Monday, January 17, 2011

Another Big Birthday Bash!

Last week Starlet turned 5 and so we planned a fun party for her and 5 of her best friends (and her brother). Of course, she wanted a princess theme, and she gave me a list of activities she wanted to do: dancing, movie, stories, and a treasure hunt, plus lunch, cake and presents.

In order to fit it all in, I decided it would be fun to make it a "Royal Academy Open House." Here is the text of the invitation I sent out, along with translations in parentheses:

Her Royal Highness, Princess Starlet, formally invites you to attend an Open House at the Royal Academy to be held at the Princess’s Palace on Monday, January 17th, beginning at 11:00am sharp.

Your schedule of events will be as follows:

11:00 - Dancing Instruction and Rehearsal (put on dance music while I finished prepping the food, did a "freeze dance" too)

11:45- Princess Literature, Legend and Lore (read 4 different princess stories)

Noon- Tea Party with Proper Etiquette Instruction from Her Royal Highness, The Queen (did I mention I dressed up too? Served mini pigs-in-a-blanket, grilled cheese sandwiches cut into heart shapes with a cookie cutter, grapes, and apples)

12:30- Special Presentation of the Royal Cinema (put on a short 30-minute princess movie for the kids to watch while I cleaned up lunch dishes and refilled cups and put out fresh napkins. I even had time to sit in my massage chair for a minute...mmm...)

1:00- Presentation of Gifts to Her Royal Highness Princess Starlet (presents!)

1:15- Presentation the Official Birthday Cake and Ice Cream to Her Royal Highness, Princess Starlet, and her honored guests (cupcake cake and ice cream! I used ice cream cups to keep it simple)

1:30- Hunt for the Royal Treasure (I made up a treasure hunt with rhyming clues that eventually led them to a gift bag with party favors)

1:45- Farewell Ball and Talent Show (more music and play till parents come!)

Please dress in a manner appropriate to such a royal occasion and contact The Queen at (xxx) xxx-xxxx with any questions or concerns.

Princess Starlet and her family look forward to your attendance at this very special event!

I am a big believer in the the idea that kids' birthday parties should be not just parties, but an experience, where they can use their imagination and be somewhere magical for the time they're there. This was the first time I'd had a kids' party where I asked the parents to just drop them off and go, but the youngest child was 4 and the rest of them were 5 or older, so I knew they'd be fine.

The key to any successful party like this, especially when your guests are young children, is plan, plan, PLAN! And prepare, prepare, PREPARE! Having a schedule is really helpful, because then you can move from one thing right to the next and not only does it cut down on chaos, but it also keeps you sane because you know what you will be doing at any given moment and you won't feel like you have to come up with entertainment on the spot.

I kept the decorations really simple for this party. I decorated the table using plastic tabelcloths from the dollar store- a white one on the bottom with a blue one folded in half and placed diagonally across the table to create a pretty layered look. The plates, cups, and napkins were all white- cheap and pretty! The centerpiece was a balloon weight from the dollar store along with a framed photo of the birthday girl with Cinderella at Disney World (from our vacation last summer).

I used helium balloons to decorate both the table and the other rooms in the house that we used for the party- 2 special princess balloons for Starlet and then pink heart balloons and white star balloons. The balloons doubled as both decorations and party favors- each girl took home a pink heart and each boy a white star. Total for decorations was about $13 (I also had regular blow-up balloons for them to kick around on the floor for the dance party).

The party favors included the balloons, pretty dry erase boards ($1 at Target), strawberry plant growing kits ($1 at Target), and ring pops ($1 for a bag of 4 at dollar store). Total spent on party favors (not counting balloons) was $16. I usually do goodie bags, but those always end up having cheap toys and candy and I liked the idea of things they could actually enjoy (and not just leave around the house for their parents to step on!). I also made sure to label each item with each child's name to avoid any potentially teary mixups.

Starlet had a great time, and I actually did too. I used the titles "Sir" or "Lady" in front of each child's name, and I spoke like I was the queen and they were royalty also. It actually caused them to sit taller and try to be on their best behavior! During lunch I turned on some soft piano music, which also helped to calm the atmosphere significantly, and added to the "Royal Tea Party" effect. All the children really enjoyed the party, even the boys. And that's the point!!

Have you thrown any beautiful thrifty parties lately? Or have any questions for me as to how to pull one off? Leave a comment!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Wal-Mart Avoidance Plan

Hello, friends! I have not dropped off the face of the earth. I have, however, been busy busy with all the fun excitement of Christmas and the new year.

About two weeks before Christmas I headed to Wal-Mart for my weekly grocery shopping trip. While I get some great deals with couponing, my family can't always live off a cereal stockpile, so I typically use Wal-Mart to fill in the gaps, as they are all-around less expensive than most supermarkets. Well, as I began my shopping I noticed a definite increase in traffic in the store as compared to just the week before, and I couldn't help thinking, Holy cow, if it's like this two weeks before Christmas I don't even WANT to know what it will be like the next two, three, even four weeks!

I managed to fight my way out of the store with my groceries and my baby, and I thought, I must not set foot in this store until mid-January. At LEAST. I just can't take the stress!

And thus began my Wal-Mart Avoidance Plan. I decided that since I usually make a trip to Kroger for couponing deals once a week, I would simply make Kroger my main grocery store for the next month. I carefully scanned their sale ads, not just for coupon matchups that would score me rock-bottom deals, but for other staples that were priced comparably to Wal-Mart. I then made weekly menus that incorporated these sale items.

Well, let me tell you, I may never go back to Wal-Mart for groceries. What I discovered was that I was actually saving more money by doing it this way, because Kroger's sales are so much better than Wal-Mart's normal prices. And not only that, but they offer great discounts on perishable items that are close to their expiration date- last week I scored 3 gallons of milk at $1.50 each (it was right after a big snow). I had some milk from one of the gallons today and it's still good! I also put a gallon in the freezer, because I knew we wouldn't use it up in time.

This week I found chicken drumsticks for $0.99/lb, so I simply changed my meal plan so that I could incorporate them into a dinner. I also scored an 11.5 lb ham for our Christmas dinner- also $0.99/lb! Which made it so that I could invite extended family to come dine with us. :-)
The other bonuses of shopping at Kroger?

- I don't have to park a mile away
- I don't have to walk another mile through the store just to find what I need
- I get a discount for using my own bags
- I save $0.10/gallon on gas for every $100 I spend on groceries
- A very nice bagger brings all my groceries to my car for me, leaving me free to get Little Boo out of the cart and into her carseat without having to heave groceries into the car and try to find somewhere to return a cart.
- People at Kroger aren't as scary as people at Wal-Mart. Come on. You know what I'm talking about.

So to sum it up, I think I've discovered the light. I will be fair, though, I did stop by Wal-Mart today to check out their Christmas clearance items, because Starlet's birthday is coming up and I knew I would probably find some decent deals on toys, which I did. Now that it's calmer there, it's not so bad. ;-)
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