Valentine’s Day Pennant Banner

I’m not usually a big Valentine’s Day person, but then again, a holiday built around chocolate can’t be all bad! Anyway, a couple of weekends ago, I got the urge to make something – anything! – and I put together … Continue reading

Custom Scrapbook Luggage Tags

These little luggage tags make wonderful gifts that are quick to make and practical!

Every kids loves having something with their name on it, and every adult fears taking the wrong bag at the airport. I’ve actually done this – and it was a huge pain, because I had to spend hours and $$ going back to LAX to exchange the bag, but I was relieved that at least the woman whose bag I accidentally took was really nice about it.

I love all the ways you can customize these luggage tags. I am showing these with scrapbook paper, but I’ve also made some out of wedding invitations to give as a gift to the couple, and you could use photos or lots of other ideas!

I’ve made tags with two different types of lamination:


There’s really nothing better than a beautiful combination of scrapbook paper and stickers, is there? … Well, maybe dark chocolate and red wine… or world peace… okay, but these are really fun and pretty, so go and make some, because world peace may take a while to achieve.


Star Wars Birthday Photo Booth

Our photo booth that made its first appearance at our Mad Men party a few years ago is becoming a staple at our parties.

I started with an iPad for the camera, backdrops, and props. As time has gone on, we have added more backdrops and props, as well as a tripod and a Canon SELPHY Photo Printer for instant gratification!

For L’s birthday this year, we decorated with a Star Wars theme – like everyone else, we were all just a little excited about The Force Awakens!

I found some printable Cut-out masks for props: 

As a party favor, I decorated simple picture frames for the kids, so they could display the photos from the booth. For this project, I used

Add some Star Wars stickers, and the kids were able to bring home some very special souvenirs!

I’m looking forward to trying out more fun themes at parties to come! What ideas do you have?




Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party!

This year, L is turning 9, and since his birthday falls at the start of his youth baseball season, I thought it would be fun to celebrate with a retro baseball theme.

He wanted to hold the party at a trampoline place, which took care of the activities for the kids. This allowed me to have some fun putting together decorations, favors, and a ballpark menu.

Since we had a table in the middle of the trampoline space, I couldn’t make use of the walls for decorations.

I did find a little spot to hang our reusable birthday banner, customized for the baseball theme.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home
I also bought a set of these 12″ table number holders to display posters and signs. I found various retro-looking baseball posters and printed them with birthday messages and signs for the food and displayed them around the table.

Here are the sources for these great retro posters:Baseball player batting and Pitcher poster.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home


We had a ballpark-inspired menu including:

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home

Party favors:

I decorated blank youth baseball jerseys for the boys with iron-on letters and numbers.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home

Each boy also got Cracker Jack in old-fashioned packaging.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home

I created these charming gift tags to go with the party favors.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game Birthday Party! Jewels at Home

What a fun time we had celebrating!


Milestones: A Korean First Birthday

When you welcome a baby into your life, you can’t help but think a lot about his roots and his future.  One special tradition that Steve’s parents introduced us to was the Korean first birthday celebration – the Tol (also called Dol).

Even before our oldest son was born, his Harabuje and Halmoni (Korean grandfather and grandmother) were planning K’s Tol.  This is a special celebration that originated in a time when infant mortality was high, and a baby reaching his first birthday was an important milestone.

I didn’t know much about the Tol at first, but it became a sweet tradition that we continued for all three of our boys. With a few simple and meaningful elements, you can add this special event to your family’s memories, too!


Steve happened to have gone on a business trip to Korea while I had been pregnant and he had brought home a traditional outfit (hanbok) for baby. Steve’s parents searched high and low and found the special socks and shoes to match. You can buy these in the US, too.  Here is a link to a baby boy Hanbok and a baby girl Hanbok.

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home

Harabuje (grandpa) helps birthday boy L adjust his Hanbok.

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home

Baby J wore a mix of his older brother’s outfits.

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home

There are even special socks and shoes!


Tol table:

Harabuje and Halmoni hosted our first Tol in a private room at a Korean restaurant. It was a small event with family and a few close friends. The ritual of welcoming and honoring our young baby and his family seemed more important than putting on a display for others.

The main features at a Tol are the table set with an abundance of fruit and special rice cakes (called “duk”) and the Toljabee.

After the restaurant party for K, we hosted L and J’s Tol celebrations at home. While the restaurant had a set of fake fruits and accessories, I opted for something more simple, setting the table with red and blue decorations and fresh fruit and rice cakes. Simple, familiar flavors always go over really well with a crowd (especially if there are some picky eaters among you).

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home

The Korean restaurant’s elaborate Tol table. Half those cakes and fruits are plastic – haha!

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home

Our home Tol table was more modest – but everything was real!



In the Toljabee, the baby is presented several items that each symbolize some characteristic, and the items that the baby chooses are a prediction about his future.

That’s a lot of pressure for a one-year-old! Luckily, the Toljabee is definitely rigged for success. Some examples of things a baby could choose are:

  • A book, showing he will be intelligent
  • A pen, showing he will be well-educated
  • A bundle of string, symbolizing long life
  • A Korean metal bowl of rice, meaning he will have enough to eat
  • Grapes, predicting many offspring
  • Money, representing wealth

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home

L was kind of hungry, and kept trying to eat the grapes. I wonder if that really means I have a lot of grandchildren to loo forward to!

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home


For our Toljabee at home, I assembled some symbolic items on a decorative tray. Embroidery floss or ribbon makes a pretty string!

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home


Sharing the tradition:

All of our Tol celebrations were small. We kept to a small group of family and close friends. A big party can be overwhelming for a little baby, and there will be plenty of bigger parties to come. If you are having trouble tailoring a guest list, try writing everyone’s names down. This can help you to see who really needs to be there.

When L had his Tol, I mentioned it to his older brother’s preschool teachers, and they asked if I could teach his class of three-year-olds about this tradition. L became a living show-and-tell presentation, and we let each of the kids pick an item as part of the Toljabee.

I also made a picture book for the class to teach them about the Tol tradition. This was easy to do with a photo book and some simple text. Shutterfly has lots of options for customizing a book to make almost anything you can imagine. I made an extra copy for our family, which I put out during J’s Tol, and it was very cute to see L request a reading from every adult in the family.

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home

I made a photo book to teach our kids and their friends about the tradition of the Tol.

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home

The first page of our photo book about the Tol.


Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home


Looking back, we have a lot of special memories from these parties. Our kids tend to be more involved with their Chinese heritage, since they’re in a Chinese immersion school, and above all, their lives revolve around North American culture and interests, so I’m particularly glad to have included this Korean tradition in our family. While it was very important to Steve’s parents, it seems like a lot of other families didn’t know about the Tol, so it was also fun to share this tradition with our friends, and now, I’m excited to share it with you!

Milestones: A Modern Korean Tol | Jewels at Home

Do you have a baby with some Korean roots? This would be a beautiful event to hold for him or her. A lot of Korean restaurants are equipped to host a Tol, or it’s easy to do something simple at home. When I get a chance, I also want to tell you about our Chinese Red Egg and Ginger parties, and I’d love to hear about your traditional celebrations from other cultures, too!


Ninjago Party – Part 2: Activities

This past weekend, we put together a fun Ninjago-themed party for our seven year old’s birthday. I already posted pictures and ideas for the decorations, food, and party favors, and here are some details on the activities that kept our army of Lego ninjas busy!

Ninjago party activities and many more ideas from Jewels at Home.

Sword fighting against Ninjago enemies

I bought these foam swords at Hallowe’en for L’s ninja costume. They come as a mixed set of pirate and knight/ ninja swords. The pirate ones could easily be altered to look like the ninja swords by trimming the handles, but my kids didn’t seem to be particular about it. Our kids have played with the swords quite a lot in the past few months, and I’ve been impressed by how durable the they are and also how it seems pretty much impossible to hurt someone or break something with them (and I’m sure our good fortune will end with that statement…). Despite the fact that no physical harm has ever been inflicted, the swords have been the cause of some arguments and whining, neither of which I felt were suitable for a party, so I decided to direct the boys’ energy toward targets other than each other.

Luckily, I had just been to Ikea to pick up a couple of things, so I had two large cardboard boxes to turn into training dummies for the party. The Skulkin skeletons and the Serpentine are the main enemies of the Ninjago (I learned a lot to put together this party!), so I made one of each out of plain newsprint and glued them onto the boxes, adding some embellishment with markers. They’re each about five feet tall!

Sword fighting targets for a Ninjago birthday party activity.  Many more ideas from Jewels at Home.

Skulkin and Serpentine sword fighting targets for a Ninjago birthday party activity.

We set up the targets outside and let the kids take turns trying to knock them down. We quickly learned that we needed to draw a chalk line to delineate a “safe zone” for the kids waiting their turn, after the birthday boy got whacked by his older brother, who was aiming for General Skales. No harm done, but as I said, some – thankfully brief – tears and argument.

This activity was really beloved by our Ninjago guests. In retrospect, their war cries should probably have been saved for later in the party, as we may have woken some of our neighbors, but it was all in good fun.

Sword fighting targets for a Ninjago birthday party activity.  Many more ideas from Jewels at Home.

Sword fighting targets for a Ninjago birthday party activity.  Many more ideas from Jewels at Home.

Sword fighting targets for a Ninjago birthday party activity.  Many more ideas from Jewels at Home.

Stick the ninja star on the Ninjago

For this activity, I made a bunch of these origami ninja stars and put 3M clear mounting squares on the back.

Origami ninja stars.  Ninjago birthday party activity and party favors.  {Jewels at Home}

Origami ninja stars for Ninjago birthday party activity and party favors.

I made a giant poster of Ninjago Lloyd ZX. It was very easy to print this image across multiple pages using a downloadable program called Poster Razor, and then I taped the pages together and and placed the outline of a ninja star in Lloyd’s hand. I laminated the front of the poster with clear contact paper, so the ninja stars could stick without damaging the poster.

Stick the ninja star on Ninjago Lloyd.  Instructions and many more activities for a Ninjago birthday party from Jewels at Home.

Stick the ninja star on Ninjago Lloyd.

Not all the kids wanted to play this game, but those who did played over and over! We had to experiment with a few blindfolds and locations for the poster, as we had some very sneaky ninjas!

Each Ninjago guest got to take one of these little stars home, too.

Ninjago Skeleton Bowling

Lego actually makes a Skeleton Bowling set, so I took this idea and decided to make a life-sized version.

I was able to borrow this Little Tikes Totsports Bowling Set from our neighbor. I then printed two Ninjago skeletons side by side across regular sheets of paper and wrapped and taped the paper around the bowling pins.

DIY life-sized Ninjago skeleton bowling game.  Many more ideas for a Ninjago birthday party from Jewels at Home.

DIY life-sized Ninjago skeleton bowling game.

DIY life-sized Ninjago skeleton bowling game.  Many more ideas for a Ninjago birthday party from Jewels at Home.

I have to admit that the bowling game did not get a lot of attention at the party, although I suppose I can understand that the opportunity to whack things with swords was a bit distracting. Our toddler did have a lot of fun playing bowling the next day, though, as you can see. I think the kid has a future in pro bowling.

DIY life-sized Ninjago skeleton bowling game.  Many more ideas for a Ninjago birthday party from Jewels at Home.

Finally, let’s not forget the Lego itself! While we may grumble about how commercialized it has become since our childhood, I still think Lego is one of the best toys. Our kids can be occupied for hours making their own creations. Not surprisingly, the boys spent a lot of the party just hanging out with this classic toy. Looking for Lego sets for your kids or gifts? I have found great Ninjago and other Lego toys at big discounts on!

Lego Ninjago birthday party.  {Jewels at Home}

Lego Ninjago birthday party.

Well that’s the round-up of activities and fun at our Lego Ninjago birthday party. Don’t forget to check out the previous post for details on the decorations, food, and party favors.

Lego Ninjago birthday party.  Don't miss these ideas for decorations, activities, food, and favors.  {Jewels at Home}


Ninjago Birthday Party – Part 1

Pulling off a birthday party is like an athletic event (or at least I imagine it to be, not actually being athletic) – I work like crazy and then crash afterward. It’s always worth it to give our boys a day to remember. Here’s the first post on our seven year old’s Ninjago birthday party. I put details on the party activities in a separate post.

A complete guide to a Ninjago birthday party, with ideas for decorations, activities, food, and party favors.  {Jewels at Home}

Ninjago birthday decorations

I still like the feel of a paper invitation, like the ones I made for our firefighter birthday party, but sometimes the convenience of an online invitation is hard to resist.  Luckily, evite has this Lego-themed invitation, and I added a Ninjago drawing by our birthday boy, to complete the look.

Ninjago birthday party blog post with decorations, food, and activities, from Jewels at Home.

Customize an online invitation for your Ninjago birthday party.

For decorating the house, I hung our reusable birthday banners, customized with pictures of green Ninjago Lloyd ZX.  I had in mind to do balloons with stuck-on Ninjago eyes, but I ran out of time!

Ninjago birthday party blog post with customized decorations and tons of ideas.  {Jewels at Home}

Customized Ninjago birthday banner.

I printed signs for the activities using Bonsai font and mounted them on green scrapbook paper.  Each child got a Ninjago eyes T-shirt to wear when he arrived.  This was their main party favor, and the shirts were a hit!  It was really fun to see all the little Ninjagos running around the house together!

DIY Ninjago T-shirt party favors and many other ideas for a Ninjago birthday from Jewels at Home.

Celebrate your Ninjago fan's birthday with the DIY Ninjago eyes shirts!  Tutorial and more ideas from Jewels at Home.

I failed to capture the partying kids in any decent poses – they were moving too fast! but here’s the birthday boy’s little brother sporting his custom shirt. You don’t need to make your own shirts to have great Ninjago accessories.  I have definitely picked up a lot of Ninjago and other Lego shirts and toys at great prices on!

DIY Ninjago eyes T-shirts and many other ideas for your Ninjago birthday party.  {Jewels at Home}

Ninjago birthday food ideas

As you can see from the sign in this picture, I had wanted to arrange fruit into a Serpentine, one of the Ninjago enemies, but due to limitations of daylight savings time, I just piled the fruit on a plate, and it was all gone in an instant anyway – I told you those Ninjago are fast!

For lunch, we had a variety of Japanese and Japanese-inspired fare, including California rolls and avocado rolls from the local supermarket, homemade Spam musubi by Steve, and plenty of gyoza dumplings, which were the kids’ favorite.

Ninjago birthday party ideas, including decorations, food, and activities.  {Jewels at Home}

Ninjago birthdy party food: gyoza, musubi, and rolls.

Ninjago birthday party ideas, including decorations, food, and activities.  {Jewels at Home}

Instead of a cake, I made sushi using Rice Krispies.  These Rice Krispy treat sushi are decorated with fruit roll-up for the “nori” and Swedish fish and fruit gummies for garnish.  They were a lot of fun to make, though time-consuming.  If you do it, I definitely recommend making a half batch at a time, as the Rice Krispy treats kept hardening before I could shape them all, and I ended up with several leftover globs.

Rice Krispy Treat sushi made from Rice Krispies cereal and candy.  More ideas for a Ninjago birthday party at Jewels at Home.

Rice Krispy Treat sushi made from Rice Krispies cereal, fruit roll-up, Swedish fish, and other treats. So cute!

Tons of ideas for a Ninjago birthday party, complete with decorations, activities and food, from Jewels at Home.

Happy birthday boy at his Ninjago-themed party!

Ninjago Birthday Activities

These were a blast, and you can read all the details in this post!

Happy birthday to our dear son!  I am glad it was such a fun day.


Alternatives for Birthday Gifts and Party Favors

My kids have so much in the way of toys and games – proving it is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing. Not only do I worry that this makes it hard for them to learn the true value of things, but the ubiquitous toys and trading cards simply make a mess in a house that is already cluttered, and when the boys start arguing over a toy, then I’ve really had it!

So, this post on “Less is More” at My Modern Asian Family blog really resonated with me. I’m sure a lot of us can relate to this mom’s frustration with kids’ clutter, including the little plastic bags of little plastic toys that accompany a lot of birthday parties.

Over the years, my friends and I have tried a variety of innovative alternatives to birthday gifts and to the treat/loot/goody bags that are given out as party favors. Quick summary: for parties, you can try having no gifts, gift exchanges, donations, or gift/donation hybrids; for treat bags and gifts, think of some truly useful items or ones that can be used up and not leave a little trail of plastic crumbs…

As for the parties, I’ve been lucky that my kids have always been receptive to these alternatives. I explain that their birthday party itself is a gift and that they will still get some presents from their grandparents and aunts and uncles, and I haven’t had any arguments so far. I try to rotate the ideas around – sometimes we’ll do a standard party with gifts, especially if it’s small; sometimes we’ll do an exchange, and I plan to try the donations soon.

No Gifts
We’ve thrown several parties where I simply asked for “no gifts, please.” This works, though only to an extent. I think we are all so accustomed to bringing a gift to a birthday party that some parents don’t notice the request and others just really want to bring something for the birthday boy. This is very kind, though I do worry that it might be awkward when some guests bring a gift and some do not. If you try this, I would recommend putting it in big bold print and really emphasize it, eg. “Please do not bring a birthday gift. Our children are already fortunate to have so much, we would like to spend this day focusing on the celebration, rather than gifts.” A little cheesy but also to the point, you could add: “Your presence is your present.”

Gift Exchange
This is a favorite idea at our house. We’ve done both book and puzzle exchanges, in which each guest brings an unwrapped book or puzzle and each child takes one home. This can substitute for both the birthday present as well as for the treat for guests. You can let the birthday boy or girl pick first, so he or she still feels special, and I always put a few extra books or puzzles in the pile, so there’s lots of choice and a little bonus for the birthday boy. I find the exchanges get more universal uptake than simply requesting “no gifts,” because the parents all feel like they brought something. Another great thing about this idea is that a book or puzzle makes a more substantial and useful treat to take home, without breaking the bank for the party host… Though admittedly I have a lot fun with the treats and sometimes still do them.

Instead of birthday gifts and party favors, do a book exchange!  From Jewels at Home.

Instead of birthday gifts and party favors, do a book exchange!

We have some friends who have done a wonderful job throwing “pay it forward”-themed birthdays for their daughter. One year, they collected change in a jar to donate to charity; other years, they have collected canned goods for a food bank. Again, I think this satisfies people’s sentiment that they want to bring something to a party, and what a wonderful lesson for all the children! I’m ready to try this idea with the older boys, now that they are at an age where they can appreciate the concept.

Gift/Donation Hybrid
My friend Betsy co-founded this clever organization called Clover by Clover. You should check them out for the details, but the idea is that your child can pick a charity and a single gift. Then, people donate to a fund, and the money will be divided between the gift and the charity your child picked. What a good way to make your birthday child feel like they got a special gift while also teaching about the value of sharing.

Innovative Gifts to Give
No doubt, the kids love toys and gadgets, and I’m happy to indulge that for a special occasion. For those times I’ve felt like doing something different, here are some non-toy options that will still be fun for the kids:

  • Magazine subscription – There are lots of fun kids magazines that could be suited to a child’s interest, and we know kids love getting mail with their name on it. Some titles they might enjoy are Ranger Rick from the National Wildlife Foundation or American Girl magazine.
  • Adopt an animal – Almost every child has a favorite animal, and you can find an organization that helps these animals and make a donation on their behalf. Many have “adoption” programs where you’ll get a certificate and maybe some information about the animal and a small toy. Some examples are the World Wildlife Fund and the San Francisco Zoo.

Inspirations for Treat Bags
Into each birthday party, some plastic junk must fall, but I do try to minimize it. Here are some examples of great small gifts we’ve given or gotten at kids’ parties. My favorites are items that are  can either be used for a long time or consumed right away, so all my mommy friends will not be left with an unpleasant birthday aftermath.

Ideas for enduring party favors:

  • Cloth bags – I’ve decorated these cotton canvas drawstring bags/backpacks for several of our parties, and I know people often use them for taking toys on a trip or to a restaurant. I add an iron-on appliqué to fit the theme of the party and write each child’s name in puffy fabric paint. Kids love seeing their names on things! We’ve also received some of the larger tote bags from parties, and we reuse those for groceries or bringing toys to the beach.
  • High quality toys and books – I usually pick just one or two high quality things to give away rather than a lot of smaller items. Examples are the small paperback books, which I have sometimes found in the Target dollar zone, or the wooden-handled skipping rope I gave away at our Pioneer-themed birthday party.
Decorate cloth bags for a birthday party favor that can be put to good use.  By Jewels at Home.

Decorate cloth bags for a birthday party favor that can be put to good use.

Ideas for party favors that won’t linger and clutter

  • Healthy snacks – dried fruit or healthier types of crackers and cookies can make a nice addition to a treat bag. For our bug-themed party, I made these cute butterfly snack bags to go with the theme of the party. We also did a book exchange at that party.
  • Stickers or art supplies – these almost always get used up, at least at our house, so they make fun little gifts that won’t end up as immortal clutter in the toy bin.
Butterfly snack bags for a bug-themed birthday party.  By Jewels at Home.

Butterfly snack bags for a bug-themed birthday party.

So, for Modern Asian Mom and the rest of us drowning in clutter and tripping over small toys, go ahead and try some of these ideas for the next birthday party you give or attend.