Exiting the kiddo birthday party arms race

This was the year.

Since dd was on the cusp of 3yo, we’ve been attending kiddo birthday parties that made everything I grew up with pale by comparison. Honestly, I don’t remember my friends having big birthday parties when I was a kid…although, to be fair, I primarily was close just with my bff and didn’t really get the time of day from the “cool kids” that treated me like crap. (Back then, it wasn’t cool at all to be the smart-but-short-fat-girl-with-glasses; these days, I’d be the subject of my own YA book series with an option for a 3-movie deal.)

When we attended the first of these new-fangled kiddo parties, at a mini gym, we were immediately taken with the notion of having someone else be responsible for corralling, entertaining, and then cleaning up after a classroom of kiddos. It seemed like a fantastic idea. Well, that is until we saw the price of these parties.

In most cases, it was something on the order of $300+ just for the location and the staff; then you had to add in the cost of the cake (typically store-bought, for simplicity’s sake), pizza (if it was near a mealtime), drinks, and favors. In some cases, the starting price is even higher (especially for the indoor bouncy place near us), in which case the final tally for a party would be anywhere from $400-500. For a party. For pre-schoolers.

We knew this couldn’t last.

Last year, for dd’s 6th birthday party, we did a gymnastics party at our local YMCA. The limit on kids was something like 27 or 29, including dd (it was all based on ratios of coaches:kids), and we invited her entire Kindergarten class plus a small group of neighborhood kiddos and close friends. The idea was that we would wait to see who from her class just blew it off and then we’d add in the remainder of kids we also wanted to invite. Trouble was, nobody backed out. We had 100% YES RSVPs. It was shocking, to say the least. The YMCA team, much to their credit, rallied and managed to handle the large crowd in style – especially at improvising additional games/activities when some aspects of the party took less time than anticipated. I think we all just found the party overwhelming, and then after doing a twist on the invitation game with ds’ 4th birthday party this summer (starting with the list of neighborhood kids and close friends FIRST and then inviting only select kids from day care), we just felt like we were overspending and overthinking it all.

In our neck of the woods, there are plenty of kiddo party options (outside of the house). You can be active (YMCA, indoor bouncy / gym / playarea, karate, gymnastics, etc.), you can be crafty (Joanns, Michaels, paint-your-own pottery, etc.), you can be educational (such as kid-oriented museums), and you can be outdoorsy (hayride with pumpkin picking, hiking at the nearby Audubon or state park, etc.). The options become completely overwhelming, and the cost isn’t far behind. Even the party favors end up stressing me out: let’s see if we can spend less than $100 on gifts for up to 30 kids and not make it all plastic junk toys or candy. My go-to favor solution has mostly been some kind of notebook, notepad or coloring {thing}, along with some kind of writing/drawing implement (markers, crayons, or pencils) and some form of innocuous kid-oriented food {thing}, such as Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. Buying the writing/drawing stuff from the local Job Lot or Target and the Goldfish from BJs, we typically manage to keep the price on the favors within budget…but it’s all still crazy.

So, this is the year that I pulled the brakes – to a certain extent. I didn’t say that dd couldn’t have a birthday party; I figured we needed to get her on a step-down program. What we’re doing instead is a targeted party at a local Build-a-Bear for just a very select crew. I can’t adequately describe how awful I feel at not being able to invite all of the neighborhood kids, but it’s just cost-prohibitive. For this party, we’re keeping it to just 8 kids, including dd and ds, so she had 6 invitation slots she could fill. That. Was. It.

I figured we could skip the expense of the favor (each kid is going home with a stuffy they made themselves, so I am comfortable with saying THAT is their “favor”), and I let dd pick out a scaled-down cupcake cake that should result in no leftovers and be relatively easy to wrangle in the mall food court, as we take over a table for the food portion of the party after the bears (and other assorted stuffies) have been built.

There’s a part of me that is incredibly happy to say goodbye to the era of the big party for dd; aside from the expense, the stress of trying to figure out how to maximize the experience for a large number and variety of kids is exhausting. Even dealing with the thank you cards is just some new level of insanity; my hat is totally off to the parents of ds’ preschool classmate, who put thank you cards in each favor bag. KUDOS on getting that out of the way, man.

I don’t know how this party will go. It’s tomorrow, and both kids have been stoked to go build some bears. The other kiddos invited to the party have also been jumping up and down at the thought of going, so I’m hoping this doesn’t turn out to be some kind of build-up for not much actual return for them. I just want everyone to have a good time and for it not to break the bank. A part of me also wants dd (and ds) to have the parties I just don’t remember having or going to when I was that age, even though I sincerely doubt that withholding such parties will end up severely adding to their future therapy bills.

It’s just that fine line – balancing the needs of the few (dd & ds) with the needs of the many (all the other kids) and the needs of the one (checking account). Something had to give…and we drew the line in first grade. If this works out fine, ds has only 1-2 more years of “the big party” and then he’ll start his own party step-down program. It may seem crazy to think about it this way, but did I ever mention that I’m an overthinker? Yeah…in spades.

Adventures in CSA (year 2 week 8): Weekend challenge well met!

So, as I noted when I listed off what was in this week’s box, I really wanted to see how much of the fruit and veg we could go through in a single weekend. I can’t say we polished off the entire box, but we certainly made a running start at it.

For one thing, the corn, cherry tomatoes, and cucumber made for an excellent set of additions to the pasta salad recipe I’ll post later this week. Second, the peppers went in a flash at the party (and leftovers were quickly gobbled up by the kids at dinner last night). Third, we got to the Melon Sunday (we had so much food out at the party on Saturday that more fruit would’ve been overkill), and it was very tasty and completely too much for us to kick all on our own in a single day. The blueberries are still in the fridge, as well, due to the fact that the grapes (not part of the CSA box) made the bigger impression on everyone. The grapes from our farm are tiny green grapes (sometimes trending towards a slight red), and they have thicker than usual skins encompassing a squishy fleshy orb. They have a tart flavor that I’ve never encountered in other grapes, and ds was eating them by the handful this morning (as was I).

Everything that we put out on the table that derived from our farm, including their pickled garlic and pickled asparagus (also not part of the CSA box), got rave reviews. It was a nice thing to be able to point to more than half the table and say, “That’s local” (even the tzadziki my sister brought was made with tomatoes and cucumbers from her garden, along with locally-produced yogurt). Of course, I’m still not ready to go full-on locavore (I just don’t have the energy to make it my life’s passion), but I love that we’re able to find a balance point between the reality of our busy lives and the hope that we can eat from a more environmentally-palatable, locally-sustaining supply chain.

So, looking at this week’s tally, it’s fantastic to see that the veggie box not only yielded lots of compliments but also yielded a savings. Fantastic!


Year 2 – Summer Week 8
Grocery Store Unit Price
(per lb)
Grocery Store Total Item Cost
Purple Pepper 0.29 $3.49 $1.01
Sweet Green Pepper 0.21 $3.99 $0.84
Purple Potatoes 1.69 $1.49 $2.51
Blueberries (1/2 pint) 1.00 $2.50 $2.50
Cucumbers (each) 2.00 $0.99 $1.98
Cherry Tomatoes (pint) 1.00 $3.99 $3.99
Melon 5.13 $0.99 $5.08
Field Tomatoes 1.09 $2.99 $3.25
Corn (ears) 6.00 $0.60 $3.60
Grocery Store Total Cost $24.76
Year 2 Summer Week 8 Savings (Deficit) $2.76

The melon clearly had a hand in keeping us in the black this week; that sucker weighed over 5lbs, and it’s really yummy stuff. Also, rather randomly, the price of corn is increasing. Since this is LOCALLY produced corn that they offer at our grocery store (although not as local as what we get at the farmstand, which is grown AT that farm), the drought sweeping the nation shouldn’t be affecting the prices that much, eh? Given that it jumped 20%, I’m glad to see that corn is still relatively cheap. A jump of 20% on more expensive items, like peppers, would probably start to hurt. And I remember seeing seasonality and odd price swings last year, especially in things like beets, so I’m curious to see whether the corn price stays up from this point forward.

So far, overall, I’m up nearly $2.50 for the season. Of course, that’s small change…but when you factor in the lack of truck fuel and exhaust to bring the fruits and veggies to the store (since I’m buying instead from the farm where the stuff is grown), the overall financial impact is greater. Additionally, the more my farm sells, the more likely they are to stay in business, and there should be some measure of property tax coming from them back to my town. The grocery store where I tend to do my regular grocery shopping is one town over, so my town gets NO financial benefit from them if I give them more business.

It all adds up…it’s just a matter of how you want to look at it. And, to be frank, the quality of what I get from the farm so vastly outweighs what I get at the grocery store, it’s not even funny. The cherry tomatoes are the perfect example, where what I get at the grocery store is practically cardboard by comparison. When you put together the farm-fresh veggies, the preparation can also be infinitely smaller since you need to do so much less to it in order to get flavor from it.

OK – off the soapbox. I love being a CSA purchaser, but I know it’s not for everyone. But for those on the fence, really – GIVE IT A TRY. If you don’t like it, I get that. But if you DO like it, you’ll just be ever so glad you gave it that shot.

Adventures in CSA (Year 2 Week 1): No surprises

Color me completely unsurprised that this box wasn’t up to the price that I paid for it. Thinking back on last year’s CSA through work, the veggie box program that seemed destined to build my upper arm strength as I faithfully carried the boxes from my office building allllll the way to my car (not parked next-door), I remember those boxes being filled FULL of stuff. So, when I got this week’s box and it wasn’t nearly as heavy as I expected, and there seemed to be more air than I anticipated, I knew that something was up. In fact, I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be earning back my $22 investment this week.

I was right.

Here’s how it came out:

Year 2 – Summer Week 1
Grocery Store Unit Price
(per lb)
Grocery Store Total Item Cost
Strawberries (pint) 1.00 $3.50 $3.50
Sugar Snap Peas 1.00 $4.99 $4.99
Snow Peas 1.00 $4.99 $4.99
Zucchini 1.25 $1.99 $2.49
Spring Onions 0.31 $0.99 $0.31
Red Russian Kale 0.31 $1.29 $0.40
Red Mustard Greens 0.63 $1.29 $0.81
Carrots 0.50 $0.99 $0.50
Grocery Store Total Cost $17.98
Year 2 Summer Week 1 Savings (Deficit) ($4.02)

Now, it’s not like I’m anywhere near ready to throw in the towel. First off, I have until July 2nd to make a move on whether or not I want to get in on a full season at work’s program for the summer (I can just go month-by-month, otherwise, with no financial penalty). Second, it’s not like there’s a quality issue. This stuff is good, tasty produce. Third, my grocery store isn’t even great about stocking all of these things all the time. In fact, the mustard greens gave me a run for my money, since they didn’t even have them in store this week and I had to look at their price for their “To Go” program (similar to a Peapod-type service) to find out what they usually charge. Plus, my grocery store doesn’t carry Red Russian Kale. They carry (regular green) Kale. Period. That’s not a knock on them; it’s just a statement of fact. Lastly, I understand that the farm has to make money. Really, none of these programs survive if they give away more food than they can afford, offering boxes that routinely are worth more than they produce. I get the concept of profit margin, really I do.

What’s funny is how fast we’ve already gone through a few items. The mustard greens were cooked a day after we got the box (tasty, simple recipe to follow), and the strawberries are greatly depleted. This farm is our regular source for strawberries when they’re in season, and we’ve been going through about 1/2 dry gallon of strawberries every week for the last two weeks. DH had to act fast and stock up, since dd finally caught up to ds on falling in love with the tasty red berry.

So, we’ll see how week 2 goes. I’ve already threatened to use up the snow peas, carrots and kale on a stir-fry, so the week 1 box will disappear RAPIDLY. If week 2 goes similarly, my decision-making process on which box program to use (irrespective of the financial value) may be really tough.