About 5 months ago I began to think about Alice's first birthday party - and all the hype that surrounds throwing a Pinterest-worthy first birthday party nowadays. It. Was. Daunting. I was not looking forward to it. It all has to be perfect. Will our friends and family enjoy themselves? If it's not good enough, will they wish they weren't sacrificing precious weekend time on us? Will Alice even remember this? These were my trivial thoughts approaching the big day. And then I gave myself permission to let it be merely a fun day, filled with those closest in our lives to celebrate Alice, and to provide a welcoming home. *Sigh of relief* I can manage that.
So began the spreadsheet (I'm a nerd, I know). It is the only way I know how to unravel the mysteries of planning a party. I have hosted and coordinated plenty of events in my time as a leader of various organizations in college and then as an admissions counselor, but this was a new game for me. Straws? Decorations? Party favors?? Uhhhh...so I did what I always do: break it down. Since our budget was small, that determined our priorities and we came up with an intimate guest list, inviting our closest friends and family, making the day even more special.
We budgeted for food, drinks, postage for invites, and a babysitter - everything else would be done with resources we already had. The only thing we would cut next time is the babysitter. At first we thought we would have a lot more toddlers running around and I also thought it would be hot (hence, the desire to give moms a break), so we booked a babysitter to play with the kids. This turned out to be an extraneous expense as it ended up being pleasant out and there weren't as many kiddos as we thought we'd have. You win some, you lose some.
Since it was an afternoon affair, we kept food simple: whipped feta (I use this recipe: http://www.howsweeteats.com/2013/02/how-to-make-amazing-whipped-feta/) and crackers and my mom's cream cheese roll-ups. The drinks were what I was most looking forward to. I made a honeydew melon cooler and strawberry-thyme lemonade, both recipes I first laid eyes on in Real Simple at the beginning of the summer. I dog-eared them, wanting to try something so fun and gourmet for guests, and Alice's birthday party was the perfect occasion! Sliced limes, sparkling soda and birch straws were on deck for dressing things up, and it was a hit (as far as I can tell). Recipes below.
One of my best friends, Libby, made Alice's cupcakes. This singe act of kindness was the most wonderful thing I experienced while planning Alice's party. To know I didn't have to worry about making the main food attraction was the biggest relief to me. I am so blessed to have a friend like Libby! And let me tell you: They. Were. Amazing. Like, cupcake-show-worthy. She made 4-dozen cupcakes: a strawberry cupcake with strawberry buttercream frosting and the ultimate chocolate cupcake with chocolate ganache, Almond Joy frosting (my request), and topped with toasted coconut. They were heavenly. And more importantly, Alice literally dove head first into one for her birthday song. No hands involved, just cupcake to mouth. She leaned over like a little bird, mouth open wide, and took a bite, getting frosting on her cherub face. It was perfect.
As far as the invitations, thank yous, party favors, and decorations, I kept it simple. I cut out paper from a drawing book and designed/penned/colored Alice's invitations with Prismacolor colored pencils and my favorite pen - a Pilot Precise V5 extra fine rolling ball. (Papa Milo got me hooked on these pens in junior high and I've never looked back.) With a little washi tape on the back, the invites were ready to mail. Total cost: $6.60 for postage.
The decorations were born out of the plethora of paper doilies I keep stocked at all times for my mixed-media paintings. I realize not everyone happens to have every size of doily imaginable on hand, but I did, so I went with it. Go with what you've got! I drew a letter on each one and then colored it in with the colors I chose for the theme: peach, pink, melon, poppy, and carmine. I hung them up with washi tape and voila! Party decorations: free.
Party favors were easy. The only expense was a bag of Starburst in Alice's colors. I used packing paper from a package we got from Amazon (I fold and keep this stuff for everything) and cut up long strips and then enclosed each side with red washi tape I bought from Target a long time ago. Then I filled each bag with candy, folded a doily over the top, and stapled it shut. Each bag got a name on the top and presto! Party favors. Total cost: $1.89.
Thank you cards were also easy (I say easy as an artist, but I realize this might not be so fun for others). In January I had bought a 50-pack of blank cards for a few dollars, so I drew a nice "Thank you" on the front with a fine point sharpie and bam! Instant thank you cards. We did go to Walgreens and print 15 photos of Alice to put in the cards, but that was $5. Postage was free - my mom is always giving us stamps. Thanks, Mom! You make thank you cards possible! So total cost: $5.
I should also mention my mom and dad brought extra tables and chairs, those cream-cheese roll-ups, plates, forks, napkins, and cups for the party, which saved us a ton as well. Don't worry, we recycled the cups. I love living close to my family :)
The day of, JD, Alice, and I rode our bikes to the florist to get Alice some birthday flowers. I made little tea cup bouquets for around the house which were a fun burst of color. These were $8, but you could totally go without them. They were just a little extra something.
My cousins, Adrienne and Ryan, came early to help as well as my parents. Libby came early to help set up the cupcakes. JD cleaned. I ran around like a crazy person. But I have to say, it was so much easier with hands on deck waiting for me to delegate tasks. What a blessing to have such wonderful people in our lives! And Adrienne wrote down every gift and the giver so we could reference it later for thank you cards. Huge help!
My best friend, Sarah, made Alice a first-year scrapbook when she was born, and it was such a pleasure to set it out, full of pictures and memories for all to see. I also set out the journal I write Alice for people to browse through and also to write a little note to her on her birthday. That is something she (and I) will treasure most. Everyone's sweet words were perfect. And my Aunt Brenda made Alice's party dress. She asked us over to pick out the fabric and then she put it together. It was so lovely! Everyone had a hand in making Alice's birthday a special day.
All in all, the party was splendid. We hung out. We opened gifts (of which Alice received many, and very thoughtful ones). We ate cupcakes and laughed as Alice ate in true, frosting glory. We played. We hugged. It was perfect. We felt so loved, and we know that Alice is surrounded with the best people in her life. How very blessed we are!
I am so glad I gave myself permission to throw nothing more than a simple gathering of those closest to us and not worry about spending a small fortune on full-out decorations and a buffet. It was lovely with less.
Recipes and links:
Honeydew cooler: http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/honeydew-cucumber-mint-cooler-00100000105640/index.html
Strawberry-thyme lemonade: http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/strawberry-thyme-lemonade-00100000105642/index.html
Strawberry cupcakes: http://www.marthastewart.com/338183/strawberry-cupcakes-with-strawberry-butt
Chocolate cupcakes: http://www.cupcakeproject.com/2013/06/chocolate-cupcake-recipe-the-ultimate-chocolate-cupcake-test-baked-by-50-bakers-and-counting.html
Birch straws: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009314ZSK/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=27894005970&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=501655353308218731&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=e&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_61xp5cdppa_e
p.s. if you were curious, we spent $65 total, and after reflecting could have done it for half of that if we had nixed the flowers and babysitter.
Cheers to creative party planning!