Birthday Planning Secrets

by Alexi Wilbourn


“Welcome to Pixie Hollow” the banner will read, displayed in front of a 12-by-12-foot
white tent draped with winding vines and greenery. The girls will be given the opportunity
to change into intricate, colorful fairy gowns and decorate their own fairy wings, while the
parents will be whisked away to the “mommy room,” complete with desserts, beverages
and movies. Everything about the scene sounds like a fantasy movie, right down to
the life-sized fairy greeting everyone upon arrival. Except in most movies the fairy isn’t
handing out passes for the 18-foot water slide in the back yard.

From the biggest
bashes to the smallest celebrations, most parents know that children’s parties require
some planning. Yet even the best-laid plans can hit a snag or two, leaving the host with a
roomful of kids and the need for some quick, creative ideas. With preparedness for parties
being key, some “birthday veteran” moms share their party successes, mishaps and advice.


Lindsey Upchurch

Mother of Charlie, 4, and Cooper, 1


The biggest consideration for Lindsey Upchurch of
Woodstock when planning her son Charlie’s party is
the weather. She’s had surprisingly hot weather in mid-
September, so even though last year’s inflatable moonbounce
party was a success, Upchurch learned to hold
future parties earlier in the day. This year, Charlie’s
birthday party will be at a local playground, “which is
always hit or miss since you cannot reserve the space,”
she says. Upchurch plans to arrive early at the park and is
hopeful that everything will work out well for the birthday
boy and his approximately 25 guests. Since the party will
be held in the morning, she plans on serving coffee for the
adults, doughnuts, muffins, juices, water and some fruit.
This type of spread is also a budget-friendly option.
Upchurch chooses to bake cupcakes instead of a whole
cake to make life easier. “I have a cupcake stand and usually
buy plastic rings and use different colors of frosting,” she says. “This year we are having a Star Wars theme, so there
will be black-and-white cupcakes with Storm Trooper and
Darth Vader rings.” Her party favors will be
inflatable light sabers and candy from a
piñata. This is also an affordable way
for the kids to be entertained for the
duration of the party, costing less
than $3 a child.
Because Charlie’s party will be
at a playground, Upchurch doesn’t
plan on additional games, though
she may bring bread for the kids to
feed the ducks at the nearby pond.
In case of bad weather, the pavilion at
the playground is covered. Other than that,
Upchurch has no backup plan. She is confident that 4-yearolds
will have fun running around outside, pretending to be
Jedis with their light-up light sabers, even if it rains.

 

Keri Michaelis

Mother of Foster, 9, Luke, 8, and Nora, 3


Keri Michaelis of Johns Creek learned her party-throwing
ways by watching her mother own and run a successful catering
company for 12 years. Michaelis was taught that a great theme with
attention to detail could create fantastic parties from the smallest of
budgets. With three children of her own, she learned quickly that
creativity goes a long way in throwing a successful party.
One of Michaelis’ favorite birthday parties was for Foster,
her oldest son. The theme? Racecars. A far cry from the easily
accessorized Spider-Man and pirate parties, this
theme undoubtedly would send many mothers
heading for the hills, frantically scanning
the aisles of the nearest party supply store
for activities and decorations. Unruffled
by the request, Michaelis put her
imagination to work, giving each child
a spray-painted cardboard box, stickers,
and black paper plates. The task was for
each child to create his own “car,” using
the stickers to customize it and the paper
plates as wheels. Ropes were fashioned as
suspenders so the kids could wear their cars at
the party, complete with racecar driver helmets to race around the
neighborhood. For the food table, Michaelis used a black plastic
tablecloth and masking tape to make it look like a roadway,
finishing the spread off with a handful of Matchbox cars.


Trenise Grill

Mother of Cody, 9, and Karli, 5



Cake In the Box Norcross bakery 
founder Trenise Grill is known as the
“party guru” among her friends and
family. She’s been planning parties for
nine years and will make it her profession
in November. Her most recent project?
The aforementioned “Pixie Hollow”
Tinker Bell party for her daughter Karli’s
6th birthday. Besides the water slide, wing
decorating and fairy costumes, Grill is
having a candy buffet, a manicure/pedicure
station, and face painting by the girls
themselves. “When adults do it, it’s cute, “
she says. “When kids do it, it’s fun.”
Fully aware of the weather possibilities
when having an outside party, Grill
always decorates her entire house with
the particular birthday theme in case
activities have to move inside. One feature
at her children’s birthday parties is a fully
decorated, themed “mommy room.” Grill
likes to encourage parents to stay at the
party so that they’re present in case their
child needs them. Parents have the choice
of staying with their kid and joining in
the festivities, or enjoying time with other adults with a movie and snacks. This also
ensures that the parents pick up the kids on
time at the end of the celebration.
On-the-spot thinking can come
in handy when hosting a party. Even
extravagant parties don’t always go as
planned. “We had a party where we had
miniature horses and ponies – it was like
a huge petting zoo,” Grill recalls. “But
apparently none of the kids liked the
miniature horses and ponies. They were
all deathly afraid, even of the clown, so we
turned it into a ‘Gymboree’ party. Parents
sat down, playing games with the kids.”
Grill planned Karli’s 5th birthday, a
princess theme, four months in advance,
noting the importance of planning early to
avoid later stress.


Jean Marie Bridges

Mother of Sam, 8


When planning a party for her son Sam,
Jean Marie Bridges of Buckhead explains:
“It’s mostly about what he wants.” Although a
self-proclaimed party-planner-extraordinaire,
Bridges was given a seemingly easy task
of organizing a pool party for Sam. She
was delighted in the idea of such minimal
required effort. “Not much planning is
needed for a pool party,” she says. “You give
the kids some pool toys and they have a great
time in the pool.”
Unfortunately, Bridges’ fears of rain
came true the morning of Sam’s 8th birthday
party. Though still hoping that the afternoon
forecast was wrong, she sat Sam down and
explained to him the need for a Plan B, also
letting him think that he was helping craft
the backup plan (his part mainly involved
helping clean up the basement for the
possible guests).
As expected, the skies opened up
around 5:45 p.m. that day, and the party was
scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Bridges had sent
out an e-mail notifi cation to the parents that
morning about proceeding to her home, not
the pool, in case of rain, so every participant
was able to still make it to the festivities. The
new theme was a “Sports Round Robin.”
Plan B, from the kids’ perspectives, was a
hit, according to Bridges. “We really did just
wing it,” she says. The basement consisted
of different game stations, including table
tennis, air hockey, a mini-basketball goal
hung on the door and some indoor games.
The eight boys were divided into teams,
switching stations when prompted. The
parents loosely kept score, and the winning
team emerged victorious with the prize of
Snickers bars.
As a former Girl Scout leader, Bridges
is used to “herding” children and knows
that you should have activities planned,
especially with boys. She also adds that,
with boys’ parties, the dads tend to be the
chaperone, so “management of fathers”
should also be addressed. Luckily, the
Round Robin party was a success and,
although he would’ve preferred the original
pool party, Sam had a blast.

 

Affordable Goody Bags

Most party guests (and their parents) expect goody bags upon departure, so here are three themed ideas that won’t leave your wallet feeling thin:


Spa Party

Lip gloss: Shimmering, glittery gloss is guaranteed to make little girls feel pretty and pampered. Dollar stores often sell packs of three or four for only $1!
Hand lotion: Once again, places like the dollar store will be your best friend. They have a huge variety of lotions, bath gels, even perfumes to choose from to keep your loot bag affordable.
Small votive candle: Although unconventional, a yummy-smelling candle, especially a colored one, is bound to delight all the spa princesses. Even if they aren’t allowed to light them, they’ll still feel like grown-ups. Packs of 9-12 candles are sold for around $3-$4 at Target and Walmart

Sports Party

Bubble gum: No sports goody bag is complete without a pack of Big League Chew or Bazooka bubble gum. Mini foam fi ngers: This pint-sized version comes in fun team colors. They’re available online through Oriental Trading
Company for $4/dozen (33 cents each)!
Gold medals: Make every guest feel like a winner by purchasing “gold medals” from a party supply store. Party City sells 12-count packages for $6, which makes each medal only 50 cents.

Animal Party

Bite-sized bears: These bears are more delicious than they are frightening! Grocery
and drugstores often sell movietheater box candy for $1, so buy some boxes of gummy bears. Having more than a few guests? Buy a large bag of bears, which is about $2-$3 at grocery stores, and use cellophane and a pretty ribbon to make individual pouches of creatures.
Animal masks: Foam animal masks are a fun way for kids to be entertained during and after the party. You can fi nd them at places like orientaltrading.com for 50 cents each!
Temporary tattoos: Always a crowd pleaser. Buy pages of animal tattoos and cut a couple squares out of the sheet for each child's bag.

One last word of advice:

You don’t need fancy bags to hold all the loot! Have your child decorate plain white or brown paper lunch bags with stickers and markers to customize to the party’s theme and include the guests’ names.