I remember my mom in the kitchen with her rusty orange apron and big flowers, mixing fervidly my red velvet birthday cake. I was so excited since back then it was not the hype it is now. This was a special cake. One that she learned from her American family that took her in back in college that was THE award winning recipe of the east coast. This cake was only made a few times a year for special occasions. I also had a new dress which meant I could get frosting on it and not get in trouble because the special occasion was my birthday. I could not wait until my friends came to our house and we could feast on Shanghai noodles, spring rolls, and cake. I have fond memories of getting my dress dirty from playing tag outside and my mom attempting to re-fix my pigtails ‘til she gave up and let them run lopsided as I ran around. The afternoon turned into night, and parents slowly showed up to pick up their exhausted but happy children. Those were the best birthdays.
Fast forward to my now 10 and 13 year-old daughters who have experienced friends’ parties which consisted of lavish milkshake bars to 5-star dining with personalized menus. Now I am definitely not begrudging those folks, who happen to be my close friends, from throwing such parties. I myself throw themed parties for my girls each year depending on what they are fancying at the time and start planning months before to get the best deals. If you know me, you know that I buy everything at discount, find a hook-up, or know someone. I like creating different experiences and the challenge of what my girls want vs. my budget.
Either the money spent or time spent planning the perfect party for our children has made me wonder if what we parents do is really all that necessary. I remember being happy and not for want when I was a kid. I didn’t yearn for more, and my happy tank was full.
Now with Pinterest and social media, it seems like having the perfect party favor, cake, and decor should be obligatory. After all, it’s all there. The pom-poms, the fondant cake, and cute stripey straws. Don’t forget the banner and DIY photo booth. And yes, I love it all! But what started as DIY and creative parties have turned into cookie cutter parties. Even the photo shoots and sudden presence of everyone suddenly being a professional photographer, has the same photos . The uniqueness is gone, the creativity has been choked, and parties are for the moms who slaved away at them.
So this bipolar rant is actually prompting a challenge. There are local budget stores that are treasure troves, if you know how and where to look. The challenge? Buy all the decor and favors in one place. All for dollar prices only. You get a free pass on cake. And food. And family bringing food. Otherwise, here are some of my local favorites:
99¢ only store in Lake Forest: Big parking lot; large, clean, and fluorescent light shining on the organized rows of supplies. You can get colored plates, utensils, napkins, and streamers. Buy a bunch of plastic toys for a piñata, favors, or decor. Want to keep it all matchy-matchy? Spray paint them the same color as those plates. Buy some mason jars, stick in the toys, and add some candy from the next aisle. Continue on and purchase the mini plants in pots. There’s a variety of greenery and flowers to choose from. Instant cheap chic.
Daiso in Irvine: The $1.50 Japanese pink saturated store. Great for tweens and teens. Find cutesy-cutesy packaged erasers in all different themes and then go and get the stylish array of pencils and pens and pick the pencil bag holders down the aisle. Also, get some Pocky and Hello Panda treats. Arts and crafts? Art boards, papers, oil pastels, and clay all nicely packaged. Oh and those pom-poms? You can get a pack of pre folded ones all ready to be unfolded and hung. Pretty much any party bag, gift bag, or tote bag is there. Fill them with Japanese treats and have a gaggle of giggling girls and boys.
Michaels: Keeping to the challenge, only purchase from the back party dollar sections and front row of baskets lined up against the cashier. The peeps here actually make it easy. Each bin is already set up by themes: sports, princesses, vintage, rustic, and Parisian have crossed those bins. There’s also matching plates and cups, some of which are tumblers, and not just paper goods. Go to the front, and find discounted ribbons, stationery, masks, and stamps. Again, same themes. Find a set you like, and you’re prepared from the invites to the thank you cards.
You just one-stop shopped and now it’s time to make a cake (or do what this non-baker mom does and make your niece bake everything)…and you are done! Let the kids and tweens play, and even set the teens loose. Just tell them it’s a retro party and you’ll be trending #thecoolparent, #retroparty status on Instagram. The laughter trailing from the sugar high and hours in the sun playing with their friends will ensure happy, exhausted partygoers. And one happy, stress-free parent soaking in the memories. Until the next party, that is.
* Tasha Poblete is a contributing writer to this blog, highlighting great local finds in Orange County. If you are interested in being featured on this blog, please contact us for more info.