Category Archives: Kids Birthday Parties

Bar mitzvah #2 in the books!

Hey kids– remember me??

It’s good to be back! I’m finally coming up for air after a few months of nuttiness. I like the full-time job but it’s kicking my ass– lots of hours and intense focus required. I was producing our local “Listen to Your Mother,” show in May, and Aden became a bar mitzvah this past weekend.

Lots of planning, hours on the computer, and stress. I’d like to say I took it well, but I was a frazzled mess for much of the last month. I’d work 10 hours a day and read emails on the train home.

Aden practicing torah reading with our cantor

Aden practicing torah reading with our cantor

After dinner and getting the kids to bed, I’d be up til the wee hours working on the bar mitzvah video invitation, montage, invite list, and general party planning.

The invitation came out great, thanks to Aden’s swagger. You can watch it here.

We’re taking a trip to Israel with two sets of grandparents and my cousin and her boyfriend in August to celebrate Aden’s bar mitzvah. We’re going for 10 days with a guide and chose lots of outdoorsy activities seeing animals and sights, which Aden should love.

Because of the trip, we were trying to keep the local celebration low-key. But all of our family is out-of-town so we knew we’d be hosting meals and events all weekend, and low-key is hard for me when it comes to parties.

I like things to look a certain way. I wanted the celebration to be personal and make Aden feel special, without the dancers and a photo booth.

Bar mitzvah logo on cake

Thanks to the one and only Able Baker for the delicious and beautiful cake!

I think we accomplished all of this, but it required a lot of work and angst to get there. I’m happy with how it all turned out. But let’s just say I needed the help of my dutiful mother,  a lot of friends, and Ambien. Even with the sleeping pill, I didn’t sleep more than 5-6 hours a night for weeks!

Aden was wonderful on the bimah, and our kiddush lunch was intimate and fun. We had some friends and family over for a backyard party Saturday night– which closely resembled a college keg party– and turned out to be one of the highlights of the weekend.

At the end of the day, of course it’s really about the people and love in the room and we are so lucky to have amazing friends and family to share in our pride and joy in Aden.

I’ll blog again when I get the official photographer’s pix– my one regret from the weekend is that I did not take one photo. ACK! I was trying to be ‘in the moment’ and too distracted by all the people and planning.

But my mom took a few at the kiddush during the speeches.

Bar mitzvah candle lighting

Bar mitzvah candle lighting

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from my speech to Aden… who was poised and charming through it all. Unlike my other two boys, Aden doesn’t like so much attention– which is why we planned the Israel trip– but he rose to the occasion in a big way– rocking a bow tie.

Aden’s independent thinking and self-confidence from a very young age has always left me envious and made my heart swell with love and pride.
He’s a complicated dude.  

He’s quiet and poker faced… extremely sensitive, thoughtful and sweet. He can be icy cold and pissed off one minute, and hugging and kissing you an hour later. He is my most challenging child– often stubborn, sometimes obstinate– and yet I know with unshakable certainty that he’s the one who will take care of me when I’m old.
He’ll play NBA on PS 4 all day, and read poetry in bed at night. Aden can tell you more about the two-toed sloth than you ever needed to know and play you ”Ode to Joy” on his guitar.

He’s a talented athlete, but always takes the field or court on his own terms. He plays hard and as a pitcher and point guard, handles pressure with ease and grace. While he may be hard on himself at times, he always supports his teammates and cheers them on.

He’s our own little Renaissance Man.

Jand E gave a short congrats speech to Aden.

Jand E gave a short congrats speech to Aden.

One of the best parts of throwing a bar mitzvah and going through all the angst and stress is to celebrate your child at an important time in his life. We know who Aden is to us in our family, but now he’s a teenager and has his own place in the world and life outside of home that we sometimes know little about.
The teen years are a challenging time for kids – everyone’s trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.  I love the opportunity to take a moment to recognize every part of Aden and celebrate what makes him special to so many people here today.  

Anyone who’s planned one of these events knows how much time and energy it requires, and there may have been moments when I questioned why it’s necessary to have a big party to celebrate this milestone. 
But then I saw Aden on the bimah working with the rabbi and cantor, reading Hebrew– focused, committed and unafraid. I listened to the words of friends and family describing him for the montage: compassionate, smart, funny. I watched him try on a suit, choose a bow tie, lace up man shoes, and nod approvingly in the mirror. 
And I realized what we are celebrating is Aden growing, maturing, and becoming his own person. 

Today– at least in Jewish tradition– he became a man. I can’t wait to see what kind of man he’ll be. I feel so lucky to be a small part of this Renaissance Man’s journey. I hope he carries the sweetness of this day throughout his life….and I hope his confidence and talents help him realize all his dreams.”

Mazel tov kid!

Why Wilson hates sleepovers

Last Saturday night, Wilson and I were at Eli’s baseball game, freezing our asses off in the dark and willing it to be over when we received a text. It was Aden who was with a bunch of friends at our block party, and he was asking for a sleepover.

Every time one of our kids asks for a sleepover Wilson’s visceral and immediate reaction is “NO!!!”

Wilson doesn’t get riled up over much but if there are two parenting scourges he despises most it’s Playdoh (hardened in the bottom of the toy box and carpet is his fav)….and  sleepovers.

No good ever comes of sleepovers!” he wails each time, as if I’m not aware of his feeling on the subject. “They stay up too late and come home tired and cranky!!”  

sleepovers on

Jacob’s giant sleepover party in 2011. (There was no sleeping)

And he’s right. No matter how many times they swear they’ll go to bed early, they always stay up late and teeter on a tantrum the following day. Or they get sick. Or break a bone. Or bring back lice.

When you host, there’s always the risk of the anxious kid tapping you at 2am pleading to go home…or the broken chips in the bottom of the sleeping bags and sticky juice spills on whatever surface was closest to the video controller.

What’s nuts is that they have zero memory of any of the negative effects the dreaded sleepover has on them. It’s as if their recall of raging, crying, and passing out in a bowl of rice at dinner the following day have been zapped from their brains.

I don’t care for sleepovers either– in the same way I don’t like the shiny synthetic sports shorts my kids wear daily– but I’ve accepted them as part of boyhood. Sometimes you have to let kids be kids, even when you know there’s a better way.

So I’m usually the one talking Wilson off the “NO!” ledge by offering reasons why spending the night at a friend’s house (or worse, at our house) might be ok. Wilson loves a good excuse, so our rule is generally no sleepovers if you have a game the next day before 2pm. One of the virtues of Hebrew school at 9am every Sunday is that it eliminates many Saturday night sleepover opportunities. Homework can also serve as a deterrent.

But none of those applied Saturday night. I texted the host mom to make sure she hadn’t lost her senses by opening her home to 3 pre-teen boys determined to play Xbox and text girls all night. She (foolishly) insisted it was no problem so Wilson relented and Aden was off.

Sleepover graphic on


Not 15 minutes later we got a text from Jacob asking to sleep at his friend’s house. While we wanted to say no– because the more he’s out of our sight, the more likely he is to get into trouble– we couldn’t come up with a legitimate reason.

Sleepovers at 15 are a whole other concern. We’ve developed communication avenues and trust with Jacob, and the “make good decisions!” mantra is so overused (I literally say it every time he leaves, even for school in the morning) it’s become almost comical.

But still. If he wants to be out of the house on a weekend night, there is a high possibility of shenanigans.

Part of the reason I give in when the boys beg for an overnight with friends is because I remember how much I loved sleeping over when I was growing up. Some of my favorite memories are of crashing in my friend Deb’s basement after crank calling boys, pounding Diet Cokes and having deep talks about life as  James Taylor, Queen, and Steely Dan played in the background.

Giggling with my girls circa 1985

Giggling with my girls circa 1985

When we finally turned off the lights, there was a glow from the neon beer sign over her parents’ wood-paneled bar. We’d laugh until our sides ached or until one of us fell asleep. In the morning we’d eat Lucky Charms and gossip with her mom.

Good times!  How can I deny my kids that bonding experience?

There are also life lessons to be learned in the 24 hours spent in another house. Navigating peer pressure, sleeping in a different bed, and respecting another family’s rules (and craziness) can be an education in itself. Sometimes it even makes kids appreciate coming home.

Grownup sleepovers on

Chatting til the wee hours at Tufts reunion 2015. I still love a sleepover!

So when Eli asked to have a few friends sleep over for his birthday in a few weeks I said I would consider it. I’m certain I’ll regret it by 12:30am… and I’ll have to slip a Valium into Wilson’s beer to cut down on the griping.

But I’ll say yes, and hope the exhausted, crabby, ungrateful child we’re left with the next day will be overshadowed by a great memory.

What’s your take on sleepovers? Tell me in the comments.


Carpool Candy 2014 Holiday Gift Guide for Kids

Here’s the third and final installment of gift guides! Hope you found something good in the gift guides for ladies and gentlemen. Holiday goodies continue with kids stuff!

While putting this list together, I planned to separate boys and girls for easier shopping, but realized I didn’t want to perpetuate gender stereotypes. I bet there are boys who’d love a cooking kit and girls who’d want a basketball mug, so I mixed it up. There’s also something for all ages– from 4 year olds to fussy teens.

Click on the name of the gift for website links to buy or get more info. All different price points included. And please note that I get nada from any of these vendors. (Hopefully they’ll be cool with me swiping their photos and we’ll call it even.)

These suggestions are my gift to you, loyal readers. If you want to throw some good will my way, share the link to this list on social media. The price is right, and no wrapping!

Happy shopping!

Purl Soho kniting starter kit on

Knitting starter kit — If your gal is crafty, this kit could inspire a new passion, or add to her yarn collection. It includes enough soft Merino wool to knit a scarf, plus birch needles and an instruction book. ($62)

constructive plate set on

Construction plate & utensils— For the kid who loves trucks and/or needs a push to clean his/her plate. ($18)

Uncommon Goods Mr Food Face on

For older kids (and maybe some adults!) how fun is Mr. Food Face? There’s a Mrs. Food Face to accessorize too. ($12)

Lululemon bag on
LuLu Lemon bag— Lulu Lemon has became a coveted brand for young girls. This nylon cross-body bag is a great size, has an adjustable strap, and features special pockets for her cell phone and sunglasses. ($68)

Zara terez leggings gumballs on

Zara terez pink leggings on

Crazy leggings— I don’t have girls but the hippest little gals I know are wearing funky leggings from designer Zara Terez. Some look like blown-up photographs of candy and cereal, others are cartoonish, vintage, or psychedelic. They seem to know no age limit! ($48)

selfie wand on

Selfie wand-– Selfies aren’t going away. Kids– especially teens– love capturing their every move. This magic wand makes it easier to get cool backdrops and more people involved. ($25)

Pedi sox assortment on

Pedi-socks — If you have a girl who likes to pamper herself, pamper her further with these adorable socks that keep your tootsies warm while preserving your pedicure. Available in many patterns and colors, they may also appeal to girls who like to wear flip-flops all year long. ($12)

Whoozizit charger stickers on

iPhone recharger stickers — If your house is like mine, there’s a lot of fighting over who took the recharger. These clever sticker sets make identifying chargers a cinch. ($13 for 4)

Restoration Hardware faux fur slippers on

Faux fur slippers— This furry footwear evokes fireside at the ski lodge. They’re a bit more sophisticated than UGGs at a much cozier price. ($19)

drivers license kit on


New License kit— Older teens are hard to buy for but this kit is a nod to their new maturity and responsibility, and who wouldn’t love fuzzy dice? ($25)

Pull apart Olaf on

Talking Olaf— If your kids’ Frozen obsession hash’t cooled off, this Olaf doll can be pulled apart and put back together AND will sleigh you with jokes. ($23)

pottery barn gold star glitter pillows on

Gold star glitter pillows— Show her she shines bright in your eyes with these fun pillows for a chair or bed. She’ll probably think the sparkly cat is also adorbs. ($36)

pottery barn flower pillows on

If she’s more preppie than glitzy, try these monogrammed pillows. ($22-30)

KidStir TacoTruckBox on

Cooking kits-– Foodies can choose from baking yummy treats, or cooking sweet breakfasts or gourmet tacos. The taco kit comes with 3 Mexican recipes, fun food facts, menu suggestions, cooking tools, and all the ingredients.  ($25 for single kit or $60 for 3 months)

RH voice changer on

Voice changer – Answer the phone like a robot or record a voicemail like a spaceman. Kids will love the 9 different voice-disguising effects. You’ll like the big fun for a small price. ($12)

hoop mug on carpoolcandy.comHoop mug–Ceramic mug is perfect for shooting marshmallows into hot chocolate or crackers into soup. ($24)

receiver gloves on


Football receiver gloves — My sports-obsessed boys don’t play on a football team but love to toss the pigskin around in the park or backyard. They say these gloves are the coolest new thing because when you put your hands together to receive the ball, they create a design or spell out a logo. ($35)
cubebot on

Wooden robot — How’s this for a mix of old and new? A puzzle and toy, this beautifully carved wooden robot turns into a cube. ($20)

grommet zipline kit on

Zipline kit — We want the kids to back away from the screens and play outside more, yes? Here’s a great motivator. This kit will help you (or your handyman) set up a zipline in your backyard. And check out the light-up version for night zipping. ($120)

uncommon goods smartphone projector on carpoolcandy.comSmart phone projector— Kids can see their favorite YouTube videos and Instagram pix blown up on any wall with this simple box. Great for parties too. ($27)

grommet bracelet maker on carpoolcandy.comFriendship bracelet tool— — Maybe she’s graduated from the Rainbow Loom but still needs to get her craft on. This handy gadget was invented by a mom who saw her daughter struggling to make more intricate bracelet styles. The tool spins, and you create colorful designs, loops, zigzags and more. ($35)

thirty-one bags on carpoolcandy.comMonogrammed tote bag — Thirty-one makes sturdy, fun bags of virtually any size and shape– from lunch bags to totes to cinch-sacks– in tons of patterns.

thirty-one cinch sack on

The cinch sack can be monogrammed  for a personal touch. Perfect for sleepovers and the price is nice. ($20)

grommet inroad tape on
Portable road tape— I love this idea for little kids, especially when traveling or visiting relatives. Keep some Matchbox cars in a bag, put the tape down on any floor or table and you have an instant playground that stimulates imagination. The tape won’t damage surfaces or leave a sticky residue. You can even use it for decorating. ($13)

Japanese marbling kit on

Marbling paint kit— For the kid into art, this kit teaches Japanese marbling technique. ($16)

Hammacher Darth Vader toaster on carpoolcandy.comKitschy toasters-– If your kids are into certain pop culture icons, this may help you get them out of the bed in the morning. The Star Wars logo as Darth Vader transforms innocent slices of bread into sinister breakfast tokens of evil. ($50)

Hello Kitty toaster on

If Hello Kitty is more your style, she comes on toast too.

If you don’t find everything you need on these lists, check out the 2012 gift guides for kids here and 2013’s here.

Carpool Candy holiday gift guide for kids 2013

If they’re over 5, kids can be so jaded these days when it comes to gifts. They get so much– if not from parents, then from grandparents and extended family– and as they get older it’s difficult to find presents that wow.

I’ve compiled some possibilities here that are mostly gender-neutral and appeal to a wide age range. Each gift has a link for easy online purchasing. In case you’re wondering, I have no affiliation with any of these products. I’m just here to serve your shopping needs. Hope you find something great for the little people in your lives.  Happy shopping!

My Buds wrapped earphones on

Wrapped headphones:    Not only do they look cool, but when these earphones are wrapped in bright yarns, they won’t tangle… and you can always recognize right and left buds.  Made to order in a ton of colors. Who says I’m not hip?! ($28)

Nirvanna shark hat for kids on

Wool animal hat and mittens:    These animal hats will be a big hit with kids. If sharks aren’t their thang, there are dozens of other animals from pigs to owls to zebras. ($35)

Nirvanna animal hats for kids on

Pair the hat with these unbearably cute mittens! ($40)

hello kitty boombox on

Hello Kitty! boom box:    I’m a sucker for Hello Kitty because she reminds me of childhood. Girls of any age probably couldn’t resist this kitschy HK music maker. It’s the purrrrfect gift. ($35)

Electronic drum on carpoolcandy.comElectronic drum:   Do you know a wannabe rock star? I do, and all he wants is one of these.  This set features play-along songs, plus the ability to input an MP3 to jam along with your favorite tunes. Also includes headphones for mom’s sanity. ($52)

Super hero shirt with cape attached on

Super hero shirt:  For little avengers, this Batman caped t-shirt is adorable. Comes in Superman too. ($13)

easybake ultimate oven blue on

Easybake Ultimate Oven:   For girls, boys, college kids, even nostalgic moms, check out this updated version of the classic. Now it comes in less gender-specific blue and black, and you can buy accessories and special bake mixes for aspiring cake bosses. ($40)

Photo puzzles for kids on carpoolcandy.comPhoto puzzle:    Most kids love puzzles and themselves, so this is a win-win. Pick your favorite and/or funniest picture and turn it into a puzzle on Shutterfly. May also be a good project for those long days over winter break! ($20)

sport helmet fohawx on

Sport helmet accessory:   These goofy add-ons to bike, skate, or ski helmets by Fohawx are unisex and fun for attention-seeking, outdoorsy types.  ($17)

Cool bike wheel lights on

Bike lights:   How cool are these? These LED lights digitally display colorful designs with every turn of your wheel. 48 different themes of brilliant Technicolor patterns from stripes to hearts to stars shine bright as you ride. They’re so fun to look at, your kids won’t even realize they also make riding in the dark more safe. ($40-60)

Sports Illustrated Everything Kids book on

Sports Illustrated  Kids book:   If you have a sports fan (and I have a few) on your list, Sports Illustrated Kids’ Top 10 of Everything in Sports has cool action photos and more stats than they ever needed to know. ($15)

toothbrush holder timer on carpoolcandy.comToothbrush holder/timer:  For the kid who likes to do everything right and have it just so.  This is a toothbrush holder that doubles as a timer. You set it for 2 minutes to make sure the kids are brushing long enough. Clever! ($17)

Fathead wall stickers on

Fatheads:  These wall decals stick without ruining your walls and can turn a boring bedroom into a kid’s clubhouse. They have everything from sports figures to Disney princesses to views from space.  (Prices range from $25- 100, depending on size.)

Rainbow loom guide book on carpoolcandy.comRainbow loom accessories:     By now your kids must have a loom, but how about accessories for the all-consuming pastime? A new book gives directions on many methods and looks, and this case has 10 dividers to customize and keep up to 5000 bands organized.  (Book $17, case $15)

chalkboard t-shirt on

Chalkboard t-shirt:   It’s a shirt, an activity, and a fashion statement all in one! These fun t-shirts come in several colors and chalkboard shapes, for boys and girls. Each has a tiny pocket to hold your chalk so you can express yourself over and over again. ($27)

Poppy drops temporary tattoo earrings on

Temporary tattoo earrings:  If you know a girl who’s ready for earrings but mom is not, these are a cute and stylish alternative, or accessory for those already pierced.  Made of food-grade vegetable dye, they are safe for any age. ($24)

Goldieblox building set and book on

Goldie Blox building set and book:   I love this gift because it’s aimed at inspiring girls’ interest in building and problem-solving. Studies show more than 80% of engineers in the US are male so this company has created a character who appears in a series of books and companion building sets. ($30)

Lego architecture building sets on

Lego architecture series:    Perfect for kids who like to build and collect, it’s a series of replicas of real-world architectural landmarks, from the Empire State Building to the White House to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Taj Mahal. Each set comes with instructions and details on design and history. The blocks don’t look like Legos so they’re for an older, industrious kid. ($15 and up)

If you’re still on the hunt, try last year’s gift guide for more ideas here.

What are you giving this year? Share any ideas in the comments.   And if all this consumerism isn’t your bag, there’s always a charity gift card option, where kids can choose a cause to which they’d like to donate.

Happy Holidays!

Summer of the rainbow loom

In July I had lunch with some friends who were talking about what gifts to bring their daughters for visiting day at sleep away camp. I was only half-listening– because I have sons who don’t go to sleep away camp– but they mentioned something about a Rainbow Loom.

Then one day my 7-year-old came home with a wrist full of rainbow rubber. Some girls on his day camp bus were madly making these bracelets and all he had to do was request a few colors and the next day, another one would appear on his arm.

rainbow loom bracelets on

I started to spot the loom-lets everywhere. Boys and girls of every age, moms, dads, even some guy sweating in front of me in yoga class.

It’s a bonafide trend.

I always wonder how that happens so quickly. I remember the Silly Bandz craze a few years ago, but the Rainbow Loom takes it a step further because instead of just buying and collecting, kids create them. The small, plastic loom comes in a kit with a crochet hook and hundreds of tiny, colored rubber bands, that you somehow weave into accessories.

rainbow loom on

The product is the brainchild of Michigan inventor Choon Ng, who created the Rainbow Loom in his basement as a family project with his two daughters, Teresa, 15, and Michelle, 12, and his wife, Fen Chan.

They started selling it locally about a year ago, but when national giant Michael’s craft store picked it up, the kit took off. The looms and rubber band refills have been bouncing off the shelves, often requiring Michael’s and other toy stores to put customers on waiting lists.

Tutorials have popped up on YouTube to guide loomers to create different patterns like starbursts, fishtails, zigzags, rain drops, and diamonds. Crafty friends say looming is fun and can even be meditative.

Rainbow Looming is apparently crafter’s nirvana.

I love a trend that’s genderless and ageless.  7-year-old Eli has a birthday coming up and he wants his own loom. He’s excited to create bracelets with the colors of all his favorite sports teams.

That’s as close to crafty as we’re gonna get.

Have you or your kids caught the looming bug? Tell me in the comments.

Making it personal: bar mitzvah decorating ideas

Ok, last bar mitzvah post (for now!)… but the others have been popular so apparently there’s a hunger for planning info…and/or people are just nosy and like to see what others are doing.

I get it!

This one focuses on decorations and how we tried to make the Kiddush lunch and evening party personal.

Bar mitzvah decorating, personalizing: Custom M&Ms

You can buy services for just about anything you want when planning a bash. In an effort to save money, I didn’t hire a party planner, or anyone to do flowers, décor, or favors. While I’m not crafty, I have some creative vision and enjoyed putting the party together on my own. The down side is the time and energy self-service entails. I was busy researching and ordering online, and borrowing or gathering items around the house for many weeks leading up to the event. The last two weeks required a lot of schlepping. But to me, it was all worth it.  (Wilson may have another story.)

If you’re interested in personalizing your party it might help to make a list of all the things your kid (or whomever is your guest of honor) loves. Jacob is a sports fanatic so that was an easy place to start.

Kiddush lunch personalizing:

I tried to stay basic for the lunch: white tablecloths—you can do paper or linens, depending on your budget—because they’re bright, classic, and everything goes with white. I bought plastic plates and cutlery from  (they have great color variety) in chocolate-brown and had a roll of burlap ribbon and hardware store twine to accessorize. I bought hydrangea plants from Home Depot for each table, and took some home to plant and gave others to friends who helped after the party.

Bar mitzvah decorating personalizing cookies

Another way we cut corners was doing dessert ourselves, instead of including it in the catering package. (I could have skipped it altogether but I love sweets too much.) I got a “J” cookie cutter and made 5-dozen sugar cookies the week before the bar mitzvah and froze them so they stayed fresh. When several wonderful friends offered to help, I had them bake their favorite treats, which I displayed on my own platters and baskets from home. The wide variety of homemade desserts was a huge hit with guests.

One personal touch I added was ordering custom M&M’s with messages like  “Mazel tov,” and “Jacob 3-23-13.“  Another was this cool sticker gum with Jacob’s face on it that a friend made for us.

Personalizing bar mitzvah sticker gum

Since I had already endured the arduous task of gathering photos for the video montage, I also made a photo book of Jacob for guests to sign.

Evening party:

Think about who your kid (or party focus) is and bring that into the room.  My kid’s obsessed with sports so we took the sports team pennants hanging in his bedroom and hung them across one wall of the party space, punctuated by holiday lights. Maybe your kid is a big reader so you could use a pile of favorite books as centerpieces, or instruments for a music fan. Bringing items from your home (in good condition) can add ambiance and connection to a generic space.

Bar mitzvah decorating personalizing sports pennants

I went to an event-planning warehouse and bought fake wheatgrass and natural wood boxes, which I accessorized with our own sports balls as centerpieces. I had several of the football, soccer, and baseballs autographed by Jacob’s team members and the kids were excited to find their names at the party.  The centerpieces turned out well and it was all reusable stuff.

Bar mitzvah decorating personalized centerpieces

When we didn’t have enough centerpieces for small high top tables we used some of Jacob’s trophies with candle votives.

We used a ton of candles all over the room, which adds light and movement, and creates a cozy atmosphere. I also stole an idea from my friend, Jen, and repurposed pasta sauce jars to hold candles outside the club, which is a very Martha Stewart-y move if you have outdoor space.

Bar mitzvah decorating personalizing outdoor candle jars

Over the fireplace mantle in the middle of the room, we used family photos in frames from my living room. Photos are a great, easy and inexpensive way to personalize a room. You can use the frames you have at home or buy basic ones at Target or Bed, Bath, and Beyond and pop in pix from every year. Everyone loves adorable baby pictures and those awkward school shots.

Bar mitzvah decorating personalized photo canvases

I picked three of my favorite photos of Jacob—one with his brothers— and two with a sports theme and ordered framed stretch canvases to decorate the walls. The site was easy to use and now I have art to hang in his room or the basement.

We took bringing home into the space so seriously, we took Jacob’s bedroom door off the hinges and had everyone sign the back of it. It looks really cool in his room and brings back memories of the weekend.

Bar mitzvah decorating signing bedroom door

Try to gather ideas in advance if you can, so you have time to shop around for the best deals. I knew I wanted the custom M&M’s so I waited until the site had a holiday discount. I found coupons online and researched which companies had free shipping. I kept an eye out for Groupon-type promos and got a great deal on the photo canvases.  Although it can be a time suck, online research inspires creativity.

Bar mitzvah decorating friends help

I could not have pulled the room together if it weren’t for the help of my friends and family—especially my enthusiastic mother.  Many stayed up late stuffing favor bags, while others balanced on ladders to hang lights and photos.  Wilson gallantly loaded and unloaded the minivan countless times. It was a group effort that made “do-it-yourself” possible, and a lot more fun.  Shout out to my crew—thanks ladies!

Bar mitzvah decorating friends help

Hope you’ll be back for more in 2016!

Please ask questions and/or share your decorating ideas in the comments.

Bar mitzvah planning tips that won’t break the bank

As I mentioned in my last post, my oldest son, Jacob’s bar mitzvah was last weekend. Planning was daunting so I thought I’d offer some ideas I learned along the way to help anyone planning a bar mitzvah or other big event without a big budget.

My first piece of advice is to think outside the box when approaching planning. There can be pressure to “keep up with the Schwartzes” and do things just because you’ve seen everyone else following suit.

Resist the urge!

The purpose of the day is to celebrate your child so I tried to focus on the meaning of the milestone and making it personal.  I also needed to find ways to save money so that can also inspire creativity.


The invite sets the tone for the event. Printed stationary can be expensive, not to mention, calligraphy and postage. I decided I wanted to do an e-vite but with a twist. has beautiful invitations that are free for basic options, or very inexpensive for upgrades.  We had no problems gathering our guests’ email addresses, the site efficiently tracks RSVP’s, plus it’s the greenest way to go.

Bar mitzvah video invitation

Bar mitzvah video invitation

Keeping it personal, I created a PP evite and added a link to a video invite, starring Jacob. There were some invitees who had never attended a bar mitzvah so I saw this as an opportunity to educate people about the history and meaning of the ceremony. It was also a window into what Jacob’s all about.  Writing and shooting the video zapped a lot of my time but it was well worth the effort. My amazingly talented friend, Amy– who has a video montage editing business– put it together and added some funny and clever touches that made it a hit.

You can watch it here.  My favorite part is the surprise movie homage at the end!

Even if you don’t have the time or resources to do this type of video, you can shoot video on an iPad or even smart phone these days. Come up with something simple that suits your kid, sends a message, and makes people laugh.


I wanted to make a logo for the party that would tie things together and say what the day meant to us. You might be able to make one yourself but art is not my strength so I researched designs online and had a graphic artist create our logo with words that summed up what the party was about:

bar mitzvah logo

I worked that logo baby. Knowing I would have paper goods instead of fine china and silverware at our Kiddush lunch and evening party, I ordered paper napkins with the logo from I also made logo stickers, which I used on hotel gift bags for relatives, decorations, and favor bags for kids. I even put the logo on a $15 rubber stamp on and used it in several places, including personalizing thank you notes.

Is a logo necessary? Of course not!  But it added a personal touch to the party that made it special, and doing it yourself can save money on customized items.

Bar mitzvah logo rubber stamp for thank you notes


Many hosts give out sweatshirts, jerseys, and t-shirts as favors for bar mitzvah parties, which are always popular with the kids. But how many hoodies and pj pants does a kid need?

We decided to change it up on favors and do a mitzvah (good deed) as a way to mark the joy of the day.  Each kid received a $10 gift card to CharityChoice, which they can use to donate to any of the 250 charities the organization supports.  Jacob appreciated the idea, but also wanted to give the kids something fun, so we compromised and also gave out a personalized zip drive with a recorded voice intro by Jacob and 15 of his favorite songs for kids to download.

Bar mitzvah creative favors

I hope the kids liked the favors as much as we enjoyed giving them, even if they couldn’t wear them to school on Monday.

Perhaps some of these bar mitzvah planning tips inspired your own ideas.  I’m working on one more post this week on decorating …and then I’ll shut up about it!

I’d love to hear any of your party ideas or questions in the comments.  I have two more boys to go (2016 and 2019!) so brainstorming is always welcome!

Bar mitzvah weekend 2013: all the planning paid off!

Last weekend we celebrated my oldest son, Jacob’s, bar mitzvah. It was the culmination of months of actual planning, but years of thinking about it.

Jake Bar Mitzvah March 23, 2013

I’m not sure why but I was never one of those girls who fantasized about her wedding for years before it happened.  I was more focused on finding someone. When it came to planning my wedding, my mother– who paid for most of it– took over and it had more of her stamp on it than mine. It was beautiful, tasteful, and a lot of fun, but it didn’t feel like me.

I’ve attended bar mitzvahs of friends’ kids for several years and gathered ideas for making a party that was fun and gave guests an idea of what our family was about. More work than I expected, and more worry than probably necessary, it was all worth it because it was an amazing weekend that was about family, friends, and Jacob.

We don’t have any family where we live, except for Wilson’s brother in New York, so we were grateful that many relatives flew in from Florida, California,  and Chicago to celebrate. The weekend started with 25 family members and a few close friends attending Shabbat services at our temple Friday night, followed by dinner at our house.  It’s humbling when people stop their lives and spend time and money to be with you to honor your child. Wilson and I were thrilled that so many people came.

I couldn’t eat or sleep in the days leading up to the big event. Initially I thought it was worry, but soon realized I was excited! How many times in your life do you have all your friends and family together for a good reason?

bar mitzvah logo

Sure I’m biased (and pardon my French,) but the consensus was that Jacob kicked ass at services Saturday morning. He knew his Hebrew so well, the rabbi gave him extra morning prayers to recite during the service. He led the congregation with poise and confidence and I was so proud I could have burst into song.  (Don’t worry– I didn’t.)

When a child becomes a bar mitzvah, they read a section of a sacred Hebrew scroll called the torah that includes the stories of Moses and the Ten Commandments. Jacob wrote a speech offering his interpretation of his torah portion and related it to modern life.

He also talked about his mitzvah project– volunteering to tutor and play with kids at a Newark youth center every week since July– which made him see the world differently. From his speech:

At first, I was nervous because I wasn’t familiar with the environment or the people. But after going there for a few months, I realized that maybe I don’t live with the same circumstances, but we are all just kids, who hate homework, like to play games, and enjoy humor, sports, and junk food!”

Many kids do short-term mitzvah projects and I kept waiting for the day Jacob complained or refused to go to the Network. But to his credit, he went almost every week and because it became so familiar, he really enjoyed being a part of their day.

The kiddush lunch following Saturday’s service was a whirlwind and I don’t remember much. I was relieved that the hard part was over and elated that he had done so well. I think I ate a bagel, but I’m not even sure.

Jake Lefferts Bar Mitzvah March 23, 2013

Saturday night we hosted a cocktail party with catered food and dancing. We rented a local space– a room that looked a lot like my house with a big fireplace and great molding and windows.  I had a crew of friends help me decorate with holiday lights, lots of Jacob’s sports equipment and memorabilia, and photos of him everywhere. It felt like home.

I loved boogying with so many friends from all different parts of our lives, and watching the teenagers navigate the dance floor. But the highlight moments for me were the candle lighting, speeches, and video montage. Standing in front of his cool sports cake, Jacob called up the special people in his life to help him light 13 candles.  After watching other bar/bat mitzvah kids do the same ceremony, he was eager to honor his friends and family and grinned from ear to ear throughout the lighting.

Jake Bar Mitzvah

My speech was a lighthearted look  at what it’s been like to parent such a smart, manipulative, and self-possessed kid. Wilson’s was a wonderful message about tradition, punctuated by a moving letter Wilson’s grandfather sent to him for his own bar mitzvah which focused on pride and love. It solicited many “awwwws!”

I spent hours and hours and hours creating a video montage that captured Jacob and was original. It included lots of home video of his baby and toddler era and video I’ve taken this year of his friends and favorite people and places. It even has some sports star power.  I’ll post a YouTube link when I upload it in the next week.

When it was over, my feet were killing me from dancing in 3-inch heels, I was starving because I never ate a bite of the food I meticulously chose with the caterer, and I was sad that it went by too quickly.

But it was one of the happiest days of my life.

The best party compliments were when people said there was a lot of love in the room and that Jacob is a great kid.

Of course I knew that. But I wanted everyone at the party to feel it too.  That’s what made it a success.

Carpool Candy holiday gift guide for kids

Stressed about what holiday gifts to buy for the kids? Do they have too much already? Fear not. Here are some useful and/or fun options that don’t scream “same old thing.”

LEGO-Star-Wars-Minifigure-Alarm-Clocks candy gift guidei

Star Wars Lego clocks  – For fans of the dark side, these clocks are cool looking and will appeal to both movie and Lego kids. They’re so kitschy they’ll get better with age so kids won’t outgrow them.  ($24)

Sassy personalized t-shirts – These shirts scream personality and come in  different colors and sizes for boys and girls. Some messages are funny, others are defining. Either way, kids love seeing their name in print! ($40-50)

Magnatiles candy holiday gift guide kids

Magnatiles— While my boys have tossed aside many of the toys in our playroom, my seven- and nine-year-olds keep coming back to these plastic  blocks that stick together through magnets on the edge of the tiles. They come in bright primary colors and several different flat shapes which can make patterns and horizontal designs on the floor or tall, 3D architectural wonders. With so much creative mileage, they are well worth the steep price tag. ($70-200)

candy holiday gift guide umbrellaRain gear-  My 7-year-old wore his Batman rain boots every day after he opened them.  He loved the matching umbrella too. Even my older kids covet an umbrella–perhaps because it’s cooler than wearing a raincoat and seems more grownup. My nine-year-old is a huge sports fan so I got him a New York Giants umbrella which he carries in his backpack every day, just in case. (Umbrellas start at $7,  boots start at $24)

mini speakers candy gift guide kids

Mini speakers –  These pint-sized speakers still blast your tunes and come in fun colors like pink, orange, and blue. They connect to iPhones or any MP3 player and can easily fit in a backpack or overnight bag. ($25)

furtote holiday gift guide kids

Fur tote Cool for little girls as well as teens, this faux fur tote bag in leopard or zebra print screams high fashion but the price is low maintenance. It can even be monogrammed. ($49.50)

Pro basketball socks –  When my 12-year-old son told me he wanted some fancy basketball shoes I balked at the $230 price. Then he told me these Nike Elite socks help the pros jump higher in the NBA.  I didn’t believe him but I was willing to shell out $14 a pair as a gift. They come in many colors and are sure to improve his game and yours.

Fast sleds –  It’s that time of year and nothing says adventure and speed like a new sled. I did some research on the fastest and found this Flexible Flyer steel saucer is a classic and will last forever ($40). Or try one of these inflatable sleds from (start at $40) .


panda tablet case holiday gift guide kids

etch-a-sketch-iPad-Case holiday gift guide

Cool tablet covers – It’s hard to stand out in the tech world these days but these tablet covers are sure to engage kids and teens. They come in different designs to fit many types of gadgets. Younger kids or those who appreciate retro design may also like the Etch-A-Sketch cover (Panda $54.95/ Etch-a-Sketch $40).

dylanscandybucket holiday gift guide kidsCandy! –   OK, This might be a better grandparent gift because only a grandparent would be crazy enough to get a kid a box of sugar. But most kids would be psyched to get gourmet candy like a giant JellyBelly sampler box  ($20.95) or this candy bucket  ($55) or chocolate tower of sweets ($45)  from New York’s famous Dylan’s Candy Bar.

I hope some of these holiday gifts for kids have inspired you. Please tell me your favorite gift ideas for kids in the comments. We can all use a little elfing right now!

Pajamarama: an easy birthday party for 6-8 year olds

My youngest son, Eli, turned 7 recently and though I would have loved to skip a birthday party, he wanted to celebrate, and he shouldn’t get the shaft because he’s the third kid and Mommy’s so over cupcakes and goody bags.

We decided on a pajama party and tried to keep it small since we were hosting at home.  We invited about 8 boys (plus my 3)  to come in pajamas on a Friday evening. They ate pizza upon arrival ($40) and then descended on my basement.

We cleared away the toys and had plenty of cushions, pillows and chairs for the kids to sit. I bought a movie at Target ($5) I thought all would enjoy: “Scooby Doo and Batman.” How could anyone argue over that?

Before the little squirts arrived all adorable in their jammies, I had made popcorn to fill paper popcorn holders ($2.) As the movie started, I handed out juice boxes and let them each pick one bite-size candy ($4 a bag) for their screening pleasure.

They were happy and surprisingly engaged for at least an hour. When I noticed them getting antsy towards the end, I gave them each a glowstick ($1 each) which they loved playing with in the dark.

When the movie was over they made ice cream sundaes, at Eli’s request. I bought 3 flavors, whipped cream, chocolate syrup and several toppings ($30.)  I also made cupcakes because I don’t believe in celebrating birthdays without cake.

Then– just as they were sugared up and getting crazy–  it was time for their parents to pick them up. I invited all parents to stay through the party for wine and cheese and several did, which made it a much more festive Friday night for Mommy.

As we sent the munchkins out the door, they received a goody bag containing a flashlight and Spiderman toothbrush set ($3 for both)– essential tools for an almost-slumber party. I hate all the crap that comes in traditional goody bags so I always opt for a somewhat useful thing whenever possible. The kids were thrilled.

I got everything for the party (except the pizza) at the dollar store so the whole party cost less than $150. I actually felt like I was cheating because the party activity was so low maintenance, but several parents commented on the creativity of the concept.  It’s all in the execution. With a few personal touches, a movie in the basement felt like a special night for the kids.

Eli with his birthday cupcake

Most importantly, Eli had a terrific time. He loved being in his pajamas, he was giddy that I allowed him to eat so much junk in one night, and he enjoyed playing host in his house. Several parents lingered after the pick up time (always a sign of a good party!) drinking wine and nibbling on cupcakes.

Throwing kids birthday parties is usually a duty we endure, but rarely enjoy. What could have been a stressful parental obligation, actually turned into a fun night for the whole family.

Have you thrown any kids birthday parties that were easy, fun, and didn’t break the bank? Please share in the comments!