published Monday, May 7th, 2012

Memorable birthday parties don't have to cost a fortune

Children's birthday parties aren't what they used to be. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, a birthday party was held at home. You played a few games, like pin the tail on the donkey, ate birthday cake and ice cream, and opened presents. There was rarely a theme. Parents dropped off their kids and picked them up two hours later.

The celebrations started changing when my children were growing up. Every party had a theme, typically based on a popular toy or movie. For my four children, themes included "Star Wars," G.I. Joe, Strawberry Shortcake, Barbie, Peanuts and "The Simpsons."

While most of our birthday parties were celebrated at home, we did venture out occasionally to bowling centers, movie theaters, mini golf courses and game rooms. We also had numerous birthday slumber parties. On my daughters' 16th birthday parties (in March and November), we stayed overnight in local hotels with indoor pools.

Today's parties have become much more elaborate, with some parents investing a small fortune paying for catering, inflatables, live music and other entertainment.

The economy, though, has some parents, such as my daughter Kacee, looking for less expensive ways to entertain their children.

A couple of weeks ago, our family celebrated Kacee's youngest daughter, Evie's, second birthday. Kacee invited family, her closest friends and their children, about 25 of us altogether. Though it was somewhat hectic, it was great fun. The party started at 1 p.m. and lasted until everyone was ready to leave.

Because Evie loves bugs, Kacee orchestrated a bug-themed party. She transformed plain balloons into ladybugs and bumblebees using magic markers. She used cupcakes to make a caterpillar cake with a MoonPie face.

She secured netting over the top of small canning jars with twine to use as bug jars. Each child was given a jar with his or her name on it, a small net and a magnifying glass that Kacee purchased at a discount store. These party favors equipped each child to head out into the backyard to hunt for bugs. The kids and their parents overturned rocks, looked under leaves and dug small holes in the ground in search of bugs.

Adults identified the bugs, including spiders,

and explained each one's importance in our ecosystem. No bug was harmed in the hunt, and they were all released at the end of the adventure.

My daughter also assembled an art table with construction paper, glue, scissors, pipe cleaners, stick-on eyes and such where the children could make bug-themed crafts. At any given time during the party, there was at least one child at the table.

The bubble station, which included battery-operated contraptions that released dozens of bubbles at once, was the idea of my 5-year-old granddaughter, Tilleigh. It was a hit, especially with the younger children.

Nearly two hours after the party began, Evie opened presents. Soon after, though, she was back outside hunting for bugs.

In addition to cake and ice cream, Kacee also served sandwiches, finger foods and chili.

The total expense for the daylong celebration was less than $75. And, the best part, everyone had fun.

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at or 423-757-6396. Follow her on Twitter at Subscribe to her posts on Facebook at

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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