April 9, 2012

Birthday party season continues

Aviator glasses from Uncle Gene.  Photo courtesy of Joyce Cheng.

Recently we celebrated my youngest son Callan's birthday with a party at home.  I won't lie to you.  Several weeks before Callan's birthday, I found myself lacking motivation to throw a shindig.  I felt like the house and I were just starting to recover from the long stream of holidays -- Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Valentine's Day.  "Do we really have to have a party?  Can't we just skip this year?" I whined to my husband.  My husband shook his head and added, " I think the kids now expect to have a party every year."


I was disappointed in his response and the idea that my kids had these lofty expectations (based on previous mommy-organized fun parties, but still) and that I was responsible for fulfilling their party fantasies every year for more than another decade.  Cooking and cleaning up 3 meals a day, doing laundry 5 times a week, bath times, toothbrushing, swim class, and homework help were already must-dos.  Did I really need to add annual party planning on the Mommy's Responsibilities chart?

After getting over the initial intimidation, I knew having some sort of party would be really wonderful for Callan.  He's really become a social butterfly over the past year and he would love having friends over.  A party would also be great for the whole family.  We have some amazing, dear friends and getting together with them is always a great time.

The first big question was where so I began to internally debate the pros and cons of an off-site party versus an at-home party.  The great thing about having a party somewhere else is that the business or hosting site often handles most of the nitty gritty such as table settings, food and drink, entertainment, and cleanup.  You can keep your hands relatively free of all those details and focus on catching up with guests.  Sounds dreamy!  But what I have found (or not found, I should say) is that all-in-one party places have very limited choices of the kinds of food they serve (it's pretty much only pizza) and they have strict policies that forbid you from bringing in your own food.  Rats.  That just doesn't cut it for my milk-allergic kids.

Last year we had Callan's birthday party at Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward.  The center provides rehabilitation and housing services for local wildlife while serving the community through its educational programs and animal lending library.  For the party, a naturalist met with our guests and introduced them to four of Sulphur Creek's resident animals and spent time teaching the kids about each creature's features and behavior.  The birthday program was an engaging experience for parents and kids alike and, what's more, we enjoyed our own allergy-friendly food for a lunch party after our animal visits! 

According to my husband, it would be a no-no to have another party at Sulphur Creek.  (Believe me, I wanted to.  It's a fun place!)  With zero attractive indoor options around and the desire to spend lots of time  with friends, we decided to have a party at home.  We looked into animal people and magicians but in the end, I wanted to have a low-key party -- simple foods, no theme, no entertainment except for a bounce house to allow kids to burn off some steam.  To further simplify, we asked friends to forgo gifts and instead participate in a used toy exchange.  The toy exchange seemed to be a great alternative to the "no gift" request which people -- including myself -- have a hard time following.  Our friends and their kids were happy to bring in gently loved items and leave with new-to-them toys.

Party guest Nolan loved his new-to-him dump truck.

We planned for a couple of indoor craft areas which were essential with our large group and with rain in the forecast.  One was a gluten-free play dough area.  None of our guests are wheat-allergic/gluten-allergic but I prefer it to regular play dough as the dough smells nicer and is easy to make.  And what's more we had some untouched extra dough from our Food Allergies Rock community event thanks to Sarah's unearthing skills.  The full range of kid guests (ages 1 to 7 years) enjoyed digging in their hands to make snakes, people, and other creations.

We also set up a table for drawing and sculpting.  During a visit to San Jose Children's Discovery Museum last year we had discovered that corn-based biodegradable packing peanuts can stick together using a little water.  With some patience and creativity, our young guests could easily make some impressive art pieces.  We laid out car drawing books, markers, and paper.

Callan shows off the peanut person that Tristan made for him.

Ryken and his Uncle Gene created a dragon together.

Typical of me, a few mornings before the party I woke up with sudden inspiration.  We could tie everything together wit a Disney/Pixar Cars theme!  Callan is a huge car lover so we had tons of Cars stuff and had already ordered a Cars bounce house. (We ended up having to cancel due to bad weather though.)  We could create some clever signage and decorations to tie things together.  We tweaked the menu a little and categorized most foods to fit the sites of the World Grand Prix: Japan, Italy, Great Britain, and the United States.  Party foods included: 

- Vegan sushi and cold soba noodles (Japan)
- Gluten-free vegan lasagna and plain pasta tossed with oil and salt (Italy)
- Gluten-free banana "trifle misu" (an Italian-British hybrid using a dairy-free, egg-free tiramisu recipe with fresh bananas and no coffee)
- Bangers and mash (the fancy British name for Trader Joe's chicken apple sausages, mashed potatoes and Isa Chandra Moskowitz's rockstar chickpea gravy)
- Yummy Brand Dino Buddies
- Piston CupCakes (an homage to the Cars 1 championship race using two different allergy-friendly cake mixes)

We lucked out and had Magneto font which looked just like the Cars writing.  My husband and the kids helped with the signage and party food labels.  :

We laid a Neat Sheet on one guest bedroom for an easy way to display
the goods for the used toy exchange.  Not shown are the scooters, keyboards,
dolls, games, and puzzles already claimed.  There was quite a selection!

All in all, we had a terrific time with our friends and family.  The kids were all engaged, whether it be with play dough, art, books, building toys (Legos, Trios) or running around with each other.  We didn't need to break out any parent-organized games such as musical chairs or hot potato which I had ready in case things got slow or play was out-of-control.  My husband and I got to catch up with a lot of friends which is not always easy to do when you are hosting.

And best of all, Callan had a great time.  He is so looking forward to another birthday party that he is already telling people he is almost 5!

Four cheers for the happy, vibrant birthday boy!


  1. That's wonderful, Irene. He is absolutely adorable. I love that age!

  2. What a great post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I have many times tried to write on my blogs but I guess I am good at just sharing pictures. Recently I shared some pictures from my nephew’s birthday party, it was in one of the prettiest San Francisco venues.

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