Run for the Roses

derby mint julep glasses

The first Saturday in May is the Kentucky Derby (May 4 this year). TheRoomDad is from Louisville, and the Derby is near and dear to his heart. Since meeting TheRoomDad many years ago, we always celebrate Derby either in Louisville at Churchill Downs or at our house. Throwing a Kentucky Derby party is so fun. It gives the ladies an excuse to wear a big hat; it demands cocktails and good party food, and there is a party game built right in– betting!

derby party invitation

The Invitation

  • There are great Derby invitations available. I found my invitation at Indicate on the invitation if bets will be accepted, if hats are encouraged (I missed this key detail on my invite!), and if juleps will be served.
  • I am inserting a public service announcement here. My invitation says RSVP. That means ALL invited guests are supposed to let me know if they are coming or not. It is not a suggestion. If I put RSVP on the invitation, I want to hear from you. Because of the way I set up the betting pool, I needed names of all of my party guests ahead of time. Time and effort go into throwing a party, and it is a common courtesy to let the host know if you will/will not attend if it states RSVP on the invitation.

derby hats

The Hats

  • I love big hats. It is hard to pull off a hat, but anything goes for Derby. There is a store in Louisville that will design a hat for you via e-mail. My mother-in-law gave me a gift certificate to design a hat at Dee’s Crafts a few years back. It was the best Christmas gift I received that year. 

The Bets

  • I found this program called Racehorse by Nags Head Software. The current price is about $50. Once you buy the program, you can update every year for about $15. It figures out odds and payouts based on the money you collect at your party. I have not used the software in a few years. At the time I used it, the program was a little hinky. I e-mailed the contact, and they were very helpful. You can download the horses the morning of the race, and the program will pull the horse names into your betting pool. The program allows you to place complicated bets like Trifectas. I stuck with win, place, or show at our party.
  • It is helpful to print a list of horses and jockeys to share with party guests. Many of our guests actually came prepared with their horses selected.

mint julep

The Juleps

  • My in-laws give us a set of 2 or 4 commemorative julep glasses every year. My grandparents attended the Derby in the late 60s and early 70s, and my grandmother gave me her julep glass collection. Between the two, we own about 100 mint julep glasses. I served all of our cocktails at the party in the julep glass. I have seen the official Churchill Down Julep Glasses online and at party stores if you want to go all out.
  • I use a pretty traditional mint julep recipe. A true julep is bourbon, mint, crushed ice, and not much else. These drinks are not for the weak. Click Mint Juleps and Sausage Won Ton Tartlets for all of the recipes.

sausage tartlets

The Food

  • Aside from a handful of my favorite dips, I also served Sausage Won Ton Tartlets. The filling is stuffed into a crispy won ton wrapper cup. There are many delicious fillings you can use in the won ton cups. I used a sausage, ranch dressing, red bell pepper combination. Click Mint Juleps and Sausage Won Ton Tartlets for all of the recipes.

Anyone else planning a fun spring party? I am itching to host something new.


There is a happy disappointment when one of my children requests an outsourced birthday party. I am happy that I do not have to clean my house, set up a party, and clean my house again. I am disappointed because when I book a party at an outside location, it limits how much I am allowed to do. I am a little Type A, so it is hard for me to let someone else have control over the party activities. This year my daughter wanted an art party (art = really big mess). This turned out to be a GREAT choice for an away from home birthday. What are other good places to book a party?

The Invitation: Often kid party locations (like a bounce party, children’s museum, Little Gym…) will give you pre-printed invitations with blank lines to fill in the name, date, and time. That is way too generic for me, and since I was already worried about the party not being personal enough, I had to order my own invitations. I ordered a printed card from Once I approved the proof, the invitations arrived within 2 business days, and I did not even select rush shipping!

The Location: My basic criteria for an away from home party is to have an area dedicated to my group only. It is hard for the birthday child to see friends if you book a party at a location where you mix with the general population for the main activity and then come together at a table for cake at the end. Chuck E. Cheese anyone? I encourage (and by encourage, I mean tell) my kids to choose party locations where we are the only group there, or we get our own room for the whole event. If you have a 4Cats Arts Studio in your area, I highly recommend booking a party there. At 4Cats, the standard party group is ~10 kids. You are in an area with only your group for the entire event.


The Activity: My daughter chose from a variety of themes for her party. We chose the Fairy Party. The party guests made a sculpey clay fairy, then painted a background on a 5×7 canvas board.

The Snacks and Cake: I ordered 2 dozen cupcakes from the grocery store and had them iced in 6 different colors. We set 6 of the cupcakes on a painter’s palette (Yeah, Pinterest!). We stuck one candle in each cupcake and treated the whole palette like a cake. For snacks, I served a new Chex mix in little mini paint pails. I also made my favorite kid sandwiches. Click here for the Chex Mix and Party Sandwich Recipes.

The Party Favors: While guests were waiting for parent pick-up, we gave each child a mini wooden easel to color with Sharpie pens. It was the perfect size to hold their sculpey paintings (and I think it may be the perfect size for American Girl too– FYI). The kids took home their fairy sculpey art piece, the mini wooden easel, and the mini paint pail.

Labor Day Potluck

As predicted in my 4th of July Party post, our neighborhood group gathered together again for a potluck dinner in honor of the Labor Day holiday. We did not have family relay races or a bike parade this time, but our activities coordinator and fab friend, Jackie, did set up a tie dye table for the children. I have not tie dyed a t-shirt since I went to summer camp as a kid. I had forgotten how much fun the reveal is when you finally release the shirt from its rubberband prison.


The Activity: Ms. Jackie set up a low table and hung a clothesline. She provided t-shirts, Rit dye, a big tub of rubberbands, and brief instructions. After the kids tied up the t-shirt, Jackie and one assistant handled the dying, so the mess stayed contained. The shirts looked great!

The Snacks: I provided a Sun Dried Tomato Dip (thank you Ina Garten) that is great in warm weather. My favorite veggie for this dip is sugar snap peas, but all the standard raw vegetables work well. I also like pita chips and Snyder’s Dipping Sticks pretzels.

The Dinner: Rather than hamburgers and hot dogs, the group put together a fish taco bar. One neighbor fried up hush puppies and shrimp on site. We  had yellow rice, black beans, and a vinegar-y slaw to go with the tacos. Since we live in South Carolina, it is easy to get good fresh fish. If you can too, try a fish taco bar some time.

Anybody else have a food idea for a neighborhood get together that is different from the typical grilled hamburgers and hot dogs?

A 5-Star Thank You Note

I am a little bit of a thank you note snob. When we give a gift at a children’s birthday party, I want to get a thank you note because I want confirmation that my gift made it to the birthday girl or boy. I am never sure what happens to our gift after I drop my child at the mega bounce house party and leave the present in the big wagon-o-gifts that is supposed to make it out to the birthday child’s car. The thank you note is the only way I know our friend has the gift in his/her possession.

After my kids receive gifts at their birthday party, I work really hard to make sure my children write thank you notes in a timely manner. When they were littler, I wrote the notes on their behalf and had them draw a picture, sign their name, or add some sort of scribble.

After the party is over, getting my children to write these thank you notes is a chore. One fab friend allowed her daughter to only open 2-3 gifts after her birthday party. The child could not open any more gifts until she completed thank you notes for the first few gifts. My friend said it worked like a charm until they got to the last few gifts. At that point, almost all of the thank you notes were complete, so it was not such a monumental task.

Since we just hosted a Star Wars birthday sleepover, my son has a few thank you notes to write. I started thinking a little about the whole thank you note process and developed a 5-star thank you note classification system. Now, depending on the situation, a 2-star thank you might be totally appropriate. Ultimately, I don’t care if I get a 1-star thank you– I just like knowing that the gift was received and acknowledged.

It would make me feel better to know that someone out there takes their thank you note writing as seriously as I do. Is it important for you to get a thank you note after giving a gift, and do you have any tips for making the thank you note writing process a little easier?

5-Star Rating

A handwritten note that is delivered via snail mail. It has personal comments and explains why the person who received the gift appreciates it. The thank you note is completed within 2-3 weeks. If you have personalized stationery, you just bumped your thank you note into a whole separate thank you note domain.

4-Star Rating

A partially handwritten note that is delivered via snail mail. It may be one of those fill in the blank kind of cards that are great for younger children who are just learning to write. It specifically names the gift that was given. The thank you note is completed within 2-3 weeks.

3-Star Rating

An e-mail or phone call to the person who gave the gift. The gift receiver names the gift and why he/she liked it. The thank you e-mail or call is completed within 2-3 weeks.

2-Star Rating

You thank the person who gave you the gift in person the next time you see them.

1-Star Rating

A generic letter or e-mail that says thank you to a whole group for the gift(s). It does not name the specific gift given or a specific person who gave the gift. I am guilty of sending one of these thank you notes to my students after receiving a very nice gift card. It was a particularly hectic holiday, and I wanted the whole class to know I received the gift.

May the Force Be With You


It started out as a Jedi bowling birthday party and turned into a Star Wars sleepover. For my son’s 8th birthday, we had three friends meet us at the local bowling alley. We then took the boys home and gave them their Jedi costumes. After the boys finished beating the snot out of each other Jedi training, we served hamburgers, ice cream sundaes, and topped off the evening watching the original Star Wars movies.

The Invitation: These were tricky. Star Wars logos and characters are licensed, so it is almost impossible to find a tasteful blank Star Wars themed invitation. There are some out there, but they looked cheap to me and usually had the Star Wars Lego characters. I ended up buying blank cardstock and designed the invitation on my computer. I Googled the Star Jedi font and downloaded it for free. Search Google images for things like lightsaber or Darth Vader to paste into the invite. I used wording on the invitation like, “In a Galaxy Not Too Far Away” and “Journey Begins” and “Regrets to the Jedi Master.”

The Jedi Outfit: When I visited my sewing sister this summer, she set me up on her sewing machine, and I actually made the Jedi robes myself! If you can sew a straight line, you can do these. I will say you need a lot of fabric (which can be expensive), so I was glad my son wanted just 2 or 3 friends. Our local karate school gave us the white karate belts. We made the lightsabers from pool noodles. I followed directions that I found on Pinterest, which were clear and easy. My children did most of the handle work themselves. FYI– blue and green lightsabers are the good side of the Force; red is the Dark Side.


The Tablescape: Sewing sister came through on this one too. She forwarded a slumber party idea to me that showed how to use twin bed sheets to make your rectangular dining table look like a made up bed. I found the Star Wars sheets at Target for about $20. These are NOT Egyptian cotton, so if you choose to use them on your regular bed after the party, you may want to wear a rash guard with your pajamas. If you watch the original Star Wars movie for food scenes (there are not too many), they tend to eat out of tupperware looking things. I saw the travel coffee mugs in the $1 aisle at Target and thought they were perfect. I downloaded the napkin/light saber rings and directions from this website.


The Mos Eisley Sundae Bar: You find so many good things in that $1 aisle at Target. I found the silver buckets, the grey bins, and the grey bowls during a recent trip. I wanted all of the food containers to have a sort of future/space age feel to them. We set out ice cream toppings in black (Crushed Oreos and Thin Mints), brown (chocolate sprinkles), grey (M&Ms), and green (M&Ms) colors. I sort of copied the ice cream sundae bar from my niece’s birthday party.

The Mos Eisley Breakfast Bar: I went with the future/space age thing again. In the Empire Strikes Back movie where Luke eats on Dagobah and meets Yoda, he eats something that sort of looks like a dog biscuit but is probably a freeze dried jerky kind of thing. I thought granola bars and mini cereal boxes would fit in with that type of food. I also served vanilla yogurt in mini tupperwares with some fresh fruit topping choices. The yogurt was an homage to that blue/green smoothie type drink Luke poured himself while at dinner with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru near the beginning of Star Wars. You may be wondering how I am able to recall so many details of the original Star Wars movies. I’ll just say that I am very good at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit and leave it at that.

The Party Favors: The guests took their Jedi outfits home as the party favors. They also took the travel coffee mugs too.