Party planning tips [and a paper airplane-themed first birthday party]

The end of the year was crazy, and I have a feeling Decembers will get even crazier in the years to come. It started with birthday party prep, then Christmas prep, then Christmas travel. January has been much more relaxed so far, yet somehow Corban is already 13 months old and I’m just now sitting down to share his first birthday party.

I’m no party hosting expert, but I do enjoy planning a good little fiesta. Here is an assortment of things I learned while planning Corban’s first birthday party.

 

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1) Choose a theme – or at least a color scheme – and let that guide the rest of your planning. When it comes to parties (and, well, anything creative) I get easily swept up in brainstorming. This is good, up until a certain point, when it becomes overwhelming. There are SO many cute ideas out there (if Pinterest had existed when I was planning our wedding, I think my brain would have exploded into a million vintage farmhouse-inspired pieces) so it helps to have some focus. A cute invitation design inspired my original theme idea and color scheme – airplanes; sky blue and red. Then after Pinteresting it up, I found this stamp and decided paper airplanes are even cuter and easier to pull off.

The paper airplane theme gave me good direction for decorations (hello? Paper airplanes everywhere!), activities (decorating paper airplanes), snacks (peanuts and pretzels) and little details (signs like “in-flight beverages” by the drinks, which of course included ginger ale).

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Simply using colors as a theme works well too. Light blue tablecloths, red plates and silverware, light blue decorations — it pulls the room together without much effort.

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2) E-invitations can be just as cute as paper invites. I love (LOVE) paper and also am a big fan of sending (and receiving) mail. But I wanted to keep this party fairly low key, so a mailed invitation seemed inappropriate. There are quite a few sites out there for sending e-invitations, and some of them have really nice invite designs. I fell in love with Paperless Post, which may be the next best thing to mailing custom invitations. Their designs are exquisite, with details right down to envelope liners. It’s not free, but it costs far less than mailing invitations, and for this party it perfectly accomplished my goal of sending a formal invitation in a casual way.

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3) Grocery store cakes can be just as cute as bakery cakes. Although I love to bake and decorate cakes, this party called for something a bit larger. I checked out a few local bakeries and was not too excited about the prices. While doing some shopping at a Pick N Save near our house I decided to inquire about their cakes, and ended up having a great conversation with the store’s cake decorator. She was young and seemed to really understand what I was looking for. I tasted their frosting (their buttercream doesn’t use real butter so I opted for the whipped cream frosting, which is pretty good) and went over all the details of the design I was envisioning. It helped to pull up some photos on my phone of cakes I had pinned. The result was an awesome cake for $33.99 (half sheet with a layer of chocolate buttercream filling).

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I made Corban his own layer cake (using Pyrex storage containers as baking pans) using this recipe.

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Bottom line, find the right grocery store cake decorator and you can have a fancy looking cake without the fancy pricetag.

4) Have an activity for kids, but don’t expect them to do it. We only had a handful of kids at Corban’s party, but I wanted to have a little something to keep them entertained so their parents wouldn’t have to worry about them. Folding paper airplanes seemed like an easy, appropriate craft (supplies needed: paper. (Actually, I found an old book with 20 different paper airplane tutorials that I had as a kid, so I put that out too)). I picked up some stickers from the dollar store so they could decorate them even if they weren’t interested in flying them.

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But the activity I was excited about was a paper airplane test course. I hung a hoop (embroidery hoop, actually) from the ceiling with the idea that kids (or adults) could test their paper airplane creations and try to fly them through the hoop.

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As it turns out, having a hoop hanging from the ceiling and a bunch of balloons on the floor is confusing. It turned into more of a basketball hoop. A paper airplane or two was made and decorated, but I didn’t see any flying. Actually, Corban’s birthday gift from us, a mini indoor jungle gym, was the exciting thing to play with that afternoon. That and balloons. And that was totally fine. It’s good to have a little something planned for the kids even if it’s not a kid-centric party, but don’t spend lots of time or money on it because they’re usually just as happy playing with whatever.

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5) Play with Pandora. Every party needs some music in the background. Pandora iPhone app + borrowed iPod speakers was my super simple plan for that. I spent a couple days tweaking a Pandora station specifically for the party while listening to it at work. The mix of pop, country, contemporary Christian and Christmas music worked out just fine and took no extra time to plan.

6) If you request no gifts, some people will still bring gifts, and that’s OK. We asked guests not to bring gifts because this party wasn’t really about Corban. It was about us getting together with friends, family and those who have loved Corban and supported us during our first year as parents. Our family, of course, still brought gifts, and a handful of other guests too. Some people just like to give gifts. I have trouble remembering this, but the appropriate response is “Thank you!” — not, “You shouldn’t have!” or “You weren’t supposed to!” We waited until after the party to help Corban open his presents. Opening them during the party would have just been awkward for those who honored our wishes.

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7) Hang decorations from the ceiling. Even if you’re decorations aren’t paper airplanes, hanging decorations go far in making your house look festive. I also like these pinwheels and your (now) standard tissue balls (the smaller ones look the best).

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8) The Dollar Store is a party mecca. My local Dollar Tree is my go-to place for goodie bag items (I didn’t do that for this party though), colored paper plates/utensils/tablecloths and other miscellaneous supplies. They have tons of glassware and foil balloons, too. One word of advice though: take into account quantity when shopping there. For example, their plastic silverware isn’t always cheaper per utensil (and while we’re on the subject, it’s not very high quality either – works fine for cake, though). I think that’s how they make money — some things are overpriced and others are underpriced. It takes a little experience to find the best deals.

9) Everyone loves a good photo montage. The most time-consuming part of planning this party was creating the photo album of Corban’s first year that I wanted to have displayed at the shindig. It was worth it, though, to have the completed book out for guests to peruse. I used Shutterfly because I already had a lot of photos uploaded there, but there are tons of sites that can help you create a digital scrapbook. This is also the time to put together the month-by-month photo montage you’ve been plotting all year. I took a giant frame I had bought years ago and never filled, chose a photo for each month of Corban’s first year, used Picasa to add text to the image and had prints made of the photos. Also a great opportunity to check out the familial resemblance between you and your kid by displaying some old photos of yourself.

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Peter as a toddler!

Peter as a toddler!

10) If you’re design-minded, there are free programs that can help you create logos and custom printed items for your party. I used Inkscape, which is pretty easy to pick up on if you’re familiar with Adobe Illustrator. It let me easily design things like this banner and the food tags.

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11) You can DIY a custom shirt for the birthday boy or girl for about $3.50. Expensive etsy shirts be darned! Tutorial coming tomorrow.

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12) A mini candy bar is a visually appealing way to add some extra sweets to your table without much work. I picked up some cool glassware at Goodwill, bought a few different candies in our color scheme (worked out well that Christmas M&Ms were out) and voila. I want to do this for every party from now on!

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It was kind of crunched in the windowsill.

Phew. So that was Corban’s first birthday party. I had a blast planning it, and was so happy we could share the day with friends and family who love Corban (almost) as much as we do.

Any fun birthday party themes (kid or adult) that you’ve attended or planned? Do share!

Coming soon: 13-month update, already late!

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