birthday parties

Starting graduate studies has forced me to rearrange my schedule, drop certain activities, and really look at my priorities.  One priority that I insist on making number 1 is my family.  I don’t want my family to ever feel that I put school, or a future job made possible by school, before them.

This week’s dilemma?  Hoob’s 16th birthday.  How do I make it special for her and still meet my school, church, and other family obligations?  Hoob’s birthday is on Friday which also happens to be a full-day youth conference for our stake (group of congregations in our church).  Here are my ideas to make the day as fun as possible for her:

*I had her choose the shoes she wants for her birthday from and we ordered them last week.  They should arrive before her birthday.

*Even though we will be visiting four historical sites in SLC during the day with other youth and leaders from our stake which makes it hard to celebrate her birthday, I have arranged with one of the ward (congregation) leaders to buy a birthday cake.  We will keep it secret from Hoob until we break for lunch and then we will pull it out and have the youth and leaders from our ward sing happy birthday to her and then share the cake.

*I will make sure to take pictures of the cake activity.

*Tomorrow afternoon I will put homework on hold and I will take Hoob shopping for new capris and flip-flops–the rest of her birthday presents.

*I always give my kids a chance to go to lunch or breakfast with me on their birthday for some one-on-one time with me.  Because of the youth conference starting early, making it necessary to eat a quick breakfast at home, and then including lunch and dinner as part of youth conference, Hoob and I will, instead, go to see a movie together that night as our one-on-one time.  The movie she has chosen?  “Green Lantern.”  Once again, homework will be put on hold.

*Of course I will wish her a happy birthday on facebook so that others can know it is her birthday.

*Hoob, or course, is anxious to get her driver’s license.  With Friday’s schedule being what it is, we will go Monday afternoon as soon as I am done with class to pick up her license.

I am hoping these ideas will help Hoob to have a special day.  Hoob is so good-natured, I really don’t have anything to worry about, but it really is about…

…making family #1!


Our ward Halloween party was last Friday.  It includes a trunk -or-treat for the kids, a chili and soup cook-off for the adults, pictures, and carnival style games for the kids–all held at the church.  The young women are in charge of half of the games.  As the young women president, I got to be in charge of one of the games with the girls ages 16 to 18.  We decided to have a “creature hunt” in one of the larger classrooms in the church.  I share it here on my blog so that others looking for Halloween ideas or birthday party ideas (I did a creature hunt for one of Yawlin’s birthday parties and it was a hit!) can use it.

*We put dark butcher paper up in the windows to darken up the room.  The girls did such a good job that when we turned the lights out it was pitch black.

*We hung green crepe paper from the ceiling in different lengths.  We put the scrap butcher paper on the floor.  We stacked chairs and covered them with sheets.  Basically, we did our best to make the room not look like a church classroom.

*We hid plastic spiders, frogs, snakes, insects, skeletons, bats–creatures around the room. 

*Our final touch was to have a cd player with scary music.

*We allowed the kids to enter the room in groups of two or three.  Each kid was given a mini flashlight to use (purchased from Oriental Trading) in the pitch black room.

*For 60 seconds they used the flashlights to collect as many creatures as they could find.  Whatever they found, they kept.

*After each group, we hid more creatures to make sure there would be enough for all kids to find something.

And, yes, just like at Yawlin’s birthday party, the Creature Hunt was a hit!

I came home with a grocery bag half full of leftover plastic creatures.  I guess I’ll save them for next year…

*Got up early and made scones for breakfast at Mack’s request.

*Have baked a chocolate cake.  Will be frosting it with cream cheese frosting later on.

*Will be checking Mack out of school and taking her to lunch at Cafe Rio.

*After school we will go to the mall to buy Mack the new boots she has been eyeing.

*For dinner we will have…whatever Mack tells me to fix.  Hopefully she will have made up her mind by the time I pick her up for lunch.

*During Family Home Evening tonight the rest of the family can give her their gifts.

Happy 18th Mack!  I love you!

I am off to see if the cake is cool enough to frost…

We have traditions for birthdays in our family.  The birthday child gets to choose the menu for breakfast and dinner, they get to go to lunch for some one-on-one time with a parent, they receive “dollar gifts” from their siblings, a cake is baked and the Happy Birthday song is sung, gifts are received from the parents, and they get a day off from doing chores.

Yesterday was Yawlin’s 10th birthday.  The birthday started out normal enough.  He chose fruit crepes for breakfast.  For lunch, I checked him out of school and we went to Zupa’s and shared a combo meal (the “Nuts About Berries” salad is to die for!).  The menu for dinner was Swedish Meatballs , potatoes, and zucchini (we have zucchini coming out of our ears–thankfully Yawlin likes it). 

I’d finished baking the cake but hadn’t decorated it before it was time to go to my afternoon crossing.  I asked Huh if she would frost the cake for me while I was gone so that we could have the cake when Yawlin and I got home from the crossing.  She agreed to do it.

This is how Huh ended up decorating the cake:

Lovely cake!

Lovely cake!

The “Shut up” and “I ran out” signs refer both to the sprinkles (she had to use two different kinds) and to the candles.  Yes, those are uncooked spaghetti noodles stuck into the cake to act as candles so that there would be ten total.  This is what happens when you let an 18 year old decorate a cake unsupervised.  🙂

I laughed when I saw the cake, and Yawlin got a kick out of it.  He made some goofy faces while I took his picture next to it–goofy faces for a goofy cake.

Later in the evening, Huh and her boyfriend, Plumber, took Yawlin to go get a smoothie for his birthday.  They came home with a mouse.  Yup, a tiny black and white, whiskered, long-tailed rodent.  They had a cage, bedding, and food.  Apparently Plumber and Huh had hit upon the idea of getting Yawlin a pet for his birthday and he chose a mouse.  A mouse he named Oreo.


Yawlin was so excited, I didn’t have the heart to tell him the mouse had to go–until later.  The cage had been set up, food had been poured into the dish, and the mouse had tried out her running wheel a few times when things suddenly changed.  I was in the tv room watching the evening news when I heard Yawlin yell, “Oreo got out of her cage!”

I looked at Huh and Plumber who were doing the dishes and said, “You’d better go help him.”  Since they bought the mouse they got the fun job of catching it when it escaped.

After listening to lots of bumping and banging and yelling I went up to Yawlin’s room to see how things were going.  The mouse had been caught, Plumber’s finger had received a nice mouse bite, and Yawlin’s room was a mess.  When I learned that the mouse had gotten out of the cage by squeezing through the bars of her cage I said the mouse had to go.  Poor Yawlin was heartbroken, but if the mouse could squeeze through the bars it would end up being a constant vigil to keep her in her cage.  Nope.  Don’t want to deal with it.

Huh felt bad, too, for getting Yawlin all excited to have a pet.  She and Plumber will be returning Oreo to the pet store today.  They put the mouse and her cage in our green recycling bin so that she can’t escape into the house if she squeezes through the bars of her cage again.  Hopefully they will think of some way to make it up to Yawlin.

Sometimes traditions are born unexpectedly, sometimes they are purposely planned.  It might be that sticking uncooked spaghetti into our birthday cakes will become a tradtion.  Receiving a birthday rodent?  Not so much!

Sometimes people find my blog by doing a search for birthday party ideas.  I thought I’d share what went well during Huh’s surprise birthday party (I wrote about it yesterday), just in case someone is looking for ideas for a teen party.

*The decorations were simple.  Plastic disposable table cloths, a few balloons and some crepe paper were all we needed.  Letting siblings and friends do the decorating really helped out.  They got quite creative with the crepe paper, and it kept them busy while they waited for the party to start.

*We served all the fixin’s for hoagie sandwiches, along with the typical sides such as chips, pickles, and olives and sodas to drink.  I’ve found that teens (at least the teens in our area) like the sandwiches because they can fix them any way they like.  It’s easy to buy the stuff in bulk and then assemble on trays.

*As far as gifts go, we just asked the guests to think of a memory they had of Huh and to bring an object that symbolized that memory.  We allowed the guests to get their food and begin eating before we started the memory sharing.  I made Huh eat at a small table all by herself at the front of the room so that everyone could see her receive each token “memory gift.”  We used a microphone so that everyone could hear.  I shared my memory first so that the guests could see what we had in mind when it came to their turn to share:

I handed Huh a bottle of red cough syrup and said, “Two years ago Huh and I took a one-on-one trip to San Diego.  It was great to take a trip with just the two of us.  We did the typical San Diego things–went to the beach, visited Sea World, did some shopping, snorkeled–we also ate out a few times and watched a pay-per-view movie in our room.  I have great memories from that trip, but one of my favorite memories is from the very beginning of the trip at the San Diego airport.  I was recovering from a cold and still had a residual cough, so I had packed my red cough syrup in my suitcase.  Somehow the cough syrup bottle opened in my suitcase and began to leak out.  I didn’t discover it until we were standing outside on the sidewalk waiting for a shuttle.  It leaked in such a way that it looked like blood was coming from my suitcase.”  I then showed the following picture:

My bloody suitcase!

My bloody suitcase!

“I took a picture of the suitcase so we could chronicle this part of our trip and Huh used her camera phone to send a picture of it to some of her softball friends back home.  We joked that I had killed and dismembered some random person and had put their body parts in my suitcase.  We moved the suitcase away from the spill on the sidewalk (we didn’t want it to be confiscated as part of a crime investigation) and sat and watched people’s reactions as they came upon the spill.  We got a good laugh from most of the reactions because it really did look like blood and people weren’t sure what to do when they saw it.  It’s too bad we didn’t have a video camera with us.  It would have made some great YouTube videos!”

Once I had finished sharing my memory I drew guests names from a bowl.  As their name was called they came up, presented their memory object to Huh and shared their memory.  There were some hilarious memories.  Huh received a lot of bandages and wraps because, as a softball player, she always seems to have an injury somewhere on her body.  I also learned some things about my daughter as her friends shared memories.  For instance, I learned that she and a friend once played hooky from school and went to the park to play on the swings.  I also heard about the time it was her idea to egg the highschool boys baseball field.  Sigh.  I think Huh enjoyed the memory portion of the party, I mean, what teen doesn’t want to be the center of attention for a little while?

*After everyone had eaten we played our game.  Because we had kids from different high schools at the party I wanted to mix them up a bit so that they could get to know each other.  Using the names in the bowl again, I randomly called out names, placing them into groups of four.  We then played a modified version of Bunco (also spelled Bunko–basic rules can be found online).    We played six rounds.  After each round I made the winning partners at each table stand, I then had one of the “losers” at each table switch places so that they were no longer across from their partner.  Then I instructed the winners to find a place at the next table over.  Doing that made everyone have a new partner for each round.  This worked well for mixing people up and even sparked an interest in at least one of the boys to get the phone number of a girl from a different high school.  🙂 

We awarded prizes:  For the winner of the most rounds we gave a t-shirt that said, “I know how to roll ’em!”  For the winner of the most natural buncos we gave a t-shirt that said, “I’m a natural!” and for the person who lost every single round we gave a t-shirt that said, “I suck at life.”  Of course, it helps that we have a side business in which we make custom t-shirts.  It made getting our prizes that much easier.

*After the game we allowed guests to make their own banana splits and just visit.  Some started a one-court basketball game after they were finished with their dessert.  Others thought it would be fun to suck the helium from the balloons.  I quietly started the clean -up and let them linger as long as they wanted.

The party was simple, yet fun.  It worked well for the 36 teenagers who were there.  This party would work well for almost any size group.  I think the most important thing was letting the birthday girl shine for a couple of hours.

I am patting myself on the back right now.  I have learned that I can throw together a surprise birthday party in one week’s time. 

Yesterday was Huh’s 18th birthday.  For about a month I had been asking her what she wanted for her birthday.  And for a month all I kept getting out of her was, “I dunno.”  One week before her birthday I hit upon the idea of giving her a surprise party since she didn’t seem to know what she wanted.  It was the perfect time to have a party, too, because her birthday fell on President’s Day so there would be no school.  An afternoon surprise party would work quite well, I thought.

I immediately enlisted the help of others:  A couple of key people at her old high school to contact friends there, one of the girls from her current softball team to contact team members, a couple of friends from her current high school to contact people there, and Mack, whom I assigned to contact cousins and friends of Huh’s that attend other high schools. 

Mack’s assignment was the hardest.  She had to try to get Huh’s cell phone from her so that we could find the contact information for some of her friends.  Huh is rarely without her phone.  She gets quite tense if she doesn’t have her phone with her, something I’ve written a little about in a previous post.  Poor Mack.  It caused her a lot of stress to be assigned to get the phone.  “Mom, I can’t do it.  She never puts the phone down.  If she’s not holding it then it’s in her back pocket.  How am I supposed to get it from her if that’s where it is?”  I just told her to be diligent.  We needed those numbers.

Finally, after three days, Huh happened to place her phone on the kitchen counter after school while she looked for a snack to eat.  Mack grabbed the phone and shoved it down her shirt and ran out of the kitchen.  I happened to be coming down the hall when Mack came running out of the kitchen.  In a split second she had the phone out of her shirt and shoved it toward me.  It ended up going down into my shirt and Mack ran back into the kitchen giggling.  I spun on my heal and ran up the stairs to my bedroom, locked the door, retrieved the phone from my shirt and immediately began scrolling through the contact list.  I was surprised at how many contacts she had listed in there.  Who is that?  Which Caleb is that?  Is this the right Alex?  Omigosh, I don’t know half of these people!  I knew I only had seconds before Huh would miss her phone. With paper and pencil in hand I quickly wrote the five numbers I was certain I wanted and then tucked the phone into my back pocket and went back down to the kitchen.  Huh still had her head buried in the fridge.  I had no idea where Mack had grabbed the phone from so I placed it on one of the side counters and hoped that Huh hadn’t really paid attention to where she’d laid her phone.  Whew!  I was so grateful that none of Huh’s friends tried to call or text her during those few moments!  I’m not sure what I would have done if the phone had gone off while it was in my possession.

Trying to keep the party a secret was quite a task.  Whenever a party guest would call or text Mack or my cell phone to ask questions or let us know they were coming we would have to get up and leave the room.  I ended up putting my phone into the silent mode so that Huh wouldn’t know when I had received a text or call.  The only people I usually text are my kids and sometimes one of my sisters, so for me to be receiving so many texts suddenly seemed a little odd to Huh.  Mack’s bedroom became the dropping place for party decorations and food that didn’t need to be refrigerated.  Once Huh saw me and Hub unloading some groceries and she spotted the trays of cheese we’d gotten for the party.  “Why on earth did you get so much cheese?”

Hub, thinking quickly, said, “We are going to freeze it.”

I followed with, “Yeah, it was on sale at a really good price  so we decided to get it to freeze for food storage.”

Huh bought it. 

On the day of the party I got up early so that I could get everything loaded into the car before Huh woke up.  I baked her the lemon poppy seed muffins that she’d requested for her birthday breakfast and made a few quick phone calls to guests who needed directions to the party location–our church.  Huh slept in a little and then treated herself to a lazy morning of eating muffins in front of the tv.  I told her I was taking her siblings shopping for her birthday and that when we got back I would take her shopping and then out to lunch.  Of course, the kids and I weren’t really shopping, we went to the church and began setting up for the party.  I ran to the store to get a few last minute items and got stuck in the line with the world’s slowest checker.  Mack kept calling me in a panic saying that guests were arriving and she didn’t know what she was supposed to have them do.  I gave her a few instructions and then called Hub and told him to tell Huh that it was our turn to clean the church and that he was leaving to go do that and that the rest of us were already at the church waiting for him.  Again, Huh bought the story.

Once I dropped off the rest of the stuff at the church I rushed to get Huh, telling her that someone had made a huge mess in the bathrooms of the church and that we needed more bathroom cleaners.  I told her that we were just going to drop the cleaners off at the church and then the two of us would go shopping.  Meanwhile, at the church, the guests all got into position to jump out and scare Huh.  One of the guests predicted that she would call them all stupid or something once they’d all jumped out.

The first words out of Huh’s mouth after everyone had yelled surprise were, “You guys are so dumb!”  Everyone laughed.  The prediction had come pretty close.

The party went well.  The food was enjoyed (and we had enough), the game was the perfect mixer to help kids from different high schools get to know each other, and the memories shared of  Huh were hilarious.  Huh later gave me a hug and thanked me.  I told her to call me the Party Kween!  She just laughed.

A party planned in one week’s time.  Yeah, I deserve a pat on the back…or at least a piece of cake.

There is vinyl lettering on our front door proclaiming that “Huh” is now 17 but still “car-less” (she keeps hinting that she could really use a car).  Back in January the door letters advertised that I had reached the ripe old age of 40 and so all visitors should be quiet around the “nearly dead.”  Thanks to my husband, and his latest hobby, vinyl stickers on the front door are our newest family tradition for birthdays.  It is a tradition the neighbors like witnessing.  I love celebrating birthdays, so over the years our family has developed several rituals that we use to celebrate.  Since birthdays have continued to be on my mind since my last post I have decided to share some of the ways we celebrate birthdays in our family.

One easy way of singling out the birthday child is reassigning their chores to their siblings.  They enjoy taking it easy and watching while their siblings (and sometimes parents) wash the dishes, take out the trash, or clean up dog doo in the yard for the day.  I also take my kids to lunch for their birthday.  If their birthday happens to fall on a school day I check them out of school during the lunch period.  They get to choose the restaurant and we usually end up getting back to school slightly late.  They have never complained about being tardy.  I take full advantage of the one-on-one time by asking them all about school, their friends, and whatever else comes to mind.

For the other two meals of the day the birthday child gets to choose the menu and I fix it.  For breakfast we’ve had everything from fruit crepes, to oatmeal, to breakfast burritos.  One child even requested their favorite cold cereal.  Dinner requests tend to be Italian in nature, pizza or spaghetti or lasagna, although once we had submarine sandwiches and another time we had shepherd’s pie.

As far as gifts go, we set a limit on cost and allow the birthday child to ask for gifts within that amount.  The siblings all shop at the local dollar store and choose one gift that they think fits the birthday child. We parents also get something from the dollar store in addition to the regular gifts we’ve purchased.  On the evening of the birthday celebration we all gather in the family room to present our gifts one at a time.  It has been amazing and sometimes hilarious to see how creative the kids can be in their purchases.  Once, one of the football players in the family received foot odor spray to use in his very ripe cleats.  I believe he received deodorant at the same time from someone else.  Fortunately he’s a good sport.

Of course we always have the traditional birthday cake with candles and we sing “Happy Birthday” in the worst voices possible.  Sometimes I am able to talk one of the kids into baking the cake for the birthday child.  One cake ended up with every candy sprinkle we had in the house.  The six year old baker was quite proud of his creation.  Birthday rituals, however simple, can add some fun to birthdays and can help the one whose life is being celebrated feel special.  Some traditions can begin quite unintentionally, such as our latest vinyl letter tradition, but the unintentional traditions are sometimes the most enjoyable.  All of the kids are now wondering what the front door is going to proclaim on their birthday.

NOTE:  For more birthday ideas please see the page “Nifty Notions.”

There was actually a father who spent 10 million dollars on his 13-year-old daughter’s birthday party.  That is an extreme case, but it does seem as though parents today are under pressure to outdo each other on birthday celebrations for their kids, or to at least succumb to some unrealistic standard of birthday celebration set by others.  These types of parties can create stress on the family budget as well as time stress.

I recently learned of a website that seeks to bring awareness to this problem.  I’ve added “Birthdays Without Pressure” to my favorite links on this blog.  The site is maintained by a group of parents and professionals in the St. Paul, Minnesota area.  Their desire is to get people discussing the problem and then, hopefully, bringing about change by offering alternatives to expensive and time consuming birthday parties.  Parents allowing birthdays to be out of control is really only a symptom of a much bigger problem, that of overindulgent parents and the sense of entitlement it develops in their children.  With entitlement, children may begin to believe that money and the things it can buy mean happiness and love and that it is the responsibility of the parents to provide bigger and splashier parties or gifts.  It is a problem that needs to be addressed on many levels, but providing sensible birthday parties can certainly be a start.

The “Birthdays Without Pressure” website asks the questions:  What is out of control?  Why have birthday parties gotten out of control?  What are the consequences?  And what can parents do?  The site also shares real life examples of overindulgent birthday parties.  There is a place on the site where others can share stories about out of control birthday parties they have witnessed.  More importantly, there are ideas listed to help people create their own sensible birthday celebrations.  There are also ideas on how to keep gifts from getting out of control and still other ideas for family birthday rituals.  Though I’ve never heard of a 10 million dollar birthday party happening in my area, I have been aware of some parents who felt frustrated and even a little angry when some of their young guests expressed dissatisfaction at the type of party being offered.  I think it is a topic well worth exploring.