Come Join the Wrecking Crew, George and William are Turning TWO!

I briefly debated between Trains and Diggers for their theme for the 2nd birthday party but quickly settled on diggers/construction. They've been so into trucks for a while now and continue to love them, that I figure trains can probably be saved for down the road. I think I settled on a theme back in February and it wasn't until our weekend in Vegas that I actually did any research. Vegas, perfect place for Pinterest-ing it up, I know, but once I'm up, I'm up, and Dave sleeps for another 4 hours so I had plenty of time to lay around and browse. I was almost overwhelmed with all the options but was more excited for all the possibilities and was hopeful that the backyard would be finished in time for us to hold it all outside.

So I think it was the middle of March that I decided on invites (custom, via. Etsy), got those printed and addressed and even shipped out one month in advance of their party. But beyond the invites and general browsing, I did very little party planning until April finally rolled around.

Their first birthday party was really the first party that I planned that had actual invites, catered food, drinks, decorations, etc., etc. It was a ton of work and I think probably a 3-month planning process, but despite the natural stress of that, I really enjoyed planning it and learned so much from that first experience. The first birthday party was great, the boys were in a good mood and the cake smash and subsequent bath were unforgettable. But I also had bad luck and got a very cold day after a storm that resulted in the always-windy Brannan pool area being even windier than normal. I have to admit that it was a bit disappointing to have so many of the little details that I was so excited to see come together fly away in the wind. Even though I enjoyed the party, I felt like I wanted a do-over to do it all again and have all my little ideas displayed. But like I said, it was a good learning lesson.

So of course when we started to talk about this party, Dave immediately had concerns that we were planning to have it outside. He didn't want me stressed about the weather or all the little details. I convinced him that it would be fine and since this year was/will be a bit different than others since we had just moved into our new place and finished the work inside and out, thus it being a combined house-warming and birthday party, he agreed.

Well, of course I start stalking the weather two weeks in advance, then breaking into the 10-day forecast and finally the week-long outlook. Surprise, surprise, during this crazy California drought when we've seen rain like twice this entire year, rain was predicted for the day of their party. And thus the stress starts to build up. But it was a low chance, and it seemed to fluctuate so while it was nagging at me, I truly believed it wouldn't happen again (considering it also rained on our wedding day...). At once point it seemed like we may be okay, and then the no chance quickly jumped up to 60 percent, then 90 percent on Wednesday night.

On Thursday morning, I called the food truck company to see if they would be able to move to Sunday -- that was really going to be the deciding factor. That, and the photographer. Everything else (besides the actual guests) could easily be put off another day. They said Sunday would be no problem, so I decided to wait until 10am Friday to make my final decision. Throughout Thursday, it fluctuated more and while it definitely looked like it was going to rain Saturday morning, we just weren't sure when it was going to stop. I kept moving out earlier and earlier which was a good sign, but at 10am Friday, it still said it was going to be raining up until about 9am. I figured this could easily be 10am which wouldn't give me nearly enough time to set up. From experience, I know 2.5-3 hours is safe, ideally not being rushed at the end. So I made the decision to move the party. I hated to do that, I knew there were certain people who wouldn't be able to come and that would be the biggest disappointment. But luckily it seemed like most people would still be able to come so moved on it with and got to the final planning. Of course, throughout Thursday and into Friday, it looked like the rain was going to be moving out earlier and earlier and that we would've been fine to hold it Saturday. In the end, I think it rained from about 11pm Friday night to 5am Saturday. Saturday definitely wasn't as nice of a day as Sunday -- overcast and cold versus clear and sunny. But I had to make a decision and in the end, everything worked out really well on Sunday so I can't have any regrets.

First look while we finished setting up
In fact, I think in some ways it worked out even better, as all my family (sisters, brother, parents, all the kids, etc.) came over on Saturday afternoon and though it was chaotic, I actually got everything done I needed to do and with a lot of helpers. The little ones were doing the cookies with the cookie cutters, Tenzing was in charge of frosting and sprinkles, the older boys were helping my dad build the cardboard maze. It was crazy, but so much fun. We even had some cuddle time with our cousins before bed.

Planning Phase I: Decisions, Decisions

First of all, it helped to look at my blog post from last year because I followed a lot of what I learned then -- plan as far in advance as you can, decide what you're going to do yourself and what you're going to pay to have done, make a timeline. But the big difference in this year versus last year is the amount of activities and stuff for the kids, versus last year really being a party for the adults. We had a few kids there last year but I remember asking my brother to bring over a few of T&C's toys -- I really didn't have anything planned for kids.

This year we had 25 kids in attendance. There were so many good ideas on Pinterest, so I drew out a plan of the backyard, narrowed down the list of games/activities and decided where we could put them. Within each of those activities, I made a list of everything I would need for it -- signs, toys, gear, etc. Here's what we did:
  • 2 digger ride-on toys that we already had

  • Dig Zone: Rock Digger Box - already built in
    • Caution Tape, sign, extra trucks and shovels
    • Extra trucks and shovels

  • Cone ring toss (not sure this got used at all, but it looked cute :)
    • My dad created little rings

  • Paint Zone: Painting the fence with rollers and paint brushes 
    • Loved this idea but then realized they'd have to trample over the newly-planted greenery to get to the fence... so my dad built a platform and we nailed down a paint can and roller tray each filled with water. Added paint brushes, rollers, Home Depot hats and Wet Paint caution tape along with other signs.
  • Demolition Zone: Cardboard Crane and wrecking ball
    • I got the idea from pinterest but it took a bit of experimenting to get it right. We ended up using a tall skinny box and securing it in a big buck with rocks, then sticking that in a box. Covered it in yellow paper, painted on the lines and made the wrecking ball out of newspaper, duck tape and an old chain.

  • Hammer Zone:
    • Basically golf tees that the kids could hammer into styrofoam or foam used for flower arranging. Had a few laying a small kids' table and a few on the cheapie workbench from Amazon. The kids loved this!
  • Build-a-Pipe
    • My dad's idea. A bunch of random PVC pipes that could be linked together.

  • Reading Zone:
    • Display all their truck books inside

  • Photo op cardboard digger
    • I outsourced this Pinterest project to the 14-year-old that lives next door and then my dad and I finished it up by attaching tires he had picked up from a tire shop.
    • This didn't get used much for photos... I think at this age, the kids didn't get it -- why would they want to go behind it? They wanted to look at it from the front. I did convince W to get in this one photos ;)
  • 'Sign My Hammer' 'guestbook'
    • I got each of the boys a hammer and thought it would be cute to have them signed and then give them to them when they move into their own place years down the line. Well, I never had luck with guests books, only one person signed so I guess it wasn't in a good spot, or it's very understandable that it's just too hectic to sign this when your kid(s) is running around.

Next was food. I decided to have one table for desserts and one for snacks and had a lot of fun coming up with all the different construction-themed names. The idea was more about variety in line with the theme, as opposed to actually being a balanced spread with enough for everyone. We lucked out and our mortgage broker and realtor offered to cover the cost to rent a food truck which meant the offerings in the backyard were really just little things to nibble on but something more substantial was available from the truck. I would totally do this again. It took the stress out of figuring out how much food to have, keeping food restocked (plus the sun was pretty harsh over the food table so anything beyond the packaged snacks didn't fare well).

At one point we probably had 60+ people so it helped to have the lure of the digger and taco truck out front as it definitely broke up the party a bit.


We kept it simple with drinks and filled a wheelbarrow with several kinds of beer, champagne, orange juice and diet cokes. We had a big construction cooler of water and then several boxes of coffee from Pete's. Only a few people had coffee, but the Champagne was very popular with the women (obviously ;) and beer with the guys. Each child got a cone cup filled with water. I wrapped 2 strips of white electrical tape around orange cups to make them look like construction pile-ons.

I had so much fun coming up with different names for the snacks, here's what we offered:

  • Mandarin oranges = wrecking balls
  • Bugles (haven't had these in literally 20 years) = traffic cones

  • Fruit Salad = Dig Site
  • Chex Mix = Nuts and Bolts
  • Curly snacks from TJs = Drill Bits
  • Grapes = Explosives
  • Babybel cheese in a dump truck = Spare Tires
  • Veggie platter and hummus = bricks and mortar

  • Pretzel sticks = nails, Pretzel rods = steel beams
  • Veggie straws = 2x4s

For the dessert table:
  • A digger cake for each of them -- so easy to make as it's just chocolate cake that you sort of tear up and stick a mini digger on top. I also got some chocolate rocks. Recipe here

  •  Worms in dirt pudding cups, recipe here

  • Mini chocolate donuts in a dump truck = spare tires
  • Licorice = cable
  • Pirouettes = clogged pipes
  • Chocolate cupcakes with oreo dust, minis and regular size
  • Construction hat cake pops, based on this recipe

  • Graham cracker and fluff 'paint brushes', based on this recipe 
  • Candy corn = traffic cones, wish we had a photo of the boys sneaking over for another 'cone'. They did this over and over and looked guilty each time ;)

    • Sugar cookies. I found the cutest hammer and saw cookie cutters at our Five and Dime, when I wasn't even looking, so I decided to add this to the menu. Topped with yellow sprinkles. Recipe here.

    The last area was general decor, gear and goodie bags.

    I bought several printable sets on Etsy for various construction signs and then got a custom set for the different signs I needed specific to this party. Those were scattered throughout. The huge digger greeted everyone and then we had everyone enter through the open garage with more signs and a cardboard maze 'explosives site'. That led to the side yard where we had a little orange Home Depot apron and personalized hard hat with 'McDowell Construction' sticker on each one. So easy to customize using these Avery stickers. I also did a printable for the birthday banner and then used the large wood G and W that normally hang on their bedroom wall -- since they're painted yellow, they fit the theme perfectly.

    We had a little table for decorating the hats with lots of different stickers. I also got some Bob the Builder temporary tattoos.

    My dad brought all kinds of tools and construction-themed items that we could scatter throughout the party to tie everything together.


    My dad, Dave and I were all decked out in hard hats and tool belts too.

    For goodie bags, I decided on buckets and shovels from the dollar store with an inflatable hammer and personalized thank you tags.

    One last area that was decorated, that we didn't get a photo of, was the bathroom. I covered the door with blue paper and put a port-a-potty sign on it. Then there was caution tape on the mirror. Of course Dave thought it was over the top, but I thought it was a cute way to tie it all together.

    I took all my printables to Office Depot on a flash drive and the guy was great about checking the layout. I had ordered this paper thinking I would do some of the printing at home, but then realized all these color signs may be running me out of ink over and over so just brought the paper in to Office Depot which made it a bit cheaper to print. They were even able to resize a few of them that I wanted even larger. I didn't ask, but the guy volunteered a coupon they had in their flyer so it made it a bit cheaper. I spent a good 30 minutes using their paper cutter to trim the signs, cut the tags, the cake toppers, etc. All-in-all, it was probably a 2-hour project, but I'd definitely go back to have things printed for me again.

    I did similar birthday boards to last year, but this time it was about a million times easier. Basically I just copied to a new version and edited all the words, playing with the font a little, but not much (I guess more 'construction' than 'royalty' looking). It probably took an hour to do, then I printed it out at Kinkos for less than $5 total (engineer prints) and modge-podged it on top of the 1-year old boards from last year. This project was a huge effort last year as I had to learn how to use Picassa, download fonts, etc. Now that it's all set up for me, it's a fun thing and I think I'll continue to do it each year.


    Planning Phase II: Purchasing and Timeline

    After the initial planning phase, it was time to start buying stuff. I used Amazon for everything I could and a few of the purchases came from Birthday Express. I spent about an hour on Google Shopping Express one night loading my cart with all the snacks, candy and other non-perishables for the party -- highly recommend this, get it delivered to your door and stash it away until needed.

    Then my dad, the boys and I took a trip to Home Depot 2 weeks before the party. We walked the aisles and I loaded up the cart with anything I thought could work, pointing out things to my dad that he could bring from home for decorations. I stashed the receipt away knowing that I probably wouldn't use everything once I started pulling it together and could return anything unused.

    One week before the party, I took the boys over to Hobitot in Berkeley and then we went to Dollar Tree where I found the buckets, some party supplies like napkins and a few other odds and ends. Finally, we hit Ikea where I got big shovels, fun napkins and a few serving pieces that would come in handy at future parties as well. Side note: This was a hugely successful day. Not only did we get out the door by 8:15 so we could go to Dollar Tree before Hobitot opened, I managed to get them through Ikea (we were there at least an hour) without a meldown. I knew they were tired as it was after 1pm when we left, so I decided to let them fall asleep (as opposed to try to keep them awake) on the 40-minute ride. Miraculously (as in it's never happened before), they stayed asleep even when I got home and got a decent 1.5-hour nap in total which allowed me to unpack the car.

    I also hit up SF Party and Party City for the last few supplies I needed. We rented one folding table from SF Party for the dessert.

    I had a running Evernote that (in addition to all the above activities and food details) also had my to-do list including:
    • Need to borrow
    • Need to buy
    • Dad's list
    • Carlotta (neighbor girl who helped) - both pre- and during party
    • Dave's list
    • Then a breakdown, initially by week and then the last week, by day detailing everything that needed to be completed. As it got closer and I started deleting stuff on the list and deleting days, the to-do list became more and more specific. But the key thing is, no matter how small, the item went on the list so it wasn't forgotten.
      • My list was further broken out into things I could do 'while watching TV' so that whenever I had downtime, I could quickly prioritize what I could be multi-tasking. This including cutting, or getting all the stickers off the hard hats or buckets, sticking labels onto hard hats, labeling all cone cups, aprons and hard hats, gluing sticks onto signs and cake toppers, etc.
    Lessons Learned:
    • Definitely hire someone to be a second set of eyes on the kids. In our case, a neighbor who is a freshman in high school and conveniently has an 18-month old sister. She helped me one day before the party, came early to set up, stayed to clean up, but probably most importantly, stood at the top of the few steps that led down into our house, and she definitely caught at least one kid from falling down.
    • Not everything has to be homemade. I did make some of the desserts, but the cupcakes were a mix from a box, most of the snacks from pre-packaged, but it worked out fine and my time was spent on other areas. I think it helped that we had the food truck so I didn't worry so much about the food in the backyard.
    • For a party as extensive as this one was as far as activities and decor that had to be set up, start early and know how much help you'll have. I cut it a little close but was fine, though I expected several of my family members to be there over an hour earlier than they actually came. Not their fault, any help was much appreciated, but my plans would have been different had I known.
    • No matter how prepared you are, it's still going to be hectic if you have a lot of people coming. We were all ready when people got there, but it still went by so fast, I felt like I was all over the board and while I think I got to talk to everyone, it felt very rushed. Not sure how to solve this, but it made me feel much better when Dave said that he was able to greet most people coming out of the garage, show them to get their hard hat and apron and then got them a drink.
    • Make time for the photographer. Although we were ready when guests arrived, I was rushed at the end and not ready for photos like we planned before the party. This was in my advice last year and I didn't follow it -- take 5 minutes no matter how busy you are and talk to the photographer. I did this, but should've been more directive instead of being preoccupied with finishing the party set-up. We got very few photos of the boys together and I should've plopped them in the rock box and let them play -- at least they would've been in the same frame. I could've gotten in a few there as well. Once again, I should've prioritized getting a few photos of our family of four, though we did get some group ones of the whole family, which is so special. Finally, be very specific about what you want. My main goal was to document the party and get lots of candids of the boys and our guests, but I realize I also wanted more of the little details of all my hard work captured. Though much was documented, I'm so detail-oriented so next time I'll definitely walk around the photographer and point out what I want captured. I'd like to think this post would've been shorter if I could've 'shown' and not told so much, but who am I kidding?? ;)
    It was such a great party and so much fun to see everyone enjoying themselves, especially the kids. We were lucky that while there were a few people who couldn't make the new date, the majority of people could. I'm so glad we were able to hold the party outside. Most importantly, obviously I don't think the boys will appreciate all the time and energy that went into the party, but I do think they had a blast with all the activities and enjoyed the food :)

    George cutting the cake with his saw


    Oh, and how could I forget the full story of the digger?? Basically there has been so much construction going on in our neighborhood for the past few months, that I was hoping I could just ask one of the workers to park their digger at our house for the weekend. But as it neared the party, it seemed like the work was winding down so I definitely got worried. Two weeks before the party, we went walking the hills and found a team working not too far away. I stopped to talk to the foreman, introduced ourselves and shared how obsessed with diggers the boys are. Then I asked him about parking at our house and it seemed like no problem. He gave me his phone number and told him to call the Friday before the party. So the Thursday before I went to find him in person again, just to make sure we were on, and then called on Friday. Sure enough, he brought it over around 2pm and the boys woke up from their nap to see the huge digger parked out front. We kept them off of it most of the weekend, until the actual party. They were sad to see it go, George even started crying.

    I'm so thankful for everyone who came, but especially my sisters who made a big effort to make the trek to SF for the bash. Everyone was such a huge help and it was so wonderful to have them there.

    A HUGE thank you to my dad who spent hours and hours getting everything ready for the party. I truly couldn't have done it without him.

    Happy birthday to my digger-lovin' two year olds! It was so much fun to plan this bash for you and have everyone there to celebrate you both. Who knows if we'll do a MyGym party next year or continue these labor-intensive parties, but seeing it all come together and W&G enjoying themselves make it all worth it. Let's just hope they're into something that can be pulled together in an easy-to-work-with theme. Construction and diggers will be tough to beat.

    Most of the photos are by Albena Ilieva Photography.
    Custom invites by Dreamy Duck
    Custom signage by Wolcott Designs, in addition to this package
    Food labels by Wolcott Designs 
    Favor tags by MyMessenger
    Custom cake topper and birthday banner by Gardella Global
    Cupcake toppers by BSNPartyArt

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