Making a Big Impact.

Making and/or buying décor items can take a lot of time and cost a lot of money, so why not choose items that make a HUGE impact? If you have limited time or a limited budget, make or some big pieces of décor that make your theme pop!

Family and friends who attended Kate's recent Pokemon Party considered it to be the most decorated party I've thrown (which is saying a lot). That's likely due to multiple large-scale décor items I decided to make – some of which were very low cost and/or took little time.

For example, for about $20 and in less than two hours, I made 10 pokeball lanterns! I ordered 10 white lanterns for about $12 from Amazon and used a few colors of acrylic paint, some electrical tape, and some paper circle cutouts to make the Pokeballs. I painted half of the lanterns, using the metal inner frame as a guide, let them dry, added electrical tape around the center, and punched and glue-gunned the circles on the front. I then hung them throughout the house and under the seating tents in groups using small Command hooks and fishing wire, all of which made the Pokeballs appear as if they were floating!

I also made some large-scale Pokemon playing cards to hang behind the food tables – a project that also cost well under $20 but did take a bit more time – about 8 hours. I love to paint, so putting together these pokecards played to my strengths and was really fun. I already had 3 large foam-core boards I had bought on sale a couple years ago, so all I had to buy were some extra acrylic paints, cardstock, and Sharpies. For the painting of the back of the Pokecard (the card in the middle below), I painted the swirly blue background, let it dry, painted the Pokeball (with a "6" instead of a button for Kate's age), and then drew and cut letters and glued them on (I did the yellow letters first, glued them to the light blue cardstock, and then just cut around the yellow letters about a 1/3 of an inch out). For the picture cards, I had Kate choose her favorites – which changed just about daily for the two weeks before I started painting.  Then, I just did a rough sketch and painted away! After the paint dried, I cleaned up the card by outlining the picture with a black Sharpie and adding words using the same. I also added some gold and silver Sharpie to highlight.  Then, all I had to do was hang them up with Command hooks and fishing wire!

But probably the coolest of the high-impact items were the 3 large photo boards I made – for a cost of about $60. As we were planning the party, Kate came up with a bunch of great ideas, including things that I hadn't seen on my various Internet searches. One day she came to me and asked, "Mom, you know those cool boards at carnivals that you can stick your head through and take a picture? Can we make those?" That's my kid! Since this was right up my alley, I said sure! After a couple trips to Home Depot (I still get lost in that place!), I decided to purchase a ½ inch large board for $30 that Home Depot cut into three pieces for me (for free) – about 4 feet by 2½ feet each.  My best friend's dad, Frank, was then nice enough to round the corners, cut out the holes/rectangle for me, and then sand everything down so no one would get splinters. After that, I painted away. All three boards took about 6 hours total since I was constantly moving from board to board – as one was drying, I was working on another. I used the same techniques I had used on the foam core boards and then I topped everything with glitter spray paint. This made the cards sparkle in the sun! I find glitter makes most projects better. My husband then added triangle brackets to the back (thanks, honey!), and they were finished. These looked great, but the best part was taking one of Kate's ideas and bringing it to life!

For previous parties, I've made similar high-impact items – like the 6 foot robots at the Robot Party, the huge cardboard buildings for the Superhero Party, and the painted frames for the Arty Party.

And when I can't think of one large item to make, I try my best to cluster smaller items close together so they have a bigger impact – like the multiple jars of candy for the Candyland Party.

It's easy to spend a bunch of time and money on small things for a party – like straw flags, cup or napkin tags, small banners, etc. These things are great, but when you can't do it all -- or you're not sure if you can -- start with the big stuff, and you'll be sure to have a party that pops!

Spray Painting (Almost) Anything!

I love, love, love spray painting! It's a quick and easy way to transform (nearly) anything to fit your color/theme and create something fabulous. I really like using Rust-oleum 2X Extra Coat. Rust-oleum offers great colors (along with other items, like glitter spray), the nozzle head is wider and more comfortable to use than some others, the coverage is really great, and a can is generally under $4 at Home Depot. Just follow the directions provided, and you're sure to get great results in about 20 minutes (such quick drying time!). Generally, I like to use two thin coats on items to get the best coverage.

Apart from the spray paint, invest in a canvas/painters tarp, a box of disposable gloves, and a mask meant to protect you from spray-paint fumes. More than once, I've mistakenly spray painted my feet or shoes, so you might also think about getting painter's shoe covers. Then, all you need to do is find something to paint!

I love to buy old and/or ugly frames from second-hand shops like Good Will or Salvation Army (or just pillage the old ones hiding in my garage). For about $5-$10, you're sure to find some large and/or ornate frames that you can turn from ugly to fabulous in minutes! You can put aside the glass, backing, etc. and simply use the painted frames for decor or photo opportunities. But save the glass/backing in case you'd like to use the frame to actually frame photos, etc. in the future. You could also paint the glass with chalkboard spray paint (yes, that exists!) and create a framed feature board for the party (more on this to come).

Aqua is my favorite color to use on frames and other items I paint.  It coordinates with pink or purple for a more girly party or red or orange for a more boyish party. I use frames this color (including with chalkboards) for almost every party!

Aqua is my favorite color to use on frames and other items I paint.  It coordinates with pink or purple for a more girly party or red or orange for a more boyish party. I use frames this color (including with chalkboards) for almost every party!

Here's an example of painted frames being used as decor for the  Arty Party !

Here's an example of painted frames being used as decor for the Arty Party!

Spray paint also easily transforms larger items -- like carboard boxes.  While a good old paint bucket and brush would also do the job, I like using spray paint and find it to be fairly affordable for big jobs too.  It also easily gets into nooks and crannies -- like on the robots below!

I used spray paint to make the blue and black buildings. These were large, sturdy boxes I found on the side of the road. With a little spray paint and some Post-It Notes, they were transformed for the  Superhero Party .

I used spray paint to make the blue and black buildings. These were large, sturdy boxes I found on the side of the road. With a little spray paint and some Post-It Notes, they were transformed for the Superhero Party.

Making these robots was a blast. I purchased some large moving boxes from Home Depot and then added some smaller boxes we had saved, along with some dryer duct.  Some silver metallic spray paint, colored paper, and other bits and bobs were all this robot needed for the  Robot Party !

Making these robots was a blast. I purchased some large moving boxes from Home Depot and then added some smaller boxes we had saved, along with some dryer duct.  Some silver metallic spray paint, colored paper, and other bits and bobs were all this robot needed for the Robot Party!

The benefits of spray paint really come through when you need to paint tricky pieces or a bunch of smaller items. I generally use spray paint, for example, when I need to paint containers for a party (for candles, centerpieces, etc.) or dowels (for signs, etc.).

For Kate's upcoming Pokemon party, I decided to paint ping pong balls to look like Pokeballs (which are half white and, usually, half red), an idea I had seen on Pinterest. I purchased 144 balls for about $8 on Amazon and then felt the need to paint them all! I started by using a brush and some acrylic paint and just painted away without any taping. This worked fine until I put the ball down, it rolled over, and the paint smudged. Once I realized that I'd probably need to use some painter's tape regardless of the type of painting method I used (just so the ball would stay upright), I decided that I would spray paint the balls in one big bunch. So I taped half of each ball, stuck it to my tarp, and spray painted away! The painting part was easy and the coverage was better than with a brush. Once of the great pluses about spray paint is that there are no brush stroke lines.

Here are my ping pong balls -- all ready for paint!

Here are my ping pong balls -- all ready for paint!

Here I am painting the balls (and trying not to get paint on my feet). The balls needed a couple of coats, and I tried to view/spray them on all sides to ensure great coverage.

Here I am painting the balls (and trying not to get paint on my feet). The balls needed a couple of coats, and I tried to view/spray them on all sides to ensure great coverage.

Here's the finished product!! After removing the tape, I added a black line and button with a black Sharpie.

Here's the finished product!! After removing the tape, I added a black line and button with a black Sharpie.

All of this taping, painting, un-taping, marking the center line and dot with a Sharpie, etc., took about three hours total for all 144 balls! But that wasn't because I chose the spray paint route. If anything, that saved time.

At this point, my plan is to use these super cute Pokeballs for a game where the kids throw the balls into some container, like a pail, and I intend to call it something like "train your pokemon." We'll see -- if the kids love it, it will have been worth it.  And it wasn't costly, so that's good.

One last look!

One last look!

I love spray paint so much that, in addition to spray painting items for parties, I spray things around my home.  Recently, I spruced up our old patio chairs with some blue spray paint (this took about a 1/2 hour instead of the much longer amount of time this would have taken if I was using a brush) and our old metal screen door with some purple spray paint. I love the results! I hope they inspire you as well.

Here are the chairs! I painted them about three years ago and then recently gave them an extra coat to spruce them up.

Here are the chairs! I painted them about three years ago and then recently gave them an extra coat to spruce them up.

And finally, here's the old metal screen door made new again!

And finally, here's the old metal screen door made new again!

Happy spray painting, all!

Compiling Ideas and Inspiration.

And now we get to the fun part! I love cruising the internet and finding creative party ideas that fit my theme and inspire me. My absolute favorite places to go are ETSY, Pinterest, CatchMyParty, Kara'sPartyIdeas, HostessWithTheMostess, and BirthdayPartyIdeas. If you're new to planning (and even if you're not), you might feel a little overwhelmed by all of the great pictures and ideas from these sites -- so overwhelmed that it might start to paralyze you.  I've been there. But over time, I've learned to let these sites sites power my creativity rather than freeze me in my tracks. Here's my process.

You already know I love to order digital invitations on ETSY. I also usually order some sort of complementary digital tags from an ETSY vendor that I can print and use for cupcake toppers, favors, napkins/cups, etc. (more on this later), and a clothing item, like a personalized shirt, for the birthday girl or boy. Well in advance of ordering, I mark items I like as a "favorite." Then, about 4-6 weeks prior to the party, I cull down that grouping and order my "must haves." These are always items that fit my theme and color scheme perfectly and that I really can't make as affordably on my own. ETSY vendors selling handmade items often need significant lead time, so ordering early will cause you less stress/disappointment. For things I decide to make, I keep them in my favorites or transfer them to my Pinterest site.

I ordered these cute digital tags (and others like them) from  SunshineAndPop  on ETSY for the  Arty Party .

I ordered these cute digital tags (and others like them) from SunshineAndPop on ETSY for the Arty Party.

I ordered this adorable personalized shirt from  MyCamillesCreations  on ETSY for the  Candyland Party .

I ordered this adorable personalized shirt from MyCamillesCreations on ETSY for the Candyland Party.

For those that don't know, Pinterest is like an online pin board where you're able to easily organize all your best ideas and inspiration from the internet and share the same with others. By following Pinterest's easy instructions, you can "pin" all sorts of things from internet sites (including this one) onto an online board you create. Unless you hide them, the boards you create are then searchable by others. This is actually my favorite aspect of the site. If I run a search, for example, for "Pokemon Party," I will not only find individual "pins" but, also, entire pin boards people have created regarding that topic. I can then pin those items onto a board I've created for the party and/or follow the board and continue to get great new ideas every time the board's creator pins something there.

It's pretty easy to go through Pinterest loving most things you see, pinning them, and then having so many ideas that you implement none (or almost none) of them. So instead of pinning everything, on my first pass, I "like" items that inspire me or give me a specific idea (you can do this by clicking the little heart in the corner of a picture).  After I spend a couple of evenings (or sometimes even a week) "liking" items, I then begin pinning only those that include something that I will actually make or order for the party. I pin them to a board I've created for the party and, in the description space, I type exactly what about the picture/post I'm inspired by and/or will create or buy. For example, there may be a picture of a whole party table, but I'm inspired only by the banner hanging above it, which I'd like to recreate -- in that case, I might type "love banner" or "make banner using [certain colors, etc.]."  Follow me on Pinterest and see what I mean (search for "Lori G-O" or "time2planaparty").

Finally, while I love using all of these online resources, I just have to put pen to paper in my last planning step. I keep a notebook for personal projects, like party planning. There, I'll draw each thing I intend to make for the party. Beside each drawing, I'll make a list of the things I need to purchase to put that item together (including if it is from ETSY, Party City, or some other source). Here's an example from the Puppy Party.

Here's also one I started for the upcoming Pokemon party.

Taking this extra step helps me make sure I'm not forgetting anything and, as I get close to the party, it makes it less likely that I'll be running out to a craft store at 8:30 p.m. trying to grab wooden dowels or paper straws.

We're so lucky to live in an age where so many beautiful pictures and inspiring ideas are at our fingertips! Finding a way to wade through all of it and keep things organized and fun is important to a successful party plan!

Adding a Little Extra Something to the Invites.

With Kate's Pokemon party, I tried something new. Along with the cool invitations, I included some coloring pages. The pages all include Pokemon characters, along with some handwritten lettering by me stating things like, "Kate is 6!," "Gotta Get to Kate's Party!," and "I love Pokemon!"

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To make these coloring pages, I searched Google images for "pokemon coloring pages." I found a few I liked, printed them, sized them on a copy machine to fit the page just right, embellished them a bit by adding a few things (like little stars, etc.) and lettering on the top, and then made as many copies as I needed. If you're not as confident with your hand lettering as you'd like to be, just use your computer for help. Type what you'd like at the top of a word document and then drop in an image of a coloring page and size it until it's just right.

For Kate's party, each child received all three coloring pages. Along with the coloring pages, I added some instructions. These instructions provide that the kids should have fun coloring the pages, chose their favorite, write their name on the back, and then bring it to the party. Then, I explain that the pictures will be hung in a gallery at the party, Kate will pick her top 3 favorites, and those three kids will win an awesome prize! I have no idea whether any kids will bring them back or whether parents will be frustrated about having to hang onto a coloring page and not lose it for a month before the party. We'll just have to see how it goes.

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Choosing to go with personalized coloring pages (whether you have the kids bring them to the party or not) is an inexpensive way to reinforce your theme and to get your kids' friends excited about the fun to come. I first thought of this idea when I found this awesome option from SugarPieStudio on ETSY for Kate's Superhero Party. For only $2 dollars, I received a personalized coloring page, and I was able to simply print/copy as many as I needed. I just checked and SugarPieStudio has added a bunch more options since I ordered last year, and they're great! For Kate's Superhero Party, I had the coloring pages and crayons set up at tables.

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I put together my own coloring page for the Puppy Party I threw using an image I found online, adding lettering on top and a "2" at the bottom.  Again, I set those pages and crayons on tables for coloring fun during the party.

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Apart from being fun for guests, these pages, colored by your own kids for their party (and their best friends, if those friends leave them for you), are a great keepsake!

If you're not sold on the coloring pages (or if you have a slightly older child who is out of the coloring phase), still thing about sending a little something special with the invite to get kids excited, even if it is just stickers. For Kate's 3rd birthday party -- a Disney Cars party -- I found these awesome invites/VIP passes on Etsy from thatpartygirl. They are so cute! Sending something like this -- that can double as an invite and an awesome VIP pass -- is just the kind of thing I'm talking about. It's totally not necessary, but it's super fun and gets kids jazzed about the party!

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Use some of these ideas and the kids you invite are sure to be excited about the party from the day they open the invitation! If you have other great ideas about what could be included with the invite, please leave a comment, as I'd love to hear it! Happy planning!

 

A Note on Choosing the Date, Time & Location.

Date and Time:  Search on-line, and you'll find a lot of commentary about the appropriate date and time for parties.  As usual, everyone has an opinion. Mine: do what works best for you and your family (within reason), as that is likely to give you the best results. For me, Saturday parties from about 11am-2pm or 3pm-6pm (so as to avoid naps) and Sunday parties starting after about 12 or 1pm (so as to allow churchgoing families time to attend services in the morning) work well. But you know yourself and your party-goers best, so schedule accordingly. Within the last few months, I went to a party for a good friend's daughter that was scheduled from about 6-8pm on a Sunday night at a bounce house place -- it was well attended and a lot of fun!

Location:  I love to throw parties at our house.  I know this is not an option for everyone, but sometimes it may be more of a possibility than you think -- if you get creative.  Our home is a little over 1200 square feet, but we've thrown parties with nearly 100 guests in attendance.  We have a pretty good flow in our house and use multiple rooms, along with the front and back yards and the garage.  It works for us and allows me ample time to set up decor, etc., the day before the party (as opposed to an hour or two before, which is sometimes all you may have at a venue).

Utilizing our garage for the Robot Party.  We also usually have a bounce house set up in the front yard, along with a tent and a couple of tables  on  the driveway.  We live on a cul-de-sac and we park our cars in front of the driveway, so this works for us!

Utilizing our garage for the Robot Party.  We also usually have a bounce house set up in the front yard, along with a tent and a couple of tables on the driveway.  We live on a cul-de-sac and we park our cars in front of the driveway, so this works for us!

If you don't think you can make your house (or the house of a loving family member or friend) work, then start researching venues about 3 months prior to the party and book as soon as possible. Less time may be necessary, but you definitely don't want to miss out on reserving the perfect spot by only a few days! My sister-in-law recently reserved an awesome city park with water features for the kiddos to play in for my niece's upcoming Bubble Guppies party. The park fits the theme perfectly, and she's able to get there and decorate about 3 hours before. Making this happen meant researching the park's reservation policies and calling in at 7am on the first day she could make a reservation for her date, but her research, planning, and diligence paid off, and she got the date and time she wanted.

A Final Note:  Time2planaparty is about making the "time" to plan a party. If you're reading this with a week to go before your special event (as opposed to three months), don't despair -- just breathe and do your best. The ones you love will love you for whatever you're able to put together, and that's the important thing. But next time, consider starting the planning about three months in advance and do little bits at a time. Having that "time" makes planning more fun, less stressful, and gives you a chance to enjoy the creative parts!

Ordering the Invite.

Searching for the right invitation helps me to ease into the theme and, often, gives me a great basis for deciding on a color scheme (generally, I like to stick with 2-3 colors -- more on that to come in a later post). My favorite -- and really only -- place to find an invitation is on ETSY. For those not familiar with the site, it allows crafters, artists, and others, to sell items in their own on-line shops. Going onto the site is like attending a huge craft fair.  It's awesome!

Jump onto the site and search for "[insert your theme] invitations" in "handmade," and you're likely to find pages of hand-made and customizable digital invitations that fit your theme perfectly. No matter what theme I've searched for (Cars, Robots, Candyland, Superhero, Arty, Puppies, Pokemon, etc.), I've always found the perfect invite!  ETSY has a great function where you can mark your favorite invites as a "favorite," allowing you to easily locate those you like at a later date, compare them, etc.  I often mark 2-3 invites, at my leisure, well in advance of when I need them, and then I decide on the final one about 5 weeks before the party and order it.

My favorite option is to choose a customizable digital invite that I can print myself. There are a bunch of excellent graphic designers on ETSY who have likely already created a digital invite that looks great and would work well for your event. For only a few dollars (generally about $5-$15), you can order a copy of that digital invite customized with all of the information concerning your particular party -- like your child's name and age, the date, time, and location of the party, and RSVP and other details. Such designers will sometimes send you a proof of that invite within hours, and most do so within a day, to the e-mail address you provide on your ETSY account. Then, you can make small tweaks and changes as necessary until it is just right, and the designer will send you a final digital file.  You can then send that file to a photo printing shop and have it printed on photo paper (this is great for 4x6 invites) or bring the file to a copy shop and make color copies on white card stock (which tends to be the more affordable option for larger 5x7 prints).

The following are pictures of three invitations I have previously ordered and links to the vendors I've used from ETSY, all of whom provided awesome invites and a great experience:

Cars Party Invite from thatpartygirl shop and Candyland Party Invite from the  PrettyPartyCreations  shop, both on ETSY.

Cars Party Invite from thatpartygirl shop and Candyland Party Invite from the PrettyPartyCreations shop,
both on ETSY.

Robot Party Invite from the  BluGrass  shop on ETSY.

Robot Party Invite from the BluGrass shop on ETSY.

For Kate's Pokemon Party, I found these perfect invites from the PreciousCelebtration shop on ETSY for $12.50.

This invite comes in multiple sizes, and I chose 5x7. As you can see, the picture is split in half -- one side being the front and one side being the back of what looks (roughly) like a Pokemon card. This vendor provided a lot of opportunities for personalization, including the addition of a picture. Because of that, Kate got to help me stage a fun shot with her Pokemon, choose her Pokemon name, and choose the type of Pokemon she would be (she chose "water" Pokemon with a blue background). She loved it! The seller (Eliana) helped me finalize the invitation quickly, and I had them printed and assembled within 2 days from ordering.  Office Depot made color copies for me (2 invitations per page) for $0.67 each, which was much cheaper than the $2.50 per 5x7 that the local drug store was asking for photo prints.  I had to then cut the invites out, fold, and glue them, but I completed those tasks in about an hour.  

The invites look fabulous.  Now we're off and running!

How to Plan a Party -- One Mom's Journey!

In the coming weeks, I'll be planning and throwing my daughter Kate's 6th Birthday Party. She loves Pokemon figures and the cartoon show and, recently, she learned to play the card game (which, by the way, is helping her make huge strides in her reading and analytical skills). So, of course, when I tried to convince her that a combined party with her sister this summer in a theme they both love (like Legos!) would be great, she instead convinced me that a Pokemon party was the way to go. Now, I'm all in!

We love playing the Pokemon card game on the weekends!

We love playing the Pokemon card game on the weekends!

While this may go without saying, taking your kid's preference into account when choosing a party theme is important. At the end of the day, this is about them. That being said, kids are notorious flip floppers. So with my kids, I discuss with them a cut-off point after which they cannot change their minds. Also, if your child is too young to choose a theme themselves (1-2 years), try to choose something for them based on what they love -- a favorite toy, a beloved show, a type of play (balls, bubbles), etc. And if you need options to show them to help them choose, do some general kids party theme searches on www.pinterest.com or a site like catchmyparty.com.  

Back to Kate's party -- it's scheduled for mid-June, and I started planning a little over one month ago (about 2 months prior to the party). I know nothing about Pokemon, so I agreed to watch a few shows with her and learn the card game along side her. We've also had a lot of fun chats about Pokemon. She is a wealth of knowledge and has some great ideas!  It's been a lot of fun already.  

So now that I have a theme and a party to plan around the corner, I'll be chronicling my process in detail, including how I get ideas and implement them without driving myself (or my loving family) crazy. Though the posts will mainly relate to this particular party, my process for planning kids parties is generally the same no matter what the theme, and I'll be weaving in pictures and the dos and don'ts I've learned from other parties I've thrown. Please join me on this journey and (hopefully) learn a little something in the process! Enjoy!