend's house.
In the middle of the afternoon.


In the interest of full disclosure, I had left my windows open about two inches because of the unseasonably warm (but oh-so-welcome) temperatures. And, as it turns out, that is just enough space for a skinny teen-age arm to slip into the car, pop the door lock, grab my purse and take off running.

Miraculously (long story short), a neighbor saw the kids digging through my purse beside his house and walked out to confront them. They ditched my purse in the woods and fled the scene, taking only the rare $7 in cash I had in my wallet.

I considered that $7 a happy donation toward not having to replace my driver's license, credit cards, pictures of my kids, almost-filled bagel punch card and two brand new tubes of lipstick. And honestly, I was more pissed off about the prospect of losing the sandwich card and the make-up than I was about the credit cards.

As frustrating and bizarre as the whole experience was, even in the initial panic of realizing my purse had been stolen, I had peace of mind about one thing: I knew exactly what cards were in my wallet and what numbers I'd need to cancel them before anyone started using them.

Here's why -- and here's my PSA info for you:

Several years ago, my wallet was stolen out of my office at work and never recovered (long story -- you can buy me a drink if you want to hear it). The three critical lessons I learned from that painful disaster combined with the recent purse-snatching incident are these:

  1. Never EVER give your PIN number to ANYONE. Not even your bank. Because the person you think is calling from your bank might in fact be the asshole who stole your wallet. Trust me on this. Your bank DOES NOT NEED TO KNOW YOUR PIN. They don't care -- in fact, they don't want to know. YOU are the only person who ever, ever, ever needs your PIN. Have I made myself clear?
  2. Know what's in your wallet. Take every credit card, license or other important item in your wallet out. Place them all on your scanner or photocopier. Make a copy. Turn them all over to the other side and make a second copy. Put these copies in a safe place where you can access them quickly when you're in a panic. Now when your wallet is gone and you can't remember if you still have those credit cards to Ann Taylor much less what number to call to contact your bank, you have everything you need in one place.
  3. Eliminate the temptation. Even if you're just going to be inside for a minute, take your purse with you when you leave the car -- or, at least lock it in the trunk where no one can see it. This rule applies at the mall, in the preschool parking lot and (sadly) in your own driveway.
Now, go in peace and make those copies. Because if you don't do it, you can consider yourself jinxed.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Books for Your Baskets

My friend Julie, who writes about ways to Simplify Your Life, posted tips this week about how to declutter your Easter basket.

I'm totally on board with her plan. Well, totally except for the part where I already bought those bunny rabbit glasses from the Target dollar bin because they are just ridiculously cute. But other than that, I'm TOTALLY on board.

What I really love about Julie's Easter basket list is that she doesn't recommend any candy -- which my kids get plenty of from school and who knows where else. Instead, she suggests giving BOOKS!

So after you read Julie's post and you're looking for book ideas, here are some of my past posts recommending children's books that are Junius and Pippi approved:

Leave a note in the comments to share some of your favorite books for kids or your favorite non-candy items to include in Easter baskets.

Monday, March 12, 2012

My Lenten Sacrifice

I’m giving up Catholicism for Lent.

In past years, I’ve been on and off with my success in Lenten sacrifice. I’ve done the usual sweets or drinks or that sort of thing. I tried giving up fear one year – but when I went to donate blood (one of the many things I’m afraid of), it turned out I was ineligible.

Probably my best year was one in high school when I gave up an hour each week before school to go to communion service with my dad.

Last month, I started thinking about what behaviors were blocking me from being closer to God -- those things that were obstacles on my journey toward Easter. And I realized, suddenly, it was all the complaining I do about my church. Or, more specifically, my Church.

So I decided it was time to give it up -- the complaining, at least.

Being Catholic is something I was born into. Then it was the religion I chose for myself, following on from my father and grandfather and back to Germany. Catholic churches consecrated my wedding and the baptisms of my two children. In Catholicism, I feel the power of history along with the power of God.

But in the words of Father Frank, I've been a Catholic clutching "the fringe of the carpet of faith" for a long time. When the language changes in the mass took effect in December, it was enough to further weaken my already tenuous grip.

This month we've gone to Sunday services at an Episcopal church for the first time. In some ways it's a lot like Catholic church -- the basic structure of the service is the same, including Communion, the readings, and all the kneeling and standing. In other ways, it's completely different -- like the fact that all four ministers are married and two of them are (gasp!) women.

It's too soon to tell yet if we've found a new church home -- but I will say that the reserved parking space for first-time visitors got us off to a good start. For now, I'm saying prayers, asking questions and forgiving myself for not knowing the answers.

Earlier posts from my religious wrestling:
- Mere Churchianity
- Still Catholic After All These Years

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pippipalooza 2012: Blog Post Retrospective

Much to Pippi's chagrin, Pippipalooza 2012 has finally come to a close. She has delivered most of the party thank you notes, played with all of the presents and announced to every man, woman and child within a 10 mile radius that "and also? I am Four."

So I'll close out this year's festivities with a fun photo and a fave five list. The picture is her fancy hairdo that set a new household record -- that's eight rubber bands on one round head. We were proud.

And here are five of my favorite posts that helped to capture her year of being three:
  1. Pippi's Morning Mani-Pedi: Nothing beats having an awesome daddy. Especially one who isn't afraid of nail polish.
  2. Can Quiet Time Actually Include Some Quiet?: Pippi refuses to nap, then passes out on the stairs (the first time).
  3. Late Night Adventures in Parenting: Pippi wakes me in the middle of the night saying, "Mommy, there's gooey on my finger." This can't be good.
  4. When Fashion Happens: Pippi dresses herself with hilarious results. I start a new blog. Of course.
  5. Name Dropping: Pippi tells me about her new friend. His name is B.B. King.
Catch up on Pippipalooza 2012:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pippipalooza 2012: Behind the Party Scenes

Seems like most anyone planning a kid's birthday party these days is getting ideas from Pinterest. So many adorable photos that hint at all the beauty that could be yours -- if only you had the time, talent or treasure to make it so.

But what Pinterest doesn't show you is the truth about how the ideas -- and the party -- really played out.

Motherhood Uncensored recently wrote about how she longs to see the outtakes of what we portray in blogs -- the blooper reel that shows what life really looks like. The truth is that Pippi's birthday party totally stressed me out. My sweet friends tell me it was fun to attend, but for me it felt like swarming chaos. And I was too focused on being sure that all the kids were busy or that Pippi wasn't naked to be able to actually take in the fun.

So here you go. Here's what wasn't so picture perfect about yesterday's party plan post:

  • Writing on the door was a cute idea until it occurred to me that Pippi and her friends can't read. And almost a week later it's still there because I haven't stopped long enough to clean it off.
  • The balloons on the family room floor were fun -- until they started popping and scared all the kids.
  • The shimmer wall left glitter all over the fireplace and the girls were all jockeying to admire themselves in the metallic reflection. Not quite what I intended. 
  • All of the decorating and craft prep took longer than I thought it would. Not that it was hard or a lot, but just more than I wanted to do on the weekend.
  • The cake decorations turned out awesome -- but I spent two hours the night before the party (keeping me up past midnight) trying to find where I had hidden the package of Polly Pockets so that Pippi wouldn't find them before the party. Turns out they were in a bag in my closet. Where I had looked 18,000 times. And after all that, I'm not sure Pippi even noticed -- but at least the cake was tasty.
  • I bought way too many stickers. Also, the reason they were all on clearance is that they didn't stick very well to anything. Which sort of defeats the purpose of STICKers.
  • Glitter glue is just a bad idea. Very bad. Sadly for you, I was too busy containing it to take a photo.
  • I didn't unfold the gift bags, so most of the kids thoroughly decorated the flap that turns into the bottom of the bag. Which was then covered in sticky, wet glitter glue. In retrospect, I should have skipped the bag project.
  • The rock star photo head project turned out awesome, but it took much longer than we anticipated to take, download, resize, print, cut out and glue down the photos. Yeah, we should have known better. That meant my husband spent all of the craft and dance portions of the party upstairs at the printer while I was left downstairs drafting other moms into service to help me out.
  • If you decide to do the maraca project, be sure to tape or gorilla glue the eggs closed. My husband told me we needed to, but I didn't listen -- had visions of 3-year-olds stuck to the table with glue, but instead got dried beans bouncing all over the floor.

Dance activities
  • Dressing up went pretty well -- but it probably would have been funnier if we'd helped each kid find a hat, sunglasses and one other item. As it was, I think some kids got costumes and others didn't, but I'm not sure if they were happy about it.
  • Before we told them to dress up, I should have been VERY CLEAR with Pippi that we were dressing up OVER our clothes. As one of my sweet friends pointed out, she only saw Pip in her unders three times during the party. Guess I should just be grateful it wasn't more.
  • Freeze Dance would have worked better if I hadn't been losing my voice to allergies. I sounded like someone who smoked eight packs a day, so the kids really couldn't hear me yell "freeze."
  • The Pass the Jingle Bells game was a total fail. All they wanted was the candy, so no one wanted to pass the bells -- each kid just clutched the bells until the music stopped while the other kids whined about why couldn't they have any candy.
  • Should have set aside one song for Pippi to lead the group in a dance (see above photo for her bossy face) -- it would have been hilarious to watch her teach her friends the "sprinkler" (which she learned at her Baptist preschool, by the way) and then let them all join in. Instead, Pippi yelled in the middle of a song that she wanted to sing Twinkle and when everyone finally started listening, she got shy and hid.
  • Should have done more group dance type songs, like the hokey pokey or the dancing directions in "Get Up & Go" (The Biscuit Brothers) or "The Stand Up Song" (Big Bang Boom). This would have required me to get over my self-consciousness and lead said dances instead of just telling them all to dance (see photo below), but it would have been worth it.

Lessons learned
  • We invited too many friends. I guess this is a good problem to have because I could not think of anyone on the list not to invite -- but it definitely added to the chaos. Ideally, you'd probably only invite five or six kids to a party like this.
  • Should have bribed hired some 10- to 14-year-old kids from the neighborhood to help lead activities. Then I could have spread the crafts out around the house a little more and had some help leading the dances.
  • A dance party should have more dancing and less crafting. This seems obvious in retrospect, but not so much during the planning phase.
  • Should have set out drinks for grown ups on the counter so they could help themselves. Instead, I totally forgot to offer anyone anything until after we'd served cake. Or now that I think about it, maybe it's just that I should have had a drink before the party started. 

So nothing blow-up-melt-down disastrous -- but not something I'll be attempting again anytime soon. Too bad Pippi has already started planning her fifth birthday.

I've created a monster.

Catch up on Pippipalooza 2012:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pippipalooza 2012: The Party Plan

The greatest challenge about Pippipalooza is that it happens in February. If it were in June, we could have a her party at a park or the pool. But those of you with winter babies know the dilemma of needing to celebrate indoors – pay too much to host a party at some (probably inflatable) venue or risk hosting too many preschoolers in your own home.

Last year we found an indoor city pool that was pretty inexpensive, but this year I decided we could host the party at our house. Seemed like it would cost less than going to a party place, but I could keep the planning to a minimum so that it wouldn’t be too much work. We chose a Rock Star Dance Party theme to incorporate things that Pippi loves best: singing, dancing and dressing up.

Today I will share with you the plan. Tomorrow, I’ll write about what happens when, like most plans of mice and men and moms of preschoolers, those plans do often go awry. For those of you looking for party ideas for kids, read on. For those just looking for the blooper reel, be patient – it’s coming.

I tackled the planning like a good old lesson plan from my teaching days – get organized ahead of time and keep everyone busy during the event to minimize disasters. There were essentially five parts to my plan:


To set the tone, we renamed our house “Rock Star Studio.” I used Crayola glass markers (who knew such a thing existed) to decorate the front door with our new name. 
No need to decorate the craft table – all the stickers, gems, crayons, colored pencils, ribbon pieces and glitter glue (mostly courtesy of the dollar bin at Target) provided plenty of decoration for the dining room. I put a bright pink plastic table cloth down first to protect the table and to make clean up easy (I literally rolled everything up in the plastic to clear the table before cake time).
In the family room, we pushed the sofa out of the way and rolled up the rug to make a big open dance floor. My husband graciously blew up balloons in all colors and sizes to bounce around the room and we covered the fireplace with a “shimmer wall” made from metallic and glitter scrapbook background tiles (easier than a disco ball, but the same effect).
Off to the side of the dining room, I stacked the clean table cloth, napkins, paper plates and plastic forks – all matching the adorable Tiny Prints invitations we’d sent. Not that the kids cared, but it made me happy to see them all together with the bright pink tulips Pippi got from her daddy for her birthday.


Another mom who is wiser than I am hosted her daughter’s 4th birthday party a couple weeks ago. I learned from her that I would need several crafty projects to keep the kids busy because some of them work really fast (translation: sticker, sticker, and I’m done).

We started by letting the kids decorate their own gift bags – I’d already written their names on paper lunch sacks, then they customized their bags using the mounds of stickers, sticky gems, crayons, colored pencils, ribbon pieces and glitter glue on the table.

Next we handed them a printed outline of a rock star (in pants for the boys, in a skirt for the girls) so they could color it before we taped it around an empty toilet paper roll.  
Meanwhile, my husband took a photo of each kid on the way in and was upstairs printing the photos to cut out and glue in place of the outline face. Instant (hilarious) personalized rock star puppets.
Then we let them decorate the item every rock star needs: a microphone. These mics are actually mini lint rollers (2 for $1) wrapped in black construction paper -- so a project for the kid that becomes a useful tool for the parents later on. Win-win!
And finally, it's just not a rock star party without a way to make some noise. So we filled plastic eggs with dried beans, decorated the outside and voila -- maraca!

Dance activities

As the kids completed their crafty projects, we ushered them into the family room to dress up for the dancing. 
We had plenty of hats, scarves, jewelry, shoes and fancy things from Pippi's dress-up drawer to go around -- plus we gave each kid some bright sunglasses (again with the $1 bin). We also had a tattoo station set up in the kitchen with plenty of butterfly, guitar, robot and fairy tattoos -- just no piercings.
Once we got them all rocked up, we cranked up the kid-friendly, parent-approved tunes to play dancing games. Started with the crowd favorite Freeze Dance, followed by a kinder-gentler twist on Musical Chairs where they passed around some jingle bells until the music stopped. The kid holding the bells was out, but got a piece candy -- and repeat, until all the kids are out. We wrapped up with a free dance to get everyone good and sweaty before cake.


I made my first birthday cake for Junius last year, so I figured I could pull it off again for Pippi. I'm not much of a baker/cake decorator, so I opted to use Polly Pocket dolls to stage a rock band on a confetti stage. And thanks to my brilliant husband, who outfitted two of the Pollys with custom (cardboard) electric guitars.


After we filled them up with cake and juice boxes, we packed all their crafts and sunglasses into the decorated gift bags -- plus a mix CD of some of Pippi's favorite tunes.
And then they all went home.

Picture perfect party, right? Well, sorta. Stay tuned for the stuff they don't tell you on Pinterest...

Catch up on Pippipalooza 2012: