My friend's daughter, Isabel, is about to turn seven. Up to this point, she has had just about every cool party theme one can imagine so I am on a quest to create something totally fresh and new. Since Isabel loves acting, we thought it would be fun to do a children's theatre of sorts.
Invitations: Play bills with title for the production and "starring Isabel on her 7th birthday" with a picture of her below.
Primary Activity: Kids practice acting out a narrated script that prompts their blocking and lines. Each character gets a costume and some silly props. When kids are confident and ready, they will perform for the other teams and the judge (a parent). Their mini plays will be video-taped and while the kids are eating food and/or decorating cupcakes, the videos will be recorded onto a DVD to hand out as party favors to the kids...complete with a DVD cover that has the play title and the birthday girl's photo.
The stage: the entry way of the child's home could be transformed into a "stage" by stringing a clothes line from one wall to the other and using a few red sheets to make a curtain. Move the living room furniture to face the "stage" and have little popcorn boxes for kids to munch homemade kettle corn while watching the other teams perform.
Activity/dessert: Have kids decorate cupcakes. (You could have each child decorate four different cupcakes to coincide with the four main characters of the play. They would then get a cute little box to transport them home to their family. The box would have the name of the play and the "starring Isabel on her 7th birthday" on a label or tag attached with a cute ribbon.)
The foods: Use the setting of the play to inspire the foods served.
The play: As for the play, it may be cool to make twisted fairy tales based off of familiar stories with wacky characters. For example, you could do Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast as a trilogy all set in modern day Italy. The food could all be Italian and the dessert could even be gelato. OR, you could look online for simple kids plays and find something, I am sure.
I love themes though...with the "trilogy of twisted tales" you could have a forest hunt where kids had to do a scavenger hunt to find the props or costumes to use for the play? Then, instead of a kiss from Prince Charming, Sleeping Beauty could be awakened by the magic cupcake with would lead to the cupcake decorating activity. Each of the mini plays could incorporate a cupcake solution to help Princess Isabel.
It has often been said that "It's the thought that counts." I think that often times people use that old adage to cover a mountain of laziness, especially when it comes to throwing parties. By no means am I implying that all parties need to be over the top in order to demonstrate love and devotion to either the guest of honor or the guests. In fact, some super elaborate parties are done that way in order to draw more attention to the host, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since the host is well-deserving of the praise.
A truly wonderful party host not only is attentive to making things beautiful, but is also careful to be thoughtful and considerate of her guests. I feel that this is especially important when it comes to wedding planning. Sometimes brides get to wrapped up in themselves when making wedding plans that they forget that they have guests...not witnesses or slaves, but guests. If they truly want to cater only to their own desires, they should elope. I digress. Back to general party planning...
SO what kinds of things make guests more at ease? How can the party be worth their time and money (the gifts they bring)? I think we should break it down to a few categories!
1. Children's birthday parties
A) Organized fun.
I think that a theme is a necessity. Not only for the decorating and beautification of the party, but also for the entertainment factor. If you are having a barnyard pals party, you can have hayrides or play Duck, duck, goose or whatever. For a Tinkerbell party, have kids decorate cookie wands, do a treasure chest pinata or a treasure hunt. Themes help inspire fun. Having one or two organized activities for children is thoughtful for your guests: the kids will have more fun AND the parents will enjoy watching the kids. Also, the adults will not feel as though they are at a chaotic playgroup with kids running and screaming with no organization. Kids thrive within structure.
B) Props to the kiddos.
Another benefit to choosing a theme for a kid's party is that kids can all feel part of the event by giving them a prop to become engaged. One example is my daughter's Tinkerbell party: I made tutus and bought fairy wings so that when the girls arrived, they each were "transformed" into fairies complete with fairy dust (body glitter). My other daughter's 1st birthday was a French bakery theme. To engage the kids, I used fabric paints to write their names on kids aprons that I'd purchased online. In addition to the kids feeling like the party is not just for the guest, but also for them, giving them "props" that they can reuse is far more thoughtful than simply sending them home with a sack of candy. My friend made mermaid tails for the guests at her daughter's Under the Sea party. These props don't necessarily have to be elaborate. At a barnyard pals party, giving each child a bandana to wear is a small but fun thing for them to feel part of the event.
If the children are really little and they haven't gotten any sort of "props," giving them each a gift bag filled with small toys or colors right after the birthday boy or girl opens his or her gifts is a VERY thoughtful idea. Small children don't understand why one child gets presents and they do not. By providing small toys or colors (NOT just candy) as favors in gift bags, each child understands that it is a "thank you" gift from the birthday child. D) Food for all.
Be sure to provide food and beverages that are adult friendly if you are having adults at your party. Serving only star-shaped chicken nuggets and Cheetos may be inexpensive, but does not communicate a loving message to your guests. Although the parents are there to accompany their children, they too are guests in your home. Throw in some sub sandwiches and a veggie tray and something to drink other than CapriSuns.
Also, please see C & D of the Dinner Party tips.
2. Dinner parties A.) The kid factor.
Having friends with small children over for dinner can be difficult. You are forced to either request for them to pay for a sitter or to shout over kids all night. One thoughtful option would be to provide child care on site: hire a teenager or two to watch the children in the basement while the adults mingle inside. Ask your friends to either chip in for the sitters or bring a dish to contribute towards the meal: don't ask for both. If kids will be present, try to provide food and beverages that are kid-friendly and an area apart from the adults where they can eat. Happy kids make happy parents! B) Know your audience.
If guests are uncomfortable around alcohol, make the party an alcohol free event. If they are more likely to be socially-inhibited, provide a few simple alcoholic beverages to help them relax. The same question arises when planning the menu: if your guests are on strict diets or have allergies, it'd be thoughtful to prepare something they too can eat. When planning a desserts party, be mindful that some people do not like sweets and try to have an alternative available. Always remember that food and drink are as much a social thing as they are practical so it is always wonderful to try to think of all of your guests needs when planning. It's also nice to be aware of allergies... C) Greet your guests.
This is a lost art. I am guilty of neglecting this ritual. I am often too busy with last minute preparations. If this is true of you, it may be a good idea to assign the greeter role to your spouse. Someone should greet guests, take their coats, explain the child care situation (if necessary), and usher them to the waiting area where you wish for them to mingle before sitting down to dinner. It's then customary to get each guest a drink or point them in the direction of the beverages. Even better, have a few snacky things laying out in the conversation area. D) Label things.
I know that this is done largely for aesthetic purposes, but labeling foods and drinks on buffet tables is very thoughtful to your guests. It saves them from making the awkward, "What's that?" question aloud in front of the host. It can also help the food stretch further because guests will know what they are taking prior to putting it on their plates.
E) Use place cards.
Strategic seating arrangements are nice because they help ensure that the conversation flows well. Assigning a place for each guest helps him or her to not have a "uh, does it matter where I sit?" moment where they just stand in front of the table trying not to offend the host or other guests.
F) Serve a balanced meal.
Try to not only offer meats and starches or just vegetables, but create a menu that is well rounded. Serve things that can be made in advance so that you can join your own party. I have made this mistake often and have ended up feeling more like hired help than a host. G) Have background music.
This helps suck up any awkward silence. Warning: don't have volume high enough to drown out conversation.
All around the party blogosphere I have noticed an awesome trend: using fabrics to make your party space pop. There are basically three great uses for fabric:
1. As a table runner or table cloth
2. As a backdrop for display areas
3. To create a makeshift "photo booth"
The back drop pictured above is from this adorable Elephant Dessert Buffet (it's actually wrapping paper, which could be used as an alternative to fabric in all three of these cases).
The Photo Booth
Here's a great shot of a photo booth created by pinning up large pieces of fabric as a back drop. This was a "Candyland" first birthday party. For more, click here.
For some expert tips on making your own photo booths for a party, visit this post from the Hostess of the Mostess blog.
These photos, borrowed from this blog post talks about the use of chalkboards in photo booths. SO cute!
In the past few weeks, I have been approached a couple of times by friends who are wanting help planning a bridal shower. Although it's been a while since I have planned a bridal shower (or attended one for that matter, since most of my friends are on to the baby shower phase of life), I have compiled a list of questions for you to use when brainstorming ideas for the setting, time and theme of your bridal shower. If you would like my help in coming up with ideas and gathering things for them from sites for you (creating "inspiration boards"), you can type out your answers to these questions and email me. I will do my best to get back with you to some extent or another within 24-48 hours.
Q: What is the bride'spersonality?
For a shy or contemplative person, a small gathering of close friends and family members may be best. If she is a lively and outgoing person, perhaps you would like to try a drinks and appetizers during cocktail hour type of gathering and invite all female members of her friends and family. If she is more of a homemaker type, perhaps a kitchen and/or home goods shower is right for her. If she's already gotten a lot of those things, perhaps a "personal" shower would be best which would include but not be limited to lingerie, lotions & perfumes.
Q: What are the bride's hobbies?
This information can be very helpful in steering towards the perfect unique theme. Recently, I had a friend planning a shower for someone who loved having coffee with friends, journaling and traveling (particularly to Europe). So we came up with an Old World Cafe coffee talk theme that would have a dessert buffet that had an assortment of desserts from various cultures, vintage feeling decor in rich jewel toned colors, framed photographs from various places where bride and/or groom had traveled, coffees with various creamers, and little travel journals as favors.
Q: Where will the couple be going on their honeymoon?
This can also help you build a theme.
Q: How involved is the groom in the wedding process?
If the groom is really involved with the wedding plans and the couple has several "couple" friends, it may be fun to include him as well and through a co-ed shower. These are often similar to an engagement party and can be as casual as a BBQ or as formal as a sit-down dinner.
Q: Do you have help hosting the shower?
I have learned that the greatest parties are the ones for which you have help: co-hosts keep you sane. You can still be the planner and send your friends ideas or links or whatever, but dividing up the responsibilities is key. It can be as simple as having one friend be in charge of the shower games (if you choose to have them) or having one friend provide the food or beverages.
Q: How can you get your guests involved before or during the shower in order to make the experience more meaningful and sentimental to the bride?
One example would be to create a book of marriage/relationship advice in which all of the guests wrote a page sometime during the shower festivities. When they arrive at the party, snap a digital picture of that person and later glue it to the page that faces her advice page. If you want something more lighthearted, at a lingerie shower, have each guest bring a pair of new panties in the bride's size that best reflect that guest's personality. Upon arrival, put the panties on a clothesline and then make the bride (and guests) guess who gave which pair.
Voilà the finished product! The table centerpieces were a collaborative effort from myself and my two co-hosts. One made the topiaries and the other painted the birdhouses. My contribution was the linens and the Kraft paper runner as well as the river rocks (from The Dollar Tree).
For the place settings, I made edible nests (for the DIY, click here) and little penant flags for the names.
For the guest book, we thought it'd be fun to get a theme-related children's book and have guests sign inside of the cover. What a great, useful keepsake!
For the official favors (guests wrapped up the owl pops and their edible nests as well), I made sugar cookies with chocolate ganache icing in the shapes of a squirrel and an acorn (yes, the cutters were from Bake It Pretty as well!). I loved the forest friend scrapbook paper I found so I simply printed the message on it and matted it against the green to give more color. The twine bow helped keep a more nature-like feel.
The banner hung from the mantle.
Here's a few shots of the delicious brunch foods and their presentation.
Chinese chow mein noodles (1 bag) are combined with melted butterscotch chips (1 bag) and semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 1/2 cup) and then scooped onto wax or parchment paper in small circular mounds. While still warm (but not too hot or it will melt candies), press three egg-shaped candies of your choosing (I have used both Peanut butter M&Ms and mini Whoppers Robin Eggs) in the center.
I found these free printable tags here and decided that I wanted to copy and paste to create my very own baggie toppers out of them. Find the PDF that I created here. You can do like me and simply select, copy and paste it into Word and then insert a text box over the current text and print. I always just print using my color printer on cardstock. These fit standard 4x9 cellophane treat bags. I like to staple them on first and then use my small punch to create holes for the thin ribbon.