Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Party 101.

I remember when my oldest son was 4 years old, and I wanted to plan a birthday party for him. I was overwhelmed with how to go about planning a birthday party for little kids. I wasn't sure where to start. All I knew was that he really wanted a Thomas the Train theme.
Cohen, at his Thomas party.
Up until then, we had always done birthday parties with family only, and they were simply eating a meal (often at a restaurant), opening presents, and having cake. This would be our first friend birthday party, where we'd have to plan activities and food for all the kids. I so wanted to have a party that was memorable for my son and his friends. 

I emailed a friend of mine and asked her for advice. She gave me some great tips that I've used in all my parties since. My twin sister, Jaime, also has been a great source to turn to. She throws a mean party and is crazy creative.

And over the years, I've also learned a lot of things from trial and error, lots of trial and error.

So, I thought I'd share what I've learned with you! I hope these tips will help any who may be feeling overwhelmed with planning a party. Birthday parties, or any other party, can really be made simpler and less stressful! And you can enjoy the party much more with some planning and organization. (All the pictures in this post are of parties my sister Jaime or I have planned and thrown for our kids or for friends.)

1. Decide on a theme and party venue well in advance. (I'd suggest at least 4 weeks in advance). This gives you plenty of time to rent the place or order things online for the theme if you want to. As much as I love party supply stores, you can also find great things on Etsy or Oriental Trading, to name a few. And sometimes online sites take a little more time to ship out, so the earlier you order, the better.
I bought these tubes and 1 inch gumballs online for my son's Hulk party.
My sis bought these awesome test tubes and racks online for her daughter's Big Hero 6 party. They made color bubbles for one of their activities. The kids loved it.

2. When you choose a theme, it doesn't have to be based on a literal thing like a princess or superhero. It can also be a look or feel. For example, feminine, modern, woodsy, vintage, whimsical, etc. This probably applies more to baby showers or bridal showers, but even a child's birthday could simply be a vintage themed party.
My sister, Jaime, threw a vintage baby bunny baby shower. I loved how adding the "vintage" to the baby bunny added so much personality. It really made the party.

3. Use the internet to help you gather ideas.
Pinterest is great. I also love Catch My Party. It really does help to get the creative juices flowing when you take some time to search for ideas and then narrow them down to the ones you think may work for your party. Keep a notebook of ideas, menu plans, etc., or make yourself a party board on Pinterest.
For example, I found this idea to make braided breadsticks for my daughter's Rapunzel party online (to mimic Rapunzel's long braid). I loved the idea so much, and it turned out to be one of my favorite things about her party!
I also found this idea to make "sand dollar" cookies for my daughter's Ariel mermaid party online. They were simply open face vanilla Oreo cookies with gel icing on the top. I put them on top of brown sugar, to look like they were in the sand. Again, they were a hit!
I also found this idea online to make simple capes for my boys' superhero parties. They took some time to do, but the kids all loved them, and my boys still use them when they are playing around the house.

4. If you're doing the décor yourself, decide on 2 or 3 main colors and 1-2 neutral colors.
This will help you as you begin looking for everything. I have a thing about color coordination. It is always pleasing to the eye when a party is harmonious in color and not too visually overwhelming. For example, for my son's Hulk party, we did green and purple with black.
For my other son's Captain America Party, we did red, blue, and white.
For my daughter's Rapunzel party, we used purple, pink, and yellow with white as the neutral.
Jaime used shades of pink, yellow, and orange for her daughter's Big Hero 6/Honey Lemon party with neutrals of black and white.

Now, this rule doesn't always apply. If you happen to be doing a rainbow party or a sprinkles themed party, you'd, of course, want to use all the colors you can!
This was a "Sprinkled with Love" baby shower I threw for a friend.

5. Plan out the menu according to your guests, and provide some healthy foods as well as sweets.
For obvious reasons, a variety of foods always makes for happier kids. (And not kiddos with tummy aches.) I also make sure to ask if any kiddos have food allergies. (All of my kids do, so I'm hyper sensitive to this.) I'd never want any of the kids to feel left out if they can't eat the same things the other kids are eating.
The veggies at the Captain America party. They  may not have been taken much by the kids, but I felt good to have offered them.
The fruits at the Hulk party:
I think it's also important to mention here that if you plan to feed the adults, make sure to be clear about that and then plan accordingly. Something that makes menu planning easier (on you and your budget) when you're feeding both adults and kids is to choose a food your child likes and then to add an adult spin to it to make everyone happy. For example, Jaime made a big crock pot of yummy macaroni and cheese for her daughter's birthday and then had a ton of yummy toppings the adults could put on theirs. The kids mostly just liked plain mac 'n' cheese. But the adults could add bacon, caramelized onion, scallions, red pepper, hot dogs, parmesan cheese, turkey kielbasa, etc. She also had spices like everything bagel spice and crushed red pepper flakes for toppings and Sriracha sauce, ketchup, and Ranch dressing, too. (And how cute are those condiment bottles?! She got them at Walmart for cheap!)

 I've also seen parties before where the menu was simply hot dogs but with a ton of different toppings for the adults to enjoy. Smart menu planning, I tell ya! 
Jaime's party was for adults and kids, so she had quite the spread including meatballs and rice, wontons, fruit, Asian salad, as well as cupcakes and candies.

6. Do as much as you can ahead of time.
This is probably an obvious tip. But boy, does it make a difference between feeling like a chicken with your head cut off the day of the party or feeling like a cool cucumber. If you can make any of the food ahead of time, do it. If you can put together the party favors a week in advance, do it. If you can get the supplies for any games you're doing a few weeks in advance, do it. If you can fill that piñata a few days ahead, do it. You get the idea. The last thing you want (and I know this from experience), is to be the only one at the party not enjoying it, because you didn't buy enough forks, and you have yet to frost the cupcakes, and the favors aren't ready.

7. Stage your food/dessert table the day before the party, so you know exactly what you're doing the day of the party.
Once I have some items gathered for a party, I like to take a picture of them, so when I'm shopping for any other things, I can quickly refer to my picture and know if it's the right color and feel.
Here's my pic of my Rapunzel party items.
 And here's when I staged the table. It made it so much easier when I went to put everything out for the party. (This especially helps if the party isn't at your home.)
 My pic of what I had gathered for my daughter's Ariel party

8. Ask for help.
If you're throwing a party and feel overwhelmed, there is no reason you can't ask family or friends for help. I have a sister-in-law who is an amazing baker. She made this cake for my daughter's Ariel party.
A sweet friend of mine also made this incredible banner and garland for the Sprinkle baby shower I threw.
Jaime designs all of my kids' birthday invites, party favor tags, food labels, and printables for their parties. She is so talented, and without her, my parties wouldn't be nearly as cute or memorable.

9. Make sure you take care of yourself the day of the party.
Shower. Do your hair and make up. Put on clothes you feel nice in. Just because you have worn yourself weary planning this party doesn't mean you have to not be in the pictures because you feel embarrassed with your appearance. I remember at my son's Captain America party, I was up 'til like 1 in the morning getting everything ready. And I was busily getting everything done still the day of, and I didn't have time to shower or put my face on (as my mom used to say). It wasn't a good thing at all. Never again, my friends.

10. If you're planning a party at home, an hour and a half to 2 hours is a good time frame.
This, of course is a preference thing and also depends on the age of the kids, but I've found that an hour and a half is plenty of time for a little kid party.

11. Provide a gathering activity.
It's rare for all the guests to show up right on time for a party. So, think of an activity the kids can do as they arrive that will keep them busy until everyone has gotten there. (We had the kids at my daughter's party decorate their bags they'd later put candy in from the piñata. They also had to guess the number of fish candies in a jar. The kid with the closest number later took home the jar.)

12. Adding height to the food or dessert table adds interest.
A two tiered cake platter, tall flower vases, or even using cute decorative boxes and putting items on top of them gives your table much more appeal.
Jaime's "We Love San Diego" going away party.
She simply used beautiful tall florals and a tiered serving platter for height.

13. If possible, use fresh flowers on your cake and with your décor.
Fresh flowers add so much. They just do. They are vibrant and beautiful and so worth the effort. (Here's my daughter's Rapunzel cake. I added fresh flowers to the doll's hair and flowers next to the doll on the cake.)
My favorite place to find fresh flowers is Trader Joe's. But you can always find them at your local grocery store, Costco, or even in your own yard, if you're lucky.

14. Have your child open their gifts after the guests have gone home.
This, again, is a preference thing. But I've had some tricky experiences with gift opening that have led me to always do it this way. Sometimes the kids ALL want to sit by the birthday boy or girl, and it can cause hurt feelings. Or, the birthday boy or girl may not like some presents as much as others and may express this (the younger they are, the more open they may be with their reaction). Also, it makes it easier for me to keep track of what was given to my child and by whom if it's just us at home. I also firmly believe in handwritten thank you cards. If my kids are too little to write a lot, they simply write the name of the guest and sign their own name. And I fill in the message with the child's help.

15. Have someone else take pictures during the party for you.
I usually have my phone handy and take pictures with my phone here and there. But if someone is at the party that I know will be willing to take pictures with my camera for me, then I have them do it. You are in party mode, and it just makes it that much easier to enjoy if you're not worrying about taking pictures.

16. Have a budget, and stick to it. Know when enough is enough.
While I love throwing parties for my kids, I also believe in being frugal and reasonable with my money. I am blown away by the amazing over-the-top parties I see online. I just don't have the money to put together parties like that! But, I do think parties can be special, even on a budget. And when I'm looking at an idea or an item at the store that I don't feel is necessary, I'm okay with letting that go. A few things I do think are worth the money are serving trays in white or versatile colors (they go with everything) and also special pieces you can use again and again.
Jaime's 3 bowl server is such a great piece and really versatile.
Jaime and I both have large rectangular white trays from Target that we use all the time for parties. Target has them in all different shapes, too. I have an oval one as well as a round one.

Tiered serving trays and cake trays are always great and visually stunning.

Jaime and I loooove these wooden slice trays from Target. They are gorgeous.

This beautiful tiered tray is a recent fave of mine and comes in a single layer and also in 2 tiers. They are from Hobby Lobby.

17. Do less that will give more.
This goes with my last tip. If you can choose décor that adds a lot of impact, like a banner, or balloons, do it. Sometimes less is more.
Jaime's amazing woodland themed baby shower. Look at the design punch that those flowers, pinecones, greenery and yarn balls give. Simple to do, but adds a ton!
Look at the big impact Jaime's hanging felt garlands, balloons, and Baymax lanterns made for her daughter's Big Hero 6 party! Insanely awesome!
And another striking party of Jaime's. 
The confetti filled balloons hanging from the ceiling and colorful banner look great.

18. Choose one or two patterns to go along with your colors and theme.
Patterns add depth to your designs. Whether it's stripes, polka dots, chevrons, or plaid. Whatever patterns feel right, go with it, and try to use it throughout your décor. An easy way to add pattern is to your tablecloth. You could buy wrapping paper with that pattern and lay that paper on your table like a runner. Or you could buy plates or straws with the pattern on them, too.
I used stripes and a damask printed paper for the Rapunzel party.
I used stars for the Captain America party.
These star straws were so great.
I used a star cookie cutter to make these jello jigglers.
And star toppers for the cupcakes.
Jaime used polka dots for the Big Hero 6 party.
Look at the pink dot flowers and the plates. Even the orange slices look like polka dots.
And dots on the cake!
Gold polka dot wrapping paper for a table runner at Jaime's vintage
baby bunny baby shower.
Jaime used printer paper and ribbon as a striped table runner for this beautiful Peter Rabbit themed baby shower. Stripes and polka dots were her patterns she used throughout the décor.
She also had striped straws and candies and polka dot toadstools and cupcake liners.

And those are all my tips!! I am hopeful they will help you! I love throwing parties, and I know how stressful they can be. But with a little know how and preparation, you will be more than ready to throw the best bash ever! Happy partying, everyone! Leave me a comment if you have any questions or input. I'd love to hear from you!  

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