I have a thing for functional art. When I am able to create something useful, it brings me joy.
I also have a thing about waste, in as much as I don’t like things that are wasteful of time, efforts, energy, or resources.
When it comes to planning birthday parties for my kids, I try to take these two “things” (aka obsessions) of mine and make them work for me. I prefer to decorate in a way that is reusable, and I aim to create party-favor / goodie-bags that contain useful/usable things (i.e., no cluttering tchockies).
I became a Mom on the Fourth of July, 2006, meaning my oldest turned 6 on 7/4/12. With a backyard pool and a summer birthday, we have a pool party every year. Still, Alex gets to choose the theme for his cake and decorations.
This year: Flags.
In his kindergarten year at the Montessori school he attends, he created a “Flag Book,” in which he drew pictures of some flags.
Add in the international scenes of the Disney Pixar movie Cars 2, and flags quickly became his favorite thing.
Unique party theme, for sure. But also very little to go on. When I asked Alex what he had in mind, the most he could offer was a vague idea of hunting for flags.
I knew he loved certain flags from certain countries for no apparent reason: Libya, Bangladesh, Japan, Maldives, Palau… Why? “Because I like them.” For goodness sake, I had no idea where to even find some of these countries on the map!
So I requested pictorial books from the library and did some research. There is a story behind every flag, some with far-fetched legends, others packed with symbolism. THIS, I could work with! During a long car trip, I grabbed some post-it notes and marked the pages which pictured his favorite flags.
The one idea I found on Pinterest offered food platters that replicated the colors and patterns of some flags. The flags Alex liked the most had his favorite colors along with basic patterns he could replicate. I used one idea straight from Pinterest: the Mexican flag represented by guacamole, sour cream, and salsa (using olives, cheese, and garnish for the emblem).
For the rest, I brainstormed food ideas that could match the basic colors and patterns. I tried to also keep the platters as healthy as possible, especially since my family and many of our friends eat (mostly) gluten and dairy free. (Hover over the picture for the ingredients.)
I asked my friends and family if I could borrow any rectangular platters they had to use for the party–especially any with lids. So I had plenty to work with and created FOOD ART! (Note: for the homemade blue cheese dressing in the Ireland flag, go here. For the deviled eggs recipe in the China flag, go here.)
I was intrigued by Alex’s idea for a “Flag Hunt,” but I needed supplies to offer the parameters for the hunt. My first thought was to try to make the flags myself… but the realities of the space-time continuum made that plan unrealistic. I would have needed to start creating flags months ago. Instead, I checked out Oriental Trading and found a package of 15 different 6″ x 4″ flags (72 total flags in a pack… meaning 4-5 of each flag). I purchased 3 packages, so each party guest could have one of each flag. While they weren’t the best quality (plastic flags on a plastic stick), they were affordable and could serve as both the scavenger hunt bounty and the party favors.
So I took another pictorial flag book from the library, a different color stack of post-it notes, and gathered just enough info to offer some of each flag’s story as part of the scavenger hunt. While it was helpful to preview the library books (and “flag” them with post-its for easy reference), in the end I found that it was easier to copy and paste info from Wikipedia into a document (Flags Stories) rather than re-write each story.
Then, my husband and I brainstormed 15 different locations on our property (for 4, 5, 6, and 7 year olds to safely do a scavenger hunt). I put on my cheesiest poetry thinking hat and came up with a song or rhyme for each clue. (Again, I did this during a long car ride).
- Come over to play / on any old day / winter, spring, summer or fall. / In this box you’ll find / trucks, chalk, and balls. [Outside Toys Box]
- For us to move to Nassau Bay, we have to sell our house one day. This sign tells others who to call, and that there’s a pool for all y’all. [For Sale Sign]
- STOP in the name of love, before you break my heart! STOP in the car on the street if you’re driving! [STOP Sign]
- Roses are red, violets are blue, Alex is turning 6, and so are many of you. These flowers aren’t roses. These flowers aren’t violets. These flowers are petunias. And they’re in a colorful box. [Flower Box]
- On a hot, hot, hot day / You come over to play / And to try to stay cool / You jump in the pool / And if you want a toy / Whether you’re a girl or a boy / You’ll find lots of tricks / Like dive rings and sticks [Pool toy box]
- Sand in your fingers, sand in your toes. Sand in THIS yard. You know where it goes [Sandbox]
- Waterslide, waterslide everywhere. From where does the water come? Follow the hose back to the SPOUT. From THERE does the water come. [Faucet]
- The pool equipment goes whrrr, whrrr, whrrr. Whrrr, whrrr, whrrr… [Pool Pump]
- Riding along in my automobile… Who knows what my car looks like? [By the front tire of my car]
- Mary, Mary quite contrary. How does your GARDEN grow? With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row. Alex, Alex with your cowlicks, where does your Daddy grow: tomatoes and Brussels sprouts and veggies all in a row. [Garden]
- Flower power in a chair, flower power over there. Flower power in the sun. Flower power; just pick one. [Behind one of the painted flower chairs]
- Repeat after me: There was a tree (There was a tree). In the middle of a pot (In the middle of a pot). And in this tree (And in this tree). There was a lemon (There was a lemon). A lemon on the tree, and the tree in the pot, and the pot on the rocks… [Potted Lemon Tree]
- Ding-Dong the witch is dead! Witch old witch; the wicked witch! Ding-Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead! DING-DONG! Bell out of order; please knock! [Doorbell]
- Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh. Tubby little tummy all stuffed with fluff, he’s Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, willie, silly, nillie old bear. Winnie the Pooh went to the six tall pines, but in our yard we only have one tall pine. The next clue can be found there. [Pine tree]
- Oh, say can you see at the dawn’s early light… I pledge allegiance to the flag… Which flag are these referencing??? The final bag can be found near an American flag. [USA Flag Decoration in Back Yard]
The clues really had nothing to do with flags themselves… they just brought the kids from place to place. At the start of the scavenger hunt, I passed around “Flag Bags.”
I got 2 yards of the only “flag” fabric I could find at JoAnn’s, and sewed very basic bags. I’m not really one for measurements or pinning in my primitive sewing skills… I basically folded the fabric to make sure I’d have enough bags for everyone. Then I cut, sewed a seam at the top, and stitched down each side. I would’ve used ribbons for the handles, but years ago my Mother-in-Law had sewn “ties” for a project my husband was working on, and I had a bunch leftover… I thought they made perfect handles for each bag. Then, in the kids’ summer camp art supply section, I found very inexpensive fabric puff paints, with which I painted each guest’s name. The Flag Bags were ultimately the kids party favor bags (reusable), included a couple of pencils from Oriental Trading.
At each location, they’d find a ziplock bag with a different country’s flag. While the flags were passed around to each guest, I read a short blurb about each flag’s story. To make it easier on myself, I had cut the Flags Stories document up into blurbs and stuck each into the corresponding ziplock bag of flags.
At the end of the scavenger hunt, the kids went back to swimming. (If we didn’t have the pool, I probably would have done a few more activities, like having the kids make their own flag… but I find kids are content to swim and play!) I encouraged the parents at the party to remind the kids about their flags when they watch the Summer Olympics, starting July 27.
In addition to the flag platters, for decorations, I purchased a couple of international flag banners (which are no longer available) from Oriental Trading.
I also decided to finally follow through on a gift idea for Alex. At Christmas, my parents bought him an assortment of 100 4″x6″ international flags from Miniature Flag Shop. He wanted to be able to put the flags “on the map where they go.” So 7 months later I used the birthday-gift/party-decoration as motivation. I found a 2’x3′ world map poster from Michael’s for $12.99 (and used a 40% off coupon, of course).
Then at Lowe’s, I found a piece of 3/4 inch thick pine board that was the exact size I needed (2’x3′) for about $16. I could’ve gotten plywood and cut/sanded myself for less money, but I was happy to save time, effort, and energy there. Rather than using the real Mod Podge, I mixed up a homemade version with 50-50 glue and water and decopodged the poster to the board. After it dried, I used the thickest nail I could find in our garage and “started” the flag holes on the countries. Then, I gently drilled 1/4″ holes around the map. I didn’t quite get all the countries, but I did focus on Alex’s favorites.
For the cake, I baked two 8″ rounds and decorated them as the two sides of a globe map. When it came to the miniature international toothpick flags, I let Alex insert the bulk of them.
I made one yellow cake (on the left with Europe, Asia, Africa etc) and one gluten free, dairy free chocolate cake (on the right with North and South America). I used America’s Test Kitchen yellow cake and buttercream icing recipes because they are phenomenal – tasty and (relatively) easy to follow directions. The gf/df cake recipe comes from Hip2Save. My kids and I LOVE this recipe because it tastes FANTASTIC! It doesn’t use any “fake” flours or flour substitutes. Since none of us have an issue with butter, I used the buttercream icing on everything.
I was pretty pleased with how it all turned out! It was fun, functional, tasty, and healthy.
“The national flags all over the world © Depositphotos.com/Alan”