A One-derful Birthday
I hadn’t planned on having a first birthday party. Really. It seemed like a lot of work and like most people, life is already busy enough in December. Don't get me wrong, my husband and I would celebrate with her, but I was not here for a full on party. At least not like the ones I see on social media. I recently watched a YouTube video of a mother who had a photo booth station. A PHOTO BOOTH. And that was only ONE of her multiple stations-o-extra. Don't get me wrong, if she can afford that, more power to her. But I must ask, is that necessary? There’s so much pressure on how to throw a party and I was certainly feeling that. And this wasn't just perceived pressure; people were actually saying, “You HAVE to throw a party. You just HAVE to.”
I thought about telling everyone to jump off a cliff, but I knew she'd want the memories to look back on (as would we), so we started to plan. Deep down, I also had these irrational fears developing that someday she'd resent me for not throwing her a bash and that I'd be secretly mommy-shamed for my failure to produce.
Our party actually started with the venue. I was technically still on the fence about a party when my husband and I happened upon the new ice cream shop in town one evening after dinner. After a little chatting, we found the ice cream shop had a loft space for events above it. Rental was less than $100 and ice cream could be pre-purchased to accompany any cake/food.
Then came the theme. Something my husband and I have commonly discussed is that we want our little girl to meet people from all walks of life and to experience different cultures and customs. It just so happened that E-vite had a theme called "It's a One-derful World." We ran with it since it's a great pun (if you've met my husband, you know that dad jokes are his specialty) and it allowed us to focus her first birthday on the world around her.
After we planned a few more things like food, decorations and what not, I shifted my attention to the cake.
I knew I was going to make her cake myself. I not only enjoy baking, but I've been doing it here and there for a while since my grandma used to decorate wedding cakes for a living. I figured it'd be easier and cheaper to do my own rather than ordering. The cake was going to be small to save time and money and for easier transport. I was also worried she wouldn't like cake, so I didn't want it to go to waste (spoiler alert: she ate a couple fingersful of frosting and left the rest for dead).
I also decided to make cupcakes for guests. I invested in a 24-cupcake pan that set me back about $13.95 from Menards. They vary in price depending on where you look, but I would highly recommend one of these pans if you're planning on doing any large scale baking (e.g. bake sales). As expected, it successfully cut my baking time in half which was well worth the investment. During my shopping, I also picked up a large star decorating tip, small cake boards, two small 6” cake rounds (for less than $5 apiece), food coloring, $14 greenery from the floral department and…my dirty secret: boxed cake mix. I have been known to use boxed cake mix to save time and I integrate a few small changes to improve the taste. I started doing this more and more during pharmacy school for friends' birthdays to save time and money. When you top this upgraded boxed cake mix with homemade buttercream (which I do recommend), no one has ever known the difference (or they haven't said so).
Boxed cupcakes that taste homemade:
- Substitute melted butter for the oil (unless you’re already using butter recipe cake mix)
- Use hot water if it’s chocolate cake to help the flavor bloom
- Consider adding an extra egg yolk per egg for richness (I usually don’t do the last step and still get delicious cake at a fraction of the time/effort)
- Consider topping your cake with a simple syrup, especially if you've found your cake to be a little overdone or dry. You don't need a lot; just use enough to lightly moisten the cake.
I made the cupcakes Friday and covered them to keep them from drying out. I then baked two rounds of a cake for the baby’s “smash cake.” After the cake cooled, I leveled it, coated with a crumb coat of frosting and put it in the refrigerator.
Crumb coat: A thin, base layer of frosting designed to catch stray crumbs so additional layers or decorations apply more smoothly.
It is at this point the cake decorating started to take a turn for the worse. I had been inspired by a simple cake on Pinterest (where all good fails begin). I imagined a pale mint green cake that faded to white with a simple border around the bottom adorned with a gold cake topper. The cake topper was an easy buy from my good friend, Amazon.com. I thought the cake would also be simple. All I had to do was pipe green around the bottom and add white frosting until the top was completely white. The issue wasn't the technique, but the mint coloring I had purchased was more...lime. I hated it. In addition, the body heat from all of the people in the kitchen was causing the frosting to melt. If your icing isn't setting up, trying throwing your cake in the fridge. This is what I did. After another hour or so of taking the cake in and out of the fridge and messing with it, I was convinced by those around me to leave it alone and see how it dried. After I did so and added a border and cake topper (which are seriously miracle workers to the look of a cake), I was much happier (albeit, not entirely happy). It ultimately wouldn’t matter to her though. Per my earlier comment, she would hardly eat a lick of it, but I ate it later and it was the best cake of the day.
The day for the party came and it would be quite the morning.
After my sweater ripping (note the collar is cut off to create a wide neck - I wasn't trying to be fashionable, but the collar ripped and I had to improvise), we arrived an hour early to set up. I was honestly frantic and trying really hard to act like I had everything under control and wasn't losing my mind. My mom and Jill were again doing a great job staying calm so I could feed off of their energy. I only rearranged everything about sixteen times. But ultimately, we were able to get things where I was pretty happy with the partial rustic charm of the space. My mom and I both brought things from our houses to decorate with. I found this to be a great money saver. Next time you throw a party, look around your house. I’m sure you have some things that can be rearranged or repurposed and it will generally cost you zero dollars. For this, I found a chalkboard to use as a sign, a decorative lantern to add some flare and asked my mom for a white tablecloth and a few platters.
Guests were arriving during set up and I was a little frantic about the place not being entirely ready since coming prepared is my m.o. Advice for if you ever find yourself in this situation: let others help if they offer and don't feel embarrassed. They won’t offer if they don’t mean it and most other parents (hopefully) can see what you’re trying to do for your child. I did not do this at first, convinced I could handle it. But with my husband's urging using the above arguments I just presented as my own, I gave in and let everyone help. Finally, everything was in place.
We ate barbecue provided by Smokehouse 61 (which my lovely husband picked upon the way). This is my favorite barbecue in town and very reasonably priced for catering. We were able to sit and relax with friends for the first time in days.
After eating, we moved on to her doljabi. This is a Korean tradition (and we wanted to include one) where you place objects in front of the child that represent different career paths. Whatever item the child chooses first is supposed to foretell his or her future. We chose a calculator (for math/sciences), stethoscope (for medicine), whisk (for cooking), and my first pair of ballet slippers (for the arts/sports). The baby was very distracted and wanted to run around and play instead. She had one small breakdown, because choosing your career at one is hard, especially as everyone watches you. She ultimately picked up the calculator after we jokingingly forbade her from choosing the stethoscope.
We opened presents, continued to eat and enjoyed the company of our loved ones. We retired home where we played games. Bananagrams is one of our top family games right now. After the kids went to bed, my brother and sister-in-law broke out Zombicide, a much more intense but very engaging game worth a buy for anyone who loves co-op board games and zombies. For anyone who knows me well, I have a history with zombies. For those who don’t, another story for another time.
As an additional touch, I had sent out a request that guests bring a picture of their favorite place, people or culture that we would put into an album to inspire her. We have a great start, but still a lot of empty slots. Chad and I look forward to filling these over the coming years.
All-in-all, it was a wonderful day. If anything else, we loved watching our little girl shun her cake, play with the other kids and experience her first party. It was a momentous occasion, as all first birthdays are, and I didn’t even bust an aneurysm in the process.
I’d call that a success.
Happy birthday, baby nugget. We are amazed with how much you grow each day and we are so proud of you. Stay adventurous. Stay curious. Stay kind. We love you.