Saturday, June 29, 2013

First stop on our adventure: Grandma's House!

We are officially all moved out of our apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn!

Because we are not leaving on our road trip until July 8th, we are staying at my mother-in-law's in New Jersey until then. I brought my Keurig, there's a washer and dryer, a backyard, and an awesome park that we plan to check out soon, so it's not so bad here in the 'burbs... :)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Par-Tea to remember

Last month, my four year old daughter and I had the privilege of hosting a birthday party for one of her closest friends, Havilah, who turned five. I was so excited to finally be able to put together a truly "girly" party, and now I have promised my own daughter that for her sixth birthday (when she doesn't have to share a party with her baby brother anymore), she will also be given a beautiful tea party! Needless to say, she can't wait to turn six! :)

It is amazing how much you can do for a little girl's tea party! Armed with the plethora of craft and party supplies I have saved (hoarded) over the past few years, and even some from my wedding, I was able to do a lot with a little (money). And now that I have discovered Pinterest, the possibilities are endless and right at my fingertips. I started planning less than two months before the party (when I volunteered myself as Havilah's party planner.) I had these girly invitations I found for $1 a couple years ago, so I was grateful to be able to use them. I simply printed out the tea table clip-art and glued it on. 

The idea for having a "Tea Par-Tea" I saw on an invitation on Pinterest, so I can't take credit for that. The birthday girl's mom suggested using red and purple, so I incorporated those colors as much as possible. Looking through lots of tea party ideas and pictures, I thought that the ones that seemed old-fashioned were the cutest. It also helped that Maggy ("the mom") is quite the photographer and has a really nice camera. So the idea of taking "old-fashioned" (i.e. black and white) pictures just fell into place quite naturally. I set up a child-sized table with two chairs as the "photo op" area, set with my daughter's toy tea set and some adorable crocheted cookies and cakes I borrowed from a friend. The backdrop was a tall bookcase I covered in cheap "contact paper" from the dollar store with a floral print, and the birthday girl's white tulle curtains on either side. The plan was to get all of the girls' (dressed up) pictures during the course of the party, which worked out well, considering the fact that they didn't really want to stop "partying" to have their picture taken! My daughter and I had a little fun during the planning stage, while I tested to see what it would look like in black and white. 
pre-party fun
Here we are at the tea party, which was probably as much fun for me as it was for the girls!

me and Elli
Here is the guest of honor and "the mom" :) (You can tell that I took this picture with her really nice camera, as it is the only one off-center and out-of-focus! ) Sorry, girls! :)

Maggy and Havilah

Aren't they cute?
Considerations the mom and I agreed upon immediately were that the girls HAD to have hats, boas, fans, and possibly gloves.... where we would find those cheap, we didn't know! I find that when I set my mind to plan any event, things seem to fall into place because I keep the event in the back of my mind at all times (obsession), which makes it easy to find things when I am out shopping. Sometimes I don't know what I'm looking  for until I see it...but when I see it, I know it! [My husband, for one, loves it when I go shopping and don't know what I'm shopping for. ;)] Since the party was after the Easter season, I went looking for little hats (cheap). Having seen them at Target (in the dollar section too), I drove the 20+ minutes it takes me to get to the nearest one... and they were all gone! I was a little nervous because I didn't know where else to look, but the girls had to have party hats. Probably the same day or the day after that, my daughter and I scouted out the nearest dollar store, looking for ideas and bargains... and right when I was ready to leave, I saw them: adorable little hats that were even nicer than the others, and priced right at $1.25 each! :) And that, my friends, is why the Target ones were all gone... ;) 

The same day, I also went to Rite-Aid on a whim and founds bags of Easter candy (jelly beans, Robin's Eggs, Tootsie-Rolls, and Sweet Tarts) on clearance for about $.25 a bag... SWEET! Just as a side note, when I asked "the mom" what the party budget was, she said "whatever you spend is fine..." It's a good thing we are both frugal ladies, huh?! :) My goal was to spend as little as possible, and still make it amazing! At the dollar store that day, I also picked up some pearls for decor, small paper plates, and purple curling ribbon, and the day's total was still under $17!

all this for around $17

While we did look for feather boas and gloves, we couldn't find them at the right price. I did find some cute Asian fans at the dollar store, so I got a few to use during the photo shoots. We were going to take turns with the two pairs of gloves that Havilah already had, and just work with what we had. Thankfully, the birthday girl's doting aunt Molly went above and beyond, and shipped a box full of boas, fans, and gloves so that all eight girls could have a set! I'm so glad she did, because the colors were amazing, and I put up some hooks on the wall to display them. I think they gave the party decor the "wow factor" it needed, and they were my favorite part to set up. And the girls loved them too... except  my own daughter of course, who would not keep them on, and refused to get in the picture. Hey, we tried! :/ 

Here they are ( most of them) all dressed up!

Moving on to the other decorations.... One thing I did not want for this special party was boring, pre-made I went on Pinterest in search of something more original. My searches ended up including "paper baking cups" and "coffee filters"... and I never imagined I would find so many ideas for each! While many of them looked gorgeous, apparently you had to be Martha Stewart to execute them and make them look like the pictures (believe me, I tried). But I did find these coffee filter "flowers/pom-poms" which came out pretty good. In wanting to make them red, white, and purple, I put my daughter to work. Together we painted (first with watercolors, and then food coloring) LOTS of coffee filters (free, because both I and "the mom" had them laying around already) You can search for them on Pinterest, but here is how I ended up doing them:

watercolors worked best

These are from the dollar store too... so many uses!

After stacking the painted filters in alternating colors (probably about 20-30 per stack), I placed a paper doilie on top.

Then I put a threaded needle through the whole stack and then back again, so that I could tie the thread to hold it together. The thread also served as the means to hang the pom-poms up. 

Taking a few filters at a time, scrunch them up towards the middle until they stay ( don't use glue, I tried it) in place and keep doing this until all the filters are scrunched...the more random they are, the better it looks. 

This one was my favorite, hence its place of honor hanging from the chandelier! :) I think we made four of them all together, placing the other three on shelves for the party. Had our ceilings been lower, I would've hung them from the ceiling at different lengths. They were cute, and fun to make. 

Another homemade decoration was baking cup garlands. Using baking liner cups I purchased for the party, some I already had, some "the mom" had, and small paper doilies, I used a threaded needle to string these together, and found that if I put a small doilie, then a large (muffin) liner, a medium (cupcake) liner and a mini-cupcake liner, it kind of looked like a hat, so that became my pattern! These were somewhat time- consuming, so I only made two. 

A last minute addition to the decor, these baking cup flowers added a cute touch to the girls' chairs. We didn't have enough tulle or ribbon to make bows for the chairs, but these were an adorable (and cheap) substitute. 

Seeing that it was a tea party, I had to find tea cups for all eight girls, and we thought candy-filled cups would also be the perfect party favor. A  friend suggested we look at a thrift store, but there aren't that many nearby, especially ones that sell dishes! Fortunately, on one of my trips to the Jersey suburbs where the good dollar stores are (*smile*), I came across adorable mini-cups at two different stores. It was early May, so these Mother's Day sets were out. The only ones that didn't say "mom" on them were these mugs (which would work for favors) and the floral design (which looked more like tea cups), so I got eight of each! They were in sets of two for $1 or $1.25, so for  50-something cents apiece, I think I hit the jackpot! 


The mugs I filled with the clearance candy, wrapped them in tulle, and put them in a bed of Easter grass (also on clearance) inside treat boxes that I already had (free) that just happened to be red and purple! Viola! :) I also added a $.29 candy necklace to each box. So each favor cost us around a dollar, and the girls were impressed! The floral ones we used for the party, and I will save those for the future tea party. :)

I did not own any teapots, so the mom brought a couple over for decoration. I still needed some to serve the "tea" (which for little girls, was apple juice), so I stumbled upon two little beauties to start my own collection with. Given the fact that they were $4.99 each, it didn't matter if the girls accidentally broke them  (and they didn't!)  Even the three year olds loved serving themselves tea! 

here's one thing you actually want to be made in China!

Food ideas was another thing I searched for on Pinterest, but I knew we should keep it simple and serve only finger foods. I did make an exception, and put out a yummy salad for the moms to eat (which was a mix from Trader Joe's that was given to me, free!) So I did buy plastic cutlery from the dollar store for the adults. Otherwise, the menu included flower shaped turkey and mayo sandwiches cut out with a cookie cutter (ooh), cantaloupe and grapes, some on cupcake topper "skewers" which I already had, and some in cute baking cups, cheese and crackers, and tea biscuits (surprisingly, a big hit!) We kept in mind that 3-5 year olds are probably the pickiest eaters around, and planned the menu accordingly... We did, however, get questions and/or complaints about the cantaloupe and the mayo!! ;) 

stacked tea cups and plates worked great (got idea from Pinterest!)

After the girls breezed through their lunch, all of them couldn't wait for "dessert" (ha, most of them had been eating the candy from my centerpieces and making trips to the "candy buffet" already!)  We appeased them anyway and gave them cupcakes. The tea party cupcakes on Pinterest were much too elaborate and complicated for me with all the fondant and everything.... Hey, I dropped out of culinary school after six months for a reason and never made it to the baking classes... :/ Nevertheless, I do enjoy baking and [attempting] decorating cupcakes! I came up with something simple that I could pull off, and although there was some trial and error, they turned out pretty cute. In case you can't tell, they're little hats... ;) Made with round tea cookies, white Reese's peanut butter cups, and Fruit Roll-Up ribbons, they were really yummy! 

It was a complete sugar overload for the kids... Did I mention there were cookies?! And a candy buffet, which I saw at every tea party on Pinterest, but wasn't going to do. Fortunately for the birthday girl, who definitely has a sweet tooth, I had extra candy and also wanted to get rid of what we had in our cabinets! So this ended up right beside the party table, and was probably the girls' favorite feature! Hey, you only turn five once, right?!

I loved these candy tea bags made with real tea tags and wax paper!

Remember all that clearance candy? I used most of it in the centerpieces to add color to the table. The Robin's Eggs looked adorable, and held my makeshift parasols (skewers and doilies), and the jelly beans were perfect for holding the silk flowers that "the mom" brought over.

One thing I failed to mention is that the first thing we had the girls do was to sit down and color personalized placemats. I then collected them and snuck into my room to laminate them, so that they could take them home ready to use. They turned out really cute, and my daughter now uses hers every day! I simply printed these out on my computer, using clip art and putting a border around it. Simple and sweet! 

One girl was sick that day and couldn't make it, but the seven girls there (and two baby brothers) had a blast! I even heard one girl exclaim "this is the best party ever" (true story)... Probably the best compliment I could've received. I loved every minute (every hour) I spent preparing this party for a very sweet little girl, and would do it all again if given the chance (*hint hint* anyone need a party planner?) 

the finished table

While I'm not the type of mom who spends hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on extravagant parties, I do think they should be special, personal, meaningful, and unique... kinda like our kids! And when they're over, they should be recorded somehow (or blogged about) to keep the memories alive.

when they saw it all for the first time!

So Havilah, thank you for allowing me to help your mommy throw you this special tea par-tea! I enjoyed it so much, and I know you did, too. You and your friends laughed, played, took pictures, dressed up, and ate a huge amount of sugar... all while celebrating the day that God brought you into the world five years ago.   
May you have the best year yet! 

~Joanna (you know, Elli's mommy)~

[And all this in a 900 square foot apartment in Brooklyn]