Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Unique Birthday Parties for Kids - The Building Blocks and creating a little magic

There are some essential elements to a successful party that I use to plan events for children.  I am excited to share these with you!  These elements can help you plan a beautiful and unique kids party. This post was inspired by Eventbrite, and if you are planning a larger party, feel free to check out their event management services.

How do I focus what I've learned from 20 years of throwing children's parties into one post?  The truth is, I really can't.  And I'll be honest.  Some of these components are hard to put into words.  I have talked with my party planning friends and they all say things like "you just know when a theme is right for a year" or "I love it when a party comes together".  But how to describe how a party 'comes together' or the feeling of 'knowing' when the theme is right is really hard!

So let's start at the beginning -

~ Theme/Decor ~

 Tiny little things have the ability to make your party different than any other party.   To keep my parties unique and classic, I try to concentrate on the more subtle aspects of a theme for my decorations.  Bringing in obscure elements helps me avoid the gaudy aisles at the store with the huge character faces.  Changing the focus from Bob the Builder to 'construction', or Tinker Bell to 'garden fairy' has the power to open up a world of in-theme elements you may not have thought of.  Instead of character faces for a Tinker Bell party, you can now concentrate on subtle elements of fairies such as fairy dust, flower petals, and tiny food.  This eliminates the need for an expensive order of character pinatas and plates and napkins.  You can now use color themes instead!

One year the theme WAS color!  The decorations for our Rainbobw Party (header picture) were nothing more than paper fans I folded out of cardstock and stuck to my wall with sticky tac.  It is still one of my favorite backdrops I have ever used.

Do not be afraid to use unorthodox decorating for your parties...  if it is a book series your child loves, use the books to flesh out your decorations!

If you do not own them, borrow the library copies and display them proudly!  (All the books from this party were shamelessly from the library.)

  • For the Ninja Party, (top right) we cut down enough bamboo to fill the whole house from our neighbors bamboo hedge and added it into every nook and cranny we could.  Our whole house was a peaceful oasis from Japan and it was the cheapest party I have ever thrown.
  •  For the Garden Fairy Party (top left) I used tons of bracken fern for a backdrop of my food table.  It separated my party goers from my half built chicken coop.  They never knew the ugly that was behind this lovely tablescape!
  • For the Winter Wonderland party (in July, lower left) I pulled out all my Christmas decor and even some from my neighbor to create a winter wonderland inside our house in the middle of summer!
  • The 007 Secret Agent party (lower right) was the most fun to plan out!  Mustache duct tape on water bottles and the huge map I stole from the school room were the main decor and it looked AMAZING!
Another thing that can really set the tone for a theme is the music.  I create a playlist for every party and if the playlist is especially awesome, I burn CDs for the guests to take home in their favor bag. 

Really, the theme of a unique party is set on backdrops of simple, yet creative elements that pull you out of the normal world, into the focus of your party theme.

~ Invitation ~

 This is where I pour a lot of my creative juices.  The actual party has a distinct plan of decorations, games, food, cake, etc that never really changes, but the invitation can set the tone for the event and I want the party goers awaiting an adventure!  It doesn't take much:

  • A tiny stick with a mini marshmallow on top for a Camping Party (lower right).
  • A honey stick tied to a invitation for a Pooh Party (lower left).  
  • A invitation that I had flipped so you had to read it in a looking glass for Alice in Wonderland (top left).  
  • A bottle saved from the recycling, filled with sand, for the invitation to a shipwrecked party instead of a envelope. 
  • Scrolls instead of envelopes for the Fairy Garden Party (upper right).  I have used scrolls for many parties!
  • I even sent plastic eggs one year in the mail.  Perfect for a farm, pioneer, or chicken party!  (Link how to do that.)
All of these simple solutions created a sense of adventure before the party even began. It makes my job as party planner so much easier if my guests are already excited and anticipating adventure!

~ Audience ~

Parties are not cookie-cutter affairs.  They have to be tailored to the audience involved.   I have a lot of different personalities in my household.  I have the loud but gentle giant man-child, I have the shy teen girl, and the outgoing new 9-year-old, and then I have my sweet, gentle little man.  I would never throw my little guy the same party as I would throw the boisterous 9-yr-old.  He would be so overwhelmed that he would cry by the end.  9-yr-old can handle up to 20 people celebrating his birthday with him and it can include being beaten with foam swords and nerf guns.  Little Guy can handle 5 people, tops, and the activities are subdued with breaks and big snacks.

This isn't an element I can give guidelines for.  But it is best to keep in mind.  An overwhelmed and crying birthday child is never good.

Activities which are appropriate to your audience and on theme are so vast it would take a whole other post just to write about this.  We have done everything from 'painting the roses red' (upper left) to feedsack races (upper right) to pooh sticks (lower left) to Diet Coke and Mentos (lower right).  It always entirely depends on the party.

**A gentle nudge to avoid pinatas with kids who are willing to bash each other over the heads with bats, and again with the kids who would rather hide than raise their voices... in fact, lets just avoid pinatas all together.

~ Cake ~

 Looking through inspiration pictures as I prepare to write this article and I found a trend very quickly popping up.  HOLY SWEETS, BATMAN!  These dessert tables are off the charts!  Candies and cake and cakepops, and color-coordinated sugar confections and cookies all on theme... whole tables of sugar!

Now, I feel I must disclaim that I am not opposed to treats on special days.  I am not the paleo food nut that declares that all desserts must be sweetened with dates.  But a whole table?  Dedicated to candy?  And all before birthday cake?  Um....  please... no.  Just... no.  I don't want my kids so full of sugar they are bouncing off the walls... and trust me, neither do you.  So I have devised a solution... 

wait for it...

just serve cake!

That's it.  Just a simple big piece of cake with perhaps some ice cream on the side.   It worked for all the birthday parties before Pinterest, and it can work again.

One thing I will give these crazy dessert tables - THEY ARE GORGEOUS!  But I declare this - a modest desert table does not have to be a frumpy affair!

Here are a couple of the ones I have done:

You can create an incredible and memorable dessert table with non-food items such as a picture frame strung with pictures of the birthday child growing up (pictured above on two tables) or create a backdrop of in-theme items that will create that beautiful tablescape, without the sugar coma.

~ Favors ~

This is where the parties feel complete for me.  My kids love gifts... the receiving and the giving.  Favors is a good way to make the gift giving come full circle in your party.  Again, obscure elements of your theme are the key to a perfect gift bag.  Avoiding the character plastered plastic giftbags, pencils, and party blowers is my goal.  I don't dislike these things, but I rarely use them because I like my gift bags to be one of two things; edible or keepable.  I know... keepable is not a word, but I think it applies.

When I hand a child a gift bag, I want it to be gone right away (like a cookie or a baking mix) or kept for years, like stuffed critters, flashlights, cd of music, or good quality colored pencils.  In other words... I want it to be a gift!

~ Flexibility ~

 I can't stress this one enough.  Parties can be planned down to the last minute, but we have to be flexible. There is always going to be a learning curve and we always could have done better after the fact.  The surest party killer is a frantic mama!

Take this for example:  

For the Rainbow Party, my daughter wanted these cute little sky parfaits from Pinterest.  However, I couldn’t make 15 of those in cups so I thought one big one in a  trifle bowl would be just as pretty.


Yup.  Nailed it.

You don't have to plan the element of flexibility into your party, but you will certainly use it!  Many of my parties started to flop-- it was supposed to be an outdoor event but now it's pouring, or the cake fell apart as I was trying to frost it an hour before guests were going to be there-- at some point, we must be ok with jumping in puddles instead of making a beautiful, well planned craft. We must be ok with sending a guest to the grocery store at the last minute to buy a cake.  (I have done all of these, btw.  And more.)  We have to let go of our vision and allow it to be what it is.  A happy and flexible hostess is going to turn any tragic issues that come up into fond memories for your guests. 

 Sometimes I hear stories from kids... they say things like "Oh!  That's the one where you jumped in puddles with us!" and I get choked up... because I planned so much more than that for my daughters birthday party... but the kids had fun and remembered that I was willing to have fun with them, even when everything that I had carefully planned went to pot.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Handcrafted egg shaped candles

These adorable little candles are the perfect addition to the Easter table this year.  They can be part of a holiday table centerpiece or tucked into Easter baskets as gifts, but either way, these cuties are bound to find their way into your spring celebrations!

I have been making these for years.  I love them.  I got most of the materials for this project at Amazon, but I have seen all of these products at my local craft store.  Minus the beautiful eggshells, of course.  Those were all donated by my beautiful backyard flock.


1. Gather your materials and melt the wax in the double boiler.  

2. Place something under the egg carton just to save your counters.  You can use a brown paper bag or a few paper towels or whatever you have on hand but don't skip this step.  It really does save you a whole lot of clean up.

3. Place the clean, dry eggshells into the egg carton.  Drip a small amount of the melted wax into the eggshell.  Just a tiny bit.  This is to cover the hole at the bottom so you can fill it with out it all coming out the bottom.  Generally a bit does come out anyway but much less than if you don't plug the hole at the bottom of the eggshell.

4. Add the wick to the eggs.  Don't worry if it's not in the center.  The eggshell will help hold it up.  Funnel the hot wax CAREFULLY into the eggshells until you can see it at the top.

5. Allow them to cool naturally for 24 hours.  Then crack the shells and gently peel them off.  The wax underneath should be smooth and perfectly shaped like a boiled egg!

Important Notes: I found my double boiler at Goodwill in a stroke of luck, but a thick measuring cup and a small pot of water also works well.

I tend to clean out my eggs with the large hole at the top of the egg and the smaller 'blowhole' at the bottom.  That way, when you put the small amount of wax in to close it up before pouring the rest, it doesn't take much and the candle egg is upright when it's finished.

I didn't use any essential oils in this batch of egg candles because I knew they would be in the center of my Easter brunch table.  Strong smells and food don't mix.  But I have used Clarey Sage, Lavender, and oil blend mixes in these candles before and highly recommend the scents with the soy and beeswax!  The warm lavender beeswax smell was just lovely!

Happy Crafting!


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Walking your way through Seasonal Depression

If you are a member of 1 in 5 people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can take a deep breath with me.  

Don't worry.  I'll wait.

Breathe, my friends...

Another winter is behind us.

I woke up today and realized I had made it.  The birds are singing and the days are long and sweet.  

This is big for me because I normally suffer from severe seasonal depression.  I've tried everything... medication, Happy Lights, gaggles of supplements and oils, and even intense, daily, inside exercise.  But nothing really helped until this year... when I combined a strong supplement with walking 15+ miles OUTSIDE each week.  

My only goal was to watch the sun come up.  The distance didn't make any difference although I tried to get in a 5k every day.  The side effect was nothing short of a miracle... for the first time in my adult life, I didn't experience seasonal depression.  Rain or shine, I would be out there, often with friends, walking around a lake, across a bridge, over the river and through the woods.  Spotting herons, eagles, coyotes, deer, and even the occasional odd human who decided that being up and outside before dawn in January wasn't completely crazy. 

 I watched the sun come up Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, every week.  I kept waiting for the depression to drop on me like a wet blanket of sadness.  But it never really took hold.  Each time I would get outside and commune with nature, my body would refresh... even if it was 38 degrees and pouring rain and we only got a mile... I did it.  No matter the weather.  I got outside and moved in nature every single day.  And it became the lynch-pin in a plan for my mental health.

This morning I crossed the milestone of walking over 100 miles so far in 2016.  

There are so many stories I can tell you. That day where Jessica and I had to skate our way across the parking lot to the path, only to find that it, too, was covered in a thick blanket of ice and had to settle for walking around the baseball diamond.  The huge pile of laundry in my room because I needed two base-layers, doubled wool socks, and several of the best, thickest coats you could buy.  The day where we gave up because it was 25 degrees and the fog was so thick it cut through our winter jackets and burned our fingers through our gloves.  The other day that same week that Rhianna and I walked in 5.3 miles in 24 degrees and somehow were not cold.  The sunrises and good talks and communing with my friends and God and the world around me...

I can't recommend it enough. 

 At the risk of being dramatic, I think it changed my life.

And now it's spring.  I am passed another winter and I barely noticed it at all.  

Happy Spring!


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Starting seeds in Eggshells

There are so many ways to start seedlings now days!  I was walking through our hardware store and it seems there are 12 different systems which all cost money and are all single use....  

I am here to tell you, that the only thing you need for this project is seeds and soil.  Just as it should be.  Oh, well, that, and the breakfast compost!  

In our house, we use eggshells for everything we can think of.  They go into the compost, they go back to the chickens for a calcium supplement when their eggshells get thin, they go into the holes dug for tomatoes and squash to prevent blossom-end rot, they are used as a fertilizer for plants who are having mineral issues, and last but not least, we use them to start seedlings...  basically, these little things are gold!  Good thing we have a continuous supply with our backyard chicken flock.

It's no secret how much I love my backyard hens.  We have 13, two of which have 'retired' to Pet Status and are still loved on daily.  We get between 8 and 12 eggs each day in all colors.  It's like a daily Easter Egg Hunt!

And they are the perfect thing to start seedlings in!

First, you clean the eggshells.

Then, fill with dirt.  I have used my own garden soil before, but for the purpose of this post, I am using organic grow mix from the hardware store.  Using a long handled teaspoon is the easiest.

Add seeds and cover with dirt.

Then, every two days or so, squirt the soil with a squirt bottle.  Another thing Luke was thrilled to do!

I wanted to see if Luke could do the whole job by himself.  So I gave him the second batch of seeds and eggshells.  All by himself, he planted my tea garden!  Chamomile, Roselle Thai Red, and Stevia went into these free, little biodegradable pots.  My hope is that I will have a full-on tea garden by summer.  (More on that later.)

He LOVED it!  The process is easy enough that I am planning on having my preschool class do it before Spring Break.  Hopefully by Easter they will have a few little seedlings to show for their work.

The one below is from the first batch, obviously.  But isn't that the cutest little Johnny Jump-up seedling?  I can't wait to see the rest of the seedlings shape up!


Monday, March 7, 2016

Lazy Sunday

I spent the first two days of our long weekend doing all the lovely things.  Hanging out with friends, went on a date with The Man, helping friends with gardening and landscaping tasks, and generally got stuff done...  then, on Sunday, the joy of lazy Sunday!  We went to church, Went out to lunch, and came home to do... nothing.  It was glorious.  

Time in nature.

Time with chickens.


Time with rabbits.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Winnie the Pooh Party

Welcome to the World of Winnie the Pooh!

Luke and I have been going through the classic books of Milne this school year.  He has fallen in love with the world of Christopher Robin and often quotes moments from the books like "Tut tut, it looks like rain".

 I have always thought it was interesting that people use Pooh Bear for baby showers and first birthday parties.  Disney has portrayed Pooh and a creature for infants, but A. A. Milne,  the creator of the Pooh character was writing for little boys. Between the ages of "When We Were Very Young" and "Now We Are Six".  My youngest child is now 5. Such bittersweet moments I live in right now.  I have spent the last 19 years with a toddler or two and now, all of a sudden, I don't have one at all.  So when my nature-loving youngest son, who is so VERY much like Christopher Robin in the original Milne books, said that he wanted a Pooh birthday party, I didn't hesitate. 

I wrote the invitations in Milne's classic writing style and tied them with a 'hunny' stick to give the invited a touch of anticipated sweetness.

When the children arrived at the party, I had a bounce house set up in the school room due to rain.  I couldn't get a single picture of this, as it filled the room completely.  The door barely opened.  But there was much bouncing and laughing and 'tigger-style' fun before lunch!

Then came a Smackeral of Something.

Above the lunch table was a bee hive, a Pooh bear with a blue balloon, and a sweet little 'hunny' pot. Yellow plates, yellow napkins, and yellow chevron paper straws were near the beehive drink dispenser that I somehow didn't get a single picture of.  Weird! (Trust me!  It was cute!)

The tree above the table was twisted packaging paper with cardstock trees and sweet little feather-winged bees on a large paper lantern.

How could I miss an opportunity to decorate with two of my vintage copies of The World of Pooh and Now We Are Six (which I changed to Five, for the occasion).

The table was bedecked with little signs, such as you would see in the Hundred Acre Wood.  They are just simple floral foam covered in moss with craft stick signs stuck in them, but man, were they a cute addition!

The menu was pretty simple.  
  • Piglets in a Blanket (corn dogs are his favorite food, much to my frustration) and tater tots
  • Carrot Patch (which is strawberries dipped in orange chocolate coating on a bed of crushed Oreos for 'dirt')
  • Rabbits Garden with ranch dip (veggie tray)
  • Tigger Tails (Giant pretzel sticks dipped in orange chocolate coating with dark chocolate 'stripes')

All of Luke's favorite foods.

(Look at those pink bounce-house cheeks and that plate of orange food.  If only all food came in orange....)

Next was the games.  

First, we had 'Pin the Tail on Eeyore'.  I drew this Eeyore on poster board and then cut tails out of cardstock.  I used yellow chevron washi tape to continue the theme.

From what I can tell, most of these kids could see.  Lol!  But they had fun.

Next up, we took an 'adventur' to the creek by our house and played Pooh Sticks.  This turned out to be the most fun ever and we stayed there for about 45 minutes, throwing sticks off one side of the bridge and running to the other side and waiting to see who wins.  

Sometimes the sticks sunk right to the bottom of the creek, sometimes the sticks just disappeared.  But there was a lot of fun had for all these 4 and 5 year olds.

After our 'adventur', we came home and watched the classic Winnie the Pooh movie.  I popped popcorn and we had caramel corn, honeycomb cereal, and birthday Teddy-Grahams to put in our popcorn treat as we watched the movie.  

Then was cake and present time.  

This amazing blueberry muffing cake recipe can be found here.

Action shot - his sweet face.  

We started singing him Happy Birthday and he looks over at me.  He has always been the most easy to train up in gratitude.  Not that my other kids are not polite, they are!  But Luke has a natural gratitude that goes beyond anything I have done, down to the core of him.  He is just naturally moved by acts of love.  

So I bring the cake down to him, we are all singing Happy Birthday, and he looks up at me.  Then he just has to give me a hug.  No words, just a big hug.  The party moves on after that, but I am glad my husband caught it, because.... oh that sweet, sweet face!

The gift bags were super simple.  Just twig pencils, 'hunny' sticks, a carrot chocolate, and a 'hunny' flavored sugar crystal stick.All tucked into an adorable little brown paper bag.  Very simple, but very loved.  Luke has colored with his pencils all week long.

And that's all folks!  A big kid, Winnie the Pooh birthday party!  Complete with the games that Christopher Robin himself would have loved.  

It was an absolutely adorable party!

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