Welcome to the online recap of our blog (birthday) party last Saturday! Before I saw these finished pictures, I was going to tell you they’d be the next best thing to being at the party, but now that I’ve seen them (and they are SO AMAZING), I’m thinking being at the party might be the next best thing to seeing the photos. Good thing I got to have both. They are all used by permission from my insanely talented friend Rebecca Brogan, whom you’ve heard mentioned here many times over the last year as Becky and who has been the most loyal, genuine supporter of this crazy blog thing from the beginning.

I almost feel like I should just send you over to her Flickr album right now because what can I possibly add? (Actually, let’s be honest: go ahead and look over there now. I’ll wait.)


For the few of you who remembered to come back here and, for some kind reason, still want more details about this party, consider this the Internet version of my putting my arm around your shoulder and pulling you close. We’re all friends here, so I’m going to be an open book about the whole thing—if I leave anything out, ask away in the comments!


So first things first. When you decide you want to throw a party for an undetermined number of people, especially involving food, one of the first big question is money—how much is this going to cost? Am I right? It was one of the first things I considered with our recent blog event, but, then, it’s also probably one of the first things you consider when you throw a party at your home, whether it’s a backyard barbecue or a baby shower or a fancy dinner, and one you consider even when you do know in advance exactly how many people will attend.

Right off the bat, I’ll tell you the truth: the biggest secret is help—LOTS OF HELP!—from people who love you.


There were several times Saturday night when I looked at my parents, who’d not only transported supplies in their SUV but also helped me unload container after container of food and supplies, and especially my mom, who’d made salads and meatballs for the occasion; my brother, who with my dad somehow managed to hook up two strings of white bulb lights to a beamed ceiling, without strings or twine or any real tools and who drove with me to the park, completely calm when a car accident totally blocked the road and sent us on a diverted path; Becky, obviously, who arranged the iTunes playlist and served as resident photographer, as well as brought a last-minute broom over when we broke some glass ahead of time; Michele, who picked up balloons to stick on our homemade road sign and then wouldn’t let me pay her back for them; and so many other people who came early and helped clean up and ate, happily, and I thought, I could not have done this without you, and I meant it.


The second thing, and this is more of a lesson learned than a tip to give, is to plan ahead. In some ways, I did this: I booked the facility back in June, at which point I did a site visit and checked out the area, including how many tables would be available and if there were bathrooms/parking/water fountains; I had a rough idea of a menu just a week or so after that, which allowed me to figure food expenses pretty generally. I baked banana breads and made biscotti dough a week ahead of time and froze them.


In other ways, though, I did not: I planned for one serving plate per person, not thinking about dessert plates; I didn’t bring near enough napkins; and the only towel we had, anywhere, was one my mom had thrown in a box somewhere. We’ll chalk those lessons up to rookie mistakes and just say, If you’re going to skimp on something, don’t let it be plates, utensils or, for heaven’s sakes, napkins. Lesson learned.


Keeping things simple cannot be overstated, and our decorations were just that: white tablecloths purchased at Sam’s Club, white lights on sale at Target, old candles and vases laying around in storage. The wine bottles donated from a local shop were part decoration, set as centerpieces on the tables with the candles, and part utility, holding water and mint lemonade, topped by homemade labels I printed off the computer.


And of course you know about the giveaways, all donated and making it possible for every guest to go home with a little something, if not a cookbook or prize package they’d won in the drawing. The generous sponsors made this part possible, and I can’t thank them enough, either.


Adding further to the homemade touch, I made menus and printed them up on cardstock and made a little sign by the giveaway table to explain what to do to win a prize. These touches were free but for the cost of cardstock, of which I still have plenty leftover and so I don’t even consider that an expense for the party.


What else? Well, you may remember my idea for a cookie-decorating table, for which I’ll just admit I made way more cookies than we needed (and everyone in my family, my friend Wendi’s family, my office and the extending friends of those groups has been benefiting since). But the idea was a fun one, to give people the opportunity to do something rather than just eat, and people seemed to like it.


And sweet Melissa brought her gorgeous cakes, having never met me and as only a new visitor to the blog, willing to help and be involved however she could, even when that meant driving from Evanston to Downers Grove.


If, right now, you’re reading all this and thinking, Oh My Word, This Girl is Insane, All This for a Blog? Let me just tell you I know, I felt the same way sometimes during the preparations and especially the morning of, but, now looking back, I think it was all worth it.


Part of what this blog has become for me is a reminder that I have today, just today, and I want to make the most of it. I want to take everything Providence sends to me and notice it, appreciate it, savor it. And while throwing a blog party may be unusual, it was a perfect way to stop and focus on all I’ve gained this last year, from the ability to make certain recipes to the blessings of friendships with people I didn’t know before to the blessings of friendships I’ve had all along. For me, that was worth the expense, which I’ve detailed below. In fact, it was worth a lot more.

Still want more? Read the sneak peek we posted a few days ago or for Caroline, the first year, which explains a little more of how this site came to be.

The Nitty-Gritty
It doesn’t get more transparent than this, does it? Here is a breakdown of costs involved with our blog party, which worked out to be right around $300 and right within my budget. All in all, I’d say that’s a success, but, then again, I guess the reasons for the party were success to begin with.

Venue: $45 (a reasonable $15/hour for non-residents of Downers Grove)
Music: FREE (Thank you, Becky, for a great mix!)
Photography: FREE (Thank you, Becky, again and again!)
Food*: $185 (Thank you, Sam’s and CostCo and especially Mom, for making/donating the salad and meatballs)
Cake: FREE (Thanks to Melissa of Sugar Magnolia Pastries)
Tablecloths: $45 (Sam’s Club)
Wine Bottles: FREE (Thank you, Downers Grove Wine Shop)
Candles/Vases: FREE (Laying around in storage)
Lighting: $30 (Sale at Target on bulb lights)
Menus: $5 (cardstock)
Welcome Sign: $3 (stakes purchased at Wannemaker’s and glued to random wood I found)
Balloons: FREE (Thank you, Michele!)
Giveaways: FREE (Donated by sponsors)

TOTAL: Right around $300

*Meatballs: We didn’t get any photos of the meatballs, so until I try Mom’s recipe or until Christmas when she makes them again, there will be no post here about them. However, by popular demand, the recipe will be posted on our Facebook fan page this weekend.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Joanna

    I’m glad to see how it went. I would have loved to have been there.

  2. rachel

    aw!! I totally would have loved the party :) looked so classy .

  3. Michele

    Your party looks great! I must have missed something though, was this a party to celebrate your blog? (One year or something?) or was it a blogger get together?

  4. Jacqui

    wooohoooo par-TAY!

  5. Whitney

    Looks like it was a huge success. I am very bummed that I couldn’t be there.

  6. Kristilyn

    The party looks fantastic! What a beautiful venue. :-)

  7. Carrie

    While I realize a lot of the party was made possible by some really great people, keep in mind that this party was really a testament to YOU. Sometimes, when it comes to other blogs, I think “food blog shmood blog,” because no one else does, well, what YOU do. It’s a literary food blog indeed.. and no one can touch you.

  8. Kim

    It looks wonderful – congratulations on a beautiful party. I might have teared up a little bit reading this. I just want to give you a big hug! Congratulations again!

  9. The Duo Dishes

    Big congrats to you. There’s nothing more fun than having parties for folks, which is what we love to do. Glad it all turned out super!

  10. Judy

    It was a wonderful party! A great idea, perfect setting and delicious food. What more could you want? Thanks, Shanna!

  11. Val

    Thank you for everything, it was a great party! And brava to Becky, those are amazing photos!

  12. Shannalee

    Joanna, I was thinking about you tonight and how nice you’ve been, from the beginning, about this whole blog thing. Thanks for your support and for giving me feedback. Wish you could’ve been here!

    Rachel, I would’ve loved to have seen you! Thanks!

    Michele, You guessed it! This started off as a blog birthday party, and then I was calling it a blog party and then an anniversary party… it turned into a big outdoor meal with people who read this blog, and it was very nice.

    Jacqui, Thank you again for coming!

    Whitney, I’m bummed, too. Thanks for being with us in spirit, though. Hope Texas has been great!

    Kristilyn, I know, right? And for just $15/hour you can’t go wrong!

    Carrie, I promise I’m not just being gracious when I say I couldn’t have done this without everyone who helped! (I mean, hello, these pictures alone, right? Gorgeous and all Becky.) And so many people were so generous with not just their time but their attitudes and conversations and, obviously, help. I just feel so blessed.

    Kim, Big Internet hug! Thanks so much for your blog friendship. Really.

    DD, Thank you!

    Judy, Your first blog comment! I am so excited! Thank you guys so much for coming and for being so nice about everything. I appreciate it so much.

    Val, Thank YOU for coming! And for writing about it on your blog. You’re awesome and going places, and I’m so glad I’ll be able to tell people I knew you when.

  13. Kate

    Shannalee! This looks so fun! I am always impressed with everything you do here – and this party looks to be no exception. What a wonderful idea and day! Thanks for sharing with those of us who read from afar 😉

  14. Kathi D

    Oh, it all looks so beautiful and so fun! The photography is like art, and the site looks amazing. Too bad I wasn’t visiting my BFF Susan in Chicago–I would have come!

  15. Kathi D

    P.S. I agree with Carrie. I am pretty new to your blog, but it is the BEST.

  16. postcollegecook

    How gorgeous! You put such thought and effort into this – almost like planning a wedding – and it looks like it paid off :)

  17. jessiev

    what fun! it looks like a blast – and the photos are incredible.

  18. Shannalee

    Kate! Thank you for your sweet comment! And thank you for reading from afar!

    Kathi D, You are lovely. Thanks for puffing my ego up a little bit – I am so, so far from being one of the best food blogs, but I have fun here, and I love hearing from you!

    PostCollegeCook, I laughed at the wedding comment! I guess it was a little like that, but for all my married friends, trust me, I know weddings are way more work than this! Did you plan your wedding?

    JessieV, Thank you so much! And I know, right? Becky’s incredible.

  19. My First Kitchen

    I. Wish. I. Was. There. I’m so comfortable and happy reading about the party that I’m almost in nap mode. When a blog post makes you that relaxed, you’ve done something right. I’m glad you enjoyed it. What a great reminder of today.

  20. Shannalee

    Kendra, I wish you were here, too! We really do need to meet someday, whether that means you, Kaz and baby Sam in Chicago; me in NC; or some other variation. We would have fun.

  21. Sue

    I wanted to be there! :(

  22. maris

    This sounds like SUCH a wonderful idea and I wish I lived closer so I could have come. Happy Blogiversary, again!!

  23. Amanda

    How beautiful! You did a wonderful job with organizing and planning for your party, and I wish I had been there. Congrats, Shanna :)

  24. Shannalee

    Sue, I REALLY wish you could have been.

    Maris, Thank you, and I agree. Let me know next time you’re in Chicago!

    Amanda, Thanks so much! Wish you could have been here, too, and so glad to reconnect through blogging. You inspire me with your gardening, even out in Florida!

  25. Melissa

    Everyone at my house wants more. We made sloppy joes with it. It was a HUGE hit. Is it in stores? Do you have to order it? I have never seen it before your blog party.

  26. Shannalee

    Melissa, Country Bob’s will love to know that! You can find them at, where there’s a map telling you where it’s sold. Glad you enjoyed it!

  27. joy

    wow–if i were more “with it” to have been following this more closely, i would’ve maybe tried to be more closely involved with it, too. maybe next time. there IS going to be a next time, yeah?

  28. Shannalee

    Joy, I wish you could have come! As far as a next time, I have no idea, but me-without-a-party you can find anytime in the burbs – let me know when you have time to meet up!

  29. Miriam

    Such a shame I live in Canada and was too far to travel over. I’m glad it went so well and you enjoyed the event! I love reading your blog and trying out your recipies.

  30. Shannalee

    Miriam, Canada! I guess that is too far, but you’re right, it is a shame! Thank you for your sweet comment!

  31. Pingback: Sweet & Tangy Meatballs | Food Loves Writing

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