Monday, August 20, 2012

Family Carnival - Back for More!

When it comes to putting on an epic event like this one, experience is definitely a best friend! I could not believe how much simpler it was this time to repeat last year's first annual family carnival. I easily controlled everything - including, it seemed, the weather! The only disappointment I encountered was that a few of my favorite people were unable to attend. But since there will always be a "next year," even that issue will eventually be resolved!

Last year, everything was new - fresh out of my basement. Untested palm trees wavered precariously on a sloped lawn, wrapping paper tube game booth posts threatened to collapse, and fluffy pink feather boa prizes made their escape on frequent gusts of wind. All these unexpected glitches kept me scampering last year, battling hot, humid, windy conditions, not-so-sturdily-constructed cardboard contraptions and an uneven surface upon which to position them all. Even then, we pulled it off, but this year's games that needed a flat surface had one, a shelter of trees kept wind damage to near zero and each booth - new and old - came to the party engineered to withstand several hours of fun - exactly what we experienced last Saturday, August 18 at 5 P.M.!

My personal favorite, "Monkey Smackdown" was once again the party centerpiece. With seven foot trees and green metallic accents flashing in the sun, I wasn't surprised when "gawkers" begin to slowly circle in front of our house shortly after set-up began. A few even brought cameras, and I loved that!

This is a knock-down game, where players throw plastic bananas at a stack of decorated cans. More detailed photos can be seen here where it was posted last year. Below, Christy and Brielle are helping a little customer win her monkey-shaped squirt gun prize after a successful hit.

Christy's husband, Keenon, played varsity baseball in high school so he's a good source of pitching tips and encouragement for his nephew.

It's traditional to have a "girls only" booth where nothing but claiming a prize is required of our little lady guests. I named it "You Are So Pretty," gave it a pink and white awning, positioned mirrors for preening, and sprinkled it all over with paper butterflies and flowers. Last year's post shows more - photos of the booth and the princess attire that was offered. This year, guests found a pretty butterfly visor and a be-ribboned gift bag of neon jelly bracelets, rings, and star-shaped sunglasses waiting for them.
And what about fearless little boy guests? Well, our "Alien Invasion" encounter was back with a blast!

Mommy and Nick are deciding which number to choose. Once that decision is made, we slooowly lift the alien, hoping to find a little green man hiding underneath. Lucky choosers win! Inflatable aliens, glow-in-the-dark silly putty - only the kind of prizes you might expect to arrive on a space ship carrying the critters you see above! And exactly how many of the five creatures hide little green prize-qualifying dudes beneath them? Well, you'll have to check out last year's post to find that answer and to see more detailed pictures of this popular game designed just for brave little boys!

Our Tattoo Kiosk was back again of course, with no such thing as "one per customer!" As something of a "carnival legend" around here, I am frequently asked for helpful tips to make an event like this a successful one. "Invite only nice people!" is always at the top of my pointedly frank list. See how well I follow my own rules? These two little ladies wait politely in line for "Aunt Sheila" to apply more "Hello Kitty" body art....which brings me to my second piece of practical advice. Make sure that my lovely neighbor, Sheila, is your friend. She will be there for you every step of the way, taking great pictures, and not only working a booth but bringing her fun-loving husband along with her to expertly man yet another one! (Carnivals never have enough working staff!)

It finally occurred to me why the "Goldfish Splash" game is such an attraction for little kids. The height of the base is perfect for them to see what's going on!

Every one of the games has rules, of course, but "creative interpretation" is left to the players. Adults just stand by, smile generously, and take plenty of pictures. Here are a few examples of what I mean.....
Take a few fish from daddy and then try to toss one of them successfully into the bowl to win a bubble wand!

Wow! So easy even a two year old can do it! And indeed, we have a winner!
Now let's take a look at the Duck Pond game. Those ducks need to have these rings tossed around their necks... usually (but apparently, not always!) while they are swimming!

Demonstrated here: the best way to (w)ring a duck's neck...and win a mini rubber duckie prize!

The "Go Fishing" game made a return visit and so did "the old man in the sea" behind the screen! Visit last year's post here to find out his identity and see a full picture of the game booth. Anyway, continuing on with our list of "creative ways to play and win carnival games," here's Sae, ready to fish for his catch. We did provide a bucket of cute little fake rubber worms to bait poles with, but he chose to hook up the toy airplane he had in his pocket. Seemed to work, though! He reeled in a big one right alongside that of his brother! Must have been a Flying Fish!

While these old favorites provide their share of fun, it is my goal to add a few new attractions every year. That might mean grandpa and I will end up running out of storage space and living on the roof, but that's the way it goes sometimes! I'm not worried. Sheila will see us up there and bring over blankets and food!

One of the new games was intended to keep competitive daddies busy. I called it the "Beer Box." A decorated styrofoam cooler filled with ice held bottles of Oberon. Those, arranged with their skinny necks sticking out over the top edge, were accompanied by a bucket of plastic cane rings. Is that all it takes to keep daddies happy in between making sure their kiddoes don't eat the sticky darts? Yep! That's all! I was too busy enjoying the kids, but I couldn't help but hear shouts of laughter from behind the garage as the guys vied to show off their beer-bottle-neck-ringing skills!

And speaking of sticky darts....
Dart games are such a part of carnival life that it's almost criminal to ignore them. Yet, it's also "criminal " to allow young kids to run around unsupervised with sharply pointed devices, especially once the adults discover the "Beer Box!" I came up with a way we could "have our fun and drink it too" - or..... Oh never mind! You know what I mean! 

This double-size foam board has pictures of balloons instead of the annoying real ones you'd need to replace every time one of your little sharpshooter guests scores a hit. This year, since the kids were so young, I didn't devise a system for points. That might be fun to do with older kids who could use their math skills as they play. If you are unfamiliar with sticky darts, I do have to promote them to you here! The harmless flat tip is coated with a flexible sticky surface that really does last the twenty or so uses that are promised. They are inexpensive too, about ten cents each. When used on a game board like mine, the occasional greasy spot left behind won't be a problem, but I wouldn't allow kids to toss them at painted walls....even though that sure sounds like it would be fun!

Maria, a very ladylike little guest proved that darts are not just an activity for boys. She kept
hitting numbers with deadly accuracy!

I do not favor the practice of giving live animals away as carnival prizes. In fact I always cringe when I hear of "goldfish games" that do exactly that. It is so wrong when children are allowed to view living creatures as toys to be won in games. It is especially wrong because so many cute items are available that accomplish the same thing without causing harm to an animal. Toy hamsters, for example! When I saw the cute little foam and stuffed bean bag critters that Oriental Trading offers, I immediately thought of the tabletop carnival wheel I bought last year from that company. Instead of using it again as a dessert wheel I decided to re-purpose it as a hamster game.

One hearty spin of the hamster wheel earned a number for each little player. On that number awaited a chubby portable pet, complete with a starter supply of food (chocolate candy chips). The food came packaged in colorful mini Chinese take-out boxes. Attached name tags let you know if your new little pet was named "Pokey" or "Speedy" or "Sunshine," etc......

Nick's turn! And here's his new little buddy, "Rocky!"
I'm not sure I want to showcase piracy, although I doubt that our almost-four year old twins even understand it. But with the popularity of the theme for birthday parties, it won't be long before they come in contact with it. Last winter, when I decided that a pirate treasure cave would be one of my new carnival features, I was just attracted by the spookiness of crawling into a dark interior with only a flashlight for a friend! Once inside, it would be the job of the lone explorer to scour deep crevices in search of a numbered chest filled with goodies to claim as one's own. In the process, grinning skulls would cast an unearthly glow to guide a seeking pair of hands. Yikes. I just scared myself! Is this too much of an adventure for little boys in that age range? Apparently not! My little carnival guests had no problem diving right in. But ahoy, matey! What do you think?

The curtained opening to the cave is about three feet tall. That's where you enter once you've selected a gold coin from the parrot-guarded basket. Those coins are numbered, and when you venture inside you are to seek only what is yours! Beware! There are eyes everywhere! You are being watched!

Wise explorers look carefully before they leap. Wiser ones invite their little sisters to take a close look too!

Oh sure! It's easy to be brave when the noon day sun is shining on the interior!
But what about when it's totally dark in there? Do you dare reach in for that little chest marked #1?!

Well this courageous explorer did! He swiftly found his treasure box and went about the task of discovering what lurked inside!

By the time every little guest had paid a visit to each attraction, party bags were stuffed full of prizes. One of the few things I could have done differently was to make those a little bit bigger! Winning toys and candy is the best part of any carnival for kids, but for me it's about something else. Time spent with family and friends create memories that last forever. We'll be back next year with even more fun! I can't wait to get started!

Update: Family Carnival 2014 will premiere my newest game of skill, Tic Tac Toad! Here is where you'll find more details. And here is another game for little girl guests, "Cute Little Chicks!"


  1. What an awesome event. I can see why those who knew about it were lining up outside. Love the photos and explanation of all the booths.

  2. You have absolutely done it get! You have put all of us other grandmas to shame! But seriously, it is spectacular, even better than last year and I'm so glad you shared it all.

  3. Wow! I am so impressed. What fun and amazing memories you're helping to create for those little ones. The treasure cave is definitely my favourite, probably because I love Halloween and it looks so nice and spooky!

  4. Greetings!

    My name is Alex Cutler and I work for a non-profit organization in Washington DC called Generations United. We are a group dedicated to improving the lives of children, youth and older adults through intergenerational collaboration, public policies, and programs.

    This year we are partnered with organizations such as AARP, Metlife, the NFL Players Association, and many others in an effort to increase nationwide involvement in Grandparents Day, which falls on September 9th this year. We are reaching out to bloggers like you who discuss issues related to grandparents, grandchildren, and intergenerational unity.

    If you are interested in helping us to increase awareness of and participation in Grandparents Day, we would love it if you could help to promote our resources on your blog. We’ve created a website,, with lots of information about Grandparents Day as well as a Take Action Guide that features many suggestions for intergenerational activities that grandparents and grandchildren can take part in together.

    We appreciate anything that you can do to help this valuable information reach a larger audience, whether it be showcasing it on your blog, talking to friends, or even just engaging with your own family.

    If you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to email me at

    Thank you so much, and have a wonderful day!

  5. So fun! Your family is lucky to have you to take such good care of them. Thanks for joining the party at One Creative Weekend! I hope you have a great weekend.

  6. Boy oh boy I wish I lived in your neighborhood! And I love the pirate cave new addition...
    The entire thing is just so amazing! :)

  7. Once again Joyce I think you are amazing! Is there a Grandma of the year award or something we could give you? you surely deserve some sort of recognition for all this work and creativity. thanks for linking with me :)

  8. Wow! What else can I say except WOW!!? You did an awesome job again. I'd like to add a stop at your place next August to my travel agenda. I'll bring my grandsons. Is that okay with you!? You have outdone yourself, for sure!

    Thank you for sharing your awesomeness via the GRAND Social!

  9. I'm with Lisa, Wow, Wow, Wow!!!!! You really did an amazing job creating a fun environment. All the work you put into each and every game is astonishing. Everything looks so wonderful and fun. I'm sure all of your guests had a blast.

  10. This party is incredible!!! I love all of the color and details!!! Everything looks amazing and SO much fun!!!! Incredible job!! I am visiting from the Best of 2012 Party at Diana Rambles and I am so glad I did!! I would be honored if you would link up to my link party going on right now!

    Thanks so much for sharing!!!


  11. You are the BEST Grandma!!!! Can my kids adopt you??!!

  12. I loved reading this just as much tonight as I did the first time. You are such a good Grandmother and you are setting the bar so high for their moms when the time comes!

  13. Oh my gracious - what a fun and creative idea! Thank you so much for getting our creative juices going with this! And HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  14. Wow, that is so awesome!! What an awesome and fun time for your grandchildren. You were so creative, too! I can tell just from the pics you are an amazing Grandma!! Thank you so much for sharing at A Bouquet of Talent! So thrilled to have you share!

    I can't wait to see what you create this year! Happy New Year!

  15. I'm so glad you chose this one to link to the final 2012 GRAND Social as it is one of my favorites of yours. It shows what a truly incredible grandma you are! So creative and devoted to making all things memorable for your lovely family. Cheers to you and to more incredible activities shared here in 2013! ♥

  16. Your party was featured!

    Thanks for linking up!


  17. I remember this and love it just as much this time. I wish I lived in your hood. By the way Kanga is still enjoying the cat toys...well the dogs killed one so I threw the other two into the basement where her food and litter are. Then she does one of those howls, pretending she's made a huge animal capture, and she brings one of them up and deposits it in the dining room. Next you know you hear her howl again and its upstairs. Then I put it into the basement again and this goes on day after day. Kind of funny....

  18. Hard to believe that this is the 3rd time of read this and I loved it just as much -- maybe more because of all the fun that has come between now and then, too! Oh when they get school age.... the teachers are just going to love you!