Summer Travel Party

Though it may sound shocking to East Coasters, I sent my kids back to school last Tuesday. (We start early here in Phoenix.) Despite *lots* of sibling conflict the last couple of months (the fights! the injuries! the drama!) ours was overall a good summer. With the kids back in school now, I’m looking back fondly on the good times our family had in May, June, and July.

One fun event was our Summer Travel Party.

The idea for this themed party is that, while we’d all love to trot around the globe visiting exotic locales over the summer, it’s just not always possible. So if we can’t get to Hawaii, England, or Italy, why not have them come to us? We invited our friends to select a destination they’d either traveled to in the past or would like to travel to in the future, then join us for a potluck of foods (and optional costumes) from that place.

Here’s how it went down.

The Decorations

I’ve been a major nerd for party decorating since college (see evidence here, here, and here) and this party proved no different. I decided to decorate each room of the house–well, the usable rooms, anyway, not my master bath or anything–as a different country. Starting with…

England

My family room went British for a day with the inclusion of some fun decor from across the pond, such as a Union Jack, red phone booth, a fun London pillowcase, and plenty of teacups and teapots.

Germany

Our family spent three months in Germany during the summer of 2017, so getting a tricked-out German kitchen was pretty simple stuff. This meant an old stein, photos from a German calendar, an old-timey print I got in Cologne, where we lived, a Bavarian flag tablecloth, and–the piece de resistance–an Oktoberfest head-in-the-hole banner (just in case someone didn’t wear a costume but still wanted a photo).

Mexico

Living in Phoenix, it’s not too hard to come by Mexican decorations, so our living room enjoyed a little mexi-makeover for this party. Streamers, a sombrero, some festive little llamas, and a serape table runner leftover from our Nacho Libre party did the trick.

Tropical IslandsĀ 

Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re visiting Hawaii while going to the bathroom?

That’s all I have to say about that.

The Food

Since this was a potluck, we enjoyed a lovely array of foods from around the world. Our family represented Germany, so we provided German beer, brats, and fixin’s. Others brought potato salad from Greece, rice and beans from Costa Rica, pizza from Italy, and more.

The costumes

Some of our guests were brave enough to dress in costume from a destination they’ve traveled to (or want to visit). Mostly, though, we got a lot of pictures with the Bavarian head-in-the-hole banner. šŸ˜‰

This party was a fun and whimsical way to hang with good friends and enjoy good food.

Want to host a summer travel party? I’d love to hear what country you’d represent!

Decades Dinner Party

In our family, when it comes to birthdays, I usually do my best to make the day special for whichever kid we’re celebrating. The many birthday parties of the last few years have included a Butterfly Tea Party for my daughter, a Star Wars party for my middle son, and a Pokemon-themed party for both my boys. But sometimes…I want a party for me.

To ring in my 36th year,Ā my husband and I invited a group of fun friends to a Decades Dinner Party. Everyone was asked dress in the theme of a decade of their choice and bring a shareable dish from their era. (We promised to be the 1920s.) After dinner, we would have an evening of dancing in the backyard studio my husband recently built to house his musical projects.

I knew it would be an enjoyable time, but I had no idea just how memorable it would turn out to be!Ā Our friends BROUGHT IT. From incredibly creative costumes to spot-on potluck sides, I was thoroughly impressed with their efforts.

So here’s the lowdown on this themed party, with food and decor suggestions for throwing your own Decades Dinner Party!

The Decor

1920s dining room

I don’t know about you, but as much as I love the glitz and glam of the 1920s, I don’t own a whole lot of household items that look like they came from a hundred years ago. I condensed everything I could find around the dessert table in my kitchen dining room. In addition to a Tiffany-style lamp and art nouveau print I happen to have, I went for a gold-and-black theme with table decor, plus some candlesticks. Then I tacked pages of 1920s-era posters torn out of an art book on the wall.

1940s bathroom

Much like my lack of flapper-era materials, I don’t own much (if anything) that screams 1940s. Not to worry, however! I deemed my bathroom the World War II zone–don’t think too hard about that–by printing off some funny old propaganda posters that seemed bathroom-appropriate.

1960s living room

The ’60s were a bit more doable for me, since we still have our trusty Yellow Submarine head-in-the-hole board leftover from our Beatles Singalong Party. (It’s not the kind of thing you let go of too easily.) This prop conveniently set the scene, with pictures my kids drew of the Beatles in its windows. From there, a tie-dye table runner seemed only natural. A ’60s centerpiece was a bit more difficult to come up with, but I ended up with this trippy ‘shroom house, a pink cake pedestal, and chunky colorful flower stickers all found at Michael’s.

To complete the look, I made a “Groovy” banner and scattered retro records around the room. (I knew hanging on to my mom’s old record collection would come in handy someday!)

1980s family room

Nothing says ’80s like bits of pop culture like Troll dolls and Rubik’s cubes. These toys graced the mantle in the family room, along with some throwback posters. Instant ’80s!

The food

Okay, I’ll admit I was enjoying the party a bit too much to get food photos. Nevertheless, as 1920s hosts, we provided:

Al Capone’s Secret Recipe Pizza–just pizza with a themed name–an easy main dish!

Waldorf Salad–a concoction from the Waldorf Hotel of apples, grapes, celery, walnuts, and a creamy dressing

Shrimp Cocktail–very popular in the 1920s, according to the Internet

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake–also popular in the early 20th century as commercial canning made “exotic” fruits like pineapple readily available

Of course, with the theme of the ’20s, we couldn’t do without some bootleg booze. To let everyone make their own gin cocktail, I provided some mixology instructions and a variety of ingredients.

Though I was expecting mountains of Jell-O as potluck sides, our friends thought way outside that box, bringing sloppy joes from the ’70s, broccoli salad from the ’80s, and apple pie from the ’50s.

The photo booth (and costumes!)

Who doesn’t love a photo booth? We set up a backdrop and photo station so guests could capture their amazing costumes. And they did not disappoint!

Some of the guys
Early ’90s perfection
Ultimate groovy ’60s
Some sweet ’70s
Spot-on ’60s
A ’50s Pink Lady and her favorite Greaser
So many kudos to these friends who came from THE FUTURE!! (The Zombie apocalypse-era is looking gooooood.)
…and your hosts, rocking our ’20s attire
Last but not least, group photo!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the not one but TWO couples who got super creative and showed up from the past (the cave people in front) and the future.

The dancing!

What can I say? To me, dancing makes a party. It was so fun to jam out to a playlist of songs from every decade from the 1920s through the ’90s.

I’d say the blurriness captures the ’60s vibe, amirite?

Apparently my dancing is 90% arms.

Obligatory ladies’ dance circle

My husband and me working on our 1920s moves.

After this party, I really don’t know what I’ll do to top it on my next happy birthday. Thanks again to the dear friends who made it so much fun!

Kids’ Mystery Dinner

Having attended summer church camp every year from third through eighth grade, I have a wealth of wonderful memories. Now that I’m a parent myself, thinking back on all the goofy stuff I used to do at “Teepee Village” in the forest near Prescott, AZ provides a surprising treasure trove of creative activities to do with my own kids. Over this past summer, when downtime hit, I’d reach into my camp memories to give my kids something to do–like drawing eyes and noses on their chins for ridiculous upside-down faces, for example:

And last night, with my husband out of town on business, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally recreate another favorite camp memory: the Mystery Dinner.

This is something I’ve always thought of fondly, with memories of teenaged camp counselors taking campers’ orders from sheets full of mysterious symbols, then rushing around to create haphazard, randomly chosen menus. I think I once ended up with a cup of spaghetti with a straw. Sound a bit bizarre? That’s because it is! If there’s one thing I know about kids, it’s that they love totally off-the-wall stuff–and, as a church camper, I was no exception. I was pretty sure my kids would get a major kick out of a Mystery Dinner, too.

To replicate the experience, I created menu sheets for each child–but not regular menus, mind you. These menus are made up of symbols, each of which stands for an unknown-to-the-kids food item, utensil, serving dish, or drink. I made sure to have a meal of three courses (chili, cornbread, and cake for dessert), with three utensils (fork, knife, spoon), three serving dishes (bowl, salad plate, dinner plate), and three drinks (milk, water, and juice).

I of course had a cheat sheet, ’cause there’s no way I was going to remember all 12 symbols.

To start the Mystery Dinner, each child got to circle one symbol from each category for their first course.

I then served them with the corresponding food, utensil, serving dish, and drink. This meant that my daughter, much to her delight, began her meal with a slice of cake…in a bowl…with a spoon. (I bit my tongue to overcome my nutritionist horror at feeding my child cake before dinner. It’s only one night, right?)

Once the first course was completed, each child got to use a different colored pen to circle his or her selections for the next course. (No repeating anything previously chosen.) My middle child got chili…on a salad plate…with a fork.

And my oldest enjoyed his cornbread…on a dinner plate…with a knife. (This is starting to sound like accusations in the board gameĀ Clue.)

When all was said and done, our Mystery Dinner was an absolute hit–even for those who had to eat cake with a knife and chili from a plate. My kids asked if we could have Mystery Dinner every week. (Um, no.)

To me, though, having Mystery Dinner on a Wednesday night–just because–added a jolt of fun and spontaneity to our week. Of course you could use this idea for a birthday party, sleepover, or even a whimsical dinner party for adults, but squeezing it in mid-week reminded me that we don’t need a special occasion to be creative–and we don’t even need to go to camp. šŸ™‚

Pajama Party Breakfast

When enough time goes by without throwing a party, I start to get a little antsy. Opening my home for entertaining is one of life’s greatest pleasures for me, but this past school year when I was working quite a few hours outside the home, my usual flair for party planning necessarily fell by the wayside. Now that I’m home freelance writing, however, and my kids are home for the summer, hosting events is finally a possibility again. So I was super excited this past week to have friends join us for a Pajama Party Breakfast.

I’m enormously blessed to be a part of a circle of friends who are all moms of kids at the same school. For three years now we’ve made time to hang out monthly (including the In-Home Yoga Ladies’ Night on the blog). During the summer we also regularly get together with our kids. It’s been wonderful to have a built-in group to go swimming with, exchange babysitting with–and invite over for parties!

This Pajama Party Breakfast was the perfect casual get-together for summer vacation. Everyone was instructed to come in their PJ’s bright and early for a big meal and some fun and games. About a dozen kids ended up coming, and judging by the fact that everyone stayed until lunchtime, I’d say it went over well!

Even though our version was a kids’ party, you could easily adapt this party idea for just about any group. Here are the details of our morning!

The Food

I wanted the food at our PJ party to accommodate all our guests, some of whom have food allergies, so I was careful to create a menu with gluten and dairy-free options…as well as both healthy and just-for-fun choices. Our menu included:

Red, White, and Blueberry Overnight French Toast

This bursting-with-berries, deceptively easy overnight French toast made for smooth sailing the morning of the party. Recipe here.

Apple Cinnamon Overnight Steel Cut Oats

When guests are arriving at 8:30 in the morning, overnight prep is where it’s at. In addition to making French toast ahead of time, I put these apple steel cut oats in the crock pot the night before the party and woke up to their amazing cinnamon-y smell the next day. This recipe is one I’ve used for ages from The Yummy Life–gluten-free, dairy-free (made with almond milk), and a delightfully nourishing bowl of comfort.

Fruit Trifle

Because it’s healthy, and because I make one of these at basically every party I ever throw.

Milk jug donut treats

Why, thank you, Pinterest, for such a whimsical idea for serving milk and donuts! These adorable treats were a huge hit.

Bacon

With nine boys in attendance, this breakfast meat disappeared in SECONDS.

And, obviously…

Ain’t no way we’re having breakfast without coffee. (And orange juice.)

Decor andĀ Activities

Fruit vases

At an event centered around eating, I always love incorporating food into decor. The appealing look of citrus stacked in glass lends a pop of bright color and a sense of freshness to any breakfast spread.

Newspaper coloring

When I think of the classic hallmarks of a leisurely breakfast, I think of lounging over coffee and the newspaper. (Though I’m sure kids in this day and age probably won’t have memories of comics in the Sunday paper, or Saturday morning cartoons, for that matter.) In the spirit of perusing the Sunday paper, I thought it would be fun to cover my dining room table with newspaper, especially the comics, and let the kids color all over them.

I mean, hey, when do they ever get the chance to draw all over the table?

The newspaper also served a double purpose as a tablecloth. (A much-needed one, as it turned out, when my son spilled a full cup of orange juice.)

Custom Crossword PuzzleContinuing the Sunday paper theme, what else is fun in the newspaper? The crossword puzzle, of course! For our party we had not just any crossword, but a custom one created on Education.com. To go with the theme of both breakfast and our kids’ school, I made sure to include clues they would know the answers to, like the name of our neighborhood pool and what grade a certain teacher teaches.

The girls about to start their puzzles.

Toothbrush to take home

Since after breakfast most people feel the need to brush their teeth, toothbrushes seemed like a most sensible take-away from this party. (I happen to brush my teethĀ before breakfast, but I know I’m a weirdo.) If nothing else, it’s always nice to have an extra toothbrush lying around, right?

 

With this event behind us, I can say I would totally host another Pajama Party Breakfast in the future. For a birthday or special celebration, it offers the sleepover feel without the hassle of an actual sleepover.

I’m pretty sure these kids would do it again, too. šŸ™‚

Stranger Things Party

If you haven’t heard of the instant cult classic Netflix seriesĀ Stranger Things, you just might have been living under a rock for most of 2017. The series about a group of middle school boys trying to unravel the truth behind mysterious events in their small Indiana town is a runaway hit. The highly anticipated second season was (finally) released October 27th–2 days ago–and people are lining up in droves to purchase Stranger Things-themed Halloween costumes, and, like us, host Stranger Things Halloween parties! My husband and I aren’t even super into the show (though we definitely enjoy it) but figured with all the hype, it would make a great theme to a little gathering at our house Halloween weekend. Last night we had a handful of people over to watch the newly released episodes.

Here are some of the themed foods, drinks, decorations, and activities from the party! I hope these ideas provide some inspiration if you plan to host a Stranger Things Party even after Halloween passes. It would still be fun to round up some friends to get communally creeped out (if you can find anyone who hasn’t watched it all by next week)!

THE FOOD:

You can’t have a campy TV-show-themed event without some cheesy foods to match!Ā Stranger ThingsĀ fansĀ know that the one food associated with the show is Eggo waffles, since Eleven (one of the main characters) eats them with obsessive exclusivity. Therefore, something with Eggos is a must for any Stranger Things party menu.

 

 

To make these Eggo Whoopie Pies, first whip up some cinnamon frosting. Mix a half cup of softened butter with 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, then add 2-3 Tbsp. milk, 1 tsp. vanilla, and 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon. Toast your way through a box of mini Eggo waffles and fill with frosting.

Voila!

And just because I can’t resist (and because they were so tasty), one more picture…

The great thing about themed foods is that you can always just make something up. For these brownies, we’re gonna go ahead and claim they’re Barb’s secret recipe and call it a day.

Add some store-bought (aka leftover from my kids’ classroom Halloween parties) sugar cookies,

 

Some appropriate-for-the-occasion plates,

and some popcorn for episode watching, and the spread is complete!

DRINKS:

Even though it’s primarily about middle schoolers, Stranger Things is a grown-ups’ show. So for a Stranger Things party, grown-up drinks will be involved, like…

The Maple Bourbon Smash. I decided that this cocktail, inspired by this Williams Sonoma recipe, would be better to let guests mix themselves, so I set up this mini cocktail station with bourbon, maple syrup, lemon juice, and mini Eggos for garnish. Why maple bourbon? Because it goes with Eggos, of course!

Grossed out yet? Eleven’s trademark nosebleed is such a major part of the show, it seemed like it needed to be incorporated into the party somehow. This “nosebleed punch” is one part cherry juice to one part ginger ale.

THE DECOR:

Ah, Internet. How obliging you are with your free printables. I found these “missing” posters for both Will Byers and Barb and taped them up liberally around my house for that genuine Hawkins, Indiana feel.

Found here.

Found here.

 

Since Eggo waffles featured prominently on the party menu, I wasn’t about to throw out their boxes! These served as a nice touch surrounding my dining room centerpiece.


And last, the piece de resistance of the whole evening, this DIY Joyce Beyers communication-with-her-undead-son alphabet/Christmas lights board.

Using some leftover tagboard from another party, I painted the alphabet just like Joyce (yes, that is my actual terrible handwriting) and strung some colored lights around it. Easy peasy!

ACTIVITIES:


Guests were encouraged to dress the part for the night, and we had a couple of takers! Here’s our friend Clint–er, Dusty–getting into the spirit. I totally forgot to give him his prize for best costume at the end of the night! Clint, I owe you.

And finally, the real reason everyone came over: the show! We set up a screen and projector borrowed from my husband’s work for a theater-style experience in our living room.

So…how many episodes have you watched so far? We stayed up late and got through five! Binge watching at its finest–just what shows like this were meant for. Well, that and goofy themed parties.