Happy Halloween!

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Happy Halloween! I hope yours is gearing up to be dazzling & fun! I know it’s only October 7th and not officially Halloween day but this year I want to be a little ahead of our Halloween festivities. My three-year-old is becoming increasingly interested in Halloween and all the fun our fall has in store for us so I definitely don’t want to waste the season. After last year with my first public event being planned and my brother’s wedding having been at the beginning of the month I allowed Halloween to take a bit of a back seat, this year I wanted to be sure to allow it to have a larger presence in our October. This year I plan to share some of the ways we do this and the places we find fun fall activities in our area. Hopefully, it will inspire you to incorporate one or more of these ideas into your Halloween festivities and encourage you to seek out fun new memory making opportunities near you!

In years past we have been known not just to decorate the house with little decorative Halloween hints inside & out, but also to enjoy the sunny fall days outside at area parks and community events. Pumpkins get picked and eventually carved or painted in some fun way and perched on our steps lit up. We typically attend a hayride or some other festival and one of our family’s favorite things to do is to plan multiple spooky family movie nights complete with fun themed foods. We really do, typically, enjoy the Halloween season, minus the gore and horror, before bustling right into the big celebration season that is upon us as soon as we wake up the day after Halloween to the sounds of Christmas Music 24/7 on one of our local radio station all the way until Christmas Day!

 

Last year it was 2 weeks until Halloween when my, then, 7 yr. old said to me, “Mom, we are the lamest house on our street, we haven’t done ANYTHING for Halloween yet! Can we…….” and then the list of requests began…..

“Can we get the Halloween decorations out tonight?”

“Can we go to Boo at the Zoo again this year? It was so fun that ONE time we DID go!”

“Can we get pumpkins to carve this weekend? Please, please, please?”

“Can we pick out our costumes soon! Let’s go shopping tonight, I want to be……………(insert most expensive costume idea you can think of) _________________for Halloween and we have to get costumes soon! Our class parties are coming up really fast!”

Immediately upon the list of requests that they started, I began to feel a panic set in. Now shopping for Halloween costumes was fun as a kid, but when your bank account is paying for it, I feel it is far more stressful than I ever imagined it could be! Holidays, in general, can be far more stressful, right parents? Every year one of my girls asks for some up & coming costume idea, typically based on some fictional character that will cost me an arm and two legs to buy for Halloween and that MUST be ordered anywhere from 6 weeks out to find it in stock in their size. That is hard enough to deal with as a parent, then multiply that times 4…… because that’s how many kids I have, 4. Four costumes, three sets of class treats (for another year until my baby starts preschool), four pumpkins to carve (unless my husband and I want in on the fun), four kids cost four times as much for everything? This never makes for fun costume shopping,………..until a few years ago when I introduced them to thrift store costume shopping! That is a topic for another blog coming soon though….

Oh to be a kid again……….but unfortunately I am an adult, and not just any adult, rather a MOTHER. This means solving all the problems, harnessing all the creativity, creating all the fun moments and capturing all the family memories, so instead of panicking, I decided to don my imaginary Halloween costume, that of Wonder Woman and away my brain went searching for solutions, creativity, moments & memories to create in 2 short weeks, with ZERO advance brain power.

First to figure out, creating some immediate Halloween excitement in my home and doing so rapidly. Off to my favorite drugstore that still lets you rent movies the old fashioned way, (off a shelf for $0.99 for seven nights for the classics). I snagged a few of our family Halloween favorites, “Spooky Buddies” & “Nightmare Before Christmas”. At least the addition of these movies into the tv time they were permitted would give the mental impression to my kids that we were right on track gearing up for Halloween. Next, I decided a Halloween Family Dinner & Movie night was in order. We had been so busy it had been weeks since we had a family movie night and this is something we like to try to do as a family at least once a week normally. Last year though, again the organizing of my first public event had put a temporary hindrance on that family fun, so I knew a spooky movie night was just the right plan. I ravaged my cabinets and found a few ingredients that would help me create a spooky feast and I made a list for the rest of the items I would need to complete that spooky feast. Our menu contained:

*Gooey Goblin Green Earlobes & Eyeballs- Mac & Cheese made with “earlobe” pasta (orecchiette shaped noodles) with a pesto twist and then I topped it with some freezer meatballs cooked up and garnished with black olive rings to create the eyeball effect.

 

*Severed Finger Cheesy Breadsticks & Mummy Dogs- First the severed cheesy GIANT garlic bread fingers with pepperoni fingernails, dipped in bloody red marinara! Deliciously disgusting and one of my kids’ favorites! They also really enjoy my mummy dogs, a simple play on pigs in a blanket, with pop tube breadstick dough and hot dogs. I use a breadstick dough to wrap a full hotdog to look like a mummy wrapped up and bake them according to the tube time & temp directions. Dip these spooky treats with ketchup or mustard for a snack “wrapped” in delicious buttery baked dough!

 

*Puking Pumpkin and black corn chips.- A cute little pumpkin carved and cleaned out to look like a sick pumpkin then filled with guacamole spewing out the mouth opening to create another deliciously disgusting snack when served with blue corn tortilla chips.

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My personal favorite Halloween movie is “Hocus Pocus” as I don’t do scary or gore well myself and due to the age of our girls even if I did we wouldn’t be doing a scary family movie night so I make sure to find it on our upcoming television guide every year and set it to record on our DVR for a Friday night family movie night and, last year I did this right before heading to the store for the list I had written and a few additional ingredients for a couple spookily sweet treats to complete our movie night. The last part of our feast was spooky S’more’s made to replicate the spell book from Hocus Pocus and miniature pretzel sticks with mini marshmallows on the ends dipped in caramel to create “Dirty Q-tips”

 

Now with these ideas in mind and more than two weeks left until Halloween this year, I hope I have provided one or more fun ways to get you and your family into the spooky fun Halloween season! I hope to share 2 or 3 more blogs encouraging more Halloween fun & memory making favorites of ours in the next few weeks until Halloween Day is here! Have a Scarily Great Weekend and a Dazzling Fall Season!

As always, thanks for stopping by and reading, Dazzle your way to a fun Halloween!

~Rebecca

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Christmas Cookie Exchange Tips

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I am gearing up to start my 1st of 2 full days of baking over this next week to satisfy almost 20 dozen cookies for two different cookie exchange parties, one that I have attended for the last 8 years and the other a new tradition to my family that I started last year. As I get myself ready to begin the first batch tomorrow afternoon I decided to share a few of my tips & best practices for cookie exchanges! Hopefully, it helps any newcomers to a cookie exchange or any of you on the fence about starting this fun tradition!

The goal behind a Christmas Cookie Exchange is for each of guest to bake one kind of cookie each and then everyone comes together to celebrate the season and still manage to leave the party & go home with a variety of cookies without the extra effort! Plus it makes a fun and yummy excuse to get together during the holidays and helps you have a variety to fill those last minute cookies trays to take to all your Christmas festivities! The exchange cookie for the other one I attend is my family’s spritz recipe passed down from my great grandma, an absolute Christmas staple in our home and a recipe I will not share but most families have a version of it and if all else fails scope out Pinterest or Google for a suitable alternative! I will bake my Pecan Fingers, staple #2 for this exchange next week! You will find that recipe at the end of this post for your enjoyment. I enjoy these with my morning coffee in the days after the holidays to stretch the season out a little longer.

Here are my top 5 tips for pulling off a successful baking session SPECIFICALLY for a Cookie Exchange

1- Decide on a cookie you are comfortable with and feel capable of achieving without adding too much stress & chaos, the point is to join a cookie exchange to save you stress without sacrificing variety with your cookie baking during an already busy time of year! I like to choose a cookie with a pretty good # yield per batch to eliminate a bunch of ingredient multiplying or tons of batches needing to be separately prepped & baked. Less room for error and an easier process for you!

2- Plan to have a window of time within 2-5 days of the party to do your baking to ensure you are swapping the freshest cookies possible because freshest is bestest! 😍🍪😍🍪😍 depending on the cookie you choose, you may be able (or need to) prep a dough and let it rest, this may help break up the task (if need be) and allow you to have some work done ahead of the actual baking day!

3- Be sure to mark your calendar to attend because the main reason I began hosting one annually was to have a fun & functional holiday excuse to get together for fun & laughs with my girlfriends & family! Attending is far more than half the fun I PROMISE! Games, food and a white elephant gift exchange that guarantees laughs!

4- Once you pick a cookie and decide on a safe and airtight way to separate your cookie by the dozen for exchange (ziplock bags, plastic container, tin, or gift box etc.) Then you are ready to bake & bag! Preheat the oven, Gather ingredients, Wash hands, Don the apron to save your outfit, Turn the Christmas music on & bake away! Again try to pick a low mess & low fuss cookie to prep, bake & decorate!

5- Once cooled prep for bagging & set aside in a safe place away from all kids & husbands until it’s party time! 🎊🎈🎊 When party time arrives kiss the fam goodbye, don’t feel guilty & come have so much fun you never want to miss a year!

 

Pecan Fingers

*Preheat oven to 350*

  • 1/2 # Margarine (softened)
  • 6 Tablespoon Confectioners Sugar
  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Cups Finely Chopped Pecans

Cream together the softened margarine & sugar. Begin to add the flour gradually, once all flour is incorporated add the chopped nuts be sure to mix well. Once all ingredients are blended shape the dough into finger sized and shaped cookies and place on an un-greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 mins. Once the cookies are cooled entirely place them a few at a time in a shallow bowl of powdered sugar and coat each finger. Enjoy with coffee, tea or milk & store any remaining Pecan Fingers in an airtight container.

Pecan Fingers Printable Recipe Card

 

As a BONUS little added tradition, because I am all about traditions new and old  (especially this time of year!) last year just before Christmas and my 1st annual cookie exchange, I told my husband that I wanted to start a Christmas Cookie Jar collection so that I can have a variety to decorate my kitchen for the holidays and double purpose to store all my delicious Christmas cookies from this cookie exchange and other holiday traditions! Someday when my girls have homes I can pass one down to each for them to decorate the kitchen counter too!

Last year one of my gifts was a fun Santa Lumberjack Cookie Jar, this is one of my hopes for this year. But more than a new cookie jar this year, I want YOU to join in on this fun Cookie Exchange Tradition in your own bubble! Be sure to follow my blog page so you don’t miss any future recipe’s, tips, tricks or best practices to dazzling your way through the holiday season this year and for seasons to come!

 

HAPPY BAKING my DAZZLING friends! As always, thanks for reading and I hope it inspires you to start or join a Christmas Cookie Exchange so that you can be a part of a beautiful & fun tradition like this!

~Rebecca

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Pro’s & Con’s of Store Bought vs. Creatively Led Birthday’s

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There are so many ways to approach a child’s birthday and the amount of time and expense you devote to it. Many differing opinions could be presented about how to celebrate a child’s birthday and how much financially should be spent and it seems that birthday traditions are as varied and diverse as we are as a culture. More so, it seems just like with many things, many people seem to feel very strongly that their approach is best. Not unlike with many other topics, we tend to not have healthy debates with ourselves anymore, we just go with what we know, what we’ve always seen demonstrated, what we are comfortable with or what seems on trend. The same can be said for how the average parent approaches their child’s birthday. In today’s culture, it’s somewhat of a joke in any number of sitcoms or advertisements one of two parent/child birthday narratives.

A. That parents allow themselves to get so caught up & often overwhelmed in the day to day that they forget birthdays amidst their other obligations and can’t afford a “big to do” on their meager budget. This narrative is fed off the fact that so often we are living in the same hamster wheel as parents and we just do what we’ve always seen done to survive each day and breeze through to the next, right past one big moment after another, stuck in the grind of living paycheck to paycheck thus “celebrating” with a last minute cake, balloons & crepe paper and a handful of sporadic guests.

OR

B. That parents spoil their children rotten with whatever they want, throwing them an “over the top” celebration creating little narcissistic, ungrateful children. This narrative is fed off of shows and other celebrity/media culture that implies throwing a birthday party for your child over a certain price tag somehow designates the child as ungrateful and the parents as ignorant for wasting money and treating their children like “Princesses” or “Princes”.

I have to say that this seems silly to me that these are the two most common narratives our culture presents considering that the majority of the world lives somewhere in the middle of the financial class and that even though parenting is hard we are not all too overwhelmed by parenting to celebrate our children and put a little bit of time and effort into going the extra mile to do so on even the most meager budget.

I have decided that there is a third narrative that needs to be pushed and that’s what has inspired this blog series about Kid’s Birthday Party Planning. That third narrative looks like this…

C. That parents are possibly overwhelmed from day to day occasionally, and they may be living paycheck to paycheck and feeling financially strapped, but they cherish their children and are grateful for every year that they get to celebrate and therefore they use the child’s birthday every year as that reminder and reason to celebrate the amazing person they are growing into! They do take a little time to mentally appreciate, take stock and prepare a personalized celebration for their child and their loved ones and they work hard to earn whatever budget they have so they will use it to celebrate the occasion however they see fit. This narrative is off of my personal thoughts and beliefs on this topic as I will outline in one of my Blogs about how Party Planning Pays Off in the Moments and the Memories

 The fact of the matter is, how you choose to celebrate your child’s birthday IS something personal and the details don’t really matter as long as you DO celebrate your child and your accomplishments as a parent every single year you are blessed to do so.  Whether you throw together a cake, pizza, balloons and a bunch of your little person’s favorite people with some store bought party supplies or whether you start planning months in advance and make it a bigger deal and a whole family affair, it doesn’t matter at all. What matters is that you reflect, you celebrate and you create memories.

This pros and cons list are to help you decide, in the season of life you are in, for the party you are currently planning, with the theme you have picked and the budget you are working with whether you should do Store Bought or let your planning be Creatively Led.

Ok so Let’s break down the Pros and Cons of each method:

First I’ll start with Store Bought Approach

Pro’s

– It is easy, just go to the nearest retailer of choice or do an Amazon search & you can have them in no time at all.

– You can find a wide variety of choices, patterns and trademarked character party supplies at your disposal now in stores and on any number of online sources so if you want to do a theme, you can likely find it.

– NO real thinking or creativity necessary, just buy what you need from the available party collection for your chosen pattern or theme.

Con’s

– Without a lucky coincidence of finding the theme or character included in a semi seasonal clearance sale, the store bought products come in smaller increments and they are on the pricier side allowing your expenses to quickly multiply if you start getting into guest quantities above 8-16 total before you consider purchasing prepackaged favors or decorations.

– There is always the chance that one of their friends will have a birthday just before or after your child’s party with the same stuff and it may feel a bit generic.

– The extra supplies and the left over decorations feel like so much of a waste because it’s not like you can put it away for next year, your kid will be onto a new favorite obsession within 6 months. So you pass it forward or throw it out in most cases.

Ok so now I’ll give you the pro’s & cons of a more Creatively Led Approach.

Pro’s

– It can be executed using a lot of the same retailer outlets and with a clear vision and a little planning ahead of time it can be equally as easy. In fact I now consider it easier because taking the extreme level of character images and licensing out of the printed and disposable item allows for left overs to be neatly packed away and stored to be recycled into future party visions. Therefore saving the task of having to acquire some of these same things for future events.

– The chances of your child having a friends birthday with a similar look or feel is unlikely, allowing even the most basic get together to have a unique and special atmosphere for making memories.

– The sky is the limit as far as your choice of theme, style or pattern when you take a more creative approach to the party planning. If you can think it you can create with with a little extra work! Just choose anything, from a book or movie title, to a color or favorite hobby. Even a favorite food or location can become the jumping off point for planning your celebration. Think about what you are celebrating and who you are celebrating and something will come to mind (this is kind of a secondary pro, you can use this choice as a way to highlight the personality of your guest of honor).

– As for the creativity side of things, the Pinterest and blog culture that is amidst us means you don’t really have to be creative at all anymore! Just willing to spend a little time searching ideas and be also willing to try implementing someone else’s idea within your personal skill level & budget…………. AND if you are really against doing it yourself then you can always find yourself a local to you version of me who would be willing to implement the creative & planning portion of your event for expenses and a fee of some sort. (I will talk about this as well as other areas of your life and home that you can delegate for a far more reasonable fee then you would expect in most cases in an upcoming blog series I hope to do this fall 2017 so keep an eye out for it then!)

– As previously mentioned (but worth it’s own point) when you stick with a broader creative approach to your party theme you open the door to a more likely ability to recycle or re-purpose party supplies and leftover paper products and decorations on future events. Instead of having dozens of leftover “Spongebob Squarepants” paper plates and napkins to use and birthday banners with Patrick and Mr. Crabbs on it, you could simply have leftover yellow and blue napkins to pack away in a gallon sized air-tight ziptop bag and stored until the next time you need one of those colors. Instead of the money wasted on a character specific birthday banner you will never hang again you could take a different approach to the sign or handcraft one with an underwater feel being more easily capable of reusing for say a future Mermaid themed birthday or underwater scuba party!

– It can be a memory making experience in the process of planning and creating as well, allowing you to include your children and other willing loved ones in these elements of the party allowing more opportunities to make memories.

now for the Con’s

– It requires a little bit of planning ahead and willingness to spread your to do list for the event out across a few weeks, even months. I will share planning & organizing tools in weeks and months ahead.

– It may require some hands on projects and potentially also some crafts or small construction projects which in turn will require a little bit more of your time but with proper planning and scheduling this doesn’t have to be too challenging of a Con to tackle.

– Once you begin to make the shift to a creatively led approach to your events & celebrations be prepared to unleash a monster in yourself and possibly other members of your family. The memory making will begin to look as it never has before and you will begin to increase in excitement level and will want to continue taking chances in your events to continue creating even more one of a kind memories. Hold on tight! It’s about to get fun by this point!

So now that you have my Pro’s & Con’s you can weigh them against the other details and factors in your life to begin approaching your celebrations appropriately according to your season! Remember it’s not about how much you spend, how many people you invite, how many people can show up or how many handmade features vs. vendors paid went into creating your event. What actually matters is that you so take the time to celebrate the moments and create memories with the ones you love today, because tomorrow is never promised! Go make memories!

As always, thanks or reading!

~Rebecca

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Party Planning Pays off in the Moments & in the Memories

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I LOVE any reason to party so people who don’t like to party confuse me just a little. I mean I am an introvert with extroverted tendencies so I actually do kind of get it but even though the “act of partying” drains me, I still enjoy it and strongly value the time spent and memories made with those whom I get to party with. Like everything, of course, it must come with a balance, especially for me as an introvert. When it comes to my kids though I go next level, so just know that what I’m about to say next is coming from a loving heart, I promise.

I commonly hear people say, “We don’t spend much on our kids for their birthdays” or “We don’t really do birthday parties” and the one that maybe irks me the most is “Oh we don’t make a big deal out of our kids birthdays EVERY year” and it makes me a little sad inside for those kids, every, single, time. Don’t misinterpret what I am saying, I don’t think these people are bad parents, (and if you fall under this category of parent please don’t take offense, but rather please continue reading to hear my reasoning). I don’t by any means think you have to spend a fortune on your kids for every birthday (or any birthday really) BUT I do strongly believe that you SHOULD make a big deal out of their birthday EVERY SINGLE YEAR! 

Because Next Year is Never Promised…

Why do I think this? I feel like it should be common sense honestly, but any more in the culture we live in and the world around us today we sometimes get so swept up in the mundane day-to-day that we forget, next year IS NOT PROMISED. Excuse me here, but Hell, tomorrow isn’t promised at all so the logic that “We don’t need to make a big deal out of Johnny’s birthday this year because we are so busy and kinda broke and can just make up for it next year….” is completely ignorant to me……… because of this I try to celebrate my children often and I am known to celebrate them BIG sometimes!

I have sadly watched from a distance as a friend has lost their child in a sudden, terrible, horrible, gut-wrenching way (not to imply that, there is a way to lose your child that isn’t these things). Even worse I have done so more than one time over my 15 years as a mother. Every time my tears fall & my heart weeps for that Momma & those families. AND every time I vow to be more in each moment with my children. To celebrate who God has made them to be and to do so everyday while God is blessing me with the time with them here on earth to do so because I never want to wake up one day and feel like I wasted my time with them and if I am taken from them for some reason in God’s plan, I want to leave them with a lifetime of happy, celebratory, fully involved mommy moments to draw from .

Let’s Celebrate Our Kids!

I celebrate them in small ways, in unnoticed ways, in silent ways, and in prayerful ways more often than not. I do however have a BIG personality and a passion for partying & creating memories so I love the opportunity to celebrate my kids in BIG ways too. From the first moment I knew I was blessed with each one of my girls on I have tried to celebrate each stage, each season, each age knowing it will go by in a flash. The pattern remains that I look for all opportunities to celebrate them and it goes without saying, but I celebrate them extra BIG practically every birthday.

I know I have had many a fellow mom  (intentionally or not) that have judged me because I do so. I spend more money on the birthday parties than many moms I am sure (though we are not loaded so I definitely get outspent by plenty of other moms). I DEFINITELY spend more time preparing the details than the average mom but it is an area I am passionate about and consider it a personal hobby too. I have been told more than a few times that I go a little crazy over their birthdays but I do it all in the attempt to celebrate that God blessed me with another year as their mommy here on earth!

Resist Satan’s Desire to have you Compare…

Now the comparisons that I just made are not in any way meant to make any other moms feel guilty or less than. This blog topics purpose is to encourage that we celebrate our journeys and look for opportunities to create memories, big & small. Just because I may spend more money or time in preparation on my child’s party does not make me a better mom. Each family has their own set of circumstances and in my family, for my children, in the ways that we choose to we are capable to do so in the ways we do and so….we do!

It creates an atmosphere of constant celebration and makes my home a factory for memory making! I want to encourage that same model in other people’s homes how, where & when it fits into their life journey. I also aim to make it feel accessible to be replicated in whatever ways you feel challenged to try. I am well aware that as moms we are all just doing the best we can with the mothering and personal skills God gave us and the life journey He placed us in. For every area I may excel in there are easily two more areas that I daily seek strength from God to survive or thrive in. So please resist the urge to compare, instead please reach out to me and let’s open up communication.

I love helping to encourage other moms! I also love hearing kind constructive criticism so feel free to lovingly share any that you may have for me because I believe we can only grow better in Him by reflecting on ourselves and our interactions with others. I digress, let’s jump off that tangent and get back on topic.

Break Free From the Rat Race

When we live in the rat race day-to-day we can easily let our big events and reasons to celebrate get lost in the mix and accidentally become afterthoughts, but this cheapens your memories in my opinion. It minimizes your reasons to celebrate turning them into just another chore instead of maximizing the opportunities to celebrate together. Living in the moment and living in the rat race doesn’t have to be the same thing and I encourage you to prayerfully work towards finding the balance in life to get out of the rat race mentality if that’s where you are. I was trapped in the rat race in my head for a long time and still find myself slipping back to it when I am not mindful, but I find the best first step to getting back out of it is by taking control of my schedule, daily, weekly and even seasonally and by reflecting on & evaluating our priorities as a family regularly.

Time together must always be one of the first priorities as a family, even above higher income potential, hobbies, training and other extracurricular type activities that can quickly complicate the schedule building on the rat race lifestyle. Once you have figured out the balance needed to keep your family from constantly living in that rat race lifestyle it creates more available time and will make those opportunities to celebrate more apparent and even more manageable in your life so you can enjoy them and not be burdened by them!

Planning Pays Off in the Moments & the Memories…

These are what I consider to be my main Tips to Planning  Ahead to Create Lasting Memories.

  • Looking at your schedule and calendar seasonally (or quarterly) in addition to monthly will allow you to begin to prepare in advance and save time & expenses accumulating the elements to/for your events that are coming up in each season. I have a large Dry Erase Calendar that I fill in at the start of the first week of every month with the most current 30 days of our schedule and it gets updated daily when new things need to be added. I keep a command Center pretty religiously as of the last 5 years and it has DRASTICALLY improved our families schedule (and ability to stay out of the rat race) At the bottom of the calendar there is a large notes area and I use that to note upcoming important dates for the next 2 months. This eliminates me being surprised that 3 whole months flew by and suddenly I am two weeks before the birthday and wondering where all my prep time went.
  • Keep a separate notebook on hand for just your “Reasons to Celebrate”. {My mom used to have a birthday card book when I was little where she tracked all the birthdays in each month and could quickly reference them. This is essentially my model for this notebook but with more details, on steroids, if you will.} Most importantly I use this notebook to help me just look at the next 3-4 month overview, not the entire year.  I only include those whose events I am choosing or expected to partake in planning, not every birthday card that I plan to send {though one of these years I am going to type up one Master List of Birthdays for the niece & nephews & such}. Now for most people, this book will just contain parties for the most immediate members of your family. I will throw a party for anybody if asked! Therefore I am typically juggling a few different events of the birthday & non-birthday variety, but again, I digress. Back on point. This notebook will give you one place for the planning thoughts to accumulate helping to keep your brain a little less cluttered and more focused on being in the moment with your kids.
  • Find a solution in your home to accumulate the necessary things for the party without creating excess clutter. If you aren’t careful these celebrations can get to be a thorn in your side at home so be certain to stay ahead of the problem and find a solution that suits your life & home. I purchased Rubbermaid bins with lids in a few sizes to begin to store the accumulated needed items in for each event & out-of-the-way so they can’t be discovered or messed with prior to the party. This also prevents me most of the time from making a purchase ahead and then forgetting where I stashed it or worse completely forgetting I even purchased it. When you have a predetermined storage space for it all until the event that is much harder to do and it can also be extremely helpful to keep these things from cluttering the main areas of the home. These totes get consistently cycled through parties in my home and have a permanent home stacked on a shelf in my office area while in active rotation.
  • Fight the urge to go disposable with your partyware!……….and don’t be afraid to make practical, partyware & service item purchases when needed, just be sure they can be somewhat universally used from one party to another and are of a decent enough quality to last. This will ultimately save you in the long run because you will only need basic paper plates, napkins & plastic silverware to stock up on before parties and the rest of your partyware will not follow those items into the trash to add to our existing overflowing landfills. Items like a set of catering chaffing dishes, cake plates, cupcake stands, beverage dispensers and other food platters may seem pricey at first but when you sale shop, look for coupon opportunities, even Buy Sell Trade groups on Facebook, or sometimes just to bite the bullet and cough it up (eh, sometimes) WILL pay off in the long run. These types of things are worth finding spare pantry space for, or room in the garage for a few extra storage totes to have them on hand to use over and over again because the alternative is a whole lot of extra waste, especially once you realize how fun and worth it that it is to find more reasons to party!
  • Pin with a purpose, this means to search specifically to your theme/event/colors/idea and set a time frame for yourself before you begin. ( check out this tip and more directly related to Pinterest in an upcoming blog about “Putting a Pin in a Pinterest Problem before it Begins”!) Also, limit yourself to only a few ideas, don’t try new food recipes for the very first time the day of the party unless you are somewhat familiar with it already at least a little. Be sure to not take on more than you can handle in your own abilities and time restraints around work and other commitments. Remember it’s always better to perfectly approach and execute a few really cute ideas than to put up a bunch of Pinterest fail type elements at the party.
  • Don’t forget to check My Fool Proof 6 Point Party Planning Steps to help you get the details nailed down for any event type! This is my method every single time…
  • My last and MOST VALUABLE tip is to not bog your own enjoyment of the party with an unrealistic expectation list for yourself. We don’t have to all throw our kids parties like David Tutera would (though I do personally try hard because I LOVE him!) There is absolutely nothing wrong with hiring out some of the work too if it is in your budget and you want something out of your skill or ability, and in so many more cases than you would probably expect it won’t really cost that much more to hire a reasonably priced vendor instead of doing it yourself. I always try to look in my immediate community and in the small or home business department because I love to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit. I recognize my own creative & personal limitations and love to take the opportunities whenever possible to brag on someone else for their God-given skills.

I hope this has made you look at your own opportunities to celebrate those you love a little differently and I pray it has challenged you to make a little more of a priority out of it. We as parents need to really be in these moments with our children and with some simple planning ahead you can create more fun, more memorable and more aesthetically pleasing celebrations for them and their friends than ever before and they WILL remember that more vividly than an overcrowded Saturday afternoon bowling party or cold pizza, chips, and kids running around screaming in your backyard. The details make the event what it is, so stop letting yourself get so swept up in life that those details get overlooked until too late, we never know which birthday we are giving ourselves or our children their last memories on earth…so go forth and plan a celebration! Just find a reason, pull the ones you love around you and set the atmosphere of the party for fun! I have given you the starts to your party planning toolbox! Take it and be in your Moments, creating Memories for eternity!

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

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Winnie the Pooh 1st Birthday, the one that started it all…

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In March of 2003, I was coming quickly upon completing my first full year as a mother, my oldest daughter was just a few months away from turning one. That meant that as unprepared as I had felt going into motherhood, I had still managed to successfully almost keep this little bundle of love alive for an entire year, 365 whole days!  With some help (who am I kidding, a ton of help!) from my little “village” around me of course and with my Lord Almighty in my corner, I had managed to get to the point where I had to begin planning for my sweet little girl’s first birthday. I was so excited and I wanted to throw her the most awesome birthday because not only did it celebrate that I had kept her alive for 365 days, but she had ultimately kept me alive too. In fact, she was basically my sole purpose for living since the day I found out she was coming.

 

I had never set up a birthday party before, but a few years back I had assisted my aunt in the planning and organizing of a surprise 25th anniversary party for my parents and I am from a big extended family so every holiday was like a full on event and I had watched my mother plan many family get-togethers, so I felt like I had an understanding of the basic party plan checklist

 

Where.

When..

Food & Drink…

Entertainment….

Decorations…..

So I started my little checklist for the first children’s birthday party I would throw and it was then a party planning monster was born! It started moderate and somewhere along the line it grew into more, but that you will see along the course of the next 30 days as I blog my way through my 1st 15 years of kids birthday parties! So anyways back to the party at hand.

I chose a theme, Winnie the Pooh, of course, themed after the single cream silky edged Winnie the Pooh baby blanket that my sweet little-bundled newborn had fallen in love with immediately at birth and rarely let go of since. I chose the place, my mom’s back deck,  and the time was going to be a Sunday afternoon in early May. The details came together pretty simply. I was new to party planning so I went super retail with the theme! I had Winnie the Pooh paper plates, luncheon sized and cake sized with matching napkins in both sizes as well. Though not exactly the same pattern that I used, the picture below is similar to the originals from almost 15 years ago.

hbacbl1432631074834I purchased a matching birthday banner to hang on the back of the house, character signs to hang around the deck and back of the house & Mylar balloons to adorn every part of the deck railings. I even painted a 10×13 Winnie the Pooh scene with all his gang of friends there to have signed for her by all her guests. I also used foam paper to create a custom 1st birthday bib for her to wear when she attacked her cake for the very first time, and boy did she! Now this all being said I would love to have pictures of these elements to share, however being that this was prior to digital camera’s storming the market at an affordable price, I only had point and click disposable camera’s at her party and therefore only had prints made. I would gladly scan to upload and share those with you but unfortunately, they were among the photos we lost when our family endured a flood about 5 years ago. Be sure to check out my party planning evolution in future party plan blogs.

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

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The Inaugural 5th Birthday Carnival Party

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Almost immediately after finishing my daughter’s Dora the Explorer 4th Birthday Fiesta I began thinking about her 5th birthday. I wasn’t trying to rush the calendar or anything but I had officially been bitten by the birthday planning bug and just a few months after she turned 4 she started preschool and began making friends. I found myself trying to dream up fun ideas to make her 5th birthday party extra special for her. I ruled out a few ideas before settling somehow on a carnival theme.

I must make 2 distinct notes at this point:

1st- This was almost 11 years ago and Pinterest was not a thing yet.

2nd- The plethora of themes available at your average party supply store today (rock star, fiesta, disco, hoe down, awards show, CARNIVAL/ Circus, ect. ect. ect.) is a vast improvement from the party themes available ready made a decade ago…….trust me I searched.

I make these 2 distinctions because I must relay that I had to really do work and put in time back then scouring page after page of search results looking for inspiration and then “Collecting” the ideas via “copying” images of inspiration and “pasting” them into a Word document creating a collaboration I called my Party Boards.

This is what I consider to be the more structured beginning of my My Fool Proof 6 Point Party Planning Steps. As I scoured for ideas I looked in these 6 categories or steps as I had in the past as described in my previous blogs in this Party Plan Series.

Winnie the Pooh 1st Birthday, the one that started it all…

Classic Princess Party for a 2nd Birthday

Blues Clue’s 3rd Birthday Party

Dora the Explorer 4th Birthday Fiesta

Eventually, I grew more efficient in my research stage but at this juncture, in my party planning evolution it was still a semi time-consuming process to research and create my Party Boards. The creation of Pinterest was a HUGE time saver for me (only AFTER I learned how to keep that hobby under control though. Read about that HERE in an upcoming blog about Putting a “pin” in a Pinterest Problem before it begins!) In the case of this carnival birthday I began searching for ideas in stores and online 4 months out from the big day and realized quickly that within my meager budget (especially because by this point we were renting a house of our own finally!) and considering the limitations on inexpensive and/or disposable carnival themed birthday items available, I needed to get crafty. If the things I had gotten used to just buying ready made were proving difficult to find then I decided to get in tune with the “Me” before “Mom”. That person was a super creative, 4 year Fine Art student obsessed with crafting or creating art and when that person was crowned “Mother” she tucked away those supplies (and inherently talents) in a closet long ago.  This party was the perfect reason to open that closet and pull it all back out. This party will go down in my history as the “Crown Jewel” of my “mommy crown” that brought the “Me” back out of me. So let’s get down to the details…

Theme?

I was fully committed at this point in replicating a carnival in honor of my little girl. By this point that was all I knew. I didn’t quite know what to expect myself to actually pull off but I was committed…….even more so after my step sisters gifted my daughter & my oldest nephew a combined gift of a personal home inflatable bounce house………(yes I did say, stepsisters. If you caught that, then yes it had become official a few months before Christmas that year and it was exciting and fun to have sisters for the first time…..but back to the topic at hand.) The gifting of this bounce house in December solidified the plan, gave me 4 solid months to prep & plan ahead and added a fun new level to this carnival theme! With the creative part of me unlocked for the first real time in over 5 years, it gets really FUN! Hold on tight, I went all the way with this theme……

Where.

As previously mentioned, we were renting a house by this point in our life, we had moved in just a few months before Christmas also. We were renting a 2 story house with a kitchen large enough for a table & chairs to fit comfortably AND a dining room.  We had a good sized living room & a partially finished basement and we felt like our space was huge! Thanks to the size of the house and a front yard large enough to use for guest parking and a little back deck, backyard & two car garage I felt equipped to entertain at my own house this time. With more time to prep the party space, I got moving as soon as the snow melted and began cleaning up the yard & flowerbeds as well as organizing our garage (in case we had rain & needed an outdoor cover since my oldest daughters birthday is in early May this always has to be a consideration).

When..

I wanted maximum attendance from our family & family friends and we were inviting friends from her preschool class so I went with a Saturday afternoon, the day after her actual birthday and not a school day. I planned for this party to be longer in time than the ones I had previously planned because there was going to be a lot to do so it started just afternoon and went well into the early evening, but we were again blessed with beautiful weather so that helped the fun continue seamlessly.

Decorations…

We started a few hours before the party on the task of inflating helium balloons to adorn the railing of our back deck, the canopy cover for the eating area, and various other places throughout the party to create a festive feel to our outdoor space. I also began working weeks in advance on painting signs for the various games & stations of our “Carnival” including this welcome sign!

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Welcome Sign

 

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View from the back deck where our grill & concession stand was located.

Food & Beverage….

For the food, I decided to go with a concession stand theme like you would find at a school or local church carnival.

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We set up a 6-foot tale in the middle of the deck and had food offerings lines up buffet style. I had positioned my grill on the other side of the table with my brother graciously volunteering to man the grill, cranking out burgers and hot dogs as needed.  I had prepared popcorn in bright colorful paper bags already portioned out to minimize waste and so it could be grabbed on the go easily. At the time my aunt owned a small bar & restaurant and hooked me up with the use of her nacho cheese warmer & ladle so we had authentic nacho’s readily available as needed and I had purchased a box of soft pretzels from our wholesale club and had a few batches of those cycling in and out of my oven right in the kitchen during the main food portion of the day.

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As for drinks I went with bottles of water, cans of soda and little juice barrels for the kids. All in all the food was a raging success and went off very smoothly and I was happy to have offered a new variety of choices a little outside the normal, pizza, chips & cake offered so frequently at kids parties.

Entertainment…..

As for entertainment, well the whole party was really the entertainment. I had come up with a handful of game ideas that I could easily replicate at home (as referenced in the signs above) and those were space out throughout the back portion of our driveway and in the front of the garage doors. Games like:

  1. Balloon Pop – I had taken a small piece of MDF and taped blown up balloons across it offering 3 beginner darts to the children to attempt to pop a balloon.
  2. Bean Bag Toss – We had a small tic tac toe bean bag toss game that had been previously gifted to my daughter and we set that out allowing the kids to use bean bags to try to flip 3 in a row!
  3. Ring Toss – For this I simply purchased a set of pool rings and 6 2 liters of the cheapest soda on the shelf. I chose 3 orange sodas and 3 grape sodas and set them up like bowling pins letting the kids try to ring the top of the bottles!
  4. Sitting Ducks – I had been lucky enough to find an inflatable kiddie pool shaped like a duck and then I found 2 sets of rubber duckies in the baby bath department. I took paint markers and painted dots on the bottom of the little duckies in one of 3 different colors and the kids got to pull 3 ducks to determine the prize! 
  5. Ring of Fire – This was the most time consuming of all the games. I took a standard hula hoop and cut out construction paper flames in red, yellow & orange and then taped them around the hoop. The finished product was cute and was the perfect Ring of Fire for a stuffed lion tiger to be tossed through!

 

 

We had also set up a face painting station that my new twin stepsisters had offered to work during the party!

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My stepsister Jennie painting my little girls face and discussing some other face painting options some of the other little guests

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My sweet birthday girl with her face painting creation!

Then there was the BOUNCE ZONE! We had set up the small inflatable bounce house just off to the side of the covered eating area where the adults spent a good portion of the time so that there was always plenty of supervision and we limited it to 2 children at a time to ensure a safe fun experience, but the kids sure did enjoy it!

 

The last activity planned was a photo op that I had thought up. With help from my father, we designed an easy to assemble and easy to store solution and he purchased the supplies and assisted me in the cutting and construction portion (because truth be told I am a little scared of power tools). I had worked for a few hours on in the last few weeks before the party sketching it and painting it. I don’t pride myself of drawing lifelike people so the sketching was almost agonizing enough for me to quit but I persevered through my doubts and completed it for an enjoyable photo op that you will see again in future parties.

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My goofball brother posing as a clown in my homemade photo op spot!

Now if you have read my previous parties then you know this is where I normally sum up the party, the special moments and offer any last minute tips of my own before sending you off to be creative yourself, but as I have warned, THIS PARTY CHANGED ME! Besides just embellishing the theme into more areas of the party I also added a new step to my planning so don’t go away yet!

THIS IS A NEW STEP!

I explain the addition in an amendment to my original post about My Fool Proof  6 Point Party Planning Steps (referenced in the link above)

Favors……

In all of my past parties, the favors were an afterthought, something I did because as a parent that’s what I was obligated to do and candy & crumby little plastic toys were what you filled those little bags with right?

*** Now I want to make a side point here, I know that to give favors or not to give favors can be a questionable topic. I understand that celebrating birthdays isn’t just about material things. I also have been blessed to have a family who REALLY enjoys giving gifts, sometimes to the point of excess, and because of that, I have always felt that favors at a child’s birthday are not any different from favors at a wedding. They are meant as an immediate gift of gratitude for not just bringing a present of monetary value, but ALSO and more importantly to me, as a Thank You for their presence and for making the time in their life to come to celebrate with us! I discuss this more in further depth in this upcoming post “Favors…to do & what not to do” If favors isn’t your thing great, if they are then enjoying this additional blog & this added step will be a fun step for you to look forward to in future party blogs of mine!***

Back to the topic at hand… Favors! I decided to re-imagine our party favors this year in keeping with the theme, so naturally, I decided on a prize table where the kids could take the tickets they had “won” participating in the games and redeem them for prizes. Now I was not very strict or observant of the actual redemption since the children were all with the company of their parents I just let parents do the general management of their child’s choices. I set out a variety of useful yet fun items like pencils, plastic sunglasses and small bubbles with a few candy options mixed in like suckers and smarties.

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Our Prize Table!

The fun part was that I had enjoyed planning this party so much, and was actually already expecting our second daughter at the time of this party so I made a plan all the way back then to make the Carnival a tradition for our children for their 5th birthdays so packed up all the leftover prizes, game components, signs and our photo opportunity for our next carnival almost 6 years away. All in all the party was a tremendous success

 

and my little lady had her “Absolute Best Birthday Yet!” …………but I had unleashed a monster in myself so that title would forever be up for grabs with each additional birthday party I organized and the gift bag in the front of her gift pile gives a little hint to her next birthday theme! As always use this as inspiration to step outside of your own party bubble and try some new things, it pays off in the moment and it pays off in the memories I promise! Now go be creative and as always…

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

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Dora the Explorer 4th Birthday Fiesta

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dora-explorer-party-supplies-invitations-1As my daughter began to learn to speak (and read) more and more words, became more and more physically independent and started developing her own opinion more and more, these two chipper characters from the invitation above became what felt like permanent fixtures in my life. Around the time her infatuation with that cute Blue dog from her Blues Clue’s 3rd Birthday Party began to slow down her love of all things Dora the Explorer began! Now don’t get me wrong, I love Dora as much as the next person but my little girl became a walking, talking little mimic of Dora the Explorer, her little pal Boots and of course the Map!

“I’m the Map, I’m the Map” she would bellow at the top of her lungs anytime it got stuck in her head, which was on the daily because she rapidly desired nothing for her TV time EXCEPT Dora. I don’t know if it was the Spanish lessons that were incorporated into the show that made it more interesting to her or what it was, but she loved it. The catchy songs definitely stayed in her brain and on her lips better than the Spanish did though! [After 1 year of Honors Spanish 1 as an 8th grader, she couldn’t wait to move to French this year as a freshman! I had a good laugh to myself about that.]

So I began to plan my little girl a Mexican inspired Fiesta to celebrate her Quatro cumpleanos (4th birthday)! There wasn’t a lot to choose from in the party stores back then for themed parties so I had to get creative.

Now if you have read either of my first few blogs in this Kid’s Birthday Party Blog Marathon:

Winnie the Pooh 1st Birthday, the one that started it all…

Classic Princess Party for a 2nd Birthday

Blues Clue’s 3rd Birthday Party

then the format I will use is familiar to you, if you have not yet read them be sure to use the links above to check them out! Below is my My Fool Proof 6 Point Party Planning Steps to use when outlining and organizing your party goals! Now let’s get to the details!

Theme?

Yes, this was an easy one also, Dora the Explorer silly!  Fiesta style of course! Mother Nature agreed with this as well giving us a beautiful scorcher of a day! The day of the party we had 80-degree temps which are rare for Northeast Ohio in early May!

Where.

Still living in the same quaint 2 bedrooms, 1 1/2 bath apartment that my mother had intended to lease just for herself before my little family crashed it, again my stepdad offered up his home for me to use saving party room rental fees. He was not yet my step dad but as my mom’s significant other of a few years still but it still made financial sense. (This is a recurring pattern until the Inaugural 5th Birthday Carnival Party blog that is coming next!) We planned in advance to have the party outside on the deck (due to one of the activities I had planned) and had prepared our guests to dress accordingly for the weather with a little note in the invitations.

When..

We chose a Saturday afternoon again and looking back couldn’t be happier that we did because the weather was GORGEOUS!!!!

Decorations…

Though my party planning had begun to evolve at this point I still had yet to discover the beauty of creating an atmosphere for your celebration. I was good to go with the store bought birthday sign, latex balloons & that infamous crepe paper; for this event though I did add a pinata! It seemed suited to the Fiesta vibe we were going for!

Below are some pictures of the traditional retail selections that I used. I included some really cute, easy and affordable alternates for you to try if you feel creative.
Also keep a look out for an upcoming blog that details my Pro’s & Con’s of Store Bought vs. Creatively Led Kid’s Birthday’s.
If you try any of these ideas I would love to see pictures or hear stories about how they turned out! Please share!

 

Food & Beverage…..

So this is the department that I first began to evolve my party planning routine. Not coincidentally, it was about this point in my life that as a new mom to a little one finally eating regular food, I began to step outside of the box in the kitchen. It was at this age myself, early twenties, that I started trying to replicate dishes I had enjoyed out to eat at a restaurant, getting creative myself in the kitchen with new to me ingredients and all together stepping outside of the meals I had grown used to eating growing up. Thus for this birthday I threw away the sheet pizza, chips, veggie tray combo and got a little creative…

I decided to take on a quesadilla bar, with a “Fiesta Salad” similar to this one from The Food Network and chips, salsa & guacamole offered as sides. I also had made sugar cookie taco’s as a light alternative to the traditional cake & ice cream. I still had cupcakes planned for the candles to sit on & for the kids, but I thought this would bring a sweet, fresh addition. This isn’t an exact recipe but it replicates what I did perfectly. The only change I would make now would be to soften a little cream cheese & whip that with the heavy cream. Mmmmmmm, sounds yummy! Whenever I am craving something sweet, although I would much rather a chocolate bar or a piece of cake, I can sometimes make myself choose the healthier, fruit option to make my body feel better rather than worse.     The quesadilla bar was basically made to order quesadilla’s topped with their choice of dip or extras. The selection I offered was cheese, thin diced chicken breast, peppers & onions, tomatoes, sour cream & the salsa & guacamole too. I set up the toppings buffet style similar to this picture  quesadilla bar!! great for summer..make quesadillas on the grill :)and was pumping out made to order quesadilla’s two at a time using an Electric Griddle like the one pictured below but an older model that my mother had given me for Christmas.

Presto 07062 22" Electric Griddle w/removable handles - Ceramic, Black

Presto 07062 22″ Electric Griddle w/removable handles – Ceramic, Black

Here’s a fun take on this idea using an Open Face Mexican Pizza concept instead.

Open-Faced Enchilada Quesadillas | Recipe By Photo

This Momma here had some cute alternative ideas for her daughter’s Dora Birthday food

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Entertainment……

For this birthday party, I had a cardboard Dora the Explorer playhouse that my daughter had been given as an early birthday present so we set it up in the grass portion of the backyard and let the kids all collectively create a full-size work of art and then play in it afterward. It was a perfect way to entertain them until we were ready to do the pinata & the presents. I had just purchased plastic goody bags again and filled them with party store plastic party favors but this is a super cute idea for some Backpack Goody Bags

ca6454f7a9e48c0afff820f4b97ca3c9                    Backpack Goody Bags

These backpack goody bags could be done in orange for Dora’s cousin Diego’s backpack too in case you are looking for a little boy alternative!!!

Though I joke about her obsession and I am so very grateful that the phase only lasted a few years, I do look back on this birthday with a different kind of fondness. It was the first party that she had a fair amount of her own friends and playmates in attendance and she was really beginning to enjoy the celebration of her birthday in a new, interactive way. I also think back fondly on this party because I stepped out of my normal routine and ultimately took on a little bit of a challenge and it went very well. This party gave me just the boost of confidence I needed to begin approaching my events from a totally different perspective! So in your party planning, my best advice is to not be afraid to take a reasonable risk every now and then cause you may wind up surprised! I stress reasonable though because if you take too big an uncalculated risk it could be a disaster! Don’t jump on any idea, weigh the pro’s & cons and if it is really that intimidating then don’t try it for the first time at the party! Happy Planning!

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

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