Monday, September 22, 2008

{Birthday Party in the Park}


We recently celebrated my daughter's 5th birthday. You all know how I feel about my kids' birthdays. I am a big fan of these days - they are set apart for me as days marked by thankfulness and awe at the miracles that I have witnessed.

I am also just a bit of a very exciteable party planner! Truth is, I have always loved planning parties. I love the details, I love thinking up the menu, I love planning out decorations... I love all of it. But, I know there are plenty of people out there who don't. So, I am going to share what worked for me on this party so that hopefully some of these ideas could be borrowed by you. If you like to go all out, you can use them all. If you are just looking for a few little pieces of flair, just borrow one or two. Note: One of my goals in planning this was to use decorations that could be re-used, and to have "green" party favors.

[And, get ready to start sharing your party planning ideas or questions here, too. We have a "Celebrations" category in the works. (stay tuned for more on that one)]

{Party in the Park}

location: our house is teeny-tiny, and our "yard" is a 4 ft x 10 ft patio. So, we needed a location that we could borrow. We chose a community park with a great picnic area, beautiful grass for tromping, and a fun play area for any bored kids. I wanted to do this party in a location that anyone else could find too. (-Surely most of us have access to a backyard, or a park nearby.)


decorations:



  • I used the "Tissue Paper Pom Poms Kit" (or as my kids call them, "puffer flower balls") from Martha Stewart's craft kits. I got my kit at Wal-Mart and for $9 you can make 6 flowers (it is also available at most craft stores). I hung them from the tree branches at the park, but now they are hanging in my daughter's room from the ceiling. They are so cute! I think they would be divine above a baby's crib. They make the perfect decoration for an easter table, bridal shower, baby shower, birthday, etc. They are fairly easy to assemble. Just plan to sit still for a while (catch up on your tivo list).

    {here are the puffer balls in the bedroom}



  • I also have a stash of random vintage sheets, oil cloth table cloths and large remnants of material that make the perfect tablecloths for parties such as these (see in the above photo of the puffer balls at the park). I keep them in a box in my garage and bust them out when needed. Saves me from having to buy those annoying plastic table cloths that never stay put. Start watching the Target dollar bins for their cheap vinyl or oil cloth tablecloths, and watch yard sales for vintage sheets and tablecloths too.
  • I borrowed Logan's "LOGAN" sign and little butterfly chain of decorations from her room to hang on the barn at the park.


  • I made this simple 5 out of some metal wire and then used floral tape and some random flowers growing in my little garden. It is really, really simple. Just twist the metal (I am not sure what the gauge is. It needs to be heavy enough to hold a shape, and I got my wire at Home Depot years ago.) into the shape you want. I have done a heart for bridal showers, a letter for the new last name at bridal showers, spelled out "baby" for a baby shower, and then of course other numbers for birthdays. Once you have your shape, just use little pieces of the green floral tape to attach the vines or flowers you are using to the wire and wrap the vines and flowers around it until the wire is covered.





  • I made the kids' desserts in these flower pots (they look like plants) so that they could multi-task as decoration on the table, and be a party favor for them to take home. (you will see how I put together the dessert below) It was a beautiful statement having them lined up in a long row along the tables. This would be another great idea for a shower decoration and dessert. The kids thought it was the silliest thing ever to be eating cake that looked like dirt. We threw a gummy worm onto each one right before we served them (and, of course we removed the flower and straw).


on the menu:
  • We enjoyed Go Roma's amazing multi-grain pasta, breadsticks, and whole-wheat pizza. They just added the whole-wheat option to their menu, and just added it to the kids' meals too. What a family-friendly restaurant this is! They really do make it a comfortable atmosphere for families to enjoy dinner out quickly (a value for families) without eating "fast food", and to be able to eat well at a great price. And, did you know that Go Roma has a "Kids Eat Free" deal for Sunday-Thursday evenings every week? That is amazing! And, if you want to use their food for a party like mine, they can deliver. The food arrives super hot in these heated bags and when you are ready to serve, you just unload it and viola, it is ready! We are big fans of Go Roma!



  • We had Honest Teas and Honest Ade options for adults and lots of Honest Kids thirst quencher pouches for the kids to enjoy!

  • The only food item I prepared was dessert.


  • The adults enjoyed this "Dirt Cake Surprise", which I made in this metal trough from Lowe's, and used a gardening trowel to serve it. (To see another fun use for this trough, check out Julie's craftiness at her blog.) I alternated layers of chocolate pudding, chocolate cake, pudding, chocolate cake, frosting, and then on top of the frosting a huge layer of crushed joe-joe cookies from Trader Joe's. Joe-Joe's are these amazing oreo-like cookies that Trader Joe's has that are sweetened with evaporated cane juice (instead of refined sugar) and have no partially hydrogenated oils. They are still a total treat, but one that you feel a bit better about eating (so you maybe eat twice as many?).


  • The kids each had their own individual cupcakes in these flower pots. They were really simple to make. I got my small flower pots at Lowe's (wash them before putting the cake inside). Here is how I assembled them:
and here is the finished product:


party activities:

  • free play - one of the best features of having a party at a park is that you really do not have prepare anything to keep the kids busy. There is nothing like wide open space and a fun play area to keep kids happy!
  • To go with the "outdoors"/"green" theme we had a "butterfly release". Butterflies are one of Logan's all-time favorite things, so it was a fun way to celebrate her too. Insect Lore has so many amazing kits (ladybugs, butterflies, tadpoles, etc...) to introduce kids to how bugs grow. We had their butterfly pavillion and 20 live painted lady butterflies that we released at the end of the party. This was certainly a huge highlight for the kids!

Most of the children (anyone who wanted to) were able to hold a butterfly for a while before they flew off into the sunset.



  • To do the release, we formed a very large circle and then talked about how butterflies start as caterpillars. I made the connection to Logan by sharing that she grew in my tummy until she was ready to come out.


Before we released the butterflies, I had Logan come into the middle of the circle and opened up a time of sharing affirmations for her. We do "Birthday Affirmations" in our family, and it was really precious to hear her little friends share things that they love about her (you can imagine, it was a lot of "I like Logan" and "Logan is a good friend" and even some "I am a good friend to Logan".) She was beaming!

parting gifts:

  • each little buddy took home a plant pot (after the kids finished dessert, we quickly dumped out the remnants so that they could take them home) and a "green beans plant kit" - a ziplock of soil and some green beans seeds. I only had to buy one bag of soil, and a couple of seed packets of Green Beans seeds. I then put about 6 seeds in the little coin envelopes from Staples and stamped them with "seeds". Fun for the kids to take home and try their hand at gardening. Maybe they will even eat the fruit of their labor.
  • they also got to take home their very own caterpillar in a necklace "locket" from Insect Lore. These are the coolest things! They come all sealed up with the caterpillar inside. There is food in the bottom for the caterpillar to eat and the kids get to watch the very hungry caterpillar eat and grow until finally, the caterpillar will climb to the top of the locket and form her chrysalis. The kids can literally take it with them anywhere they go.
{here you can see some of the party boys climbing with their lockets around their necks}

Once the chrysalis forms, mom can move the chrysalis into the little pop up tent (each family took one of these home) and after a few days, the butterflies emerge from their chrysalis. The kids get to keep the butterflies for a few more days (feeding them orange slices) and then they get to release them. I have seen a few of the kids since the party and they always run up to me and tell me what is happening with their bugs! Insect Lore is wonderful! It has become one of my favorite places to buy birthday and Christmas gifts for kids! Check them out. This was a really fun way to honor nature and let the kids take something home that is educational too.

{Reflection}

Overall, I would say that this party was a really special time. It was a gathering of some pretty terrific families, in a beautiful location that prompted a true spirit of celebration. Here are some parting snapshots. (By the way, most of these fabulous photos are courtesy of Dane Sanders, photographer extraordinaire! If you are a photographer, you should check out his new book!)

I hope some of these ideas will fuel a bit of inspiration for your celebrations! Feel free to share any ideas for backyard parties or parties in a park here in the comments.



{a sweet friend came bearing flowers for the birthday girl...his mama is training him well, don't you think!}




















8 comments:

Heather of the EO said...

What can I say other than WOW? I think you might be Martha Stewart herself, diguised as Ali, young and creative mother!
KU.DOS.

nicole viola said...

I second the wow! Awesome party! plus, I love joe-joe's (and miss them terrible since we live in the Evil Land of No TJ's right now). Seriously though, what an amazing, creative party; I'm sure I'll use some of those ideas. :)

Dane Sanders said...

I am both inspired and in awe. YOU are amazing Ali Bray. A-mazing.

Bonnie Lewis said...

Ali!! I just said a quick prayer that you would teach me the creative ways of your brain. you are so gifted! and you stay so calm doing it!!!!!!!!!

Gray Matters said...

Just found your blog as I'm planning my son's 4th birthday party. This time of year is wonderful for using nature for decorations, food and fun. The party looks fabulous - I love your creativity and obvious love for your little girl.

Definitely, Maybe... said...

OOOOhhhhh I love it! Your attention to detail is amazzing... can't wait for the next party! yay!

Lindsey said...

Ali, I am new to your blog and was getting caught up on some older posts when I came across this one.

You amaze me. This party is incredible and is bursting with personal touches that make is special. What a mom!

Ali said...

Lindsey-

Such sweet and kind words!

It is actually just a fun hobby and distraction from sleep - laying in bed and dreaming up creative party ideas. :)

Ali

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