When planning a double birthday party for my 8 and 10-year-old boys, there was never any doubt as to its theme. In fact, there seems to be very little doubt that there is one pastime that unites the children of “Generation Z”: Pokemon. It’s the lingua franca of grade school-aged boys all over the world. My sons have been known to meet other boys for the first time and, after a whiff of introduction, become deeply embroiled in deck battles that last for hours.
As I was in the early planning of this party, I recalled a birthday party my daughter Christine attended recently. The whole thing consisted of a trampoline, a birthday banner, and a box of a dozen donuts. Christine had the time of her life. Reflecting on the goodness of this kind of simplicity for kids’ birthday parties (which can get WAY over the top, right?), I originally wanted my boys’ Pokemon party to be ultra chill, with no frills. However, it’s pretty hard to break away from my usual go-big-or-go-home approach to party throwing. As much as I kept telling myself to keep it simple, I definitely overshot. I’d say the end result was medium-fancy, not quite Pinterest-perfect, but with some themed pizzazz (because I justcan’thelpmyself when it comes to themed parties). But most importantly, it was FUN!
Here’s the rundown of my boys’ special day!
First things first: Pokemon-themed food.
Since there are something like 800 Pokemon (all with ridiculous, made-up-sounding names), there’s no end to the punny takes you can get on Pokemon-themed food. My boys helped me think up the following menu:
Bronzong Broccoli Salad (based on this recipe, which barely resembles a vegetable but tastes incredible)…
Mega Punch (just cran-raspberry juice & sparkling water–see? I kept some of it simple!)
Pokemon Cake (no themed name here, just a chocolate cake topped with some plastic Pokemon figurines by boys graciously allowed me to borrow):
Pika-Chewy Granola Bars (party favor)
For party favors, I’m always a fan of sending kids home with something either healthy or useful, rather than junk food or made-in-China toys that will get thrown out the next day. So for this party’s favor, I made a pan of Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Granola Bars, wrapped them individually, and slapped them with the name “Pika-Chewy Granola Bars.”
This is one place the party stayed pretty uncomplicated. After all, my motto for decorating for kids’ birthday parties–or any parties, really–is “use what you got.” No need to go out and buy a ton of Pokemon decorations when plenty of the toys my kids already have can serve that purpose! That’s where our Pikachu “centerpiece” came from: stuffed animals surrounded by trading cards. Done and done.
Add to that some red-and-white chevron streamers and the birthday table was set.
Another way to use the actual Pokemon cards as decoration was to stick them in some faux grass.
And finally, no party at our house is complete without a themed sign, courtesy of an internet printable photo and some craft paper:
The great thing about a Pokemon birthday party is that, assuming kids bring their own Pokemon cards, there’s really not much else by way of activities you need to provide. And I say “assuming” they’ll bring their cards because my kids seem to do so to every conceivable event–like church. You know, just in case there’s a break in the worshiping and we have a quick moment to play a Jigglypuff vs. a Garbodor.
In the invitation to my boys’ party, we put a note that everyone could bring Pokemon cards if they had any–and if not, that was fine, too. For those kids who didn’t have any, all the boys did well sharing so that everyone could play deck battles galore.
Our other primary activity for the party was to set up a giant screen my husband borrowed from work to let the boys play Pokemon video games on. It was a huge hit, and it *may* still be in our living room for us grown-ups to watch movies on until his workplace needs it back.
And finally, present-opening took some time, of course…
…along with singing “Happy Birthday” and eating cake and ice cream.
A big happy birthday to my two wonderful, Pokemon-loving boys!
My husband Anthony and I have been married for over twelve years now, and throughout our marriage, we’ve always made it a priority to have a weekly date night. I can’t sing the praises of this practice enough. It has provided us regular time and space to talk, given us something to look forward to throughout the week, allowed us to do try some fantastic restaurants and do some truly awesome activities, and probably helped us keep our sanity in the midst of raising three kids.
And sometimes, for extra fun, we go on dates with other people.
Wait, I mean, like, double dates! Dates with two other people. But we’re still with each other. You know.
Recently my best friend Joy and her husband Bryce invited us on a double date, which we knew would be a great time, since 1.) They’re delightful people with goofy senses of humor, 2.) We’ve hung out for years and even vacationed together once, and 3.) On one of our double dates we actually came up with an idea for a new invention called “Fingie,” which is a finger you put on YOUR finger when you need to do disgusting tasks but keep your own finger clean.
See? I told you they were fun.
We didn’t have any particular plan for the double date at first–except for sushi, because Sushi Kee is always a no-brainer–so I tried to think of something that would be interactive but still low-key. As I got to thinking about the location of the sushi place, I realized that Ikea was close by. And hey, if you can do a mall scavenger hunt and have a good time with a gaggle of kids under ten, then a scavenger hunt with adults in the land of Scandinavian home improvement seemed like a guaranteed winner of a date night.
Using several ideas from a post by Natalie at A Beagle and a Baby, and with some input from Joy, I put together a list of 15 items to either collect in the store or take pictures of by the end of the hunt. After our sushi dinner, we headed to Ikea, where we divided and conquered! (Divided into couples and conquered the labyrinth of Swedish-designed furniture and tchotchkes we never knew we needed.)
Some of the highlights of our hunt included…
Anthony in dishwashing paradise with twelve of his favorite scrubbing brushes (to fulfill the clue of a photo with twelve matching items).
Me being “surprised” on the toilet. P.S. Someday I want to start a new website, www.surprisedonatoilet.com. It would just be a photo gallery of people, preferable celebrities, getting, well, you know. I think it could go viral.
Anthony’s first attempt at “pushing a cart the wrong direction” (clue 15)…
Only to be clarified by this type of pushing a cart the wrong direction:
Me tackling clue #8 (“team member hiding in some greenery”), which I must say felt pretty stealth. In the future, if my home is ever broken into by intruders and I need to hide, I’m going to remember that a corner behind a fake potted plant is an excellent choice.
And finally, my favorite. Anthony feeding a french fry (which just happened to be left in the cafe) to a stuffed lion (who just happened to have his mouth open as if awaiting food):
All in all, it turned out to be a hilarious, super fun double date. Thanks, Joy and Bryce!
If you’re looking for a fun activity to get you out of a date night rut, need something to do indoors during inclement weather, or just love Ikea, check out this free printable of an Ikea Scavenger Hunt list. I’d love to hear about your experience if you do!
When I told my dear friend Julia I wanted to host her baby shower, I knew it would have to be a very special event. Julia is one of the most unique women I know. In the six years since I’ve known her, she has participated in an array of activities that have convinced me she is a rockstar, and one tough cookie. Let’s see, there’s the competitive boxing, the volunteering at the Iditarod, the tilapia raising, the professional pastry making, and the traveling to African countries on a much-coveted scholarship, to name a few. And somehow, in the midst of all these activities, she has managed to meet a great guy, fall in love, get married, and start a family! There was no way a run-of-the-mill, girly girl baby shower would be appropriate for this mommy-to-be and her little one. As I spent a little time thinking about Julia, it didn’t take long to settle on an idea. To celebrate someone who owns an undisclosed number of stuffed raccoons and spent the first six months of her married life working as a dog musher in Alaska, a Woodland Creatures Baby Shower was pretty quickly my top choice. I have to say I had a super fun time planning this event and it seemed to go over extremely well with the many family and friends who joined us at my home yesterday.
Here are some of the highlights of this special day, from food to decor to games!
I’m a big believer that an invitation is the first opportunity to set the tone for an event. Given the choice and the means, I always choose a mailed paper invitation over anything electronic. Cause who doesn’t love getting real mail? And perhaps invitees will actually save a paper invitation as a keepsake from a special occasion. I found these adorable critter baby shower invitations here on Zazzle. P.S. Never pay full price on Zazzle. Wait a few days and they will always have a coupon code prominently displayed at the top of the site.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but allow me to say that if you’re throwing a Woodland Creatures Baby Shower, make your life easy by re-purposing any pinecone or pine tree-themed items you might have in your Christmas decorations! Also, if you have kids, looting their stuffed animals for decor is totally okay.
I found these lovable woodland creature wall stickers online at Target. They doubled as a gift for Julia to put in baby’s room.
Pictures of baby animals are simple to print off the internet and frame.
I didn’t get any photos of the brunch spread in its entirety (waaah!), but the menu (pictured above) included:
Woodland Berry French Toast Casserole
Ham and Asparagus Quiche (made with major modifications to this recipe)
“Little Critter” Cheese Ball
Squeee! It’s a hedgehog-shaped cheese ball! I genuinely think this was people’s favorite menu item. Let’s see more pictures of it, because this may be my one and only chance to ever use the hashtag #hedgehogcheeseball, and I want to make it worth it.
Not only was this little critter a big hit for its goofy look, it was also delicious! I mixed 16 oz. cream cheese (8 oz. full-fat and 8 oz. Neufchatel), 1 1/2 c. cheddar, 4 sliced green onions, 4 crumbled strips of bacon, 1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire, 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, 1/4 tsp. onion powder, and 1 tsp. dill, shaped it into a vaguely balloon-shaped mound, and adorned the exterior with sliced almonds and pecan halves for feet.
Always a go-to for parties, especially a brunch like this shower, fruit trifle is an excellent way to make a plain fruit salad look extra fancy.
Owl-Shaped Crudites with Ranch
“Stop,” they all said. “NO MORE ANIMAL-SHAPED FOODS!” But I could. not. stop. This owl-shaped veggie tray was just too whimsical and fun.
Birch Log Chocolate-Caramel Cake
I wish I could claim credit for this idea, but it was inspired by this impressive post on The Cake Blog. Following their instructions, I made “birch bark” by painting the striations of a birch tree with melted semisweet chocolate on parchment paper, then brushing melted white chocolate over it. Once hardened, I think it made for a pretty good imitation of the lovely birch trees found in our woodland creatures’ homeland! The cake underneath was chocolate with caramel frosting.
I think the mommy-to-be liked it!
Newsflash: most people do not like cheesy shower games. I know I don’t, and I knew Julia wouldn’t. So my goal in coming up with games for this shower was for them to be 1. actually fun and 2. result in something of value Julia could keep after the fact. Cause if you think about it, we’ve all done the belly measuring or the chocolate bars in diapers, and after all was said and done, what did we really gain? Not much. And what did we lose? Our dignity.
When I stumbled across this idea, it was love at first Buzzfeed article. The concept: pass out unprinted diapers and markers to guests and have them decide what funny messages or pictures they’d like the future parents to see during diaper changes. Yes, I realize we were taking perfectly pristine, dye-free diapers and putting dye all over them, but I tell you what, it was awesome.
I loved that this activity gave guests the chance to be creative and also sent Julia home with two packs of usable diapers.
Each guest was also given a clothespin to hang her decorated diaper on display for all to see on a tulle banner. Some of them were so funny!
Baby Animal Names GameTo go along with our baby animals theme, the classic “name that baby animal” matching game seemed in order. I couldn’t find any online that I really liked, so I made one myself. Here’s a free printable version of it if you like it, too!
The gift opening portion of a shower can get a little long for everyone except the honoree, especially when the pile of loot is as big as this.
To give guests something to do while Julia opened her many wonderful gifts, I printed off these Mad Lib-style “Wishes for Baby” sheets from Pop Sugar.
I confess, I read a few people’s responses after I collected them. Some were tender and sweet, some were random and hilarious. I hope they end up in the baby book or somewhere special, because they were such a neat outpouring of love for this little person and his or her parents.
Julia, it was an honor (and tons of fun) to throw this shower! And Little Critter, we can’t wait to meet you soon!
When I was a kid, the highlight of my Christmas season was an event my mom hosted every year: a gingerbread house making party with all of my cousins. I’m one of twelve cousins on my mom’s side, and from somewhere around 1985 on, everyone descended upon our house one Saturday every December armed with empty milk cartons and visions of Kit-Kats and Rolos dancing in our heads. After a pizza lunch, we all knew the drill: slather a plate with frosting, affix your milk carton, cover with graham crackers, and go to town.
I’m sure it started out as a simple affair, but by the time I got to high school, it turned into the Christmas equivalent of teenagers trick-or-treating. Which is to say an all-out, no-holds-barred candy extravaganza. I remember my pre-teen boy cousins locked in a competition to see who could fit the most candy on the one square foot of space afforded by a Chinet plate. I also remember them breaking their chocolate Santas into pieces and strewing his body parts around their houses’ yards, covered in red sprinkles as blood. Grandma may have gotten run over by a reindeer, but poor old St. Nick suffered an even grimmer fate at the gingerbread house party.
Now that the youngest of my cousins are now in their late 20s, it’s been a very long time since I’ve gotten to participate in a graham-crackers-and-milk-carton gingerbread house party. This year, my kids are ages 5, 7, and 9 (old enough not to dump entire bottles of red hots on the floor and young enough to think this activity is cool), so I thought it would be a lot of fun to invite the neighborhood kids over one afternoon after school for a version of this classic party. And it totally was!
Since kids tend to get overloaded with candy this time of year (and since I didn’t really want to see a recreation of my cousins’ candy landfill), I decided to make this party pretty simple, and even (what?!) a little healthy. I offered fresh raspberries, coconut, and dried cranberries as some of the decorating options, and kept the candies to a minimum. Spice drops, M & Ms, candy canes, and chocolate Santas were the only actual candies. And no one complained! Everything but the coconut completely disappeared by the end.
I have to say I really enjoyed the simplicity of this time with my kids and their friends, and that I was able to throw it together on short notice. As a wise person once said, a party doesn’t have to be perfect to be a lot of fun. I think the seven kids crowded around my kitchen table yesterday felt the same way.
So if you, too want to host your own Simple Gingerbread House Party this Christmas season, it’s not too late! All you need is:
1 Chinet or other sturdy plate per child
1 empty pint carton per child
1 tub of frosting per child
Graham crackers (2 boxes was enough for 7 kids)
Toppings (Healthier ideas include fresh fruit, dried fruit, pretzels, nuts, or even cereal.)
And for easy cleanup, I recommend a disposable tablecloth!
When I was a senior in high school, a friend who was turning 18 decided to have a video scavenger hunt for his birthday. Using a clunky ’90s over-the-shoulder video camera, our team had to collect videos of ourselves doing (mostly embarrassing) activities. All I can say is it’s a good thing Facebook wasn’t around back then, because there would definitely be some compromising footage of me running into an IHOP and screaming “I hop! I hop!” while jumping up and down and pounding my fists like a hysterical zoo animal.
The years have gone by, and despite the mortifying experience described above, I have continued to enjoy scavenger hunts, both traditional ones and those that involve video or photos. They have just the right blend of competition and discomfort that makes for adventure. On a mission trip in college, my roommate and I sent our friends on a rhyming clue hunt around Bergen, Norway. Then, when my kids were little, some friends and I got together for a stroller derby mall scavenger hunt. It was breakneck. Babies were hanging on to their stroller sippy cup trays for dear life and toddlers buried their faces in their blankies from the blaze of their mommies’ glory. Just kidding, it was pretty tame and ended with Orange Juliuses in the food court.
This summer, now that my kids are older and can get in on the fun, we recently invited several friends to join us for another mall scavenger hunt that both moms and kids of various ages could participate in. It combined some elements of a traditional scavenger hunt, like acquiring a ketchup packet or napkin from a specific restaurant, and photo items (since most people has a phone with a camera these days), like getting a picture of your team member/s dancing with a mannequin.
Overall, it was a great choice for an indoor activity when it was blazing hot out, and would also make a fun birthday party, couples’ night out, or youth group activity.
Here’s a free printable of a list of 15 items to find at any mall to use for your own scavenger hunt! Certain details have been left blank for you to customize the hunt to the mall you’re visiting.
For this particular hunt, I would recommend taking about 45 minutes. We had an hour and it was a little too leisurely.
You will need a digital camera/phone. Be sure to remind participants to bring theirs!
To start, meet at a designated point and go over rules, end time, and final meeting place.
Break into teams of approximately equal size.
Teams must stay together the entire duration of the hunt.
No running (unless you want to face the wrath of the mall cop).
Phones can be used only for photos. No internet usage allowed during the hunt.
To add a competitive edge, establish a prize for the winning team! Maybe the losing teams chip in to buy the winners a treat at the food court, or you could provide mall gift cards for the winners. Maybe you even bring dollar store tiaras and crowns to dub the winners King/Queen of the Mall. Go nuts. The sillier, the better.
So go enjoy your very own mall scavenger hunt, and let me know how it goes! You might just be surprised by some of the things you find–like these red pumps. What do you think, should I have bought them?