Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Birthday Party for Next to Nothing: A Real Treasure

My son Devin just turned three and wanted a treasure hunt for his birthday party. I was thrilled with all the creative possibilities and went immediately to work to make this a memorable occasion. Along the way, I realized this could be a low cost option as well.

Venue: The main way I saved money was simply by having it at home. Most venues for birthday parties are $150 and up. Parks are also a good alternative as long as there is a structure in case of rain.

Invitations and Thank You’s: I found a great website to send electronic invitations and thank you’s after the party: They had a cute animated treasure invitation and I added a short video of Devin in his pirate hat at the end. It was original, it involved no paper waste, and the basic design was FREE.

Decorating Supplies: Another money saving tip is to keep the guest list at 8 or 16. Since most party supplies come in packs of 8, this prevents waste and extra spending. If you can get your child to decide on a theme months in advance, you can take your time scouring stores for deals. I wasn’t so lucky but I did find the plates, cups, and napkins on sale. I also found a pack of balloons and streamers at a dollar store for a buck each. Get the big balloons that are easier to blow up and at least two packs of streamers.

No Cost Craft: I searched online for pirate themed crafts and games and found lots of good ideas: For the craft, the kids painted pirate swords I made out of two paper towel rolls and a toilet paper roll. I had been saving rolls for some time. I like crafts that teach the importance of reusing and then recycling.

No Cost Games: We did three games: musical islands, pin the X on the map, and a treasure hunt. Musical islands was like musical chairs but they had to step on a piece of construction paper. When a child got out of the game, he got to “walk the plank” along our couch and then jump into a pile of pillows. My husband made a treasure map on a poster board; curling the edges was a nice touch. Each child had an X made of recycled cardboard and got to place it on the map blindfolded. I had to make two versions of a treasure hunt since last minute showers confined us indoors. I made rhyming clues that sent them all over the house and printed them in Lucida Blackletter font on resume paper to look more authentic. I put the final treasure in two treasure boxes my boys had previously decorated. The contents were divided up for their goody bags.

Goody Bags: It can be tempting to buy everything related to your theme, but ask yourself what the kids will really enjoy in their goody bags two days from now. I chose cute cardboard treasure boxes instead of bags and filled them with the treasure hunt contents: gold and silver beads, gold coins, pirate stickers, and Hershey nugget chocolates. They also got a pirate hat and an eye patch (which made for adorable pictures).

Themed Snack: Before we filled the kids with sugar, I gave them a snack. Since none of the kids had peanut allergies, they each got pretzyl sticks, a spoonful of peanut butter, and goldfish so that they could “go fishing.”

Treasure Box Cake: I’m fortunate to have a very creative mother-in-law who makes custom cakes. For our treasure chest, she cooked one box of cake mix in a Wilton loaf pan. She froze it to make it easier to cut, shaved the top off, and tilted it up like an open chest. She supported it with three bamboo skewers and two chocolate coins. Once frosted, she put a necklace of smarties and a handful of chocolate gold coins inside. It was the perfect size cake for 16 guests. If you’re feeling creative, check out lots of great ideas at:

For School Friends: If you’re having trouble trimming the guest list, consider taking cupcakes or cookies to their school separately. We took pretzyl rods, dipped them in melted chocolate and rolled them in sprinkles. It was a nice alternative at snack time.

I’m proud that this didn’t feel like a cheap party, but we only spent about $35. A little creativity goes a long way!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Julie, Julia, & Me

I just saw the movie "Julie & Julia.” It’s based on two true stories of Julia Child and Julie Powell (a writer who blogged about cooking Julia’s recipes). If you haven’t seen the movie, go see it. Meryl Streep is wonderful as usual! It was this film that made me decide it was time to get off my keister and do something I’ve been thinking about for months: start a blog.

For me, this was a must-see movie. I actually interviewed Julia Child ten years ago when I was a producer for CBS. She and Jacques Pepin had collaborated on a cookbook to accompany their new television show. Their signed cookbook is one of my prized possessions. I thought it would be fun to take both of them to a greasy spoon in San Francisco to compete in preparing the best hamburger. Then in her mid-80’s, Julia was graceful and refined and yet fit right in flipping burgers.

As the movie “J&J” unfolded, I found myself identifying with the other star, Julie. She too was in her 30’s, she had an exceptionally supportive husband, she was a bit lost finding her direction in life, and she believed in her bones that she was a writer. It was just that no one else knew it yet.

I know what some of you are thinking: another mom blog by some homemaker looking for a soapbox. What makes her so special and why should I care? I’ve been thinking about a witty response to that question, but I’m still working on it. At the very least I’m trying to decide what is “my voice” and what I want to say in this blog.

I'm smart but not a brainiac; I'm creative but no Martha Stewart; I'm ecologically mindful but not granola crunchy; I can laugh at myself but I'm no comedian. I'm just doing my best as a mom for my three young kids one day at a time. Along the way, I’ve been stumbling upon some practical tips and nuggets of wisdom that just might make another mom’s day. I’ll also share my foibles and mistakes that hopefully you can avoid making. This is my chance to share those.

The line in the movie “J&J” that struck me most when Julie was contemplating writing a blog was, “Julia Child wasn’t always JULIA CHILD.” At one point in her life, she was a nobody looking for a creative outlet and frankly something to do. Only later in life did she gain respect and notoriety for her art. Who knows: maybe someday someone will say the same thing about me.