#1 Pop: Making Father’s Day Fun

Watching my husband wrestle and giggle with my two precious boys just makes my heart smile. I couldn’t be more grateful for how he loves our little ones and spends time with them, and even lets J tag along during his work day (since he works for himself) for lots of special daddy-son moments (and a break for mommy, which is always a beautiful thing).

In an effort to show him how special I think he is, I decided to give my husband the gift of some of his favorite treats. I also wanted to make the whole thing fun for the family. The idea popped into my head (yep, pun intended) when I saw on Pinterest a link (thank you, Rockabye Butterfly!) to an idea about young children giving balloons to their father: Pop would pop the balloons to reveal the little messages inside. So I thought a whole theme based on the word Pop would be fun (really, just saying the word pop is fun, so you can’t go wrong).


J helped me think of little messages to write for his dad (such as, “We love our Daddy!” and “Thank you for playing with us.”). I rolled them up, stuffed them into balloons, and inflated the balloons (watching this process is awesome entertainment if you’re 4). Then it was easy to thread simple but surprisingly strong sewing thread through each one (another great idea found all over Pinterest) and hang them up with a sign, “Pop the balloons.” They had fun popping them together throughout the day (and there are even a few left for tomorrow—it never hurts to spread out the fun).


I also made a simple banner (printed it using my computer onto kraft cardstock and glued it to red cardstock), and bought some breakfast treats my husband enjoys that aligned with the theme. We had Poptarts and Kellogg’s Corn Pops (actually, I guessed that he liked them, and fortunately he did—really extra fortunately since I had a tiny panic moment when I discovered I somehow accidentally purchased two boxes). We also had doughnut holes (which became doughnut “pops,” a fun idea from the Purple Pug). And because I felt obligated to have some sort of healthy item at breakfast and not give our children a total sugar high, I hard boiled eggs and served them on sticks and dubbed them egg pops (and, for the record, they also ate fruit). Good to know: Anything on a stick becomes a pop (and automatically becomes fun). I could have gone crazy with this one :-).

I also put out some soda pop, dessert and candy that we could enjoy the rest of the day. We had lollipops, Oreo cookie pops, Tootsie Pop Drops, Mini Blow Pops, white chocolate popcorn and Pop Rocks (a particularly exciting item for my 4-year-old). And there were Pop-Its for extra fun.




I put up some photos around the house of him and our boys, too. I originally intended to make them fancier with frames, but I guess I have to save something for next year.


The whole thing was super budget-friendly. I used several things I had on hand. I recently threw a birthday party for J and S (post to come soon!), and I was able to use several of the leftover and reusable items since I had also used blue and red at the boys’ bash (get more ideas for saving on party planning by using the same colors over and over again).

We also gave him a basket full of treats called a relaxation kit. In it we stuck some of his favorite candy and snacks, a golf practice net, a coupon for a magazine subscription, a note that he should take a day to golf, a new golf shirt, and a sweet card from J describing some of the things he loves about his daddy.


Happy Father’s Day to a truly a #1 pop!


Thrifty Thursday: Planning Ahead

I love to plan ahead for parties. Maybe a little too much. I start dreaming and pinning about about next year’s birthday party almost before I see smoke above—and, um, a little kid-spit on—the cake. For me, much of the fun of throwing parties is thinking about creative and thematic ways to making the day fun,  making (and remaking) detailed plans, and envisioning the delight on my little boys’ faces.

But while I probably don’t need to be quite such a plan-ahead-Patricia, I have learned that thinking through your party colors and theme (if you choose to have one) at least a little in advance can help you save—and be more creative.

My second birthday...you can bet there was spit on that adorable Strawberry Shortcake cake.

My second birthday…you can bet there was spit on that adorable Strawberry Shortcake cake.

Here are a few of my favorite ways that extra planning time helps me save:

1. Browse: With your theme in mind a few months ahead of the party date, look around to find party basics plus cute accents for your colors and/or theme. Do this while you’re doing your normal shopping, or on a day when you’re bored (unless you loathe shopping—then by all means go do something else).

  • This year, I’ve discovered a wonderful (and slightly addicting) love for the untold treasures of thrift stores. Proof: The other day, I took my 3-year-old to a favorite local thrift store that funds an outreach for children (a great cause!). As we left, he said incredulously, “Mom, I can’t believe we didn’t buy anything!” Oops.Anyway, in my new browsing-thrift-stores-for-fun hobby I’ve found lots of unique—and inexpensive—party items. For my sons’ upcoming train party, I found dark blue curtain valences that I plan to use as table runners. I purchased a little ceramic pie (maybe a candy dish?) and some plastic apples for a cutie pie baby shower I’m planning for late summer.
  • The dollar store has also become a fast friend. I don’t necessarily buy many of the actual party goods; for example, the plastic forks break easily and the plastic tablecloths are super-see-through (I’m not complaining; it is a dollar store, after all). However, wandering up and down the aisles, you’ll see lots of random things you can use for party decor, favors, and more. I found dark blue tins that can hold Oreo cookie pops (craft foam you can insert inside is also sold there). For a Valentine’s party I threw for some little kids this past February, I purchased a cute red wire basket to hold lollipops.
    The other day, I saw cute little chip-type clips with farm animals on them that would be perfect for clipping to things, such as food tent cards, for a barnyard birthday party. I’ve also spotted mini construction cones that you could stick on a construction or truck party table or even use as place card holders with a few creative adjustments. And one day I saw Curious George fruit snacks (not expired; I checked) that could be used as snacks or favors at a Curious George or monkey party.
  • Flash sales sites and other online retailers are also a good place to purchase party goods. This is true especially if you’re putting together a birthday bash based on a popular commercial theme, such as Lego or Disney princesses. Purchasing items for favor bags and authentic-looking decorations can be costly, so keeping your eye out for good deals in advance is helpful.
    If you time it right, you can even take advantage of those insane black-Friday sales. When my son turned three last year, I threw him a Veggie Tales party. The November before the party, a 40-percent-off-plus-free-shipping sale at the Veggie Tales online store (most of it is hard to come by in brick-and-mortar stores, anyway) enabled me to get some fun favors without going crazy with my party budget.
  • Check out clearance and cheap corners of good old-fashioned stores. I like stopping by Hobby Lobby’s clearance wall, and almost always see party napkins, decorations, blow-outs, and other goods, as well as other items that could be used with a little creativity. I also regularly browse Target’s dollar area, which can be a great source for thematic party favors (and fun favor containers) if you hit it on just the right day. Recently, I picked up some red baker’s twine I’m planning to use for the train party. I’ve seen lots of Seasame Street items, as well as things you could use for nautical themes, princess parties, transportation themes, and more.

2. Save: This year, instead of buying little bubble bottles and handing them out (the sensible thing to do), I decided to make my own with baby food jars, just for a little bit of extra party-theme cuteness (I may or may not be so excited about the cuteness when I stay up all night making them, but anyway…). Technically, it is probably cheaper, as well, since I’ll use a big bottle of bubbles that I already have, although I did have to purchase spray paint for the lids and pipecleaners for the wands. The point is, I had time to save lots of baby food jars from my little dude’s meals. In fact, I’ve saved so many that I may have to incorporate them into another party. I’ve seen lots of super ideas for using them in a variety of ways, including serving snacks in them at baby showers.
There are lots of adorable crafts, games, favor containers, decorations, and other goodies to be made with simple household items you can save, such as toilet paper rolls, cardboard boxes, and more. (A couple years ago, I made a party game that was a hit out of a stack of old cardboard boxes.) But it requires getting a head start (or asking a few friends to save some for you, if you don’t have enough time to collect everything yourself).

3. Make: When you have a little extra time, you can create some things you might otherwise have to run out and grab (and they tend to be more meaningful and less expensive). This year, I made candy train favors (see tutorial) and have plans for a few other items. Candy train favors: JoyandDelight.com

I’ll admit that I already have my sons’ next birthday theme (super heroes) in mind…and we haven’t even got anywhere near cake smoke and spit for this year.

Pretty princesses: An Ariel birthday party

My sweet and creative friend Stephanie recently hosted a fun Ariel (from Disney’s The Little Mermaid) birthday party for her newly six-year-old daughter. She incorporated lots of thoughtful details to fill it with delight for her little princess and every guest. The girls, who all dressed as princesses, enjoyed a delicious under-the-sea thematic lunch with a phenomenal Ariel mermaid cake Stephanie baked and decorated for dessert.

They also decorated wands and crowns, attached Ariel’s crown, and hunted for under-the-sea treasure in sand. Stephanie’s creative decorations must have made them feel like they were swimming in the sea with Ariel.

What more fun could little girls have?

Below are photos and details Stephanie shared:


Stephanie says her cake was inspired by one she saw online. Here are her tips for making it:

“The cake is done with a doll standing up inside. I used a round biscuit cutter to cut a hole in the middle of each cake layer before frosting (with the exception of the bottom layer so that she stood up straight). There are so many layers because the doll is so tall and her legs don’t bend.”

“I used three 9-inch round cakes (two box mixes; you can give the fourth cake away or make cake pops with it) and three 6-inch round cakes. The top 6-inch layer was cut in 1/2 so that Ariel was leaning on something. I made Ariel’s tail and Flounder out of fondant. Coloring fondant is really easy but you need to work quickly once you start to shape it because it hardens up quickly. The fish all over the cake are made out of S’more Goldfish sold at Walmart.”

It looks amazing and delicious! Wouldn’t you have loved this cake as a six-year-old? The bottom tier even had chocolate mousse filling.

Ariel cake

Ariel cake side view


Ariel birthday party cake (JoyandDelight.com)


In addition to cake, Stephanie served the party guests lunch on fun Ariel-themed tableware and tablecloth. The menu was ham-and-cheese starfish sandwiches (cut in star shapes), peanut butter and jelly-fish sandwiches (cut in the shape of fish), and macaroni and cheese (always a kid favorite!).

Fish sandwiches


“I used green streamers to look like seaweed and put beads and jewelry all around the house for decorations as Ariel’s grotto,”  Stephanie says.

Seaweed decor

She also attached blue cellophane wrapping (the kind used for gift baskets) to the wall for an under-the-sea look. She purchased one roll at Hobby Lobby, which covered two lengths of the wall. The Ariel image she mounted on it doubled as a game: pin the crown on Ariel.

Ariel - ocean decor

Paper fish hung above the pretty food table, and each girl’s chair featured a helium balloon. Notice the extra-fun streamer weaving on the birthday girl’s chair, too!


To play the Ariel game, “each girl was blindfolded and asked how many times they wanted to be spun…the birthday girl got 6 since she turned 6 years old,” Stephanie says.

The little guests also got to search for treasure in the sand: colored coins, bead necklaces, princess pencils, princess stamps, and rings (most were from the dollar store).

Stephanie shares a great tip about avoiding conflict during party games: Discuss it graciously up-front. She says, “For the treasure hunt I had loot bags, each with a child’s name on it, for them to collect their treasures. There were some items that were only one per child, and we talked about what we could do if a friend got two and someone else got none. All the friends agreed that they would give their extra item to a friend and everyone was very thoughtful.”

“If I could do it over again. I would let them go two at a time, pick two items, and maybe even blindfold them (they didn’t want to be blindfolded again). This would make the hunt take longer and be sillier.”

Treasure hunt

The girls also got to make some take-home crafts. “There were crowns and wands to decorate (bought at Michaels). They used foam stickers and gems to decorate,” Stephanie says. “We also made necklaces from colored noodles and medallions that I got off the Disney website.”

Craft table

The castle was a cute centerpiece that also held the guests’ favor boxes.

Favor box castle

Cake, fun food, jewels, crafts and games—what could be more delightful for little princesses? Thanks so much for sharing your creative Ariel birthday party, Stephanie!

Tutorial: Candy train party favors

I’ve been collecting inspiration for J’s fourth and S’s first birthday party (a joint party since their birth dates are only a couple weeks apart) for months now, but since it’s only about eight weeks away, now is the time to stop dreaming and actually make some of it reality.

Every year, I kick myself for doing so much in the week prior to the party, creating stress (and missing several hours of sleep) in the process. So I decided this year—for our vintage train theme—I would make the favors well in advance.

My mom—who is approximately 4,000 times craftier than me (see her Etsy shop for evidence)—taught me how to make candy trains. I’ve seen lots of renditions of these online since. They make cute and inexpensive birthday party or even baby shower—because who doesn’t love candy?—take-home favors.

To make these candy train favors, you’ll need:

  • A 5-stick package of gum (I used Doublemint and Juicy Fruit.)
  • A roll of Lifesavers
  • A Hershey’s Kiss ( I used red ones to coordinate with the party colors.)
  • A Hershey’s Miniature (or other wrapped candy that’s a similar size/shape)
  • 4 starlight mints
  • Glue gun

1. Start with the gum and the Lifesavers; use your glue gun to attach them as shown below. If you get a little extra glue, it’s no big deal since most of your gum-to-lifesavers glue job will be covered by the mints. (As an aside, this size of gum and Lifesavers packaging are no longer easy to pick up at your local big-box store. You can find Lifesaver rolls around holiday times in packages of six. My mom has found that some major retailers still carry some of the 5-stick packages of gum, but I wasn’t able to find any. I found mine at my local candy shop, Kim’s Kandy Kreations.)

2. Glue the Kiss (the little paper tag on each doubles as the smoke) on one end of the Lifesaver roll and the Miniature on the other.IMG_6249

3. Finally, add two mints to each side for wheels. Before I glued them, I trimmed some of the plastic off each end of each mint. I think this makes them look a little nicer, but it’s completely optional.IMG_6251

I’m planning to pop mine in little kraft paper boxes (easily made with simple folding techniques) with red paper shreds, and then tie them up with red baker’s twine and attach a little thank-you tag so they resemble old-fashioned packages. (I’m pretty sure it was my mom who taught me how to make the boxes, too.)


These trains are cute for favors or decor at a train birthday party, a celebration with a transportation theme, or a shower for a baby boy—or even for a small just-because gift to remind little ones in your life how much you love them.

This boy party idea was also featured on Spaceships and Laser Beams.

Thrifty Thursday: Seeing Red

Since sharing ideas for realistic, affordable parties is one of the goals of this blog, I’m launching the Thrifty Thursday feature with practical tips for saving cents on your celebrations.

And here’s the first: Pick your party colors wisely. Selecting a color and using it over and over again (in different combinations to spice it up) has helped me save.

Because I have two little boys, red works very well for me. I’ve used red in my son’s red-and-blue barnyard first birthday;  his red-and-yellow construction party; and his red, yellow, and green Veggie Tales birthday, plus two little kids’ parties—one for Christmas and one for Valentine’s Day. Also, this year, I plan to use red in my two sons’ springtime vintage train party and a fall cutie pie baby shower.

Photo booth: JoyandDelight.com

Red (or whatever color you love) easily has a number of other possibilities, too. Fire engines. Super heroes. Monster trucks. Lego party. Fourth of July BBQ. Ladybug baby shower.

How does selecting a favorite party color help you save? Here are three ways:

1. Reuse items: If you’re like me, you can’t afford to buy a bunch of non-disposable items for every party that you will never reuse. And, even if you were to do so, you’d have no place to store them. Picking a dominant color allows you to make room in your budget for some elements beyond plastic tablecloths (not that there’s anything wrong with using plastic tablecloths!) because you know you will reuse them again.

For example, I  have:

  • A small red wire basket I picked up at the local Dollar Tree
  • A red-and-white checked tablecloth (actually just a piece of fabric)
  • Red-and-white striped fabric for a photo booth backdrop (used above draped over a bookcase)

I’ve thought about buying a nice red dessert stand, too. But I am still deciding on that one…

A constant color also lends itself to reusing nicer items that you make yourself (and hate to toss after all that work!), such as a paper or cloth pennant banner.

Paper straws2. Buy in quantity: Some party items are more inexpensive per piece in a large quantity, but I usually hesitate, thinking: How on earth will I use 100 of those? Well, at the next party, of course. And the next, and the next.

Fancy striped paper straws, for example, can often be pretty pricey. I have seen them at big-box craft stores in packages of about 25 or 50 at about 20 cents each. But a quick Internet search revealed that Bed Bath and Beyond sells red (and only red, but there are more colors of this brand various other online retailers sell that are also fairly reasonably priced) in a box of 144. I was suspicious of the quality, but I tested them several times with my straw-adoring 3-year-old (and later with party guests), and they work great. Each straw? About 3 cents.

3. Use leftovers: When you purchase a roll of cute patterned ribbon or a stack of cardstock, you know the leftovers won’t go to waste (or be “used up” in preschooler craft projects—not that that’s not a worthy cause!). Tie up your next favor bags and create your next banners a little differently to go with your current theme, but use the same ribbon and cardstock and save a little. My stack of red cardstock has been used for a variety of party projects, including programs for a ladies’ tea at my church. You can also use leftover solid-color napkins, plastic tableware, balloons, and more.

I’d love to hear your creative ideas for saving on your next birthday celebration, baby shower, or other party.

Barnyard Bash: J’s First Birthday

My oldest son’s first birthday (back in spring of 2010) was the first child’s birthday party I had planned. I had lots of fun putting it together, browsing blogs (in pre-Pinterest days) for creative ideas that I used as a springboard for the celebration. My goal was to throw it for about $100.

Here’s some of the red-and-blue Barnyard Birthday fun:

My husband and I worked on the cake together, based on instructions from BettyCrocker.com. Obviously, we are nowhere near professional cake decorators, but it was a fun project and very doable. We just had to use a whole lot of (gel) food coloring for the red barn. The cake sat on an old white board, covered in blue tissue paper and then wax paper.

Barnyard Birthday: Cake - JoyandDelight.com

To set the party scene in our (um, rather grass-less) yard, I purchased a few straw bales (I found out this is less expensive than hay) from the local feed store and scattered signs (printed cardstock attached to a paint stir stick) around to indicate different game activity areas:

Hay Field: Kids rode around in the red wagon J got for his birthday.CIMG4784CIMG4788


Fish Pond: Little guests were given a dowel with a clothes pin attached and my sweet sister-in-law attached small plastic bags of gummy fish from behind the candle screen covered in blue fabric (both recycled from my wedding).

Barnyard Birthday: Fishing game - JoyandDelight.com

Barnyard Birthday: Fishing


Chicken Coop : Children searched for candy-filled eggs among various containers.CIMG4787



Petting Zoo: This area had animal and farm toys, plus a pin-the-tail on the donkey game; I tried to take a photo of every kid by J’s Fisher-Price Farm toy, too.




Craft Barn: We made paper-bag farm animal puppets from free printables I found online.


For the food table, I used red-and-white checked cloth and small piece of burlap (I found it in a fabric bargain bin) using a tall tin and wood shaving filler left over from my wedding, inexpensive corn on the cob, a $1 bandana, and my husband’s childhood John Deere tractor set. We borrowed a wheelbarrow from a family member to hold soda, water, and juice on ice, and used clean planting pots to hold plastic utensils. Our food (there was too much, by the way, but better than too little, right?) included haystack cookies, cow-pie cookies, colorful tortilla chips and salsa, watermelon, strawberries, carrots with ranch dip, cheese and cracker platters, and pretzels.

Also on the table was a little birthday book for guests to sign as a keepsake for J.

Barnyard Birthday: Food table - JoyandDelight.com

Barnyard Birthday: Wheelbarrow drink container - JoyandDelight.com


Using ribbon and scrapbook paper, I  made a banner with a photo from each month of J’s life and a coordinating highchair banner. We had red and blue balloons, too (because can it really be a party without balloons?), plus colorful party hats.

Barnyard Birthday: First birthday banner - JoyandDelight.com Barnyard Birthday: Highchair banner - JoyandDelight.com


I love the birthday boy to have a fun, coordinating outfit (though I’m sure I have limited years to do that before it becomes completely uncool). Cute overalls (and a birthday onesie for cake-eating) and a dollar-store straw hat and birthday ribbon completed the ensemble.

Barnyard Birthday: Birthday boy outfit - JoyandDelight.com

Each little guest took home a white paper bag tied with red-checkered ribbon. Inside were pieces of candy, duck-bill whistles, and assorted other trinkets.


After the party was over, I made simple, 4×6 photo collages of the party, customized for each guest family. I printed the collages, glued them to the front of a blank card on top of some scrapbook paper, and wrote thank-you notes inside.

As this was the very first time I’d done such a party, I had a few things to learn. The biggest: Be more organized with time. When party guests started to arrive, I was (still!) scurrying about trying to get up the last of the décor and activities in place in our backyard. (To their credit, the guests were very helpful and sweet about it.)

Also, I was way. Too. Stressed. Most of this was because of the disorganization factor. The result was that I didn’t truly enjoy the party with my precious little son. My husband took him around to all the activities and I think he had a good time. But I was so focused on the party itself that I didn’t really capture the joy and delight of celebrating (which is, after all, the whole point of the event) and just worried about what activity to do next and if there was enough food and getting photos of everything. (Plus, I have to admit, with my first son, I was way more stressed about everything, not just the first birthday; I am definitely more laid back with the second.)

Since this party nearly three years ago, I’ve been working on having everything exactly ready at least 15 minutes prior to the party, and truly enjoying it with the guest of honor and everyone else. I try to relax and just go with the flow; I know everything won’t be perfect (especially with lots of unpredictable little ones!). Joy, not perfection, is what matters, anyway.

These boy party ideas were also featured on Spaceships and Laser Beams.


The Beginning of Birthdays

As I begin this blog, I thought it fitting to start out with a photo of my very first birthday party, way back in 1981. I’m looking pretty concerned about the fire hazard in front of me.Al 1st bday

One of the many things I love about my mom is how devoted she is to her family. She made every single one of my birthday cakes growing up.

It’s sweet that she decorated it with daisies (and that I have a yellow-flowered dress on—I knew my love of party themes came from somewhere!). My mom could have never known that about 25 years later, my husband would romantically propose using a single daisy.

My then-6-year-old brother is sitting to the left of me. He is super fun-loving; he and his wife run a very fine and very fun party business, another evidence that celebration appreciation runs in the family.

I look forward to exploring many ways to make meaningful memories with children and others you love by celebrating life together. Welcome to Joy & Delight!