Friday, December 14, 2012

Caine's Arcade: A 2012 Highlight!

The other night I watched the Google Zeitgeist 2012 Year in Review which features some of the most Googled things and highlights of 2012.  I was tickled to catch a quick glimpse of one of MY highlights of the year:  Caine's Arcade.  (It's at 2:23 if you watch.)

Our visit to Caine's Arcade is old news now, but it's worth blogging about, because it really is one of the most heartwarming stories I've heard this year and one of coolest things I've gotten to see.

For a little background, you MUST visit  to watch the short film about Caine's Arcade and get the whole story.  I've watched the video more than a dozen times and can't watch without getting choked up.  I won't do the story justice, but the gist is that 9-year-old Caine Monroy created a small cardboard arcade in the front of his dad's auto parts shop in L.A.  Customers came and went and never took a chance on Caine's arcade.  But one day, a man came along who became Caine's first arcade customer and has changed his life.  Through a viral video, Caine's arcade became an overnight sensation and has inspired creativity all over the world, and has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for Caine's college fund.  Watch the video - it's amazing!

Back in April, we kicked off Gary's sabbatical by taking a week-long trip to California to visit family.  We had just watched the Caine's Arcade video a week before and knew it was on our to-do list for our vacation.  We made sure we knew the arcade hours, got our directions together, and loaded up the family in the van to head to Caine's Arcade.

We drove through Los Angeles looking for the auto part shop.  The gray buildings and streets were a sharp contrast to the blue sky... and to the bright red auto parts shop with the hidden arcade that we spied as we turned the corner.

We parked the car a couple blocks away (the arcade was gaining popularity by now) and passed several sidewalk vendors along the way, who were taking advantage of Caine's success.  The girls had watched the video with us, and were anxious to meet Caine and try out the games.

How fun to walk up and see Caine's Arcade exactly as it looked in the video!  The same signs, the same games... and CAINE!

I felt like I was meeting a celebrity.  And actually, he's as close as I've come to meeting someone famous.  I was a bit starstruck.

We waited in line and bought our fun passes.  It's a good deal, you know.

The games were so simple and fun.  Emma even won a special toy from the claw machine!

And of course I had to buy a Caine's Arcade shirt.  I was SO excited.  AND... guess what?  Jack Black and his family visited Caine's Arcade the day after we were there! So fun!

If you're ever in the Las Angeles area, take the time to visit Caine's Arcade.  You'll be so glad you did.  And get the fun pass.  It's worth it.

After watching the video so many times, there are still two things that really strike me:  First, how awesome is Nirvan, the man who "discovered" Caine?  I hope I can see a glimpse of something amazing in someone some day and help them see it too.  Secondly, Caine's dad.  I think he's awesome.  It would've been so easy to make Caine put away the arcade because it was making a mess, and crush his dreams.  He didn't do that.  I need to remember to encourage my kids' creativity and dreams, and not pack them up out of sight because they're silly or inconvenient.

Finally, last month, I read this article about a preschool that temporarily got rid of traditional toys and replaced them all with cardboard boxes and other common materials. The kids loved it and it really encouraged creativity.

I think that's a great thing to keep in mind as we scurry around the malls this Christmas season, don't you?  I'm fairly certain that Brody won't be creating any cardboard arcades with his nose stuck to my new iPad mini.  This weekend we're doing some SERIOUS thinning out of toys.  I'm so excited, and I can only hope we get a few new good boxes for Christmas!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Because Saturdays Should Be Fun

In an effort to make Saturdays fun again, we've made a big decision at our house.

It is with great excitement and reservation, that I am here to publicly announce that...

We are K-State football fans.

But hold on to your horns, Buff fans!  We are not giving up on our beloved team.  We have always been, and will always be Buffaloes.  Should the Buffaloes and Wildcats ever face each other again, we will be cheering for our Alma Mater.  We are not fairweather fans, we just need another team to get excited about. K-State is our Plan B.

But seriously, you guys.  Waking up on Saturday mornings is accompanied by a sense of dread when we turn on College Gameday.  There is never any mention of "our" team.  The College Gameday crew will never congregate at Folsom Field.  Lee Corso is never going to don Chip's head.  Poor Buffs.

And so we had to take drastic measures.  We need a team to cheer for that might actually win.  It would just make weekends a little bit better.  After careful consideration, K-State was the obvious choice.  And yes, it's EASY to pick the #1 team right now.  But there are other, bigger reasons.

Reasons Why We Picked Kansas State:

  1. We've spent a lot of time in Kansas.  A detailed tally determined that Kansas is the state we've spent the 3rd most amount of time in as a married couple.  98.3% of that was in a tent not far from Manhattan.
  2. Bill Snyder is a family friend.  No big deal.
  3. Being Colorado Rockies fans, we already have a lot of purple in our closet!  Hooray!
  4. My friend Brooke is a Wildcat and taught me how to say "Go Cats!!!"  Gary and I already cheered for K-State from a hotel room last weekend with Brooke and some other K-State friends.
  5. Our buddy Jack McDonald ran track for K-State and bleeds purple.
  6. Kansas isn't Nebraska.
  7. Manhattan is within driving distance to see a game.
  8. We love K-State's prayer chapel.  We've taken many a nap there because it's air-conditioned (see #1).
  9. My friend Jenn is a professor at K-State and she let my kids do cool experiments in her lab a few summers ago.  That was SO fun!
  10. The Buffs still have a winning record (12-6-1) over K-State under Bill Snyder, which helps to justify cheering on the Cats.  So we can still cheer, GO BUFFS!  
See?  Those are all very valid and well thought out reasons, don't you think?  Sorry, Buffs.  But you're killing us.

We need sweatshirts or t-shirts to make this official.  So if anyone has a good reason why this team allegiance shouldn't happen, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.

GO CATS!  (okay, that hurt a little bit.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Food Dye Dangers

I remember finding out years ago that a friend's son was allergic to red dye #40.  My first thought was wondering if dyes #1-39 were okay.  What about red dye #41?  But mostly I wondered how they'd survive.  I mean, a quick glance around the grocery store proves that so many products we buy for our kids contain food dyes:  marshmallows, fruit snacks, pancake mix, even children's Tylenol.  If you have an allergy to food dyes, are there alternatives?

But what if you don't have an allergy to food dyes?  What if you do a little research and find out that these food dyes could be negatively affecting your children's behavior?

A good friend of mine began eliminating food dyes from her girls' diets earlier this year as a result of behavior issues.  They have been dye-free for eight months now, and if it weren't for her incredible stories about the impact this has made on their lives, I'd probably shrug it off.

Brooke is doing an entire series this week on her blog about their journey with food dyes.  I'm going to be reading so that I can learn more and find out if this is worth pursuing for our family's health.  I invite you to read along!

Plus, Brooke is  hi-lar-i-ous and I promise you'll laugh with her.  She's all about keepin' it real.  And she's super fun.

I'm excited to see what she's learned, even if it means our days of green and pink mashed potatoes might be coming to a halt...

Friday, November 09, 2012

Not Your Average Birthday Party

Last year when we planned a joint birthday party for the girls at Skate City, I swore that never again would I do a big birthday party. Never again would I do a joint birthday party.  

But then they asked to pack meals for Kids Against Hunger at their birthday party.  What could I say?  The more the merrier!

And so we planned this party.  And it was awesome.

They each invited roughly 10 friends, for a total of 22 kids at the party.  We suggested to their friends that in lieu of gifts, that maybe they could bring a cash donation instead to put towards meals that we would pack for Kids Against Hunger.  We told their friends that 25¢ packs one meal, which feeds about 6 people. 

So when kids arrived, Gary gently explained to these 6-9 year olds that hundreds and hundreds of kids around the world die of hunger every day.  He explained that we have it so good here, and that no only do we get to eat three meals a day, but we get snacks in between.  And not only do we get to eat those three meals a day and snacks in between, but it's yummy, different food all the time.  The meals we would be packing might be the only food a kid their age might eat that day.  And they might get the same exact thing tomorrow.  

Gary went on to show them the meal packing process:  two tables would be in charge of filling the bags with rice, soy, vitamins, and dried veggies.

Are you loving Addie's style here?  Hat OVER the hairnet... only Addie.

After that hey would pass it to the middle table who would weigh it and add enough rice to equal about 395 grams.  The weighers would pass it to the sealers who would press extra air out of the bag and seal it shut.

The sealers passed the completed bags to the back table who would pound it flat and put it in the box.  When the box was full (36 bags per box), it was taped shut, set aside, and the next box was opened to be filled.  

I was SO PROUD of these kids for working for an hour straight without complaining or stopping!  They were all so excited and worked together so well.  I think they "got it" too - I heard many conversations about helping others and amazement that this is what some people eat.  And despite it not being your usual birthday party with games and fun activities, I saw lots of smiles and heard lots of laughing.  Love.

At the end of the hour, these awesome kids managed to pack about 2,000 meals for hungry kids!!!  This is the best birthday present that we could give to others to celebrate my girls' birthday!  I was so thankful to the Lord for the generosity of my kids' friends (and their families) for providing the money to help kids across the world.  I'm telling you, this was much better than getting another toy to be set aside and forgotten.  It helped spark conversations in our family about needs vs. wants.

The kids sitting on top of the boxes of food they packed!
In keeping with the non-traditional birthday party idea, we headed to the backyard for s'mores and hot chocolate instead of birthday cake.  The perfect ending to a slightly chilly afternoon!  We also prepared one of the meals for the kids to taste.  I was surprised by the response - half hated it and half loved it, with a few even asking for seconds!

A BIG THANK YOU to the parents who supported the vision of this birthday party by letting your kids come, to the moms who stayed to lend an extra hand, and to Karen Dittman with Kids Against Hunger who helped us out.  And especially to my hubby who ran the show so well and taught these kids how to care for others.

But mostly, thanks to God for giving my girls such giving, sensitive little hearts.  I'm so proud of them.

Wanna do a Kids Against Hunger birthday party or event?  
Click here to find a location near you!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Five Ways We Celebrate Birthdays

I really want birthdays to be a big deal in our family.  It's the one day a year designated for celebrating someone, and I want my kids growing up knowing that we're so glad they were born!  

But let me be honest:  all of the lofty, amazingly executed, creative ideas on Pinterest are intimidating.  I can't do it all, especially with four kids with back-to-back birthdays (two birthdays five days apart in August and two birthdays two weeks apart in October/November).  So aside from the usual party, cake and ice cream, we have a few traditions that our kids look forward to and that are easy to do.  

1.  Decorate their door:  My kids KNOW they're going to wake up to streamers and balloons on their door, but they always act so surprised.  One look at Pinterest, and it's clear this could be very cute and extravagant.  But here, it's always done at the midnight hour, just as I'm going to bed and see their naked door.  (I'm not a planner.)  But it only takes a few minutes to whip up a cute sign for their door and tape up a few streamers.  (Confession:  These streamers were leftover from last weekend's birthday party, and I moved them from downstairs to her bedroom door at midnight.)  Instant party on their birthday morning!

2.  Kisses:  When we tuck in our kids on their birthday eve, we make a point of telling them it's the last time we'll kiss them as an (8) year old.  And they know that we'll sneak in and give them the first kiss as a (9) year old right after midnight.  Last night when I snuck in to kiss Emma, she woke up and smiled, and hugged me. In the sweetest, most heartfelt way, she said, "I love you, Mama!"  Melt me.

3.  Breakfast with Dad:  If it's not a weekend (in which case we'll make cinnamon rolls with sprinkles and a candle), Daddy takes the birthday kid to the place of their choice for breakfast before school/work.  Addie's choice on her last birthday?  The gas station for Hostess donuts and chocolate milk.  Livin' large at age seven.

4.  Birthday Dinner:  I tell our kids that I can make whatever they want for dinner, or we can go to the restaurant of their choice for birthday dinner.  I can't remember the last time I made dinner on their birthdays... happy birthday to ME!  ;)  

5.  Desktop Picture:  This is a new tradition that I love!  Addie had the idea last month when it was her birthday month.  For their entire birthday month, the desktop picture on my computer is of the birthday kid.  I love it and so do they!  Every time we open the computer together to do email, homework, look at pictures, play games... they light up when they see themselves and know it's their month to celebrate.  It's been so fun!

Happy birthday to my sweet Emmaline Grace.  Nine years old today! I can't believe it.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Flea Market Adventure

We were looking for something new and different to do with the kids last weekend and stumbled across the idea to go to the Mile High Flea Market.  I grew up seeing commercials for it on TV and hear random mentions of it all the time, but have never been.  So off we went!

We took a pit stop at Krispy Kreme on the way.  Glazed donuts.  'nuff said.

I've decided that the Mile High Flea Market is definitely the ultimate destination if you're in the market for tight, blingy jeans, or for toy guns, or for shoes and purses.  Those were the things I kept seeing over and over again.  (And lingerie!!!  Who buys lingerie at a flea market?!)

But there were also other treasures too...

And there was a whole section filled with fresh fruit and veggies.  I'd just spent a rockin' night at the grocery store the night before (seriously - goodbye Muzak, hello Axl Rose and Ozzy Osbourne on the overhead speakers), so we were all set on our produce, but it sure was pretty!

Just when the kids were majorly let down when had to break it to them that there weren't actually fleas there (I think they were thinking flea circus), we walked down the row with the carnival rides, and all was well with the world.

We tried to tell them this is just like the Carsland ride at Disneyland...

I thought it was tons of fun.  It was a great place for people watching, there were great snacks for sale at every turn (churros, funnel cakes, kettle corn - quality!), and there really were great treasures tucked away everywhere you looked.  We got a few super cute headbands for the girls for cheap!  

I want to go back!  Who wants to come with me?


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