Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Splash Into Spring - A Family Dance Party

Back in April, something really fun happened - the Primary hosted a family dance for our ward.  For those of you who don't speak the Mormon lingo fluently, the "Primary" is the name of our children's organizations, and "ward" is what we call our congregations.  I am currently our ward Primary President, and so along with my counselors and secretary, our families, and some help from other talented friends, we hosted a really fun afternoon of dancing and games for our ward families and friends.

Now, I'm a firm believer in good documentation, detailed notes, sharing success stories, and NOT reinventing the wheel, so if you are also a person who likes to host dance parties or if you are a Mormon who may in the future be asked to plan an event, this post may be your ticket to happiness in the form of my notes for a successful family dance party.  And if you're not any of those things, this post may just be long and wretched and painful.  Consider this a warning.  (And I will not for a second be offended if you skim through the photos and go back to watching cat videos on youtube).

If you are still reading, this was our recipe for a fun family dance party.

Step #1: Set the date, get it on the calendar, determine a theme and recruit someone very talented to help with the decor.  As a Primary presidency we came up with the "Splash into Spring" theme, we thought of general ideas to pull the theme together without going crazy with our budget (umbrellas? galoshes? raindrops? balloons for clouds?) and then we asked our very talented artist friend Guenieve if she would help us as our sort of design guru.  She worked with the supplies we had, bought a few additional things to finish the effect, and it was perfect - simple and quite adorable.  Does your church gym have those mauve panels left over from the 90s up on the walls?  Yeah, ours does too, but with minimal fuss Guenieve transformed those puppies into something hip and happening.

Step #2: Even more powerful than my firm belief in not reinventing the wheel is my belief in the absolute necessity of advertising.  What is the sense in putting energy into an event that is not well advertised and doesn't draw a crowd?  So, I send an initial Save the Date email to our ward listserv four or so weeks in advance of the event, two or three weeks prior to the event I put flyers on the bulletin boards around the church, the week before the dance I put small flyer inserts in each of the Sacrament programs, we talked it up in Primary to the kids for weeks, and two days before the event I sent out a reminder email to our entire ward listserv.  All of the advertising focused on the event being fun for all members of the ward, I advertised that there would be treats and games, and that it would be perfect to invite friends to.  Yes, advertising required a bit of effort and I used some of our budget to make nice flyers at Kinkos, but I looked through our photos after the dance and counted all of the people who showed up for our event, and including children and babies, there were 120 people in attendance, which is pretty great for us.  Good, upbeat advertising is worth every expense.

Step #3: So AH!  Now that you've talked it up, and made sure the space is going to look great even with a lean budget, how do you make sure that the dance is actually FUN, and not a big flop?  That's a really good question.  There are just a few elements to consider.

First and foremost, think about who would be a good MC for the dance.  This person's job is not only to welcome everyone and organize an opening and closing prayer, but this person has to inspire excitement at an event that honestly inspires dread in so many people.  I've been around for a few years and have made some friends and I'm pretty sure most of our ward came just because they wanted to support me and my Presidency and this event we had planned.  But afterwards I got the feedback that even though dances can go a few different directions - especially family dances that cater to a wide demographic - ours had been so much fun.  Your MC needs to be someone who will make everyone feel like they just arrived in Disney World, but in a non-obnoxious way.  Your MC will also lead the games, so they should walk through the details in their head and be comfortable with what they need to announce.  They also need to know technical things like how to pause the music and restart it, which is required of some of the games I will list.

Our approach from the beginning was to make sure that the dance was a good combination of "free dance" songs, and "game" songs.  I searched the internet for all dance party games, and pulled out the ones that would work best for our group, and this is what our final music line up looked like:

We started this music at 2:50pm to welcome early birds (the event started at 3pm).

- Party in the USA – Miley Cyrus – 3:22
- Keep your Head Up – Andy Grammer – 3:10
- On Top of the World – Imagine Dragons – 3:10
- I Got You (I Feel Good) – James Brown – 2:46
- ABC – Jackson 5 – 2:57

The MC (me) welcomed everyone and we had an opening prayer at 3:05, and then we started our main playlist.

- Happy – Pharrell Williams – 3:53
- The Twist – Chubby Checker – 2:39
- Black or White – Michael Jackson – 3:19
- What Makes you Beautiful – One Direction – 3:18
- Limbo Rock – Chubby Checker – 2:25 (During this song we pulled out broom sticks and did a very fun limbo dance-off)
- Say (hey) I love you - Michael Franti & Spearhead – 3:56 (During this song we played the Bear Hug Game.  At random points in the song I paused the music and yelled out a number, and the dancers had to run and cluster in bear hugs with the number of people that I had called out)
- The Way I am – Ingrid Michaelson – 2:15 (This one I announced as a couples dance, so most of the kids went to get cookies while their parents danced - such a sweet, short song, and not too cheesy)
- Waka Waka – Shakira – 3:23
- Barbara Ann – The Beach Boys – 2:13 (I secretly don't like The Beach Boys music at all, but this number is really upbeat, so we used it as a chance to play our balloon pop game.  I brought out three huge trash bags full of blown-up balloons, and dumped them all over the dance floor.  The kids jumped on them to pop them all, and inside of each was a small paper.  Printed on three of the papers was the word "prize" and the kids who popped those balloons came up to claim a little prize).
- Clean Up Song - Barney - :33 (Um, Marcos' idea.  Hilarious.  The clean up song came on, and the kids picked up all of the balloon bits before we moved on with the party).
- September – Earth, Wind, Fire – 3:35
- Let there be Love – Nat King Cole - 2:47 (I announced this one as a Daddy/Daughter, Mommy/Son dance.  Totally sweet song that is vague enough to be about filial love!)
- Jump in the Line – Harry Belafonte – 3:45
- Celebration – Kool and the Gang – 3:36 (During this song we did the Snowball Dance Game.  I picked a couple to start dancing alone in the middle of the floor, and a little ways into the song I said "snowball!" and they split and pulled two new people onto the floor, then I said "snowball!" again and they all split and grabbed a new partner onto the dance floor.  We repeated the game until the song was over and the floor was covered with dancers).
- YMCA – The Village People – 4:41
- The Way You Look Tonight – Michael Buble 4:38
- Do you Love Me? – The Contours – 2:55

I then thanked everyone for coming and we said a closing prayer, after which we continued with our clean up party playlist!

- Let it Go – Frozen – 2:05 (This is when some real magic happened.  There was a general sense of exhilaration in the air and we were all tired and happy after a fun dance, but instead of fizzling out, it just got better.  As the adults started cleaning up, taking down decorations, sweeping, etc. some of the kids came up and wanted to sing into the microphone along with the songs from Frozen that were playing over the speakers.  So, we had a cute line up of girls and boys who belted it out into that microphone along to our cleaning party).
- Marry You – Bruno Mars – 3:50
- New Soul – Yael Naim – 3:45
- Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show – 3:52
- It’s My Party – Leslie Gore – 2:16
- Closing Time – Semisonic – 4:34

And that was our general line-up.  If you do a dance party and want to use this playlist you are more than welcome to it.  If you want to change some songs you are of course very welcome to tailor your playlist to your group, but I have one word of advice: when you are thinking about putting in a new song, play it in your living room and have a few people dance to it right then and there.  Marcos and I have made a few playlists for dances since we've been married, and we've found that there are some great songs that are terrible for a dance party.  You want to find either a good fast-paced ditty that will keep you moving, or a specifically slow song.  The in-between tempo becomes really dull to dance to, unless it is an iconic song like YMCA that everyone knows and has actions for.  You'll notice that our favorite mid-tempo songs fell into the "clean up party" list after the dance was over, because by then the music was mainly for background enjoyment.

And here are a few more details, in case some day down the road I want to replicate this event in a new setting:

When?  Saturday afternoon, 3:00 to 4:30pm.  After naps, and before meal time.

Budget?  $100, although we used more like $120 because I really wanted good quality flyers for our advertising.  We spent about $60 - $70 on all sorts - but mainly chocolate varieties - of cookies and drinks (that's ALL we served - so simple) and there were exactly 2 cookies left over at the end, we spent about $20-$30 on decor, and another $20 or so on copies of big flyers and small inserts for Sacrament Meeting programs.  

Set up?  In preparation for the dance we had a balloon blowing party the night before to prep for the balloon pop game as well as the "cloud" balloons that were part of the decor, and we met at noon on the day of the dance to put up the decorations, set up the big semi-circle of chairs, set up the AV and arrange the refreshment tables how we wanted them.  

And I think that's it!  If you're still with me, you deserve a prize.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Club

Someone was telling me last week that there is a new study out suggesting that being a Stay At Home Mom is the most stressful job there is - at least in part because it is the only job you don't really have the option of quitting.

So, as one of those Stay At Home Moms, there are things I do with my own time to counter the beautiful chaos that is raising children, and to feed my soul.  For the last year I have been moving my body, I socialize, I make things, I write, and lately, I have become an Audiobook Queen.  With moderation, audiobooks are the most wonderful invention in the world.  The physical pain of running and the tedium of washing dishes and cleaning a house are made sweet by the experience of listening to good literature as I work.

But literature + socializing may be the very best way to enjoy good writing.  Years ago I joined a book club with friends who are sometimes very alike, and sometimes very different than myself, and since we rotate assigning books each month, we have read things we might not have reached for on our own.  This month my friend Chelsea assigned "The School of Essential Ingredients" and, inspired by the book's story of a cooking school, she planned a night for us to cook and eat together, which we did, happily, until midnight.  Do you know the last time I had a meal that took three hours to get through, simply because I ate slowly, and conversed with friends, and savored the work and art of my hands?  All of us are moms and loved the pace of our meal together, so different from our day to day lives.

At the end of the night not one piece of Chelsea's grandmother's china had been broken, although a piece of stemware had toppled over (unhurt) when a sentence was punctuated with a wild gesticulation.  The book we discussed was about the power of food and senses, and the way that cooking together can create warmth and community, and as I drove away that night, I felt like we had achieved just that - such warmth and community.  In my life there are a few things that make me feel very rich, and these kind of evenings are richness of the best variety.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Flying Children

Marcos made a group of really wonderful friends as a student at UNC, and we've been having regular, if infrequent, potluck meals with them over the past year or so.  We had his friends over this past week for dinner and in the warm summer evening we decided to take a walk around the neighborhood.  Keith is a budding photographer and took some great photos of Marcos and the kids silhouetted against the darkening sky.

And then Shane got ahold of a few of the photos and decided to use his photoshop skills to make some tweaks.

But this one is by far the best.  Thanks for a laugh, Shane!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Birthday and Graduation Celebration

At the very beginning of May, on a Saturday a few weeks after Gigi turned 4 and a week before Marcos graduated from UNC, I threw a joint party to celebrate these two loves in my life and their special occasions.  Since I have become the queen of easy parties, this was actually enjoyable for me for every second except the hour running up to the party when the charcoal wasn't getting hot quickly enough, per usual.  The elements of our happy party were simply: sidewalk chalk for the kids to decorate a Happy Birthday Gigi sign and a rented pavilion adjacent to a super playground and park...

...lots of good potluck foods because I have gotten to the point in life where I would rather have people bring food than gifts (we grilled and provided the kosher dogs, buns, condiments, drinks and cupcakes)...

...we had about 80 of our friends and family (favorite neighbors, ward friends, Marcos' school buddies and work friends)...

...a few frisbees and bubbles...

...and of course, CUPCAKES!  

Of course, as the hostess there is always some background gopher work to be done and I never get to talk with people as much as I would like to, but the weather was prime and the troops looked happy.  My only disappointment with the day's festivities was that I never found the opportunity to give a little speech I had been planning to give - to a special little girl who makes her parents happy and proud every day, and to a husband who, despite kicking against the idea of going back to school for many years, finally did so and ended up bringing to his studies the same enthusiasm, hard work, love for the people around him and magnetic zeal that he brings to every aspect of his life.

Happy 4th Birthday, sweet Giovanna Vitoria, and Congratulations Babe, for graduating from UNC!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

4th of July Photo Shoot

For months I've been wanting to bring out the camera and try to do a little photo session of the kids, and finally yesterday it happened.  It was an all-hands-on-deck ordeal with me mainly behind the camera and Marcos mainly doling out smile-bribes and acting a goof to get the kid's attention.  And out of the 300+ photos we came home with, I think that a few are real keepers.  My main goal was not to stress out if things weren't going like I wanted them to, and considering that I was working with Mister Wiggle the 20-month old monkey, that was not an easy feat.

Gigi has always had for the camera what I call the "creepy smile" (head lolling to the side, teeth bared, eyes rolled sideways), but we were pleasantly surprised to find that once we had gotten through some cheesy grins, she was cooperative, relaxed and even ready to initiate some of her own poses.  Here is one of those early cheesy grins.  She was getting it out of her system.

Oh, Orion.  What a grumpy age of life.  But on the other hand, Gigi!  Bless you for being such a sport!  This photo below is so cute to me.  It just makes me wish I were more talented with editing, and photography, and could perfect the coloring and lighting.  Ah well.

I think this one above is my favorite of Orion.  Always on the go.

Before we left this morning I did a cram session read-up on how to make photo sessions with kids successful, and letting kids be kids and play and be natural made it to nearly all of the articles.  Some of my funner photos, like the above, were Gigi's brain children.  The photo below is rather unspectacular, except that it shows how completely edible our son is.  I want to capture the reason why I give him four thousand kisses a day.

In this photo Gigi is saying, "Mom, I'm DOOOONE!"  So we called it a wrap!