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Monday, June 3, 2013

How to Throw an Awesome First Birthday Party

First birthday parties are tricky.  On one hand, everyone tells you not to go overboard because the kid won't remember anything, and really, it's more about celebrating that you made it through the first year of parenthood than anything else.

But on the other hand, everyone you know is throwing these big, elaborate parties with custom-ordered photo invitations, themed party supplies, and professionally crafted cakes.  No joke.  It can be kind of intimidating, and because you usually invite those same people to your party, the pressure is there.

So what happened was, I had this split personality thing going on.  I was constantly fighting my urges to throw an enormous, no-holds-barred bash and also constantly reminding myself that I am a level-headed, frugal person who knows Cricket won't even remember this party and it's not a competition.  To give you an idea of the tug of war going on in my head, I will share not only the steps to throwing the party, but the temptations that I fought at each step of the process.

1)  Decide on the guest list.

Temptation:  Invite all 547 of my Facebook friends.  Send invitations to Buckingham Palace and the White House, just in case.

Reality:  We decided to have a "small family party" because Cricket is pretty shy, and she gets overwhelmed easily in large groups, or even really in groups of three or more.  The problem is, our family is rather large, and we did have a few friends that we consider family that we wanted to invite, which is a good problem, but it meant that our "small family party" ended up hosting over twenty people!

2)  Decide on a theme.

Temptation:  Create an elaborate, multi-leveled extravaganza that appeals to all ages.  Include symbolism and subtle satire, along with recognizable characters, catchy music, and a visual explosion of decorations.

Reality:  We sat down and brainstormed different ideas for how we wanted the party to look.  Themes can actually make planning a party simpler, since it helps you focus on specific things.  Since Cricket is just a year old, she really doesn't have any preferences yet on what she likes, but she does like bright colors (like her mama) so we decided to go with a rainbow/polka dot theme because it would be easy to find multi-colored decorations and supplies even at the dollar store, and a few polka dots would bring it all together.  No special ordering required!

3)  Decide on a menu.

Temptation:  Have it catered.  Baby's first lobster is a special event!

Reality:  We were trying to incorporate our "Real Food" lifestyle, so we chose baked potatoes with a selection of toppings for our main food.

We kept the actual potatoes in the oven to stay warm.

They are easy to customize, and pretty much everyone likes them.  We also had yellow Oreos (I didn't say everything would be healthy!) and fruit kebabs, arranged in the colors of the spectrum, of course!  For drinks, we made colored ice cubes out of different flavors of Kool-Aid and used them in Sprite, so they changed the color and flavor of your drink.  (Pinterest!)

I also made a "baby buffet" because I knew there would be several young children coming who might appreciate some foods they recognize.  I put out containers of YoBaby Yogurt, some whole wheat puffs, Graham crackers, applesauce, and some other things most babies like.

4)  Choose a cake.

Temptation:  Do we still have the number for the lady that did our wedding cake?

Reality:  A while back, I made these Mason jar cakes for the Fourth of July, and they were a huge hit!  I decided to do it again, but with all the colors of the rainbow.

It was great because the jars really showed off the colors, and it's a really big serving, which makes everyone happy.  I used boxed cake mixes and canned frosting because by that point, I was getting overwhelmed.  The downside to the jar cakes is that you have to know how many people are coming, and you can't really stretch it to serve more people like you can with a regular cake.  I found some colorful fabric on sale and cut squares with pinking shears to decorate the lids.

I also wanted to have a "real" cake for Cricket to smash, so I made a small round cake from scratch and decorated it.  I didn't want her to eat all those dyes, so hers was just a plain yellow cake with buttercream icing.

5)  Decorate the house.

Temptation:  Remodel your entire house to fit your theme in a way that is both childlike and timeless.  Something she will be proud of, and talk about, even when she is thirty years old.  Repaint the walls!  Install new fixtures!  Nothing is too good for your little snowflake!

Reality:  We found some great ideas on Pinterest for easy decorations.  We did a very cool canopy effect over the table using plastic table cloths from the dollar store.

I also came up with a few ideas of my own, like these photo polka dots on the wall.  I used pictures from almost every month to show how much she has grown.

I also used some of the leftover vinyl wall dots from the nook in the living room I decorated for her.  (I got those at Target!)

I made a really fun, colorful wreath out of balloons for the door.

I just got a foam wreath at Michael's and millions of balloons at the dollar store.  So fun!  I got the idea here, but I didn't follow her technique because it didn't seem to work for me.  Brian figured out that if you fold it into thirds or fourths and then pin it with straight pins, it looks much better.

We had already painted a wooden number one that we found at Michael's to use in Cricket's one year photo shoot, so we stuck it on the door in the middle of the wreath.  Awesome!

We started decorating a couple of weeks before the party, so we could do little bits at a time.  We have found this to be a workable option, especially when you have to stop constantly to take care of a small baby.

6)  Stay on budget.

Temptation:  Love means never having to say I'm sorry for maxing out the credit card.  Splurge!  She only turns 1 once, right?  This is too important for budgets!

Reality:  I would have loved to send out photo invitations, but that just wasn't in our budget, so I got some colorful ones at Target and printed out some small pictures of her from the Kodak kiosk to put in them.  We cleaned the house, put on some happy kids' music, used mostly glass plates and cups, and like I said above, got most of our decorations at the dollar store.  The food was the most expensive thing, and we still did really well with that.

In the end, we had a great time.  Everyone had plenty to eat and enjoyed the decorations.  Cricket hated the cake,

but that is not surprising considering how much she dislikes sticky things and sugar.  She had a great time anyway, though, and wasn't even horribly overwhelmed by all the people.  I wasn't too exhausted afterwards, and we didn't break the bank!  Good times were had by all!

And of course, I've already started planning for next year.


  1. I love this. These are great tips and I love, love, love the decorations. And the food ideas. And the look on her face as she sorta pokes at her cake.

    1. Hehe yeah, the look on her face is so typically her. Makes me laugh every time I see that picture!