Thursday, August 11, 2011

First Birthday Recap

Will's first birthday parties were a smashing success! I had several people ask me about the recipes and decor, so here you go:

Theme: "The Very Hungry Caterpillar"

I adore the illustrations of Eric Carle, and "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" has long been Will's favorite book. It was a perfect fit!

Decor: Primary colors, stripes and polka dots

I didn't want to take the theme too literally, so instead of plastering caterpillars everywhere, I elected to draw from the bold, primary colors of Eric Carle's illustrations.

The one decor element I knew I wanted was buntings. They're so lovely and whimsical. And with the primary color theme, I could use them over and over again. My mom offered to make three eight foot buntings for Will's party, which was incredibly generous. We picked out the fabrics together, incorporating the primary colors, stripes and polka dots all in one!

The buntings were a good start, but I needed something to stand out as the center piece of the room. So I purchased a bold, striped table cloth on clearance at Target, which helped draw the eye immediately to the table.

To keep things playful and whimsical, we also dressed Will's high chair with a mini-bunting and topped it with a paper lantern chandelier. Many of the lanterns I also got on clearance at Target, and the others came from Party City. Not including the fabric for the buntings (which my mom generously paid for), we only spent $15 on decor.

And then, of course, there's the birthday photo collage, which I shared as a sneak peek earlier in the week. We hung the photo collage in our entry way to help set the mood for the party as soon as our guests walked in. Seriously, I'm still so proud of this. I got the idea from Pinterest, but it came together even better than I could have hoped. I'm actually having trouble taking it down. It's just so darn cute!

If you're wondering exactly how I did it: I printed the photos at our local Walgreens, selecting the white border option to give them a crisp, clean, uniform element. Then I got a circle punch, some primary color card stock and white foam stickers to make the numbers. Each number is attached to the photo with foam mounting squares to create some additional dimension.

For favors, I picked up a dozen beach buckets at the Target Dollar Spot. They looked so bright and colorful all together, almost like their own little decoration! Each bucket came with a coordinating plastic shovel. Then we added a container of bubbles, a small maraca, and a package of organic vanilla-flavored cookies. All together, the favors cost about $3 each. Not too shabby!

Menu: Easy and delicious

I toyed around with a few different menu ideas, but ultimately chose things I that I knew were easy to prepare and delicious to eat. For the adults, we served curry chicken salad (on pretzel rolls or hard rolls), panzanella salad, fruit kabobs, fresh veggies and iced coffee.

For the kids, we served a few of Will's favorite foods, including fruit salad (cut-up in baby-sized pieces), star-shaped turkey and white cheddar sandwiches, cheddar bunnies (like Goldfish crackers, but organic) and apple cinnamon graham cookies.

I had oodles of people ask me for the recipes (see links above), which I consider the ultimate compliment. If the food is good enough to serve in your own home, then I know it was a hit!

Cake: Edible art

For the cake, I asked my friend Sarah at BAKE Cupcakery in Appleton to make three dozen of her incredible organic cupcakes. She has a long list of delectable flavors, but for Will's party we selected "Root Beer Float", "Peach Cobbler" and "Vanilla Bean Raspberry".

I knew the cupcakes would be delicious, but Sarah really out did herself on the decorations. She totally ran with the "Very Hungry Caterpillar" theme, drawing on some of the major themes from the book. She did many of the foods that the caterpillar eats through (pickles, apples, oranges, lollypops, etc), as well as polka dots and darling little caterpillars that looked strikingly similar to the Eric Carle original. Too cute!

Lessons Learned for Next Year

The parties were great, but I definitely took away a few lessons for next year. First of all: remember food allergies. Two of Will's friends have a dairy allergy (which I knew about), but I forgot to make a few turkey sandwiches without cheese. Their moms were incredibly sweet and gracious about it, but I felt awful. I also put cashews on top of the curry chicken salad, forgetting that one of the moms has a nut allergy. Fail. Must make accommodations for food allergies whenever possible. It's often very easy, just requires some advance planning and consideration.

For the party with Will's friends, we requested no gifts. We did this for two reasons: 1) the child already has SO MANY toys, and 2) we really just wanted to gather everyone to celebrate Will, not shower him with presents. However, many people (very generously) brought gifts anyway. You know why? Because it's fun to buy gifts! In retrospect, we shouldn't have imposed the no gift mandate. Let people bring something if they want to. I know I always like going to a party with a small token in hand.

That being said, I think it would be fun to do a book exchange in lieu of gifts and favors. Ask the parents of kiddos to bring a new, unwrapped board book, then invite each child to take a book home when they leave. You could even request books around the birthday theme (if it's simple enough), and slip a "thank you for coming" bookmark into each one. Must remember that idea for next year!

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