Planning a Theme Party Doesn’t Have to Be a Circus

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The season of outdoor parties is upon us! Graduation parties, weddings, birthdays, showers…everyone loves a summer party.

And one glance at Pinterest or Instagram and you’ll immediately realize that theme parties are a huge trend.  If you’re a Pinterest fan, you have to admit it…you’ve spent many an hour perusing board after board of fabulous cakes, floral arrangements, magical barn weddings, and over the top, themed birthday bashes. From elaborate color-coordinated candy tables to amazing baby gender reveal cakes, social media can give you a serious case of party FOMO (fear of missing out).

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So when my friend’s french bulldog Louis was about to turn one, I said “Me! Me! Me! I want to host the party at my house.”  Yes, we threw his dog a birthday party. And it was spectacular. I thought I’d share some tips on planning a summer birthday, so you can dream big and ensure nobody and nothing will rain on your parade, so to speak. I’ll also share some of my favorite party planning resources.

Pick a theme you love. Something that excites your imagination. Something that expresses your personality. If you’re in love with your theme, you’ll have no trouble imagining creative ideas to implement it. Enthusiasm breeds inspiration.

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Create a Vision Board. Google is your friend. Seriously, what did we do before search engines? Type in your theme (in this case, circus party) and the word images and you’ll get tons of great ideas. Copy the images into one Word document, or print out pages to create a collage or stick in a party plan folder. Whatever works for you.  Whether you want to DIY or enlist the help of professionals, starting with a vision in mind of your perfect event will save you from feeling let down with your final result.

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Have a couple WOWS in mind. Or maybe just one. For instance, the Big Top Circus Cake was my WOW. I went to the bakery about 3 weeks in advance (I know my limitations, I am not a baker) and I went in with a sheet of paper showing 7-8 circus cakes I’d found on the Internet that I was madly in love with. The baker immediately brought me back to reality. “Do you want to pay for a wedding cake?” I was asked. Some of my ideas were “Cake Boss” HUGE and way out of my budget. But we started talking about what I could afford. Layer cakes were out. However, I had my heart set on a circus tent. We ended up with a big top cake that would serve 8, covered in fondant (which is more expensive) and a dozen cupcakes with plain frosting and sprinkles, which were considerably less expensive. I got the cake I dreamed of. After all, cake is the best part of the party, right?

What about the dogs you ask? Well, my friend found some inexpensive and awesome dog bone molds and simple dog-friendly cake recipes, and he made those himself. So two-leggers and four-leggers alike got to enjoy birthday cake!

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Have fun planning. It’s a party! We made this party fun for both the dogs and their humans. Treat bags included cookies for the dogs and colorful gum balls for the people. Plus, wacky props like foam rubber noses and other goofy favors that made for plenty of great photo-ops. And we didn’t forget the two-legged kids. They got cute little circus tattoos and animals!

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Create a big first impression. Whether guests or passers-by, you want to let people know where the party’s at!

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Encourage your guests to take part in the theme. They’ll want to come prepared to play along and have a good time, too!

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Location. Location. Location. With summertime outdoor events, you have to be prepared for anything weather-wise, and you must have a sense of humor about it. Outdoor parties are not for the faint of heart. Before our party our biggest concern was rain. We considered public parks with a covered picnic shelter, but no loose dogs were allowed. We drew the line at tent rentals for the dog party, and it was a prime graduation party weekend, so we had to compete with that from nearby rental stores. So, our fallback plans included the garage and the house as a last resort. In the end, it wasn’t the rain we needed to worry about. It was oppressive 90+ temps with a heat index around 100 degrees.  We made sure we had extra water and plenty of cold drinks and ice to keep humans and dogs hydrated. We borrowed box fans from everyone we knew and had them on the deck and in the garage. We also had two swimming pools out for the dogs to cool off. We ended up moving lunch and cake indoors because no one wants to eat in that kind of heat.

Make Memories. Once the guests arrive, accept that you’re on the roller coaster, you’re buckled in, and there’s nothing you can do now but hang on and enjoy the ride. Mishaps make memories. It’s hard to see it in the moment, but looking back you’ll be talking about the things that went wrong and laughing about them. It’s a party. ENJOY! If you’re having fun, I guarantee your guests will too!

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The birthday boy@ouiouilouis loved his Bark Box.

Favorite Party Supply Stores:

Big Dot of Happiness

Oh Happy Day

Oriental Trading

Shindigz

Party City

Smart Perks blogger, Melanie Bisson is a natural born clown.

 

 

 

 

 

“The Best & the Brightest in the Surprise Box World: From Beauty Products to Bowties for your Boxer

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Ipsy Glam Bag – May 2015

My heart flutters as I approach the magical portal at the end of the driveway. Opening that small hinged door has the power to transport me to pure, unadulterated, retail nirvana. Hooray! A package for me! You see, I am a surprise box junkie. My mail carrier and I are on a first name basis. He knows my dogs’ names. Yes, it’s that bad.

If the post office ever does go out of business, as they keep threatening (for Pete’s sake give them whatever they want…I need Saturday delivery) I will be completely inconsolable.

For the past year and a half I have been on a retail odyssey that has seen me sign up for virtually any and all curated, surprise boxes available in the marketplace.

If there is a club out there that sticks surprise stuff into a box, chosen just for you and delivers it to your door, I’ve tried it. I will never be able to afford a personal shopper, but curated box programs are the next best thing.

Here’s how they work: In most cases, you fill out a profile, telling the company a few things about yourself, your pet, your child, whomever the box is intended for. If it’s makeup, they may ask you for your skin type, your hair color, your style (i.e. preppy, romantic, classic, edgy, etc.) Some programs will even scour your Pinterest board or Instagram account to get a better idea of who you are. Then a stylist or curator selects products that she thinks would best fit your personal style.

Here’s a quick summary of just a few of the boxes I’ve tried:

Birchbox

Category: Makeup & beauty

Frequency: Monthly or special Limited Edition one-time boxes

Bottom Line: At $10 a month, it’s an awesome value. However, I decided I needed to choose between Birchbox and Ipsy,  and this program felt heavy on skincare and hair products. Those are both consumables that I don’t change up every month. Birchbox does feature high quality brands (Benefit!) and occasionally some mass-market products are thrown in. I still shop from the Birchbox online store. I would recommend it.

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Ipsy Glam Bag

Category: Makeup & beauty + a cute bag

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: I’ve been an Ipsy subscriber for over a year at $10 a month, which is a bargain. I would give Ipsy as a gift to every teenage girl I know, but there is a wait list and last time I checked they had disabled the gifting option. Each month you receive a cute little makeup bag, customized for Ipsy, and the designs are darling. Ipsy does do some skincare, but is more makeup focused than Birchbox. They send some great products from brands like Urban Decay, Dr. Brandt and Pacifica, as well as some unusual brands that I never would have tried, like Kat Von D. Tremendous value and the bag really pushes them over the top.

JewelMint Box

Category: Jewelry

Frequency: Monthly or one-time

Bottom Line: Jewelry preference is really subjective. The pieces they send are very trendy and are not going to hold up to years of wear. However, you do receive some really cute items and the presentation and packaging are fabulous. It’s a fun little pick-me-up for yourself or as a gift. The JewelMint online store is fabulous, too. You’ll find low prices on the same on-trend jewelry included in their mystery boxes. Sign up for emails and receive notice about special sales!

NatureBox

Category: Healthy snacks

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: Do you love Trader Joe’s? Then you will love NatureBox. They give you some choice in what you will receive, but you can also let them choose for you too. You receive 5 snacks a month, but you can order separately, if you find something you love. I’m more of a “cupcakes and donuts snacker,” but my healthier friends really like Nature Box. Cost is $19.95 a month.

Stitch Fix

Category: On-trend clothing & accessories

Frequency: As frequently as you wish

Bottom Line: You pay $25 to have a Personal Stylist choose 5 different clothing or accessory items based on your profile. Whatever you buy, the $25 is deducted. You’re under no obligation to buy. Return shipping is free and packaging provided.  I always found at least two or three items I wanted, but usually could afford one or two. It’s REALLY fun to try. They encourage you to snap a selfie wearing their clothes and post, even if you plan to return. The clothes are cute, boutiquey, on trend, and give you a chance to play Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Another great retail therapy experience.

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FabFitFub Club

Category: Fitness, beauty, fashion & more

Frequency: Quarterly

Bottom Line: This is Entertainment TV personality Giuliana Rancic’s program. Being as it’s quarterly, it’s more expensive than others. $49.99 per box. However, you can typically get $10 off your first box through a pop-up when you go to the site, which makes it a great deal. I loved the items in this box, which felt very boutiquey, indulgent, L.A. princessy (I live in Minnesota.) Items are full-size and range from: a fitness DVD, a Sonia Dakar skincare product, an exercise ball, a fabulously funky headband, a cool retro apron, delicious Kai roll-on perfume, and then there were always a couple mass-market freebies thrown in that made no sense, like pantiliners. But the quality of the overall box made up for it. I stuck with it for three boxes.

Candy Club

Category: Retro candy in cute packaging

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: Darling, colorful, unique and out of the ordinary candies. If you want to simply photograph your box for Instagram to show your friends, and your money is burning a hole in your pocket…this is for you. Otherwise, if you’re like me, you can run to the grocery store and for $10 buy yourself some M&Ms, a Kit Kat, some Jolly Ranchers, and a Hershey Bar, and call it good. The monthly box is $27.99.

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Luxury Beauty Box from O’s Circle of Friends

Oprah’s Circle of Friends

Category: It’s from Oprah. I don’t care what it is. Just give it to me!

Frequency: Annual fee and surprise Items throughout the year, including subscriptions for yourself and two friends

Bottom Line: There are three levels. Don’t tell my husband, I bought the Premier Level for $199. I had to do it. I thought Oprah might send me to Australia, or give me a car. Or at the very least, invite me to her house in Hawaii to spend some time with her and Gayle. So far I got a luxury beauty box. One of the items, a thermal face mask containing 24kt gold is valued at $298. I’ll get back to you on this one. But I’m holding out hope for my surprise gift from The O List! C’mon trip to Australia!

BarkBox

Category: Dog toys & treats

Frequency: Monthly

Bottom Line: If you’re not a dog lover, I generally don’t talk to you much. So basically all of my friends subscribe to BarkBox and think nothing of spending the $19 a month or more to indulge their furry family members. Treats and toys are made in the U.S. and all the pups I know give BarkBox four paws up. Money well spent.

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Wagdrobe Curated Dog Couture

Wagdrobe

Category: Canine couture & accessories

Frequency: As frequently as you wish

Bottom Line: This is like Stitch Fix for dogs. Wagdrobe is a newer company, and so I hope their customer service continues to be as AWESOME as my recent experience was! Super fast shipping, darling customized packaging and FUN, FUN, FUN for pet parents and pooches alike. Well, that is if your pup likes to get lots of treats for dressing up and posing for ADORABLE pics. I bought boxes for all three of my dogs. Beanie got the Hipster Box, Eloise got the Spoiled Princess and Bacon got the Trendsetter Box. The value compared to finding these darling outfits and accessories in stores is awesome!

Okay, I could go on…but here are a few tips if you want to try some boxes on your own.

  1. Don’t do too many at one time. You can only wear so much moisturizer.
  2. Set a reminder for yourself to cancel before your next ship date if you want to try a recurring program.
  3. Keep track of how many of the items you actually use/wear/eat to determine value. Don’t get caught up in the fun.
  4. Share with others. Take pics and share on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Check out the items others receive in their boxes before you order, too. You can get a feel for whether or not it’s product you’ll like.
  5. Most importantly FILL OUT YOUR PROFILES and GIVE FEEDBACK. That’s the best way to ensure you’re going to love what’s inside the box, as much as you did receiving the bright, shiny package in the mail.
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Beanie sporting one of his Wagdrobe ensembles from the Hipster Hound collection.

– Blogger Melanie B, a Smart Perks employee, enjoys dogs, cupcakes and shopping, and considers herself an expert on all three.

Fun with Photo Books: The Lost Art of Real Live Albums

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When it comes to the latest in reading technology, I have the Kindle, an iPad, an iPhone 6 Plus. But nothing will ever replace the feel of a hardcover book in my hands.

I crave the intimacy of holding a book, its weight, an unbroken spine, the smell of fresh pages or of an old book, its antiqued pages rendered almost transparent by time, the satisfaction of anxiously flipping the page to see what the next will hold.

These are the things I can’t give up.

But photo albums are a different beast, right?

It’s nothing short of revolutionary to have all of your photos available in just a swipe or a keystroke online. Years of photos are stored in chronological order on Photobucket, Flickr, Facebook, or Instagram, out there in the ether for eternity…never to be lost to fire or flood. Plus you can share them instantly, in real time, with everyone you know, plus strangers, too.

Then last week, I ordered yet another camera online. It was Best Buy’s Deal of the Day and it was an offer too good to pass up! To my surprise, because it wasn’t advertised, I got a FREE Shutterfly 8×8, 20-page, hardcover photo book with my purchase (a $30 value.) A digital download just appeared in my cart, which was really nothing more than a link to the Shutterfly site where I could create my book.

I’d just gotten a new puppy in December. I had literally 100s of photos sprinkled liberally throughout Facebook and Instagram. I decided it was worth my time to sit down and create a book.

The fact that Shutterfly let me upload all of my photos directly from Facebook was a huge time-saver. I didn’t have to hunt through all the December folders on my PC to find the photos from my Puppy Shower. All my best (no outtakes, blurry images, etc.) photos were stored by event in Facebook.

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Yes, I had a puppy shower. What? You mean everyone doesn’t do that?

Having created a couple of photo books in the past I knew that I wanted to pay the up-charge for glossy pages, and no black backgrounds. Matte, black pages show fingerprints! However, I did like the matte cover. So I paid an additional up charge for that.

Before I started laying out the individual pages, I uploaded all of my best photos to Shutterfly first. Once you start a project in Shutterfly, it creates a gallery for you to upload photos to, and as you use each photo, it disappears from the gallery. That way you don’t leave out any of your favorites.

Then rather than simply inserting the photos chronologically, I tried to tell a story from beginning to end. As you can see from the title page, the photos are somewhat chronological, newborn puppy, the puppy shower, the first day home. But I also used specific photos that lent themselves to the template I chose. All the photos fit a square format. And the colors complemented each other.

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My little fashionista – her big fashion spread.

After that, I had pages that were themed, Weezy playing in the snow with her brothers, Weezy’s favorite toys. Weezy’s most adorable outfits, sleepy puppy, and so forth.

Once I was finished, the book was so cute, I couldn’t help but pay for expedited shipping. So the whole project ended up costing me about $20.

The end result, however, is PRICELESS! I love it. I have to admit, I swooned a little bit when I opened the package, removed the plastic and smelled those fresh glossy pages.

Unlike old-school photo albums, I now have a thin, hard-cover book, that’s no thicker than a children’s book, and sits neatly on my bookshelf. Nothing cumbersome, like the Mead Trapper Keeper of yore, with photos falling out, or flimsy cellophane pockets. Plus, Shutterfly also supplied an electronic link to the entire book, including front and back cover, so I could share it electronically by email, or Facebook if I wanted to.

There are a number of photo book sites available online. I’m just very pleased with the quality of Shutterfly’s. I think a lot of people think photo books are just for baby pictures, wedding albums or family vacations. But they’re not!  I love creating photo books for out-of-town guests when they come to visit. I send the book to them weeks later after they’ve returned home. And I know how much it’s appreciated because a fabulous friend of mine chronicled our entire trip to Louisiana in a gorgeous photo book, capturing everything from my face covered in powdered sugar from my first beignet, to our up-close and personal encounters with alligators roaming Avery Island. I cherish it! I can relive the whole adventure.

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Gnomes and other little creatures frolicking in my fairy garden.

If you’ve ever fancied the idea of publishing your own book, whether on a hobby, like gardening, birding, embroidery, or writing a children’s book, creating a photo book is a great way to get your feet wet. For instance, I love needle-felting and creating little gnomes and other creatures, and placing them in miniature vignettes. My friends look forward to seeing my posts on Facebook, (or at least they pretend to) so last year I put together a photo book of my miniature scenes as a personal holiday gift.

If you have online folders full of photos from your garden, or your hikes through the woods, or boating adventures, take an hour or two and drop them into a photo book. You’ll be surprised at how quickly a book comes together, and how satisfying it is to see your memories come to life in a story, one that you can pull down from the shelf and relive again and again.

For more ideas on using your favorite photos in the real world, be sure to visit www.smartperks.com next week for tips on decorating your home with your photography and personal artwork.

-Melanie

When she’s not blogging for Smart Perks, Melanie is staring glassy-eyed at Pinterest, her Pin It finger splinted from overuse. Besides crafting, gardening, shopping and cupcakes, the loves of her life include her three naughty terrier pups, the smartest and best-looking dogs in the world, and her husband.

 

Addendum: I received this information on the duration of the free photo book promotion from Best Buy Customer Care.

After research, I would like to let you know that most of the cameras we carry come with a free shutterfly photo book. Best Buy regularly includes Shutterfly Photobook codes as promotions for purchases of Digital Cameras, DSLR, Computers, and other products. These codes are a great value to the customers, and are extremely popular. If a specific camera comes with it, the free shutterfly photo book is marked as free bonus item however, we are not certain when this promotion is going to last. This is a partnership between Best Buy and Shutterfly and, I believe the promotion is continuously good until advised by Shutterfly otherwise.