Monday, October 25, 2010

Party Time!

In our house, birthdays are big deals!  Part of our gift to our kids is giving them a special party that truly celebrates them.  Not only do our kids get a little something wrapped in paper, but they get the decorations, a fun cake and a great time with friends and family!

Our kids start months in advance planning their special days.  It's fun to listen to them dream about what would be fun, cool and unique.  And then I get to thinking and it really gets exciting!  Of course, it helps that I love to cook and decorate cakes.  Add to that the fun of planning and preparing a themed party ... it is certainly energizing for me.  Which is a good thing because they also wear me out ... but since those two factors offset each other, it's all good. :)  We have had a wide variety of parties ranging from pirates to monster trucks and Minnie Mouse to Fancy Nancy.  This past weekend we celebrated our gymnast Norah with a ... gymnastics party!  Here's the scoop:

Norah did her own invitations this year, which was actually a big help to her mommy.  I printed off a gymnastics graphic onto computer paper for her to cut and glue to some card-stock.  Then she wrote on the outside, "You're invited to a Gymnastics Party!".  I then typed up the information for the inside ... we try to make even that fun:

You are invited to celebrate our gymnast, Norah!

Where:  The Kellum Gymnastic Arena
When:  Saturday, October 23rd at 5 pm

Come ready to eat and play ... and wear your work-out clothes!
(Leotards are optional.)

We sent out the invitations one week in advance, but we sent out an e-mail invite a few weeks earlier so that guests could mark their calendars.  It's a good idea in that e-mail to encourage to guests to contact you regarding gift ideas if they need some help.

Then comes the big day!  Or, actually, the four days leading up to the big day! :)  I try to do as much food prep as I can prior to party day, that way I can enjoy the celebration, too.  I bake the cakes (I do two layer cakes so we have plenty of dessert for everyone) two to three days earlier.  Then I wrap them in plastic and pop them in the freezer.  It is much easier to ice a frozen cake than a spongy cake ... trust me.  I also work on salads the day before (except fruit salads as they will brown) and any other prep work.  Then comes the big day ... and the momentum picks up!  

I like to ice the cake in the morning for a couple of reasons:
  1. I'm fresh and ready to tackle a big project.
  2. I have time to fix things if anything goes wonky.
  3. The cake can thaw before the party.
  4. People can admire it all day ... a few back pats for me. :)
I typically use cardboard wrapped in foil for the base of the cake.  It makes a nice sturdy and shiny surface to showcase your work.  I slather a bit of the frosting on the foil before setting the first layer of cake on the base.  That saves you from having the cake slide around.  There would be nothing worse than finishing your masterpiece and then turning around with it and watching it slip off onto the floor.  That would be grounds for a tantrum!  So ... a little dab of frosting in the middle and then the first layer.  Next, check to make sure that the cake is level.  Often times the cakes poof up on the top.  You will want to use a long, serrated knife to level off the top of the cake.  Then slather the top of that layer with frosting.  Take a peak at the second layer and make sure that it also is level.  Do any trimming prior to placing the top layer on the frosted bottom layer.  Press it down gently and then use a little frosting to run along the seam, filling in any cracks.  This will help to have a smooth side to the cake.

Now it is time to cover the cake in frosting.  If you are coloring the frosting, make sure to make up an adequate amount so that you won't have to try to match the color later, if you need to make more.  I have a long frosting spatula that I like to use for smoothing the icing.  I also use a butter knife for smaller areas and for the sides.  Be generous with the frosting ... I think a good word is "lavish".  Nobody likes to see cake poking through the frosting. :)  Once you have it well covered it's time to pipe the edges.

I have a couple decorator bags that I bought at Michael's.  They are a great investment!  You can use them and wash them and use them again.  I also have a variety of tips:  star, point and leaf.  There is no way to give you a tutorial here about how to pipe, but you can learn a bit here.  I would encourage you to play around a little with the tips by practicing on a paper plate before working on the cake.  Practice the amount of pressure needed to squeeze an even line of icing, practice how to make a fluted edge and practice how to go back to where you left off when you got a hand cramp and had to stop!

After piping the edges on the bottom of the cake (against the base) and along the top edge, you are ready to decorate.  I have found it fun and helpful to use 3-D decorations:  a plastic cow in a field of green, coconut grass, three pics of my football player on toothpicks all as the back drop of a football field, ice cream cones as the turrets of the princess castle and real Legos in the Lego block cake.  Think outside the box for ways to make your cake unique and special.  Before writing on the cake, I recommend "writing" out your greeting with a toothpick.  That allows you to make a mistake, and wipe it away!  You can also make sure you have the spacing just right before starting.

We have a stash of numbered candles in the cupboard so we usually have the correct year to go on the cake and then we have some other fun candles that I have picked up from the dollar store.  It's always a surprise when we light the candles and some of them are sparklers!  Don't forget to get a picture with the birthday star and the cake ... those are some of my favorite birthday snapshots.


Then it is time to decorate the rest of the house!  I have a stash of plastic tablecloths and left over streamers and balloons to add to the specific decorations that I bought in the previous weeks.  We have some traditional ways that we decorate the house:  the streamers on the bannister, and on the wall in the dining room behind the cake, and around the fireplace where we unwrap gifts.  The kids like to have lots of balloons so we hang those all over, too.  I have a friend who uses (and re-uses) tulle in decorating for her kids birthdays.  It's a great idea and one I need to remember for the next birthday!  This year I made two banners for decorations at the party ... and decorations for her bedroom wall.  More on those creations in a later post. :)

The food and cake table ... the hub of the party!

About a half an hour prior to the guests arriving, I start putting out the food.  For this weekend's party, Norah chose to have hamburgers and hotdogs, all the fixings, chips and a variety of salads.  I know that I almost always make too much food, but I would rather have plenty rather than have people scraping the bottom of the bowls.  So go for more ... you can always enjoy the leftovers on Sunday.  That gives you a day off after a big production like a party!  We buy disposable plates and napkins each party, but I re-use the silverware and cups.  You can run those through the dishwasher at the end of the evening and then store them away.  We leave a permanent marker next to the cups for guests to write their names ... some of our guests can actually just look for their cup from the last shin-dig and use "their" cup again! :)

Then it's time to party!  We don't typically have anything scheduled for the actual party time.  Mainly the kids play, play, play and the adults talk, talk, talk.  We usually do have a theme for the party and often times we request our guests to wear something particular:  red for the Lady-bug party, all dressed up for the Fancy Nancy party and for this gymnastic party ... your work-out clothes.  A few times I have organized a treasure hunt (perfect for the pirate and leprechaun parties) and a few times we have played "Pin the Banana on Curious George's Hand" and "Pin the Wings on Tinkerbell".  It's fun to have a little something planned, but I want it to be a relaxed time, too.  We take a lot of pictures during the party time ... for memories and to send to family who couldn't attend.  We take one particular picture at each party ... a snapshot tradition!  We pile all the kids on the stairs and get a snap-shot of them all.  It is such fun to see how they all grow and change from year to year.

I love that we all join hands together to pray before we eat.  It's a wonderful time to pause and thank each guest for coming and to ask God's sweet and abundant blessings on the birthday child.  Then it's time to dive in!

After everyone has had their fill, we head downstairs to open gifts.  We have found that it's important to make sure that there is plenty of room for everyone to see the birthday kid, so choose a roomy spot for this part of the celebration.  We open gifts in front of the fireplace which allows for people to sit on the floor, the couch, the stairs leading down to the living room and the in the kitchen where they can look over the railing.  Another idea that helps with the craziness of the gift opening is to encourage all the kids to sit behind a designated line until it is time for their gift to be unwrapped.  At that time they (and only they) are invited to come and sit beside the birthday kid and see up close the unveiling of the treasured gift.  I also designate a guest (usually my sister!) to be the gift recorder.  She takes notes of each gift and the gift-giver.  This saves me the trouble of trying to remember who gave what when it's time to write our "thank you" notes.

Opening gifts ... in the gift opening area. :)

Finally it is time to enjoy the cake.  We video the singing of "Happy Birthday" and the blowing out of the cake.  I love to be able to go back and see each birthday as my kids have grown and how their reactions to being the center of attention have changed.  

We have a pretty good system of cake-cutters, ice cream scoopers and dessert servers ... making sure that everyone gets enough.  After the first serving ... it's serve yourself! :)

After dessert, we let the kids play, dance to music, and run the sugar off.  I love that our guests hang-out and visit after all the official party business is finished.  For many of them, they are only together at our birthday parties and even though that means 4 times a year ... they still have some catching up to do!  We don't often see the last guest out the door before 9 pm.  And while that might mean our kids are in for a bumpy landing into bed (add to that the sugar-crash ... not a pretty picture), it's all part of the fun!

Once the kids are settled, weeping perhaps, into bed, it's the quiet work of pulling the house back to together.  The decorations often stay up for several days ... keeping the celebration going a bit longer.  Often times the kitchen elves (my moms!) have been at work with the dishes and the dishwasher is loaded and ready to run.  We then tidy up the wrapping paper explosion!   I also like to take time to read the birthday cards and the sweet notes people have written.  

Then it's the quiet reminiscing of another wonderful mile-stone ... another year of watching our kids grow and become who God is growing them up to be.  And another year of being their parents!  Now, that's worth celebrating!


I thought it would fun to post our past birthday parties ... for inspirational purposes!  Enjoy our little snapshots ... and start dreaming of some future celebrations for your family!   Click on the link to the right:  Birthday Celebrations & Inspirations ... Enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for visiting! Your comments are warm fuzzies! (And con-crit is always welcome, too.)