The Harbolds’ row house was too small to host 6-year-old Caitlin’s ballet birthday party, so mom Jenny borrowed a church hall to execute her idea, as simple as it was engaging. “I think people are afraid to be too simple and old-fashioned with kids parties,” comments the Charles Village resident, who invited 20 budding ballerinas to come dressed in their favorite tutus and slippers, and hired a Towson State dance student for $25 to teach them a simple routine to “The Nutcracker.” At pick-up time parents were treated to this Kodak moment – a recital performed twice to standing ovations and cries of “Encore! Encore!”
More advice from Jenny: “The more the child is involved in planning, the more they enjoy it. My daughter went back and forth between white icing and pink icing. They revel in all these choices that are theirs to make.”
For 7-year-old Nicholas Bailey, the most important thing about his farm party was that he do it himself. Everything from picking out the cow invitations and thank-you stationery at The Pleasure of Your Company in Green Spring Station to designing a straw-bale obstacle course with dad Wilson and dreaming up a tractor-pulled wagon hayride throughout the Bailey’s Harford County farm. He even had his little hand in the spring planting, which had the 18 children out digging holes for their personalized tree seedlings. For sustenance, Nicholas offered his guests a carefully selected menu of carrots, deviled eggs, grapes, pretzels, and peanut-butter filled cerely sticks. Long after these details have faded, according to Mom, it’s the oohs and aahs over his cake – topped with Ertle-brand farm animals and equipment arranged just so by Nicholas – that will stay with him for years to come.
Shiver me timbers!
Hilary Boyce established the pirate theme early on when she and husband Chris decided to throw a treasure-hunt for son Ryan’s sixth birthday. Mom soaked erasable-bond typing paper in tea and then burned the edges to create the proper look for the treasure-map invitations. (We didn’t tell you this would be easy.) A little watercolor and ink finished the look before the invitations were rolled up, tied with ribbon, and hand-delivered along with a gold-covered chocolate coin. As 15 little pirates stormed the Boyce’s Severna Park home on the day of the party, Mom outfitted them with black cardboard hats, an “earring” fashioned out of a gold curtain ring attached to a rubber band – the better to slip over little ears – and a painted-on moustache. Mom and Dad then led the rowdy crew in a round of pirate games, including Walking the Plank, Pin-the-Patch-on-the-Pirate, a Pretzel Sword Fight, and a Treasure Hunt for goody boxes decorated earlier by the kids. For a “really cool,” ship-shaped birthday cake, Hilary deployed a tube pan. Cutting the cake in half, she stood the two halves up together creating a “U”-boat. She then frosted it with chocolate “planks,” speared it with a shish-kebob skewer mast, manned it with Lego pirates, and floated it on a try of blue-dyed coconut “water.”
Brittany Clapp had always wanted a “horsey party.” Her wish came true on her fourth birthday when parents Barbara and John hired family-run Wild Bill’s Pony Parties of Howard County. Since there was more room to ranch at Uncle Ned’s yard in Ruxton, they asked Wild Bill, a “real-life cowboy,” to bring the two ponies there. “They were fantastic,” Barbara exclaims about owners Bill and Susan Streeker. “They came dressed in rodeo gear, brought along bales of hay and rodeo music, and their son taught the kids rope tricks.” Barbara offered a Native American headband-making craft, but the activity in biggest demand that day was the pony rides.
“We did this party a few years ago, when Waldo was really big,” says mom Mary Williams about son John’s fourth-birthday. Outfitted with the signature red-striped shirt, sock hat and cane, dad David led the dozen or so guests in a wild game of hide-and-seek in ther Lutherville yard. “The kids loved it,” says Mary. “They thought it was so funny to watch John’s dad running around like that.” The birthday boy donned Waldoesque attire for the occasion, too, and dished out the store-bought Waldo favors and a homemade Waldo cake, much to his young guests’ delight.
Halloween-party thrower extraordinaire Aimee Adashek confesses up front that she and husband Steve tend to go overboard when it comes to parties for their kids. A case in point: She’s already thinking dinosaurs for son Michael’s sixth birthday in August. And volacnoes – little paper-mache mountains to decorate and detonate. “I think I’ve lost my mind,” she laughs. Also on the agenda: a dinosaur-egg hunt and pterodactyl races, using balsa-wood gliders painted green and equipped with plastic eyes.
When floral designer Barbara Taylor hosts a garden party for her 4 ½-year-old granddaughter, Samantha Kayne, half the fun is getting ready. First, she sets up a long, custom-made, child-scaled plywood table on the back deck of her Mount Washington home. Then, she covers it with anything from petal-strewn swags of organza to grass sod and ivy, as she did for a recent party. Place settings for each of the 16 little guests included decorated picnic hampers filled with goodies. Tree-stump “stools” pulled up to the table were topped with perfectly pretty party favors: straw hats swathed in a garden-print and adorned with teensy terra-cotta flower pots and bird nests. After lunch Barbara’s guests all donned little red garden gloves, dug into a soil-filled antique baby bathtub, and planted annuals in a nest of pots to take home. Every child should have such a grandmother.
“Bring all your old lumber remnants and your tools,” read the invitation to Ruth Anne and Bill “B” Boykin’s tree-house raising party for their two boys Tyler and Austin, then 3 and 5. Thus began a spectacular time one perfect October day, when 15 families showed up at the Boykin’s Lutherville backyard and pitched in on building a tree house, complete with a ladder, deck and shingled roof. “We served chili and hot dogs for lunch” recalls Ruth Anne, “and had apple bobbing and games of doughnuts on a string for the kids.” For this self-confessed hyper entertainer, the simple affair turned out to be “one of the best parties we’ve ever had.”
Here comes Santa Claus
For the past seven years, on the first or second Saturday in December, Beth and Paul Asdourian have opened their Harford County farmhouse to a hundred of their four children’s classmates and their parents. The kids take turns sitting on Santa’s lap to open a present their parents have smuggled in the back door. “I tell the Moms to keep the gifts to under $15, and nothing big – they have to fit in Santa’s bag,” says Beth. She also asks each parent to bring one extra gift, which she delivers to a women and children’s shelter in South Baltimore. The Asdourian’s Santa comes from the North Pole via Towson, through Baltimore’s Best! Party Entertainers (410-825-2378). “We’ve had the same Santa since we started the party,” says Beth. “He’s never had a kid not sit on his lap.”
Poolside pomp and circumstance
The minute 18-year-old Bobby signed up to play quarterback this fall at the University of Florida, the Sablehauses caught Gator fever bad. So, what could be more fitting to celebrate Bobby’s transition from a soaring McDonogh Eagle to a Florida Gator than a swamp-themed bash around the family’s Greenspring Valley pool? The party proved that even when those babies start leaving the nest, doting parents can still treat them to some inspired fun.
For starters, mom Melanie enlisted Roland Park-based event coordinator Betty Davis (410-435-9011) to fill the front yard with fun props, including two dozen blowup pink flamingos and a giant palm tree sprouting footballs instead of coconuts. Melanie called the UF bookstore to order cratefuls of Gator paraphernalia, which she scattered everwhere. The 200 guests were each supplied with sunglasses imprinted with “The Eagle Soars.” Most, says Melanie, wore them well into the night as they danced to the Baltimore band Laughing Colors on a giant dance floor that Stagecraft (410-536-4234) erected over half of the pool; five blowup alligators floated in the other half. What can we tell you? It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal.
Judy Kimmel, registered nurse and Lutherville mother of four, is known for her carefully orchestrated affairs that come off without a hitch. We turned to her for a few party pointers.
- Start with a theme; everything else will fall into place.
- Invitations: Make your own and involve your child in the process. For step-by-step instructions and ideas, Judy recommends the book “Make Cards!” by Kim Solga (Northlight Books, 1992, $11.95). Judy will often enclose a “teaser” in the envelope. For a pirate party she stuck in a gold plastic skeleton key; for a Wild West party, an Indian feather.
- For “curb-appeal,” hang decorations on your front door or in the front yard. Inside, Judy believes there’s no such thing as getting too carried away. Plywood, yards of burlap and inexpensive fabric, paint, markers, glitter and a glue gun go a long way in transforming a room into a theme palace.
- Guest list: One rule of thumb is to invite the same number of children as the age of your child. “But I’ve never done that, not after going through all this trouble!” Judy usually invites her child’s entire class.
- Get help: Judy hires a few neighborhood children who are at least three or four years older than the guests. She has them come early and in costume, and assigns them each an activity station.
- Starting activity: “This is something the kids do as they walk in; it makes up for the skewed timing of kids coming early or late.” An idea for older children is to make their own pizzas, to be baked later in the party. For younger kids, Judy often has her helpers do face painting.
- As the children arrive, Judy color codes each one with a name-tag sticker. Kids are grouped by their colored stickers into groups of five or so. Each group rotates every 10 to 15 minutes to a different activity station. For activities she suggests working a few tried and true games into your theme. Crafts, scavenger hunts, duck floats, penny pitch, bean bag and ring toss all work well.
- Party pics make great favors. Judy always snaps a Polaroid of each child, often posed in front of an elaborate backdrop. For her daughter’s Wild West 6-year-old birthday party, she painted a large plywood cutout of a tepee and photographed the children poking their heads out of its opening. Each guest took home their mug shot pasted on a “Wanted” sign.
- Reading material: “The Penny Whistle Party Planner” (Brokaw and Gilbar, Simon & Schuster, 1991, $12). “Best party book I’ve ever seen.”