Category Archives: Parties

Cowboy Birthday Party


Friday afternoon we had a birthday party for my son who turned seven years old.  He wanted a cowboy birthday party and a homemade horse for everyone to take home.  We had a great time and here’s the summary of what we did.


We invited our guests to dress as cowboys, and when we greeted them at the door the first thing they saw was the hitching post.

*Edited to add:  I wrote a tutorial and drew a pattern for making your own stick horse, found here.


Each of them got to pick a horse.


Because a cowboy’s best friend is his horse, we had a table with permanent markers waiting and they got to add eyes and any other markings they wanted to personalize their horse.  Then, because we had guests from both school and church, we had them introduce themselves and share the name of their horse, which brought lots of smiles.


Before everyone came we turned a small hallway into a photo booth with our wanted poster hanging from the beam above.  I had some eyeliner pencils in my pocket and we drew a mustache and beard on their faces before taking their pictures in the poster.  We also had a bandana for every boy to tie around his neck.


This week we will print all the “wanted” photos in sepia tones and he will give them to his friends with a thank you note.


We took some group photos at the beginning so I wouldn’t forget.  Next came the games.


We had to have a horse race, of course.  (Or two.)


We did a bean bag toss, which was called “shoot the rabbit hole.”  For every shot they got through a hole, they got to eat a rattlesnake egg (jelly bean).


We drew a rattlesnake head and taped it to the end of a rope.  My son held one end of the rope and shook the other end.  The boys had to jump over the moving rope without it touching them.  This we called the rattlesnake jump.


We had a tug of war.  Several, actually.  They loved this.  I like to mix up the teams each time.


The one game request my son had was for Snatch the Rat.  It’s turned out to be a favorite game.  I blogged about it here.


When the games were complete, we moved to the mess hall for some grub.  We served hot dogs, root beer, potato chips and cupcakes.  We also had a bucket of peanuts.


Let me tell you, it’s awfully funny to hear wound up seven year old cowboy talk around your kitchen table.


We opened gifts.


We blew out candles.


I was grateful for all the help I got from my ranch hands.  They raided closets to look the part and helped everything run smoothly.


And then it was over.  The Bar T.H. Ranch closed and we cleaned up the place.


We were left with one very happy cowboy.  And a happy family.  It was a great party.

The Big #12

Someone at our house turned twelve today.   He wanted a birthday party with “a bunch of games with my friends.”

While I was happy to oblige him, I must also admit that I really stress about birthday parties and today was no different.  But even with the stress, I am earnestly trying to get better at parties, and especially at parties for older children and teenagers.

So, now that it’s over and the boys had a great time and my son is happy, I’m going to list the games we played for two reasons.  First, I’m sure I’ll lose my list of games and wish I’d written it down somewhere else next time I’m planning a party.  Second, I have a feeling that I’m not the first mom that’s felt intimidated by parties for the 12 and up crowd, and it might help someone.  Plus, I may need to encourage myself sometime by reading this!

Here goes…

I made these foam balls more than ten years ago and we’re still using them.  They were a ton of work but obviously worth every minute.  I have a big box of them and while we waited for guests to arrive I put them out on the lawn and let the boys play with them.  I had a game planned with them, but usually find that every group of kids can come up with their own game using these balls in less than two minutes.  Today was no exception.

When the arrival of friends began to slow down, I passed out handfuls of bubble gum.  While they softened up their gum for a bubble blowing contest I set up a game.  After one boy won the bubble blowing contest we played what became an instant favorite during the summer:  Snatch the Rat.

I bought this ugly plastic rat that squeaks when you squeeze it.  The idea for this game came from my friend who uses a rubber chicken when they play it.  To play, divide the group into two equal teams.  Then go through each team, giving each team member a number, starting at one.  If you have uneven players on each team, choose someone energetic to be two numbers so you have a player on each team that has been assigned each number.  I lined up each team on opposite sides of my lawn, placing cones to help them stay behind the line.  Here they are all ready to go:

The rat was placed on the ground midway between the two teams.  To play, you call out one of the numbers you just assigned to the players.  You should have a one on both teams, a two on both teams, and so forth.  When you call their number, the player from each team races to the middle.  The objective is to grab the rat and carry it safely back to your team without being tagged by the other player.

If you carry the rat back without being tagged your team gets a point.  If you get tagged, the rat goes back to the middle and the players return to their teams with no points awarded.  It’s so fun to catch them off guard, like when you call “four” twice in a row.  We call the numbers randomly to keep them on their toes.  This game is so much fun – it’s as much strategy as it is strength and speed.  We always laugh so hard when we play it as each pair of players begin to try tricking their opponents so they can get away with the rat.  I will also say that this game often becomes a contact sport as the kids really get into it.

After Snatch the Rat, we played a few relay races.  It’s always fun to see people with spoons sticking out of their mouths while they try to do things.

Another race we ran was the Three Musketeer Race.  Three players stand with their backs together in a triangle and they all link arms at the elbows.  Then they have to figure out how to run like this.  When you say “Go” they have to yell “All for one and one for all!” as they start the race.

I did try to pair the boys according to size on this one so we would avoid injury.  It was so funny to watch them run.  This picture is blurry but you can see the smiles.

We also had a tug of war.  A couple of them.  I’d like to say here that I think it’s ok to play games where everyone doesn’t “win.”  Boys like contests.  They know what they’re good at and what they’re not good at.  Someone wins and they move on.  My opinion is that if each contest lasts no more than ten minutes, and if you switch the teams up for each new game, the boys do just fine.  We just kept moving at a fast clip and they had a great time!

After the tug-of-war we went inside for some snacks:  caramel popcorn, chips and salsa and some drinks.  More games followed in the basement, where my camera battery died.

We hung donuts from a stick and had a donut eating contest.  I had three more games nearby but the boys wanted to play ping pong and air hockey.  They played doubles in both games and also used the double shot.  It was so much fun to see them all gathered around the air hockey table yelling and laughing together.

Some of these boys have gone to school together since kindergarten.  Here they are, in 6th grade, still friends and growing up so fast!

What mattered most to me was the happy grin on my boy’s face all day.  He loved every minute of it, throwing himself completely into every game and enjoying the feeling of being surrounded by friends.  I felt like the day was a success simply because he was happy.

A few things that went well:  It’s nice to have more games planned than you actually need.  Watching my six year old’s slack-jawed look of total admiration told me we’ll be using many of them again.  Also, one of my personal challenges with parties is the additional dimension of seven brothers and sisters hovering, wanting to watch or even hoping to be  part of the fun.  This can bring behavior challenges for me and a frustrated birthday boy/girl if they feel like they’re being smothered.  I feel like we found a nice balance today.  I gave lots of assignments to the other children so they were a part of it, had a reason to observe, but were busy enough with their job to let their brother feel like it really was his party.  I was also supremely grateful when my three year old, who wouldn’t sleep until 11:30 p.m. last night and was up at 6:30 a.m. fell asleep just before the party.  Her timely nap literally saved the day.

And so the day now draws to a close as our fine young man looks forward to his grandparents coming this weekend for exciting events in his life.  I’m so proud of him and am being reminded daily that he’s growing quickly.   He had a happy day and my heart is thrilled.

So now I’ll go sweep up the popcorn and get that wad of gum out of my carpet!  Small price to pay.  What a blessing it is to have children.

Hopeful Homemaker


The Good Enough Party

Last week I shared photos of my girls prepping for a last-minute birthday party for a friend.  The joy we all found in scurrying around to prepare was increased when our friends arrived.  It was a perfect evening.

And yet, very little about it was technically perfect.  I didn’t have any paper cups or plastic forks.  I went through several recipes before I found one I had all the ingredients for.  The house was barely tidy.  What was perfect about the evening was our willingness to do our best before the party and when the party started, we all wholeheartedly gave ourselves to enjoying it.

I remembered this post and realized that I’ve learned a lot in the past 18 months.  Many lessons have been imposed upon me by the realities of caring for eight children, but I’m so thankful I’ve learned to relax and enjoy my guests, refrain from apologizing, smile and visit and focus on making people feel good about themselves.

Gratefully, my lavender shortbread cookies and this citrus lemon cake with lavender frosting carried the day in addition to the chocolate cupcakes and cake our guests brought with them.  Everything looked and tasted delicious.

The very best part of it was our family’s common goal of making my friend’s birthday special.  It wouldn’t have been a common goal if I’d been more worried about how things looked than I was about involving my family in preparation.  Because I let them do the decorating, they were able to serve and to anticipate joy as much as I was.  Sharing the creative process without specific expectations or judgment allowed my children to claim my goal as theirs.  This goal was a blessing to her children as well, who felt good about being part of something special for their mom’s birthday.  We had two families who were content to relax, laugh, talk, give praise, and enjoy being together.  Ten minutes before our friends arrived I had a list of 15 things in my mind that I wished I could still pull off, but when we said good-bye I couldn’t remember any of them.   I felt so full and happy I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  We had done enough to let them know they’re important to us, and then we spent time enjoying their friendship.

I don’t mean to go on and on about it.  It really was a very simple gathering.  I guess I think that too often we get big grand pictures in our heads about what a party looks like.  The parties we see in magazines and on pinterest aren’t the kind of party that usually happen at my house.  Those pictures are inspiring in their beauty and it’s fun to glean ideas from them, but they can distract us from the real purpose of a party.  I always try to do at least one special thing to make it look nice (like the mini cake on a piece of china sitting atop a cake stand in the first picture), but I never manage to get everything perfect.  I don’t think we have to.  I think we need to be open, real, relaxed and more concerned about enjoying our guests than we are about what they think of our event.

If you’ve got someone you’ve been meaning to invite over but haven’t yet because you can’t seem to get everything to work out for a Perfect Party, try a Good Enough Party.  Be yourself, make your signature dessert, work as hard as you can for a little while and then take a deep breath and  smile.  Your Good Enough Party just might become a Perfect Party.  Ours did.

Our evening ended with the girls getting wagon rides from my husband while the older children spread streamers all over each other and my yard.  While they played my friend and I talked about real life as we took down streamers together.

And then the birthday girl got a little surprise from her son.

Like I said, a Good Enough, Perfect Party.

Hopeful Homemaker

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