A 5-Star Thank You Note

I am a little bit of a thank you note snob. When we give a gift at a children’s birthday party, I want to get a thank you note because I want confirmation that my gift made it to the birthday girl or boy. I am never sure what happens to our gift after I drop my child at the mega bounce house party and leave the present in the big wagon-o-gifts that is supposed to make it out to the birthday child’s car. The thank you note is the only way I know our friend has the gift in his/her possession.

After my kids receive gifts at their birthday party, I work really hard to make sure my children write thank you notes in a timely manner. When they were littler, I wrote the notes on their behalf and had them draw a picture, sign their name, or add some sort of scribble.

After the party is over, getting my children to write these thank you notes is a chore. One fab friend allowed her daughter to only open 2-3 gifts after her birthday party. The child could not open any more gifts until she completed thank you notes for the first few gifts. My friend said it worked like a charm until they got to the last few gifts. At that point, almost all of the thank you notes were complete, so it was not such a monumental task.

Since we just hosted a Star Wars birthday sleepover, my son has a few thank you notes to write. I started thinking a little about the whole thank you note process and developed a 5-star thank you note classification system. Now, depending on the situation, a 2-star thank you might be totally appropriate. Ultimately, I don’t care if I get a 1-star thank you– I just like knowing that the gift was received and acknowledged.

It would make me feel better to know that someone out there takes their thank you note writing as seriously as I do. Is it important for you to get a thank you note after giving a gift, and do you have any tips for making the thank you note writing process a little easier?

5-Star Rating

A handwritten note that is delivered via snail mail. It has personal comments and explains why the person who received the gift appreciates it. The thank you note is completed within 2-3 weeks. If you have personalized stationery, you just bumped your thank you note into a whole separate thank you note domain.

4-Star Rating

A partially handwritten note that is delivered via snail mail. It may be one of those fill in the blank kind of cards that are great for younger children who are just learning to write. It specifically names the gift that was given. The thank you note is completed within 2-3 weeks.

3-Star Rating

An e-mail or phone call to the person who gave the gift. The gift receiver names the gift and why he/she liked it. The thank you e-mail or call is completed within 2-3 weeks.

2-Star Rating

You thank the person who gave you the gift in person the next time you see them.

1-Star Rating

A generic letter or e-mail that says thank you to a whole group for the gift(s). It does not name the specific gift given or a specific person who gave the gift. I am guilty of sending one of these thank you notes to my students after receiving a very nice gift card. It was a particularly hectic holiday, and I wanted the whole class to know I received the gift.

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May the Force Be With You

      

It started out as a Jedi bowling birthday party and turned into a Star Wars sleepover. For my son’s 8th birthday, we had three friends meet us at the local bowling alley. We then took the boys home and gave them their Jedi costumes. After the boys finished beating the snot out of each other Jedi training, we served hamburgers, ice cream sundaes, and topped off the evening watching the original Star Wars movies.

The Invitation: These were tricky. Star Wars logos and characters are licensed, so it is almost impossible to find a tasteful blank Star Wars themed invitation. There are some out there, but they looked cheap to me and usually had the Star Wars Lego characters. I ended up buying blank cardstock and designed the invitation on my computer. I Googled the Star Jedi font and downloaded it for free. Search Google images for things like lightsaber or Darth Vader to paste into the invite. I used wording on the invitation like, “In a Galaxy Not Too Far Away” and “Journey Begins” and “Regrets to the Jedi Master.”

The Jedi Outfit: When I visited my sewing sister this summer, she set me up on her sewing machine, and I actually made the Jedi robes myself! If you can sew a straight line, you can do these. I will say you need a lot of fabric (which can be expensive), so I was glad my son wanted just 2 or 3 friends. Our local karate school gave us the white karate belts. We made the lightsabers from pool noodles. I followed directions that I found on Pinterest, which were clear and easy. My children did most of the handle work themselves. FYI– blue and green lightsabers are the good side of the Force; red is the Dark Side.

      

The Tablescape: Sewing sister came through on this one too. She forwarded a slumber party idea to me that showed how to use twin bed sheets to make your rectangular dining table look like a made up bed. I found the Star Wars sheets at Target for about $20. These are NOT Egyptian cotton, so if you choose to use them on your regular bed after the party, you may want to wear a rash guard with your pajamas. If you watch the original Star Wars movie for food scenes (there are not too many), they tend to eat out of tupperware looking things. I saw the travel coffee mugs in the $1 aisle at Target and thought they were perfect. I downloaded the napkin/light saber rings and directions from this website.

    

The Mos Eisley Sundae Bar: You find so many good things in that $1 aisle at Target. I found the silver buckets, the grey bins, and the grey bowls during a recent trip. I wanted all of the food containers to have a sort of future/space age feel to them. We set out ice cream toppings in black (Crushed Oreos and Thin Mints), brown (chocolate sprinkles), grey (M&Ms), and green (M&Ms) colors. I sort of copied the ice cream sundae bar from my niece’s birthday party.

The Mos Eisley Breakfast Bar: I went with the future/space age thing again. In the Empire Strikes Back movie where Luke eats on Dagobah and meets Yoda, he eats something that sort of looks like a dog biscuit but is probably a freeze dried jerky kind of thing. I thought granola bars and mini cereal boxes would fit in with that type of food. I also served vanilla yogurt in mini tupperwares with some fresh fruit topping choices. The yogurt was an homage to that blue/green smoothie type drink Luke poured himself while at dinner with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru near the beginning of Star Wars. You may be wondering how I am able to recall so many details of the original Star Wars movies. I’ll just say that I am very good at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit and leave it at that.

The Party Favors: The guests took their Jedi outfits home as the party favors. They also took the travel coffee mugs too.

Bitty Birthday Cupcakes

We are sending itty bitty cupcakes (recipe below) to my son’s class at school in honor of his birthday this year. As a teacher, I spend more time on the distribution side of class birthday treats, and I have some guidelines for any newbies to the school birthday treat circuit. Sending birthday treats for the class starts in nursery school, and the rules don’t change too much no matter how old you are.

  1. If possible, let the teacher know ahead of time about the type of treat you will be sending and what day. It helps teachers plan for a special snack time and anticipate any food allergy alerts (always send nut-free items just in case).
  2. Send enough for the whole class AND the teachers. Let me repeat– send enough for the teachers.
  3. Send small treats. Rather than a whole donut for each child, send donut holes (two to three Munchkins per child). Rather than regular cupcakes, send mini versions.
  4. Send items that are pre-cut, pre-packaged, or individually wrapped to make sharing the snack easier.
  5. Don’t forget paper napkins, paper plates, and plastic utensils if needed.
  6. You do not have to send an edible treat. Kids love fun pencils, Japanese erasers, crazy straws, stickers, etc.
  7. In my experience, sending birthday treats begins to taper off around the 4th grade. By 5th and 6th grade, maybe a quarter of the students send in birthday snacks.

I love this recipe for Perfect Cake-Mix Cupcakes courtesy of Hello, Cupcake!. I like the frosting recipes in the Hello, Cupcake! book too, but I totally cheated this time and used the pre-made Betty Crocker Cupcake Icing in the squeeze cans with the decorative tips. I used gelatin shot cups to make the super mini size. I found the tiny cups in the paper product aisle at my grocery store.

Ingredients

  • 1 box (18.25 oz) cake mix (French vanilla or yellow)
  • 1 c. buttermilk (in place of the water called for on the box)
  • vegetable oil (the amount on the box, usually 1/3 c. for yellow cakes)
  • 4 large eggs (in place of the number called for on the box)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Set out paper gelatin shot cups on a tray with a lip. The gelatin cups stand on their own, but they will also fit into mini muffin cups if you are worried about them tipping over. The recipe makes 24 regular sized cupcakes, so you should get ~48 mini cupcakes.
  • Follow the box instructions, putting all of the ingredients in a large bowl and using the buttermilk in place of the water specified, using the amount of vegetable oil that is called for, and adding the eggs. Beat with an electric mixer until moistened, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and beat until thick, about 2 minutes longer.
  • Fill gelatin cups a little less than 2/3 full. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Chex Cereal, the Cadillac of Snack Ingredients

I never thought I would have a recipe box dedicated to one ingredient, but I am becoming dangerously close to having just that with my Chex Party Mixes. They are so versatile, and you can make them in large quantities for nursery school snacks, birthday parties, and adult get togethers. The almighty Chex cereal (and its distant cousins– Crispix and Golden Grahams) are the perfect base for sweet or salty snacking.

The neighborhood card sharks met in our backyard office Saturday night, and I made Tijuana Tidbits. This is the newest member of my Chex Party Mix recipe box. Watch out, it has a kick!

Do you have any Chex Party Mix combos I can add to my arsenal? I have many sweet Chex recipes like the Dinosaur Chex Mix, but I am looking for some more savory combinations.

Ingredients

  • 4 c. Fritos original corn chips
  • 4 c. Crispix cereal
  • 1 bag microwave popcorn (remove “old maids”)
  • 1 8-oz can mixed nuts
  • 1 c. cashew nuts
  • 1/2 c. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 c. margarine, not butter
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 T. chili powder
  • 1/3 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper

Directions

  • Heat oven to 250 degrees.
  • Combine chips, cereal, popcorn, and nuts in a large bowl and mix gently.
  • Combine corn syrup, margarine, brown sugar, chili powder, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Heat to boiling and pour over Frito mixture. Stir until coated.
  • Pour coated mixture onto a roasting pan (sprayed with Pam). Bake 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and turn onto waxed paper to cool. Store in airtight container.

Because I Just Can’t Read That Book One More Time

There are many benefits to reading picture books and chapter books multiple (even hundreds) of times, but if you are the parent doing the reading, this can be a labor of love. A dear friend told me that if she reads Pinkalicious one more time, she may have to “set the book on fire” (original comment has been censored).

As repetitive as it can be for parents, it is a good thing to read a picture book so many times your kid can recite the words from memory. Children are absorbing the words into their “sight” word bank without realizing it. They are picking up word and sentence structure patterns like capitalization at the beginning of a sentence and punctuation at the end of a sentence. They are learning to follow the story from left to right and top to bottom. I am not recommending you force yourself to suffer through the same book beyond your breaking point, but I am recommending you read aloud often with your children (and that may include a re-run or two… or ten).

Reading aloud to your child models good reading techniques and helps with fluency. It gives you time to stop and talk about what is happening, so you can informally check listening skills and improve your child’s comprehension. Picture books are short, so it is easy to complete a whole story in one sitting. Picture books for older readers have a lot of depth and require some critical thought, so you can keep reading these books all the way through elementary school; there are many I use for lessons with my 4th grade students. Lastly, it is enjoyable and relaxing and how often do you get that kind of time with your child?

The picture books on the list below pass my can-be-read-10-days-in-a-row test. Help me out with additional read aloud suggestions that won’t get stale too quickly. The books below may be new to you, but they have been in high rotation at my house for awhile now.

Amazing Illustrations

  • King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood (or others by this author)
  • The Brambly Hedge series by Jill Barklem
  • Flotsam by David Wiesner (or others by this author)
  • The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett (or others by this author)

Puzzle-y/Interactive

  • Who’s Hiding? by Satoru Onishi
  • Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young
  • What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
  • Who is Driving? by Leo Timmers
  • I Spy: An Alphabet in Art by Lucy Micklethwait
  • Press Here by Herve Tullet

Non-Fiction/Based on a True Story

  • Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
  • My Apron by Eric Carle (be sure to read the author note at the end)
  • One Giant Leap by Robert Burleigh
  • Two Bobbies by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery
  • Emily by Michael Bedard

For a Laugh

  • Dear Deer: A Book of Homophones by Gene Barretta
  • Giggle, Giggle, Quack by Doreen Cronin (or others by this author)
  • A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech
  • Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

Other Picture Book Authors I Like

  • Mem Fox
  • Patricia Polacco
  • David Shannon
  • Mo Willems
  • Chris Van Allsburg