Idea No.


Barnyard Party -2yr- Grandma's Laundry Day Chili



July 2002


Lois in San Jose, CA  USA


Barnyard Party

We just had my daughter Catherine's barnyard theme two-year-old party yesterday. It was a barbecue in our backyard, beginning at 4:00pm, so whole families attended together. We had about 75 guests and they enjoyed themselves so much that some were still here at 10:00pm even though the party was supposed to end at 7:30, and that's when we did the piñata. We finally had to put our exhausted children in the bathtub to get everyone to leave. Here's our party:

INVITATIONS:  I like to make our invitations four to a sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper so they fit into an easily-available 4 3/8 x 5 3/4 envelope.  The invitations are 4 1/4 x 5 1/2 rectangles.  At a scrapbook store I got plain vellum and some country-looking red and yellow gingham paper. (I used this gingham paper also for the treat bag tags and got two extra sheets for my daughter's scrapbook birthday pages). Then I looked at all our children's books for good pictures of animals and settled on the Dr. Seuss Picture Dictionary.  My husband scanned a drawing of a rooster from the book. Using Adobe Pagemaker, I placed the rooster at the top of the invitation and wrote underneath "Cock-a-doodle-doo! We're celebrating 'cause Catherine's two. Ya'll come to a Barnyard Birthday Barbecue" followed by the pertinent information and "Wear your farmer clothes." (Which few guests did, by the way.) I printed four of these invitations on each page of vellum. I cut both the vellum sheets and the gingham paper into 4 1/4 x 5 1/2 rectangles and then trimmed the edges of the vellum with scalloped scissors so the gingham paper would show along the edges.  I laid the vellum on top of the gingham paper, punched two small holes at the top (special small-size hole punch) for a yellow raffia tie, knotted the raffia and trimmed the ends diagonally. I made sure to get the new Happy Birthday stamps for the envelopes. I mailed them a month ahead of time since summer is such a busy time, and we did get a good turnout. I decided on the color theme of the party based on the color of the gingham paper.

DECORATIONS: We have a lot of volunteer sunflowers which came up all over the yard this year from the girls' Sunflower House last year, so that already gave a nice country feel. As is common in our neighborhood, we have fences all around our yard and also three garages making up part of the fenceline, so we needed a lot of decorations--big ones. Also a disguise for the ugliest garage (not ours!). I have access to an overhead projector, so I Xeroxed onto transparencies all the farm animal pictures from the Dr. Seuss Picture Dictionary, projected them huge onto butcher paper, traced them with a fat black marker, painted them with tempera paint, and cut them out. It took me probably 15 hours. The horse was about 6 feet tall, and all the other animals proportioned accordingly. If I did this again, I would paint the paper first, then draw the animals on the painted paper and paint any details afterward. It would be much, much faster. I also saved about 50 giant paper flowers from our school's June graduation when I saw them throwing them away after the ceremony. The flowers were yellow, orange and purple and I added extra petals and centers in red to make them match our color theme. I hired two neighborhood children to come decorate the yard the morning of the party. It took them four hours to decorate the fences and garages with all the painted animals (about 2 dozen) and the flowers with streamers hanging down or looped between the flowers.

On the driveway gate where everyone would come in we put the rooster from the invitation, almost three feet tall. The decorations looked so incredibly great--until the wind came along and blew most of them down. Even duct tape couldn't hold them up. It is my biggest regret about the party. All that beautiful work went down in the wind. And then the wind died just about the time the party started! Decorations I hung back up after the wind stopped stayed up fine, but by then it was too late to do everything over again. One great success was the disguise for the ugly garage. We covered it in red butcher paper (stapled it right to the wall--the owners of the garage have told us we can do whatever we want with that wall) and used strips of white paper to make a door and a window of a faux barn. I had a Jersey cow head (from the Seuss dictionary) looking out of the window. My husband and I put a hay bale and an old bench my grandfather made on either side of the door and then just had fun decorating with stuff we had around--an old enameled pitcher, a big rusty pulley, a pumpkin our neighbor grew last fall, a coil of rope hanging from the wall...several children thought it was a real barn and wanted to go in--even my four-year-old who had watched me make it! The barn was at the far end of the yard and made everything look so bright and inviting. My husband refuses to take it down today and is lobbying me to paint it on permanently. 

SEATING: I was nervous we wouldn't have enough places for 40+ children and 30+ adults to sit down for dinner comfortably. We borrowed 14 hay bales from the farmer's supply store. My husband set some of them up in a rectangle under a shade tent on the driveway and some more in the shade of a canvas umbrella. We borrowed 10 children's tables with chairs for the children who would insist on eating at a table. We also had 22 adult-sized chairs and two benches set in various places in the shade around the yard as well as our usual patio table with canvas umbrella and 6 chairs. Even so, some people ended up eating dinner picnic style on the lawn. 

ARRIVING AT THE PARTY: When people arrived, one of my sisters-in-law was in charge of having people make nametags. She did a great job and got some really funny ones out of our guests such as "Cropduster Olivia" for a girl who likes to crayon on walls. Everyone also could choose a bandana from a metal bucket, and it was fun to see what people did with them.  You could even have a contest. If you order your bandanas from Oriental Trading they are inexpensive for a reason--they are a thin, cheap gauze material.

ACTIVITIES: I love our home parties and absolutely refuse to hire outside entertainment, a jump house, etc.  It is our challenge to make the party great fun for everyone and yet make it about simple joys. For a two-year-old party we like activity stations rather than organized games. You may find some of these suggestions in other places on this website. I just looked around our house for a few weeks before the party and set aside all our farm-themed stuff and then made activities around them. They were enjoyed very much by guests ages 1-7 and the one 9-year-old got his ya-yas when he got to break open the little kids' piñata. Our activities:

1)the farm kitchen--our plastic playhouse, a 3-piece wooden play kitchen with dishes and play food, and two play dough tables with farm-theme cookie cutters and samples of the wooden rolling pins the children would be getting in their treat bags later. Traditional play dough recipe is at, and remember to add 2 tbsp. of glitter to the flour.

2)the farm pond--two thin tree-limb fishing poles with office supply store magnets on a string, 40 perch cut from silver cardboard with jumbo paper clips on their noses, and buckets to put the fish in--all in our dry kiddie wading pool.

3)water play (don't put this near the pool or you'll have wet paper fish)--a big tin tub full of water with our 3 water-wheel bath and sand toys standing on a little plastic-covered table, six farm animal water squirters (Battat brand) and two small water scoops (nothing that could transport a lot of water).

4)a pony saddle from our niece's ranchette placed on a hay bale.

5) a new red wheelbarrow and a wooden-sided wagon filled with hay for hay rides.

6)a big basket of white rubber eggs placed on the lawn (check with farm supply places).

7)lost farm animal round-up--two packages of cheap $2.95 plastic farm animals buried in the sandbox with a couple of sieves and some shovels available.

8)a table full of all our farm-themed puzzles.

9)a table of all our farm-themed picture books.

10)a play structure made of 10 hay bales fastened together with big dowel rods for safety (we have this up all the time in our yard).

11) a piano on the patio with 12 different farm-related sheet music pieces laminated and standing on the music rack ready for playing and singing. We should have asked our pianist friends ahead of time if they'd like to play because when we asked them at the party they were surprised and refused, and so no one played and we didn't sing (one of them said she would have brought her accordion instead if she'd known!). The most popular activity stations were the farm kitchen and play dough, the rubber eggs, the water, the puzzles and our swing set.

For the adults we always have a guess-how-many game and this time it was peanuts in the shell in a big gallon canning jar tied with raffia at the neck. The ballot was very cute: a giant peanut with a little mouse from the Dr. Seuss Picture Dictionary.  It was a good ice breaker for people (husbands) I didn't know too well or people who were just standing around. Of course the winner got the peanuts. 

CRAFTS: We had two crafts, both of which I considered flops. The first was a sheep made by tracing around a child's hand on black construction paper, cutting it out, gluing on cotton balls and drawing details with a white pencil. I also had google eyes and tiny pompons to glue on for noses. The eyes and noses spilled in the grass (good-bye!) and the sheep looked long-legged and strange. Even my husband laughed when he saw the sample and he thinks everything is great. Some people did make them but no one was thrilled. The other craft was to make a farm animal ears headband to match a farm animal nose that the children could choose from a bucket. This was supposed to be the children's party hat. I told arriving guests that it was the one thing I wanted all the children to do.

We had two tables put together with so many great supplies. And not one headband was made. Maybe it would have been better set up on an adult-sized table for all the moms to sit around and do while their children played. Maybe I should have stationed my mother (an art teacher) at the table to help everyone. Anyway, as a result our traditional all-kid party photo has no hats this year. Oh well. We've previously done a craft where after the fishing game the children color their fish (cut out of special gel pen paper) with gel pens and decorate them with colorful shape stickers, but since we've already done that, we didn't do it again. I'd rather do that than the crafts we did.  

SEATING: I was nervous we wouldn't have enough seating for 40+ children and 30+ adults to sit down for dinner. We borrowed 14 extra hay bales from the farmer's supply store. My husband set some of them up in a rectangle under a borrowed shade tent. We also borrowed 9 children's table/chair sets or picnic tables from friends and our preschool for the children who had to eat at a table. We also had 22 chairs and two benches set in various places in the shade around the yard as well as our usual patio table with a canvas umbrella and six chairs. Even so, some people still ate dinner picnic-style on the lawn. 

MENU: For snacks from 4:00 to 6:00 we had new metal buckets (paint section of hardware store) full of pretzels and peanuts in the shell with an extra bucket for the peanut shells.  Also a foil-covered cookie sheet with vegetables in rows, a ramekin of dip and a little scarecrow holding a sign "Catherine's Garden". I made the scarecrow of cornhusks, dressed him in fabric scraps, hotglued a dowel under his shirt in back and propped him up in a little cup filled with play dough and topped with excelsior. Drinks were one cooler each of soda, bottled water, and juice boxes and also a pitcher of iced lemonade that one of my sisters-in-law kept an eye on and refilled for us.

For the actual dinner at 6:00 I wanted down home country fare.  We had cornbread, Grandma's Laundry Day chili (a Midwestern chili with spaghetti in it), homemade pickled beets, a huge salad of spinach, chopped apple, bacon and egg wedges, homemade macaroni and cheese, German potato salad, garlic-herb marinated grilled chicken (120 pieces!), hot dogs, and watermelon slices served in a huge bowl of ice. We have vegetarian friends, so I made sure I had an entrée they could eat (the macaroni) and a package of vegetarian hot dogs, too. I had way too much food, which is too bad because it was the biggest expense of the party. We used a full sheet of plywood on sawhorses to make the table, covered with a sheet and then orange and yellow thin disposable plastic tablecloths with a piece of red-and-white checkered vinyl as a runner down the middle. Not fancy but functional. I should have used two plywoods together in the corner so I could have put out all the food at once (2 pans of cornbread, 2 pans of macaroni and cheese, 2 pots of chili, etc.) so everyone could see we had plenty and would have eaten more. My mom made us four beautiful bouquets of feverfew, Shasta daisies and sunflowers--three in canning jars and one in an old red Hall pitcher. We used the three flower arrangements in canning jars to fill the space along the back of the table because that was too long a reach for most people. The arrangement in the pitcher went on the cake table.  

CAKE: I looked for farm cake ideas on the Internet and along the way I found a recipe for meringue chickens that I just could not pass up. (, I think. Just go to and type in meringue chickens and it will appear). They came out incredibly adorable and were actually pretty quick and easy. However, do not use 1 lb. of egg whites and 2 lbs. of sugar as the recipe suggests or you will have an enormous amount of meringue. I used up all my 1/2 dozen cookie sheets and had to bake some at my neighbor's house and we still had leftover meringue. You can cut the recipe in half or less. We put a meringue chicken on everyone's cake plate and still had a whole tray left over, and it made me sick to see how many went into the trash untasted. But it was still worth it. They were co cute. Be sure to use parchment paper or brown grocery bags to line your cookie sheets.

The recipe doesn't tell you that. I used #11 and #3 tubes to pipe them, which it also doesn't say. Okay, now for the cake. I found about a dozen nice cake ideas on line and showed them to my two-year-old. She chose a tractor cake. I think it was from an old Wilton yearbook. Most cake decorating supply stores will have a library of old Wilton yearbooks or you can go on the discussion board at and someone may be able to e-mail you a photo and directions. The mother of the oldest child at the party, a nine-year-old boy very into Play Station and all things trendy who even colors his hair already, told me, "Cameron says this is the cake he wants at his next party."  If it'll play to that audience, it'll play to any audience! I'll describe it in case you want to make it without a photo: The bottom was a 1/2 sheet cake with chocolate-frosted sides and a yellow top and a chocolate "plowed" section piped through the middle lengthwise (make sure there is enough room for the haystacks behind the plowed section and for the happy birthday message in front). The tractor and cart were two butter loaf cakes, one cut shorter so both would fit.

The big loaf is the tractor, cut flat on the top and iced red with a cute face on the front and cookie wheels (large cookies in back, smaller in front). The smaller loaf becomes the cart, piped in the same yellow as the haystacks and with only two small cookie wheels at the back (use tips with little ridges so it looks like wood). Cover the top of the cart with little jelly beans for the "load" and the kids will adore it! The bottom inch of the tractor and cart both need to be piped with chocolate so they look high off the ground. Both loaves need to have some sturdy thin cardboard underneath cut to fit the bottom of the loaves and four dowel rods supporting under each one, the dowels cut to fit the height of the sheet cake. Put the tractor and cart on the plowed section with the tractor pulling the cart. The farmer is made with a Wilton Mini-Wonder pan. He will look like Humpty Dumpty driving a tractor. You will have three extra Mini-Wonders left over, so I used them to make 3 yellow haystacks between the "plowed" section/tractor and the back of the cake. The haystacks are piped with a #234 grass tip (extremely easy).

For the farmer, you will just have to use your imagination. Ours had a hat, overalls and bandana and a small cookie for the tractor steering wheel. I wanted to spend my time decorating the cake not baking it, so I had our grocery make a cheap 1/2 sheet cake for the bottom and bought 2 Entemann's loaf cakes plus the cookies. I did buy Wilton Mini-Wonder pans and baked those myself. Some cake stores will rent the pans if you don't want to buy. My daughter wanted a "wabby" on her cake so I made a white rabbit of royal icing and a marshmallow to fill up the back corner by the haystacks, but it went in the trash untasted also. The finishing touch of this cake is fencing made of pretzels "glued" together with royal icing which you stick in behind the haystacks and also press onto the front of the cake. It took me about three hours to decorate the cake. The next morning, it looked so wonderful I gasped when I walked into the kitchen (not my usual reaction to my own work).

By the way, this is only the third cake I've made with fancy decorating equipment. People who work in cake decorating stores are generally great about giving you all sorts of advice, like how to make red frosting, for example, if you want to give it a try. Just make sure you decorate when the store is open so you can call them if you have a disaster. (I don't want to talk about our pink whale cake or the Wizard of Oz party where the sugar cookie rainbow fell over and took the back of the cake with it.)   

PIÑATA: With 40+ children of different ages, we had to have two different piñata groups. I labeled little yellow paper bags with the children's names and put a colored sticker on each. The purple group (ages 3 and under) would do the watermelon-shaped piñata. (I've had a personal ban against piñatas of living things ever since the traumatic Princess party where the Little Mermaid's head flew off and several of the guests including my daughter burst into tears.) The red group (over age 4) would do the hay dig. The green group (age 4) with their parents' help could choose which activity to do based on size, temperament and allergies. We explained things carefully and all went well with the groups--no one was confused, no one got hurt, and everyone got plenty of candy. The older group had to wait until the little ones had their candy before they could start the hay dig so that parents could watch both events.

We did the hay dig inside the rectangle of hay my husband had made under the shade tent. My husband used only two small armfuls of hay, and it was way too much because it is compressed in the bale and springs up into a huge amount, so use just a little if you do the hay hunt. Also, use candy that can't be squashed because the kids can't see where it is and will stand on it. Our chocolate kisses did not fare well. Also, I put in eight plastic Easter eggs with little chicks and jelly beans inside. If a child found one of these, she got an extra prize (a way of using up our extra Hershey bars from a camping trip). This was a good idea in theory, but again eggs were trampled and broken, chicks were found with no eggs, etc. I should have carefully placed them around the edges by the hay bales so that they wouldn't have been stepped on. I also had to give treat bags immediately to two girls who were very upset not to have found an egg. That was okay as it was time for the party to end and people were leaving anyway. I didn't think the hay hunt went so well, but my daughter said this morning that she wants a hay hunt instead of a piñata for every party.   

TREAT BAGS: I don't like the junk we sometimes get in treat bags, so I tried for "all good stuff". Everyone got a rubber egg, a plush farm animal finger puppet (, a watermelon slice shaped pop, red foil wrapped Hersey's kisses, a small wooden rolling pin for play dough, a farm insect tattoo (ladybug, grasshopper or bee), a sheet of horse stickers and a sheet of barn stickers. Older children also got farm activity books ( and a carrot pick-up sticks game( Younger children also had a baby farm animals board book and a tiny plastic egg with a chenille chick inside. Total cost per bag was about $5.75, which is a substantial treat, especially if a family has 2 or 3 children.

For the treat bags themselves I used plain red paper bags. For name tags on the bags, I used the same red and yellow gingham paper I'd used on the invitations, cutting eight from each sheet of paper and trimming the edges with the same scalloped scissors as the invitations. I cut the tags in the passenger seat during a long car trip. As children's ages at the party ranged from 0 to 9, we couldn't just have the same treat bags for everyone, so I needed i.d. tags. When we were filling the bags, I set them all up and paper clipped the tags on so we knew whose were which. To close the bags, we folded them over, paper clipped the tag back on over the fold, punched one hole on either side of the paper clip (through the folded bag top and the tag) and then tied the tag on with a nice yellow raffia bow.  More than one person said, "Oh, just like the invitation!" so they saw the connection.  Since I don't let my own children open treat bags in the car if they're given at the end of a party, I had a big tub of individual goldfish cracker packages for the ride home.

I got a lot of positive comments on this idea and will probably do it at every party from now on. People whose children don't like transitions or who had a long way to drive were especially grateful for the goldfish  Well, that was our party. It took about five weeks--one for planning and making invitations and four for the rest of the preparation. Most of it was done after the girls were in bed for the night, so it really didn't take that much time except for the last three days when I was doing the cooking. My husband never had a single birthday party when he was growing up, and my mother made the best ones--I remember once she mail ordered the exact right shade of sky blue food coloring for the frosting of my brother's kite cake. So for different reasons we want our children to have memorable birthday parties--and we hope they are (at least on video!).    The tractor cake is from the 1981 Wilton yearbook. A very kind woman posts her name on the Wilton website and will e-mail you a photo and directions if you wish.   Good luck!

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