The Dumpling Turns Four: A Not-So-Scary Halloween Birthday Bash

I was able to get away with not throwing the Dumpling a birthday party last year, but not anymore. Having attended countless birthday celebrations of her friends, the Dumpling had specific requests of how she wanted to celebrate her fourth birthday.

Between a My Little Pony or Halloween themed bash, the Dumpling surprising chose the latter — probably because she wanted to wear her princess costumes. So this year, we threw another not-so-scary Halloween birthday party.


Invitation

I sent out an electronic mummy-themed invitation to set the tone of the party. As much as I love physical invitations, digital ones are just so much easier to send and track…not to mention more environmentally friendly!

Mummy invitation created in PowerPoint.

Party Favors

Goody bags are necessary evils because the kids get so excited about them…for about 15 minutes. I tried to keep the items practical and within the budget of $2-3 per bag. My strategy was to buy items in sets and then separated each into individual gifts. Below are a few ideas I considered:

I stuffed each bag with candy, a sheet of temporary tattoo, and tied everything together with either a headband (for girls) or bow ties (for boys).


Decorations

I always make my own bunting because it’s inexpensive to create custom text and colors to match my decor.

Personalized bunting created in PowerPoint.

I also purchased a few small pumpkins and simple decorations from Amazon that I put up a few hours before the party.

Thank you to C-cakes for these bite size cupcakes!

Games & Activities

Along with a trampoline and bouncy castle that came with the venue rental, we played games to keep the kids entertained. I had prizes prepared for the winners, and theoretically every child had a chance to win something. Unfortunately there were still a few tears because everyone wanted to be winners at the same time…lesson learned for the next party!

Wrap a Mummy: We divided the kids into groups and provided them with two rolls of toilet paper. The team who finished wrapping an adult with the toilet paper (covering head, hands, body, and legs) won.

Pumpkin Relay Race: Each kid must race while balancing a pumpkin on his/her head.

Hot Pumpkin: Similar to hot potato, each kid must pass the pumpkins around. Whoever was holding a pumpkin when the music stopped, was out.

Craft Station: I set up a small table with crayons, coloring sheets, and craft supplies. This little corner surprisingly became a huge hit!

A station to make Halloween masks and cards.

A big thank you to everyone who came to celebrate. Happiest birthday to my little Dumpling, who really isn’t so little anymore!

My little Dumpling turns four!

Make Lantern Favor Boxes From Red Envelopes

The Dumpling’s playgroup recently asked all of the parents to bring in treats for a Chinese New Year party. Me being…well, me, I spent more time thinking about the presentation and packaging than what to actually bring. It just so happened that jigg brought home packs of red envelopes from work, so I decided use them as the base material for the project. I remembered making paper lanterns when I was a kid—with a bit of tweaking on my end, they turned out to be great goody bags!

Materials

  • Large red envelopes made out of quality paper (avoid the flimsy, small envelopes—they won’t be sturdy enough)
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Directions

Step 1: Cut off the envelope as indicated in the picture below. Discard the envelope flap on top and the very thin strip on the bottom. There are now three pieces to work with: the large piece will form the body of the lantern; the medium piece will form the base; and the small one at the bottom will form the handle.

Step 2: Fold the large piece of the envelope in half horizontally. Optional: Make a vertical fold down the middle to mark where the center is.

Step 3: Cut strips starting from the bottom (folded side) to form a fringe but stop approximately 2 cm from the top edge. Do not cut all the way through! (Tip: To get more evenly spaced strips, first cut down the middle along the vertical fold to create two halves, then down the middle again to create quarters, then down the middle again to create eighths.)

Step 4: Unfold the envelope and fluff the strips outward.

Step 5: Using the small piece of the envelope (from Step 1), open it up like an “O” and glue both sides to the top edge of the lantern.  Optional: Cut open the “O” to adjust for a longer strap before gluing.

Step 6:  Using the medium piece of the envelope (from Step 1), cut open the folds on both sides to create two strips.

Step 7: Glue the strips into a cross shape and loosely fold the flaps to the size of the lantern’s bottom base. 

Step 8: Glue the flaps to the inside bottom of the lantern. The base would most likely not be a perfect fit, so adjust the flaps before the glue dries as a workaround.

Step 9: Fill the inside with several pieces of bite size candy or chocolate coins. Be careful not to overload the lantern—the weight capacity would be dependent on the strength of the paper stock and glue.

Tip: I churned out over a dozen goody bags during the Dumpling’s nap time. The trick to mass producing these quickly is to make one lantern from beginning to end to get familiarize with the process. Then I did everything in assembly line fashion—meaning, I did all of Step 1, then all of Step 2, and so forth.

Happy Chinese New Year!

DIY Party Doesn’t Mean Doing EVERYTHING Yourself

A nice thing about throwing a party for my two year old is that the Dumpling is still too young to realize that the festivities are for her. That meant I had 100% say in the theme and got to live vicariously through my daughter. The result was a mint green, pink, and gold celebration that I would have liked if I were two going on 32.

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The Dumpling’s mint green, pink, and gold party!

I love making my own party decorations because I can customize every detail on a budget. But I sometimes take the DIY aspect a bit too far—to a point where I thought “doing it yourself” meant doing everything yourself. For example, I was so stressed planning the Dumpling’s first birthday party last year that I had anxiety attacks (and poor jigg was on the receiving end of most of them) because I was pressed for time.

To ensure that I enjoyed every moment of my party crafting this year, I made a list of everything that needed to be done, took on only the projects that I wanted, and sought help for everything else—tasks that I didn’t want to do, am not good at, or were time-consuming and didn’t provide value. While I gained convenience and time at the expense of higher costs, the trade off made sense given my hectic schedule.

Have Someone Else Do the Set Up and Clean Up

On the top of my list was renting a venue because after hours of prepping followed by several more of hosting, the last thing I wanted to do was cleaning. We rented out Good Day Play Cafe, an indoor playroom that was perfect entertainment for our little guests and parents. Their tiered party packages and a la carte options offer a variety of services across different price ranges. The staff was phenomenal and helped with the set up, provided food for the kiddos, and of course, the clean up.

Playroom at Good Day Play Cafe.

The staff helped set up and provided fun table cloths and utensils to match my theme.

Budget friendly thought: Host the party at home and hire cleaners to come afterwards.

Delegate Your Weakness

My strength is in design, not baking. When it came you dessert, I was more than happy to seek professional help rather than spend time learning to bake and sculpt gum paste (and worry whether my creations would be edible).

By chance, I was browsing through Instagram three days before the party when I saw my  my friend’s gorgeous dessert creations and immediately fell in love. I gave her free reign on the design and was ecstatic with the results! One of the beauty of hiring a professional is that she knows what she’s doing and didn’t need much guidance from me.

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Custom handcrafted green, pink and gold cupcakes to match my party decorations

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Add personalized banners and flags to cupcakes for a custom look.

Budget friendly thought: Decorate plain cakes or cupcakes with personalized banners and flags.

Use Pre-Made Decorations

How housewives felt about instant cake mixes back when the product first came to market was how I initially felt about pre-made party decorations: it’s cheating. Then I realized that I didn’t want to spend hours cutting up tissue paper, so I bought a pre-made (but unassembled) party kit from Amazon that came with tassels, decorative straws, and pom pom.

Budget friendly thought: Amazon offers a variation of what is included in their party kits, so explore their sets rather than buying pieces individually.

Focus on the Fun Part!

Delegating out certain tasks freed up more time for me to focus on designing.

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Invitation to the Dumpling’s Birthday and Halloween play date. 

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I realized after the party that I forgot to make a banner with her name. Oops.

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Flags and pom pom wands.

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Favor bags for the little guests.

Remember that Time is Valuable!

People often asked me where I found the time to throw a DIY party as a full time working mom. If there’s one thing motherhood has taught me, it’s time management. When “free time” is scarce, I made sure the it was used efficiently by focusing on my strengths and what made me happy; everything else was a distraction. Crafting is supposed to be fun and therapeutic and I intend to keep it that way!

Easy DIY Photo Prop to Keep Your Toddler Entertained For Pictures

Ever since the Dumpling became mobile, she doesn’t stay still in one position for more than a few seconds. This makes taking photos tricky because she’s constantly trying to break free, and I end up with pictures that look like I’m torturing my own kid.

These days I often look to distract her with things that she can hold, but the challenge is to find something that doesn’t look like an out-of-place prop in pictures. The answer came to me during the Dumpling’s birthday weekend when I gave her a pom pom wand from her decoration display, and she waved it around like a happy cheerleader for a good five minutes! That’s almost like forever in hyperactive toddler time.

The wands make pretty party decorations.

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They also double as fun, colorful photo props!

I subsequently used the wands again at her daycare birthday party and ended up with a squad of little cheerleaders!

Pom Pom and Tassel Wand Instructions 

Supplies:

  • Tissue paper
  • Decorative straw (Mine came as part of a decoration kit I bought for the Dumpling’s party, but regular straws would work too )
  • Scissors

Assembling the wands are easy and mirror the construction of a regular tissue paper garland (there are tons of tutorial online.) The only difference is that instead of stringing them together, I tuck each tassel into the straw.

  1. Cut a piece of tissue paper to approximately 5″ by 12+”. Exact dimensions are not that important since I made the pom poms in varying sizes. I had fun experimenting with different lengths and found that shorter fringes make fluffier pom poms while longer fringes make flowier, streamer-like ones.
  2. Fold the paper in half.
  3. Cut strips about 1/2 inch wide towards the fold to form the fringe, but don’t cut all the way! Leave about 1 inch uncut before reaching the fold.
  4. Open up the tissue paper and roll.
  5. Fold in half and insert (more like forcefully shove) the folded end into the straw.

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Best Party Favor For Under $1

Finding the right gift to use as a favor has always been one of my biggest party planning hurdles. It feels like I’m searching for a unicorn when I’m looking for something that meets ALL three of my following criteria:

  1. Practical: The gift should be useful, not something the kids play with once and toss into recycling.
  2. Fun for most ages: Since my guests range from babies to toddlers to young children, the gift should ideally be appealing to a wide demographic.
  3. Affordable: My goal is to keep each item under $3.

My strategy is to come up with a list of things that I use with the Dumpling on a regular basis, then filter out items that are too age specific, and try to purchase them in bulk for volume discounts.

For example, I gifted headbands and bow ties for the Dumpling’s first birthday last year. Both have re-use value, are available in sets, and can be used with children of all ages. (I use the Dumpling’s headband as a scrunchie …and I’m 32.)

Cookie Cutters Are Useful, Fun, and Cheap!

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I dropped a cookie cutter into a handmade gift bag labeled with the child’s name.

Cookie cutters made the cut for the Dumpling’s party favor this year because they knock all three criteria out of the park. I thought of the idea after an old set unexpectedly received a lot of mileage in our household recently. While prices range drastically depending on shapes and materials, I opted for a box of 24 stainless steel cutters for a whopping $8.50 on Amazon. (I didn’t purchase a replica of what I have since I didn’t need 100 cutters!) Because the package comes in an assortment, I labeled each gift bag with the child’s name and assigned a pattern for everyone. This ensured that the design is gender appropriate and siblings do no get the same thing.

The cost of each favor came out to $0.35 each!

My original set of 100+ cookie cutters.

Activities With Cookie Cutters

Teach ABCs, Shapes, Numbers, Etc.

I initially dug my cookies cutters out because the set contains plastic molds of all 26 letter that I wanted to use as alphabet “blocks” with the Dumpling. They served my purpose because 1) they look enough like toys to pique my toddler’s interest; 2) they are light and easy to grab; and 3) they are movable to form short, simple words.

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The Dumpling is starting to get into her ABCs.

Cut or sculpt food

I subsequently found myself using the other shapes to make meal time more interesting. They can be used to cut through bread, pancakes, cheese, sliced fruits, or anything soft.

Cut heart shaped sandwiches for a ladies’ tea party.

Make heart shaped pancakes.

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Mold rice into fun animal shapes.

Stamp and Stencil

The Dumpling used the shapes as stamps to create repeating pattern with finger paint.

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Simple shapes work well.

Ideas from Around the Web

Turn cookie cutters into ornaments

Hang them up as they are (thediydreamer.com)

Wrap the cookie cutters in baker’s twine (cutesycrafts.com)

Add washi tape for decorative effect (anightowlblog.com)

Add some decorative background with festive prints (itallstartedwithpaint.com)

Use cookie cutters to shape other materials

Shape pipe cleaners to create bubble wands (redtedart.com)

Shape pipe cleaners to grow crystals (onelittleproject.com)

Use cookie cutters as molds in other projects

Upcycle old crayons (onelittleproject.com)

 

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Kid’s Birthday Parties Are Stupid But I Keep Throwing Them!

The Dumpling is turning two years old in less than a month, and I’m currently in a full party planning frenzy. My dining room table is taken over by scraps of paper, half assembled favor bags, and experimental decorations that are at the edge of becoming either Pinterest wins or fails.

I often question why I invest so much effort into something that the Dumpling won’t remember. Before becoming a mom, I thought that kid’s birthday parties are stupid. Now that I have a little one, I still think they are. jigg is personally against the social extravagance and wants nothing to do with them. As a result, leaving me alone and babysitting the Dumpling are his forms of support.

A Look Back at the Dumpling’s First Birthday

Planning the Dumpling’s first birthday was my first DIY project after an almost two year hiatus. It was also a personal test to see if I still have any creative juice left after exhausting all my energy into motherhood. I always thought having children was another milestone to a fulfilling and meaningful life, but motherhood ended up feeling more like a chore. Since giving birth, my days revolved around nursing, pumping, changing diapers, and working. In a depressing reality that I didn’t want to admit, I felt tied down because of the things I gave up to make room for my daughter. I never thought of myself as an “I can’t” person, but I became one.

“I can’t go to happy hour because I have to go home to take care of my daughter.”

“I can’t meet you for dinner because the Dumpling’s bedtime is 7pm.”

“I can’t go shopping because I have to pump/nurse every three hours.”

“I can’t meet you in the city because I can’t carry the baby, the stroller, and the diaper bag on the train.”

“I can’t leave the baby at home because I want to spend more time with her.”

“I can’t take on this project because I don’t have time.”

“I can’t [insert activity] because I’m so tired.”

Even as I revisit my reasons now, I still believe they were legitimate and can sympathize with my past self. However, I knew that if I didn’t drag myself out of this mentality, I would eventually lose myself.

My road to self re-discovery started with crafting because it didn’t violate my “I can’t” reasons; I had no excuses. Honestly it could have been anything – cooking, baking, photography, writing, piano, etc. I used the Dumpling’s birthday party as my objective and immersed myself into making it happen. Again, it could have been any occasion; it just happened that the Dumpling’s birthday was around the corner when I had the epiphany. I took every opportunity during the Dumpling’s nap times on weekends to create banners, tassels, favor boxes, and other party decorations. I could have easily bought everything on Amazon or Etsy, but I was insistent on making my own. In the end, I managed to pull together a not-so-scary Halloween-ish themed orange and black celebration.

The truth was that the party was as much for me as it was for the Dumpling. It boosted my confidence and helped me rediscover the things I loved before my daughter overtook my life.

It turned out that I can!

As I undertook new arts and crafts projects, I began merging my hobbies with spending time with my daughter so that I was able to derive fulfillment simultaneously in both. I sculpted with play dough, built a cardboard theater, penned a silly poem, made a board book, turned my daughter’s finger painting into a coffee table book, and started writing again. One project led to another, and I’m now an aspiring mommy blogger who sees the Dumpling as my muse.

As unnecessary and extravagant as I still think kid’s birthday parties are, I will continue throwing them as yearly celebrations of everything my daughter and I have achieved together. I also look forward to the day when the Dumpling is old enough plan and bring her own parties to life. The task my seem daunting for a little girl, but I will be able to teach her that she also can!