Low Impact Birthday

 

This past weekend, we celebrated my baby’s first birthday.  His first birthday.  I haven’t any idea where the time went and how it got there without warning me, but it would seem that we are no longer counting his age in detailed weeks and days, but general months and before I know it, he’ll be referred to as a toddler.  Ugh.  Part of me was thrilled to be throwing a party since we haven’t really entertained since Liam was born and if there’s anything I like to do, it’s feed people.  But then, the other side of me was saddened by his growing up and the stunning reality that since I take birthdays very seriously, we are going to be doing this every year for multiple children (hopefully) and this singular event has the very possibility of ruining my comfortable low-impact lifestyle.  What to do?  Here is an outline of each step I made to insure that we had as low an impact party as possible without breaking the bank or putting a damper on the fun.  I’ll be posting recipes this week as well for the food. 
Paper Products:
The planning for this party began way back in the early spring when I started attending other birthday parties and taking notes.  The biggest waste that I saw and wanted to eliminate was the issue of cups, plates and forks.  The options can be overwhelming and for a brief moment, I was lured towards the disposable just because I wasn’t sure what to do.  I don’t know if this happens to everyone, or if the marketing gods smelled my wavering mindset, but about a month ago, I was sent a catalog for paper supplies for birthdays.  They featured just about every character known to man or personalized designs.  At first, I did consider using their products until I realized that for one party, I was going to spend roughly 85 dollars on paper supplies alone for one party!  I passed it along to another mom.  In the end however, I wasn’t able to come up with a cute invite solution that was both memorable and effective, so we wound up doing photo invites to the party since we had invested in a photo shoot and wanted to share. 
I started searching around town and found plates and cups that were themselves recyclable.  They are pretty, and will fulfill a variety of uses.  I bought 3 dozen of each.  Wandering around a party supply store a few weeks ago, I happened upon biodegradable forks
They are supposed to meld into your compost pile in 1 year, so I buried one.  I hope I don’t find it next summer.  I do have beautiful dinner plates that I use when entertaining, but given that we were celebrating a child’s birthday with lots of children, I didn’t want to take a chance that I would have a broken plate in the midst of the celebration.  The plates and cups I bought are dishwasher safe, so they have been cleaned and put away for another time.  I had meant to make more cloth napkins, but didn’t get them done in time, so we used some of these as they were all our grocery had to to offer.  Hardly any were used, so I guess I’ll have them for a long time.  Clean up was a snap, because as I already mentioned, the plates were dishwasher safe and I just put a basket under the table for guest to dump their used dishes, napkins, cups and forks.

Let’s Eat!
Food is another big deal for me.  I wanted to create a menu for my guests that truly reflected our food passions and utilized the resources around us.  We served sloppy joes made with local ground beef, a broccoli cauliflower salad with local produce, bacon and cheese, a fruit salad with seasonal items and I made the cupcakes.  The only “bad” thing in the cupcakes (all 60 of them) were the conventional marshmallows I used to make the fondant.  Not too shabby considering that even the chocolate was fair trade!  I asked my mother-in-law and sister-in-law to help me with the salads and sloppy joes so that I didn’t wind up getting overwhelmed.  In the end, I overestimated how much beef I was going to need and consequently have had sloppy joes for the last 3 lunches.  For drinks, we made lemonade (from concentrate) and had water.  No one went hungry and my in-laws were praised thoroughly for their contributions to the meal!

Decorations:
This was the biggest undertaking of the whole party for me.  When I was growing up, my mother made banners for each of us kids announcing our birthday and hung them on the front door.  After much thought, I decided that I would do the same for my kids.  So I set out to make a banner that I swore I had seen online.  I never found the pattern, but my MIL and SIL were very helpful in the process, brainstorming, cutting fabric and trying different stitches.  I was thrilled to see that we were able to take a pile of fabric and turn it into a beautiful decoration that will last for years to come.  The added bonus was that everything wound up color coordinating between the banner and my tableware.  My aunt came bearing balloons after I had set up for the party, but for future reference, I’m not a fan.  They kept blowing into the pear tree and popping, causing everyone’s heart to stop in panic.  Balloons are not the most practical thing for my backyard. 

Gifts:
People know us well.  Most of the gifts Liam received were wooden or puzzles.  He did, however get a few trucks that were made of recycled plastics and are super cool!  They were mostly presented in gift bags that had been recycled from other events.  I saved them all and smoothed out the tissue paper.  Waste not, want not.  In the future, once Liam is old enough to choose, we may wind up doing a benefit party where we ask people to not bring gifts but to make a donation to a charity.  I’d love for Liam to learn to give back at a young age.  I made all of Liam’s thank yous from card stock and a printed dump truck.   They are not fancy, but they also didn’t require tons of fossil fuels to produce them en masse.  I have a stash of card stock that I plan to let Liam decorate as he gets older to make his own thank yous.  

I felt like the party was a huge success, not only for Liam’s sake, but also in the sense that we didn’t betray who we are just for the sake of a theme or being trendy or doing what’s easy.  I’m glad that I was able to find solutions that will last for years and that in the end, it really wasn’t that much extra trouble.  My parents spent a great deal of time when we were younger planning birthdays and holidays.  I know we never used paper products because I was always doing dishes after each party.  But that experience stuck with me.  Here I am, 20 years later wondering how I can make an investment that will last for as long as I want so that we can spend the time focusing on the birthday boy (or girl) and not filling our landfills with more junk. 

First trip to the farmer’s market and produce bags by me!

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I’ve been sewing a lot lately.  I’ve made bibs, a birthday banner and reuseable produce bags.  I’m on a roll.  I had to pack up my sewing machine so I can get the house ready for Liam’s first birthdaypalooza on Sunday, but after that… What I like most about my little sewing machine is that I can take a piece of fabric that looks as though it might be a waste and turn it into something of value.  The birthday banner I made can be used for years to come in place of paper decorations that I would have to throw away.  The bibs are obviously useful, but really, how often can you buy 8 large bibs for 3 dollars?  Remnants bin my friends!

But that’s not really what this post is about.  It’s about the fact that my garden isn’t producing as well as I had hoped.  I guess I’m not treating it as tenderly as I used to.  That and I don’t have the time I used to.  Next year, I’ll be able to get Liam involved, but for now, I’m trying to keep him from eating my weed pile and hoping the dogs don’t hop the fence and destroy my pumpkin patch.  Friday mornings, vendors set up their produce, crafts and pottery down by the carousel and sell, sell, sell.  I see that I am going to have to make weekly trips.  This week, we came away with a 1/2 peck of green beans, 3 eggplants, leeks, carrots, garlic and rhubarb.  I’m so excited!

The best part about my trip was that I got to use my produce bags I made earlier in the week.  They’ve been sitting in my living room, tempting me every day to take them out for a spin.  They were a trial run to test the materials and seam styles.  I also tested 2 different drawstring materials.  Before I start making more, I’m going to see how they wash up.  I loved that none of the farmers had to give me a bag, I walked out of the market with lots of goodies and no waste!