Mostly because it's these details that swim around in my brain like goldfish circling their bowl for months in advance.
A few thoughts on prepwork:
1) Invest in a few tools. I LOVE my paper cutter. Best $25 I've ever spent. Also important? A 2-inch scalloped punch and a 1.5 inch circular punch, available at any craft store. Years off my life instead of cutting 24 tiny circles.
2) Always, always, always practice before the big day. Otherwise, you too will have ugly frosting that didn't set properly and chunked coming out of the frosting bag. Stupid butter that didn't cream.
3) Set your table ahead of time. That way, when people show up 30 minutes early, you're not scrambling to pretend like you have it all together. You actually have it all together.
4) I prefer colors to an actual theme. Themes get kitchy. Colors tie everything together without being too over the top.
The How To's
Sooo simple, so effective. I drew inspiration from these, but I like to DIY because they're super easy. I have a digital scrapbooking program called My Memories Suite, which I absolutely love. For the first two birthdays, this program was enough. A rectangle here, simple circle there and my 2inch punch and, bada-bing, instant party.
The program was still good for a few things. These turned out pretty cute:
Enter Casey and Photoshop.
First: Use google images to search for a desired background. This is the free method. For a small price, search "digital papers" or find them on Etsy in your desired color or pattern. I am absolutely enamoured of this - the possibilities are endless!
Second: Set the paper as your background. Then, add elements as desired on top of the digital paper in 1.5 inch diameters. The scalloped punch will cut out 2 inches, so you'll have the bordered effect you see below.
Another way to do this would be to scallop punch just the 2-in background, and use the 1.5-in circle punch to cut out the message. Then use foam glue dots (another favorite of mine) to adhere the two together for a multi-layer look. I didn't have time to do this one, but it's awesome.
Third: Let's talk fonts. Standard fonts will only get you so far. Fortunately, there are LOTS of free options. I'm especially loving this one, and the whole website generally. They install easily, they are super fun, and they're free. I'm so all about free. I used this on the milk bottles. Also free, also completely adorable.
Last: After they are printed and punched, use lollypop sticks and adhere the topper.
One final thought: It's easy to get carried away with birthday parties. I know that my daughter doesn't care if she has personalized milk bottles with striped straws I spent hours searching the internet for. And all the rest of those details that kept me up until the wee hours for days in a row? She could take or leave, so long as there's cake. I had to double check my motives this time around - who was I really doing this for?
The truth is that, although I do love this stuff, that moment when she walked downstairs, awed by the birthday - her birthday - took my breath away. Brought tears to my eyes. She felt special. She felt grateful. That's why I do this. That's why I spend hours designing and cutting out stupid cupcake toppers.
She may not remember this birthday, but as she grows up I hope she'll remember feeling like she had a mother who loved her, and deeply wanted all her birthdays to be special ones. That day three years ago? It was the most special day of my whole life.