What’s making me happier? 8 – Old-school party planning

I really thought that this year would be the first year of separate parties for my kids but… not.

You see, the kids are both in the same class so they have a good few friends in common.

But next year they will have separate parties πŸ™‚

1206 Sunday best-010

This was the photo I used for the invite – week 24 of our Project 52

Since we’d just bought a new house, I explained to them that we could either go on holiday for their birthday or we could have a party.

They chose to go on holiday.

But then I decided that I could do a party cheap and easy-breezy, and so we decided on a Doughnuts and Hot Chocolate party.

No point avoiding the fact that they have a birthday in the heart of winter, so it was to be inside.

Kids were to come in their pyjamas since it was early (9am) and have breakfast with us.

I decided on a blue and yellow theme since I seemed to have enough blue and yellow decor/ plates/ cups/ serviettes.

We served breakfast food – fun cereals, yoghurts, scones, muffins, cocktail sausages, and breakfast juices.

The cake was the best idea ever. I ordered cocktail doughnuts from Pick and Pay (10 each for R26) – white glaze, chocolate glaze and jam.

I arranged all the white and chocolate ones in the shape of pyramids, stuck skewers in to which I’d attached doughnut cake toppers with the number 7, we stuck candles all over and those were the cakes.

Best idea ever!

I had three activities – a colouring-in competition (free printables of a mug and doughnut from the internet), doughnut necklaces and some wanted to watch cartoons while having their breakfast.


I also had the kids bring outdoor shoes since this house has a whole hiking thing going on at the back. After the kids were fuelled by doughnuts and hot chocolate, and after I got some photos (!), the kids changed shoes and went exploring.

And then they left.

Party packs were cute notebooks and fun pencils – I didn’t have to buy a thing!


Nothing fancy but all the food was eaten, all the cake was eaten, and most important of all, my kids had a ball with their friends.

What’s been one of your most low-key parties?


Party planning – easy decor for our transport party

SoΒ  one of the main reasons I buy party printable packs is because the decor is practically done for you.

I’m not the most artistic/ creative person in the world so I need some help.

This year when we decided on a transport theme, I started hoarding some things that I knew we could use for decor.

  1. puzzles the kids had outgrown
  2. books with a transport theme
  3. biscuit tins from my pantry cupboard
  4. “vintage” suitcase my husband used about 20 years ago πŸ™‚

Once my focus was on everything transport, I also started noticing things like cookie cutters and the airplane craft kit on Pinterest.

On the day, I initially only left out “transport toys” just to set the stage but of course, with the weather being as terrible as it was (I think it was 14 that day), all the other toys were eventually used to keep the kids entertained inside.

It all came together beautifully – see for yourself.

car biscuits (cookies)

And I think that’s a wrap.

I never make a big deal about a cake mostly because I don’t bake and I can’t see the point of paying a fortune for someone to make one. Teehee πŸ™‚

What’s your favourite part of party planning?

PS Here are the first three parts 1, 2 and 3

Party Planning – learning from last year’s mistakes

I’m a girl who loves to get “real” mail in my letterbox.

And by real mail, I mean personal stuff, not bills.

So last year I painstakingly wrote out about 15 – 16 envelopes and sent out handwritten party invitations.

Do you know that was the most stressful part of having a party? I even wrote that I would NEVER send out party invites in the mail EVER again.

Strong language? Yes.

I think 3 people RSVPd within a day and the rest didn’t RSVP until I hounded them about 3 weeks later.Β  About 3 people didn’t ever bother to RSVP.

That’s why I felt so strongly about not mailing out the invites this time.

This year I took the etsy invite and made it into a jpg so that I could “write on it” in Picasa (Google’s free photo editing programme).


And then I emailed it out to all the guests.

This year I only had to chase up 2 of them. Again, 1 just didn’t respond so I’m getting the hint πŸ™‚

The whole thing was so much less painful than last year.

This is the way to go!

Sadly, it doesn’t seem like South Africans care about getting things in the mail.

Is it the same where you live?


While I love, love, LOVE to send out “proper” thank-you notes, I was leaving for the USA 4 days after the kids’ party and I knew that was going to be unrealistic what with all the holiday preparations needed.

So I did the same trick of “writing” the thank-you notes in Picasa.

I did individual thank-you notes, attached some pics of each particular guest (and of my kids using the gift if it was already in use) and emailed out about 12 sets of thank-you notes.

Oh my gosh, it was a mission.

In retrospect, it would probably have been quicker to hand write them like I did last year. But that’s just because my internet was so slow that particular weekend.

Last year I sent out thank-you notes, and then I sent out professional photos taken at the party.

As with the invites I wasn’t quite sure if the thank-you notes arrived but most people thanked me for the photos.


What have I learnt this year?

  1. Definitely email the party invitations
  2. Not sure about the emailed thank-you notes. As Gretchen Rubin says in The Happiness Project, she realised that she likes to do certain things that other people don’t really care about. So too it is with me and thank-you notes. I do realise that lots of people don’t care one way or the other (a family member told me not to bother sending her a thank-you… I did one anyway) but I felt like something was missing in the email. We had one present after the birthday and for that one, we mailed a paper thank-you and I feel much better πŸ™‚

Where do you fall on the email vs mailed party invitations and thank-you notes?

Mind you, I do see a growing trend of text invites and thank-yous and I’m being very old-fashioned here, but to me, that just doesn’t sit right πŸ™‚

Oops – I was checking my list


and realised that I’d never wrapped up the party planning posts properly.

First, here are all the posts



Food and cake

Party favours

Thank-you notes


Things that worked well

  1. The printable party theme set from Etsy (I already have 3 in my shopping cart til next year rolls round…) – I just loved having a cohesive theme
  2. Buying the cakes instead of trying to be Supermom and baking them myself
  3. Food was plentiful but not way too much, and easy since I delegated some of it
  4. Party favours were just my style – repurposed, practical and useful
  5. Having the party at home was a huge stress relief
  6. I think we invited just the right amount of kids.
  7. People seemed to enjoy the handwritten thank-you notes.
  8. Once I got the photos from the photographer, I made prints and sent each family about 3 – 4 each. This was something everyone loved – if I do it again, I’ll try and hold off on those thank-yous so I incur one set of postage πŸ™‚

Things I would change

  1. I’ll never do paper, in-the-mail invites again even though those are my preferred style. Not only were they more expensive because of postage but the RSVPs took sweet forever to come in, and I must confess, I had to hound about half the people for responses.
  2. Next time I’ll pretty up the cake before photos with a ribbon or something.
  3. I don’t know if I’ll go with a professional photographer again. I do agree that the photographer needs to be someone other than us though so we can enjoy the party. The photos were stunning but my expectations were probably mismatched because I didn’t get many of my family and I thought we would. That said, we have made an additional appointment and we’re going to get some two-year-old pics in two weeks time.


As I was typing this, I realised I enjoy doing an analysis of what went right and wrong.

It makes me feel more mindful.

I do this at the end of every month anyway when I look at my goals for the month that’s just been and the one ahead.


Do you like taking stock?


PS Pic by my friend, Caren.

PPS This post is also going to be useful next year when I’ve forgotten what went well and what could be improved πŸ™‚

Party planning 5 – thank-you notes

I have a thing about thank-you notes.

As in, I really believe stronglyΒ about being grateful and showing your gratitude to others.

I’m also super-fussy (!) about the format in that I like real thank-you notes written out by hand.

I think it’s because my love languages are words of affirmation and acts of service, and when I receive some lovely words in a card that someone has taken the time to write out, I feel so, SO appreciated.

Pure love!

I want others to feel that way too. I just don’t think a quickly-fired off text message/ email is enough to show our gratitude.

(if you’re bristling, please tell me why and remember this is MY opinion)


Strangely for things given to me, I don’t mind sending an email. Hmmm…


I know this is not always possible but I will do my best for as long as possible, and then the babies will have to take over and do their own cards.

As an aside, a work friend gave the kids some hand-me-down tools that her boys didn’t want anymore.

When I brought these tools home for the kids, they were over the moon.

That evening, I phoned my friend and had the kids say, “thank you, Aunty Annelize, for the tools” – she LOVED getting the message.

And then I handed a pencil to each of them and told them to “write thank-you to Aunty Annelize” on a blank card.

They made a few scribbles, I labelled them with their names, and then wrote in a thank-you note around their “words”.

Very cute and the next day she loved it.

It’s still displayed on her desk. Actually, would you like to see a pic?

Back to the party.

So of course, after our party, I had to write out about 13 or so notes.

Most from the party but we also had gifts sent from family and people who couldn’t make the party.

These were all part of the same printables set from the PaperGlitter etsy store.

This is how I do mass thank-yous. I’m sharing lots of detail because I like detail. Skim over it if it’s not your thing.

  1. On the night of the party, I take pics of each present with the card. This is for my memory so I don’t thank Susan for a puzzle she didn’t gift us! Also, the act of positioning and taking the photos seals it in my mind and I’ve rarely had to look back and check on things. But still, it’s there if I need it.
  2. I then count up how many cards I need to write out.
  3. I take out all the cards and envelopes and address the envelopes.
  4. If we’re seeing any of those people in the next week, I’ll keep it back to go by hand.
  5. Otherwise, I put the postal addresses on the envelope, with stamps, ready for my note.

And then the writing starts.

I like to be really specific. I learnt years and years ago on some management training that to say “great, well done” is not as meaningful as “well done for remembering to phone and give the client feedback”, for example.

And so my cards are quite specific, not just a “thank you for the present”.

Also, for me, it’s not just about the gift, it’s more about how people took time out of their busy lives and came to celebrate the birthday with us.

You may have guessed I’m quite passionate about time!

Over to you.

Do you do thank-you cards, text messages, FB messages, email, or nothing? Do you have a specific preference?

Party planning 4 – party favours

I said before in this series that I know what I wanted.

This, party favours, are my thing.

I love doing them and they never feel like a burden.

My thinking

  1. I didn’t just want sweets (candy) and chips. I don’t allow our kids to eat these things normally so didn’t feel it fair to dump it on other kids.
  2. I wanted something useful.
  3. I wanted to use up some formula cans we had.

I initially thought of making the cans into buckets and adding spades.

That would have worked but in the end it came down to what I had around the house because I wanted to use existing things as far as possible.

So I made little packs of gel pens/ pencil crayons (each child got 5), added a brightly coloured exercise book and put in a covered formula can. The cans were then placed in cellophane bags and had thank-you tags attached.

The idea was for the kids to repurpose the formula can holders into pencil/ crayon holders.

Exactly what my kids do with their crayons πŸ™‚

I was VERY happy with how they turned out – very cute and useful.

Here’s what they looked like:

These 3 pics were taken by our photographer, Jeanette Verster.

and these were taken by me πŸ™‚

So, do you do party favours? What kinds of things do you do?

PS I’m not averse to receiving sweets and chips from other people – more snacks for Dion and me! πŸ™‚

Party planning 2 – decor

There are some things that, for me, make a party.

One of those things is decor. The other are the party packs but that’s another post.

I’ve been slightly addicted to party blogs for the last 2 – 3 months – I’ve found there are literally hundreds all over the internet.

Some are better than others of course and these are the ones that found themselves permanently lodged in my Google Reader.

I found that a lot of graphic designers who sell things on etsy have beautiful blogs that feature a free printable or two so you get a taste of their style.

Rather like my free Time Management Purpose Pack πŸ™‚ (BTW, have you downloaded yours yet? What do you think? Have you used it?)

Anyway, so after trawling these blogs for awhile, I decided that we needed to buy a set of printables from someone to “pull” the theme together.

I happened upon Linnette’s Paper Glitter blog and I was hooked. I just love her style.

Here is her etsy shop.

We had the challenge of thinking up a gender neutral theme because of our boy/ girl twins.

One that was non character-based as our kids don’t watch TV and I have issues with being “enslaved” to the marketing around Disney and other characters.

So we decided on a garden theme with ladybugs, worms, caterpillars and other bugs. I like to choose something I can easily add to in terms of current things in my house as I am not one for buying things for one purpose only. I had lots of yellow and green things I could use to supplement.


When I received the PDF files, I was truly amazed.

This lady totally OVER delivers.

68 pages of printable PDF goodness.

Truly, I honestly only used about 20 pages and even those 20 pages were well worth the price we paid because they pulled the whole party together.

The pages I used:

  1. 3 different types of banners/ bunting – I am a banner-loving freak (seriously – instant happiness!)
  2. “Happy Birthday” banner
  3. cupcake toppers
  4. tented cards
  5. food labels
  6. invites
  7. thank-you cards
  8. goodie bag designs
  9. water bottle wrappers (I used to decorate old jam jars for tea and coffee)
  10. A4 sign with “Happy Birthday” on it
  11. 4 inch circles which I made flowers by attaching craft sticks (ice-cream sticks)

I hope you’re interested in all the detail!

All I then did was get a cheap red table cloth (from Pep for R30), bright green paper plates, yellow and red plastic glasses and green straws.

So let me end off this post by saying there is no reason to not have a cute party anymore with all these wonderful things out there.

Go to http://etsy.com and type in party printables plus your theme if you have one in mind, and shop shop shop.

Have you used downloadable printables from etsy before?
How do you decide on decor?

P.S. top pic from the designer’s etsy shop; the rest were taken by me of our actual party

Party planning 1 – venue

My twins had their second birthday party on Saturday and it was one of the most enjoyable ones I’ve thrown.

I thought I’d share a bit about the party over a series of posts.

That sound good?

I may have mentioned to a friend or 10 last year that I’d never have another party at home.

Well, never say never.

The reason I wouldn’t want to have a party at my house is because of all the work.

However, when I looked into possible party venues, the prices put me off, big-time! They were R1800 on average.

The next idea was then to have it at a park which is free BUT we would have had the same amount of work carrying things to and fro and no quick alternative if the weather turned bad.

So we decided to have it at home.

If I have a perfectly good backyard, why not?

It also gave us some much-needed motivation to get the back of the house painted for the pictures. (I am nothing if not practical)

Jhb winter weather is traditionally beautiful – clear, sunny days, just cold, but we’ve had verrrrrry cold weather and that worried me a bit.

On the other hand, what’s the worse that could happen?

Terrible weather conditions and the kids run around inside my house instead of outside.

(Yes, I’m twitching but honestly, if that’s the worse problem I have, then I’m blessed, right? And I am)

It was a great decision and I’ve decided to have it here as long as I can.

All I did was get the cleaning lady, Nester (yes, that’s really her name), and our nanny, Viola, in to help out.

This was one of the best decisions as a few hours before the party I was still able to have a cup of tea and some toast, and do some reading!

On the day of my kids’ party!

Some things we did that I would say helped:

  1. asked people to bring some extra chairs, picnic blankets and a table
  2. separate food and drink stations so things wouldn’t be cluttered
  3. got cleaning lady to tidy up and sweep the morning of the party (our gardener had been on the Tuesday before but it needed a freshening up)
  4. set out playing zones – swing/ slide set, motorbikes, sandpit and other outside toys like trucks, balls, etc.

Are party venues a big thing where you live? Or do you have parties at home?

Last year’s party post

Organising a children’s party

My babies turned 1 on Wednesday.

My husband and I were very undecided as to whether we wanted to have a party or not (him, because he doesn’t like crowds and me, because I don’t like mess :)) but then we decided to do it because, well, we survived the first year!

As a friend wrote on my Facebook status update, that’s the worse of the sleep deprivation behind you. And I said, “amen to that!” πŸ™‚

Anyway, I thought I’d share some things that worked well, and also those that didn’t, in the hope that this list will help someone out there.

Decide on exactly what you want and stick to your plan

Not only is there less stress when you know what you want (and more importantly, what you don’t want) but the focus helps you “see” your theme everywhere.

We knew that we wanted a small and intimate party and that made it easy to decide on a small number of people. We also decided on a polka dot theme and I saw suitable foods, etc. everywhere – marshmallows, cupcakes, Salticrax with toppings, etc.

Decide on a budget

This is the part I did very well. And I still could have done better (see food story below).

I planned everything beforehand and was not swayed when I got to the party store as I had my list and knew I only needed x, y and z πŸ™‚

I normally don’t like the “waste” of paper plates and polystyrene cups but felt it was a necessity to save me time and energy later.

Get creative

Google is my best friend!

I googled ideas and found beautiful, beautiful parties by much more creative people than I am, or ever will be.

But they inspired me to get a little bit more creative than I would normally be.

Also, ask your friends for ideas – you’ll be surprised at what pops up.

Make a gift list

We didn’t have one initially because we really didn’t want people to feel obliged to buy two of everything or even one bigger item but after about 3 – 4 requests within hours of my email invitation going out, we got cracking.

Even so we only had about 4 items on the list – clothes and the sizes they currently wear, baby hot water bottles and some age appropriate toys.

Yes, a gift list can seem a bit mercenary but it seems my friends are super-practical and the babies were blessed with some fantastic gifts that are SO useful.

Don’t over cater

I sucked big time at this. I love food and I hate to run out so I had STACKS. Literally. Only 4 people were not able to come at the last minute but still, STACKS of food left over. Yes, I handed out food parcels but my freezer and fridge are still full of food.

(I have a thing against throwing away perfectly good food when there are so many needy people so that is not an option).

Accept help – don’t feel the need to be Super woman

Asking for help is not my strong suit at all.

But I soon realised that just running around after my two would mean I wouldn’t be able to socialise with my friends or be as hospitable as I’d have liked.

I got our nanny in to help us with the babies and in between running around, she also helped with washing dishes!

My MIL baked a yummy pudding and my SIL baked cupcakes so that I could focus on baking the small cakes for the babies.

Confession – I did microwave cakes as I didn’t see the need to do a proper baked cake for kids who would eat maybe a fistful or two πŸ™‚

My children don’t ever eat sugar and this was the first time they were allowed some – individual chocolate cakes with a caramel topping. They didn’t know what came over them but (Connor especially) just DOVE into the cake. Too funny!

One of the best things we did was

Put up a Happy Birthday banner and balloons on the gate. It helped guests find our house easily once they were in the street.

While party planning is still fresh in my mind…

Please share your best things to do and not to do so I can be well prepared for next year πŸ™‚

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