Category Archives: Parties

Treat Guests to a self-serve Party Punch Bar

We just threw our first party at the new house! It was a combination Birthday/Housewarming/ Birthday Party! We had about 40 people in attendance, so we spent the weeks leading up to the party frantically trying to wrap up projects around the house. More on that coming soon. I also had to try to come up with a menu that would feed that many people without totally  blowing the budget. I had a really difficult time with the drinks. I needed something that would work for kids and adults, and that would not require me to spend the whole evening making drinks.  I came up with the idea to have a self-serve Party Punch Bar. I actually got the idea from a hot cider bar I saw in a Food Network Magazine (something I think we’ll try out for Christmas).

self serve party punch

All I did was make a non-alcoholic party punch (fruit punch, lemonade, and ginger ale) and put it in a drink dispenser. Next, I picked 3 liquors (Whiskey, Spiced Rum, and Vodka) for guests to mix in with their punch asttheir discretion. This way I didn’t have to have separate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and the guests could choose their own poison and strength. I didn’t like the look of just placing liquor bottles on the counter (a little too college frat party for my taste), so I bought these antiqued glass bottles from Michael’s for only $3.50 to hold the alcohol.

Party punch

I added these gift tags that I also found at Michael’s with strings of burlap to label what was in each jug. I finished the jugs off with wine corks I had laying around to keep the liquor fresh. Finally, I added instructions that I made using PicMonkey (affiliate) and put it in a spare frame, so guests would know what to do.

DIY punch bar The punch bar was set-up on top of our new beverage center in the kitchen, so guests also had the option of beer or wine. The punch was a huge hit! I also put out some cut strawberries and maraschino cherries for guests to add to their punch. The drinks were served in clear plastic punch cups.

I can’t wait to try out more self-serve option for future parties. I feel like it really took the pressure off me for serving drinks. I simply pointed guests in the direction of the bar after welcoming them to the party!

Sophie’s Gymnastics Birthday Party

I can’t believe it, but Sophie is 4 years old! I’m usually not very nostalgic about my kids growing up, but this year is hitting me hard. 4 is no longer a toddler but a full blown little person, and with Lizzie turning 2 in a couple of months I won’t have a baby anymore either. Cue the sad face 🙁  After 3 years of having her parties at home (cleaning, preparing, cleaning again) we decided that this year we would try having the kid’s parties at local venues instead.  It was a good call because little did we know when we made that decision a year ago that we would be in the middle of renovating a new house during party season.

Sophie has been doing gymnastics for a year now and when she found out that they hosted birthday parties at her gym she was sold on the idea. The gym provides all the entertainment, drinks, balloons, and paper products, so all I had to do was show up with the cake. Of course the decorator in me just couldn’t resist doing something cutesie for the party, so I put all my energy into the favors. After spending a fortune on favors at Sophie’s 1st birthday party, I decided to downsize favors by picking 1 larger item instead of a ton of little things. You may remember the lollipops from Sophie’s Rapunzel art party or the cotton candy from Lizzie’s Circus party. This year I decided on large chocolate chip cookies that I baked from Pillsbury ready dough (no baking skills for this mom). I bought a custom graphic from KidEprints for $5 (the graphic I bought is no longer available but here is a similar one) that I then printed directly onto white paper bags I picked up at Michael’s. I also picked up treat bags for the cookies and printed a thank you note onto them.

gymnastics party

I only ran into 2 snags with this project. The treat bags are thin and can easily jam in the printer so make sure you have extras on hand in case you mess up any. The favor bags would only feed through my printer one way or else the printer would jam where the bottom folded over. This caused me to have to move up my logo higher than I originally intended to.

gymnastics birthday party

After I was done printing all the bags I filled them with the cookies, some Kit Kats (Sophie’s favorite), and some temporary tattoos. Once they were all filled I folded the tops down backwards, hole punched two holes, and ran pink curling ribbon through them in order to keep them closed. The hole punching was harder than I anticipated and I had to outsource that to Cody. I made sure not to tie the bows into knots, so that the kids could open them by themselves. I love how simple (and cheap) these were yet so super cute!

gymnastics party t-shirt

I used the same graphic to make an iron on transfer for Sophie’s birthday outfit. You can sort of make out the shirt in the above picture. Unfortunately, I left the iron on a little too long and it caused some brown spots on the graphic, but she still looked really cute and she’ll probably never wear it again anyways.

gymnastics birthday cupcake toppers Gymnastics cakes are hard to come by, unless you want to pay a small fortune for a custom cake (not this year), so I had decided to do cupcakes instead and I bought these cute little gymnastics cupcake toppers from PaperPartyParade for only $8. The cupcakes were just from our local Farm Fresh and I added some yellow sprinkles for a little pizazz. This would have been the end of it except Sophie started insisting that she doesn’t like cupcakes and wants a cake instead……what’s a mom to do?

gymnastics birthday cake

Buy a cake too of course! I wound up with a dozen chocolate cupcake and a 1/4 sheet of marble cake all done up with lots of pink and finished off with more of the cupcake toppers.

Sophie cake

In the end I had one happy little girl who loved her gymnastics birthday party and one happy mama who was glad to go home and not have to worry about cleaning up for once 🙂

Patriotic Summer BBQ on a Budget

Summer BBQ budget

I love throwing a BBQ. It’s one of the reasons we built a huge deck and patio. There is nothing quite like spending an afternoon outside with friends and family eating, drinking, and playing games while watching the kids run by laughing as they chase each other. Unfortunately, the cost of hosting parties has started to become prohibitive. It’s amazing how much I can spend on food for a gathering of just 10 people. Regardless we have started hosting an annual Memorial Day party, and I have started searching for ways to keep the price in check. Below our my tips for hosting a patriotic summer BBQ on a budget (I mentioned this was a memorial day party but obviously all the decor and food can be used for 4th of July or Labor Day as well).

patriotic decorations

I have 2 secrets for showing off the red, white, and blue at your BBQ: The Dollar Store and Target’s Dollar Stop. It’s a little ridiculous to spend a lot of money on decor that might literally be up for a couple of hours. I bought the miniature flags from Target (3 for $1) and I place them in all our pots. They also look great lining paths. The pinwheels also came from Target while the paper lanterns were from the Dollar Store. My other secret is that I save all these decoration from year to year. I have a large plastic bin that I put all our party decorations in and pull them back out for each party.

memorial day children

The Dollar Store and Target are also great spots to pick up patriotic accessories for the kids. Beside headbands I also picked up the kids a bunch of temporary tattoos and glow sticks.


summer bbq food

Food and drink is single handily the largest expense of any party, so this is where you really have to keep your budget in mind. There are 4 things to keep in mind when picking your menu:

  1. Limit the amount of dishes you serve. You are not Golden Carrol.
  2. Choose dishes that make a lot of food for little money (salads).
  3. Choose dishes that can be prepared in advance, so you can actually enjoy your guests.
  4. Ask guests to help out.

The chicken kabobs were a big hit. I bought 4lbs of boneless skinless chicken breast (@1.99/lb) and marinated them for a hour before skewering them with red, green, orange, and yellow peppers as well as onions. It only took 1 of each pepper to do this. We had 12 people at this particular BBQ and we maybe only went through 2/3rds of the kabobs.  We prepped all the kabobs before our guests arrived. This was the only dish that had to be cooked once the party started.

The strawberry spinach salad is my go-to dish for just about every potluck. People always rave about it and it’s super easy to make.  All you have to do it combine spinach, sliced strawberries, feta ( i like the herbed feta), and pecans (look for Pecan Pie flavored pecans for something really special). I usually offer many dressings on the side for guests to choose from but raspberry vinaigrette is definitely the best.

A fruit salad is another dish that everyone with enjoy and that will allow you to stretch a buck. I combined watermelon, pineapple, and blueberries to keep with the patriotic theme. I used metal cookie cutters to cut the watermelon into star shapes for an extra special touch.

The alcohol budget can get out of control quickly. Remember, it’s not your job to provide everyone’s favorite drink. We always have  water, lemonade, and beer on hand then I choose to make one signature drink. This year I choose a Star Spangled Sangria. Click the link to get the recipe. What was great about this drink was that I used the strawberries, pineapple, and blueberries in the other dishes as well, so I didn’t have to buy any extra fruit for it.

summer sangria

Finally, our guests each brought a dish to share. That included potato salad, cucumber salad, salsa and chips, and chocolate eclair. I am always very directive when guests ask what they can bring. The last thing you want it to have 3 potato salads. I’ll often tell people the menu I have already decided on then ask them to specifically bring either a side, appetizer, or dessert. This helps ensure that you have all the bases covered and don’t get too many similar dishes. Also, don’t be afraid to ask guests to BYOB. My brother is a beer drinker and not much of a cook, so I always suggest that he brings beer to the party. He feels like he gets to contribute and I don’t have to buy beer. It’s a win, win!


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Star Spangeled Sangria

summer sangria

I love Sangria! It’s my go to drink all year and especially when I am having a party. While I typically prefer a red sangria, I choose a white wine for this one so that I could really let the fruit take center stage. I served this at our annual Memorial Day party and it was a big hit. Obviously, it’s also a great choice for 4th of July and Labor Day too. Just a warning: this is a very strong sangria so you may want to serve it in a small glass. I choose to serve it in a white wine glass vs my typical red wine goblet.





4 oz vodka

2 oz triple sec

1 bottle of white wine

2 oz of simply syrup

6 oz of sparkling wine

Mix the fruit with the vodka and triple sec and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. To get the star-shaped pineapple, trim the skin of the pineapple then slice it into large rounds. Then I simply stick a metal star cookie cutter into the center of each round to cut out the shape.

fruit stars You can put as little or as much fruit in as you want. For this particular recipe I loaded up on the fruit. When you are ready to serve the Sangria, mix the wine and simple syrup together then add in the fruit/liquor combo.

4th of july cocktail memorial day cocktail Top with the sparkling wine. To  serve add ice to the bottom of a glass fill up the rest of the glass with fruit then pour the sangria on top and enjoy!

Make sure to check out all my tips on throwing a Patriotic BBQ on a budget!

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Tangled inspired art party

art themed birthday party

For Sophie’s 3rd birthday we decided to do a Tangled inspired art party theme. This idea was born from the fact that for the second year in a row Sophie demanded a Tangled party, and I do hate to be repetitive. If you’ve seen the movie than you know that Rapunzel is portrayed as an artist who paints the entire inside of her tower (and spends her days with a Chameleon named Pascal.) Luckily Sophie’s birthday is in September so we get to to take advantage of our huge yard and deck and have the party outside, which is a good thing considering we had 10 3 year olds wielding paint brushes.


tangled party rapunzel decorationa

For the decor I made 3 of these tangled inspired banners that came right out of the movie. To make the banners I found a free image available here, printed it onto card stock, cut out the sun with an exacto knife, then painted the sun onto purple card stock using a foam brush. The stencil will make 3 pendents per piece of paper. Once the paint was dry I traced triangles onto the paper and cut them out by hand.  Finally, I taped all the pendants to a piece of string to hang them.

tangled party decorations

I also decorated almost everything I could with purple and yellow crepe paper. This is a really cheap way to add a lot more color to your party. Unfortunately, it was really humid outside and the crepe paper didn’t hold up so well. I also used a lot of balloons which 3 year olds love!  I ordered this set of balloons * from Amazon which included the large Rapunzel Mylar, large purple #3 (also available with other numbers), 2 small Rapunzel Mylars, 2 purple heart Mylars, and 6 coordinating latex balloons. We blew them all up along with some more purple and yellow latex balloons with a helium tank we bought at Michael’s for $15.

*This is an affiliate link. Any purchase you make helps support Simply Swider. Thank you.

tangled party decorations


For some unknown reason, other than I like to make more work for myself, I always coordinate the girls outfits with the theme of the  party. This year I made Sophie a Rapunzel inspired dress from an old purple ruffled tablecloth that I sewed to a white tank top from Target. I then added a coordinating purple ribbon around the center that tied in the back.

rapunzel inspired dress


This cake was truly a masterpiece. It was made by a good friend of the family (otherwise I never would have been able to afford it). The kids absolutely adored it!  It’s obviously inspired by Rapunzel’s tower from the movie. Not only was the cake delicious but the tower was made out of a giant Rice Krispy Treat and so was completely edible too!

tangled rapunzel tower cake

Fun and Games

art party

The kids all created their own one of a kind canvas painting at the party. Above you can see the set-up before the kids got to it.  The aprons * were from Amazon, $10 for a 12 pack. I used this sun stencil to dress them up a little bit with some more Tangled suns.  I sponged the suns on in either purple or yellow depending on the color of the apron. These were also a big hit and the kids got to bring them home with them. The paint ( crayola 10 pack), canvases, paint trays, and paint brushes all came from Michael’s.  I spent a  couple of months getting ready for this party so I was able to get all the supplies at Michael’s 40-50% off.

**This is an affiliate link. Any purchase you make helps support Simply Swider. Thank you.

rapunzel art party

The kids had a ton of fun with this project, and it was so neat to see what they all came up with. Plus they loved getting to bring it home with them. A good number of the parents sent me pictures of the painting hanging up in their homes. You can see all the canvases drying below.

tangled art party

In order to make sure we didn’t mix up the canvases and so the kids would remember the party, I created these name tags that I printed onto sticker paper. After the kids finished painting we wrote their names on the tags and stuck them to the back of the canvas.

tangled art name tag


I have been on a mission to make favors cheaper and less work, so I decided that rather than buy a ton of junk for the kids I would but just one larger item. I ordered theses yellow and purple Round-up Lollipops from the Bulk Candy Store for $11.50 per dozen. I personalized them with gift tags I designed myself and cut out with craft punches.

tangled party favors

Here’s a close-up of the tag I designed for the favors. I simply made this in MS Word and printed it onto white card stock. I used a larger scalloped edge craft punch on purple card stock to create the border and simply glued the two together.

tangled thank you card


We had a fantastic party. Adults and children both seemed to enjoy the theme.  I liked being able to provide something a little different from the run of the mill birthday parties we go to all year. In the end we had one happy Birthday girl, which is all that really matters!

birthday girl

Lizzie’s Vintage Circus inspired 1st birthday party


Carnival collage

Before Lizzie was even born I had already decided that her first birthday would be a vintage circus theme. Teal and red are also conveniently the colors of her nursery. The weekend before her birthday we did a DIY vintage inspired cake smash featuring her birthday outfit.


The Menu

We were trying to keep the food cheap, easy, and themed so we came up with Hot dogs, BBQ meatballs, popcorn, and caramel apples. We popped the popcorn ourselves, the meatballs stayed warm in the crockpot as did the hotdogs in there sleeves, and the caramel apples were apples slices with caramel dipping sauce. The food containers were my favorite thing at her birthday.  The popcorn bags, hotdog wraps, and red and white trays came from Pink Lemonade Party on Etsy.




I’m a little obsessed with food tents. I made these myself in MS Word by downloading a free circus font from the web.


For drinks were served lemonade, water, and beer. The coordinating paper straws are also from Pink Lemonade Party.


This beautiful cake was really the centerpiece of the whole party. Our friend Jenna made it for Lizzie. It was beyond anything we could have possible imagined!


Lizzie loved the cake (as you can see below). The first picture is from Sophie’s first birthday and I thought It would be cute to get a similar one of me and Lizzie, but as you can see Lizzie had other ideas.

Lizzie and mommy cake birthday


I’m so over all the little crappy things kids get as favors at birthday parties, not to mention how much it all costs. This year I decided to simplify and only get each kid one thing. I found these cute bags on cotton candy from Sweetopia Cotton Candy on Etsy and they were a huge hit.



Since it was a 1st birthday party I decided not to do formal games, but I did make this cute little ring toss game. It actually only cost me $2! The bottles were old beer bottles (no shortage of those around here), the crate was a clementine box, the paint I already had laying around, and I made my own stencil to print ring toss on it. I bought a set of 5 bangles at Michael’s for $2 and wrapped them with shredded fabric that I already had laying around. The 3 year olds at the party had a ball with it.