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How to have a lawn party in your house

March 12, 2014

Part 2.

As noted yesterday, my daughters and I came up with the idea of having a “lawn party” theme for my husband’s 60th birthday. Here is the lowdown.

First I need to explain that in Virginia, a “lawn party” is a euphemism for a carnival, a term which came into play during a time when carnivals were considered not quite decent or kosher for members of some churches (I have not documented this).


A lawn party is put on as a major fundraiser by fire departments, rescue squads, Ruritan or any club and requires the all-hands-on-deck cooperation of dozens, even hundreds, of volunteers. You have multiple food booths, fair or carnival type games, maybe rides (or at least a jumping cage for the kiddies) and at the really big ones, a Tractor Pull. The general community gets in the act by coming out in droves for two or three nights over the weekend for their evening meal (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) and many happily donate cakes for a “cake walk” (to be explained shortly). Small town—or up and coming regional bands (or bad karoke music) supply mostly country or blue grass music from a small stage.

So here is how our indoor lawn party went down.

Music. Two daughters prepared a playlist of their father’s favorite music of the 60s and 70s, back when we actually listened to pop music. Great music like: Monster Mash, Up Around the Bend (Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of my husband’s fav bands), Proud Mary, Heard it through the Grapevine, Lookin Out My Back Door, Bad Moon Rising, Smoke on the Water, Radar Love, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (by Iron Butterfly), You Don’t Mess Around with Jim. You get the idea. Good stuff.

Food. I tried to serve typical lawn party food, adapted to the home scene: barbecues, (fried chicken, no I didn’t fry it myself), chips (instead of French Fries), soft drinks—with the addition of veggies and cheese which you would never find at a lawn party but, well, there had to be something a little nutritious! There was not much left at the end of the evening.P1050194

Games. Let me tell you, I had no idea how we’d actually do some of the games below going in, but my daughters helped think through plans that would work.

Go Fish! Or Pin the hook on the Fishie. I blew up a picture of likely the biggest fish my husband ever caught as a kid, and we stuck post it notes on the picture with the closest “hook” winning a prize.


Dime Toss. I invited my daughters to scour their cupboards for mugs and cups and saucers they were not using; I also visited the local MCC Gift and Thrift Store and bought up a small supply. I dug up all of the dimes I could find in the house and allotted each player 5 dimes for their turn of tossing a dime, one at a time, trying to land one in a cup or dish. One vase had a dollar bill rubber-banded to it as a special prize. We used the dining room table (but forgot to get a picture of it in action) and for a while the dimes were flying everywhere (but not dangerously, which was a slight concern). Two of the boys later turned it into a ping pong table, using one of the prizes (a small ping pong set) he had won.


Cake Walk. Our version was a little like musical chairs with small posters on the floor each bearing the name of one of Stuart’s vehicles (or our family vehicles) through the years, more than 11 different cars/trucks/minivans. It was fun reminiscing and would have been more fun to blow up old pictures of each one, but that would have taken a lot of digging for photos. So while the music played, players walked around the “cake table” (which was bearing cupcakes), and land on one of the posters stating vehicle brands, and the game chief drew small slips out of a basket bearing the names of the vehicles. Whoever stood on that poster would then win his/her cupcake. (At a real lawn party, each winner would have received a real whole cake. Too much for our small scale party. Cake table shown below).


Log Guessing Game. I’ve never seen this at a lawn party, but taking my husband’s affinity for cutting wood, burning wood, and frequently expecting that his daughters and I just “know” the different types of wood as well as he has come to know them over the years, we came up with 10 samples of wood growing on our property and let people do their best guess of which was which, from a multiple choice list. My environmental scientist daughter prepared a careful answer key, also shown below.

P1050239 P1050259 P1050258

Photo Booth. I’ve never actually seen a photo booth at a lawn party either but this idea was kind of culled from amusement parks where you can dress up in old style clothing. So two daughters brought props and I combed the attic for old musical and Halloween costumes. Some guests seemed to enjoy hamming it up a little for the camera. Especially Abby and Jaiben.

P1050163 P1050167 P1050166 P1050161 P1050158

Is Mary a great hippie or what? (she even has the right kind of name)!

P1050157 P1050154 P1050147

Tractor Pull. The game that some of the kids were excited to try was our version of a tractor pull. Again, for the uninitiated, this is where tractors of all sizes and descriptions, and in some cases old antique tractors, line up for a chance to pull a “sled” that increases its resistance as the tractor putts down the smooth dirt track. The tractors belch puffs of smoke, the crowd cheers, and the guy who manages to get the farthest down the track wins.

Our “sled” was an upside down dolly, the “track” was two lines in the basement cement, and we added resistance with increasing weights—up to 70 pounds.


Upside down dolly base


First “weight:” 40 lbs salt


Second weight added: 14 lbs cat litter


Final weight: old brake drum, 16 pounds

The “tractor” was an awesome little wooden riding toy my husband built about 30 years ago for the children (in an adult woodworking class) which is rumored to be indestructible (even a 250-pound man can sit on it with no ill effects to the toy).


The “crowd” in this case  were impressed that the toy could pull 70 pounds.

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The tractor pull also gave us confidence the riding toy will likely stand up to any punishment our growing grandsons will give it. P1050109

All participants were declared winners, and encouraged to please please please grab a gift from the prize table (mostly while elephants I was happy to move out of my closet).

In the end, yes, it took a little creativity and a little leg work and elbow grease, and I think we had as much fun working together, as friends and family had in participating (and thanks to dads who pitched in to take care of little ones).P1050117

We would have loved to invite even more friends and relatives. Weather wise, it was the most beautiful Saturday we’ve had in a while so I hope everyone else had just as much fun doing other things on that fine day. Everyone has busy schedules and we so appreciate all who took the time to come celebrate with us–which is what birthday parties are really about.

On Friday, I’ll blog about making real lawn party food, funnel cakes. As I was preparing for this party, flipping through reams of old photos to find the fishing picture of my husband, I was struck by all the photos of birthday parties in my boxes and albums. That is because it is one of the times parents and everyone is more inclined to snap pictures. I know a family whose grandchildren live 630 miles away yet they frequently drive the 1200+ mile round trip in order to be present for those important occasions. We didn’t often do that—drive to my folks’ for birthdays nor did my parents drive here—but sometimes celebrated in conjunction with other events which 1) made me glad we celebrated as often as we did, but also 2) mindful that you can never get together often enough.

As we planned this decade birthday party, I particularly remembered the line of Helen Poindexter from my church, a beautiful English prof for many years and now in her 90s. At a 40th birthday celebration for our pastor, Helen quipped, “Oh to be 40 again.”

How true. Someday we’ll wish we were “just 60” again. So it goes. The moral is to enjoy each day as you live it, like Thorton Wilder wrote in the play, “Our Town.”

(Most photos courtesy of Brian Sinclair and other family photographers.)


Do you have “lawn parties” in your area as described above? I have not run into them, really, in any area other than Virginia. I’m sure there are similar carnivals and small fairs and fundraisers, but does anyone else call them lawn parties? Hope you’ll comment!

Have you ever driven a ridiculous distance for a birthday party of a family member or friend?


From → Faith, Family Life, Food

  1. Athanasia permalink

    Enjoying the series but OUR TOWN is Thornton Wilder.

    • Oh my! I thought it didn’t look right and even looked it up–too quickly–on the Internet (where there are no mistakes) and misread the response. Is my face red, I was an English major, and this was one of my favorite plays. At least I can correct this quickly. Thank you SO MUCH!

  2. Caro - Claire Wiles permalink

    Your party sounds just wonderful and such imagination that went into planning it all to be done indoors! The games looked like such fun and I am sure there were many memories made for all who were there.
    As I read all about it I must admit I even had a little tear in my eye to think about families and friends coming together.
    I mentioned yesterday that I wasn’t very good at planning these kind of things but I realized as I read this and saw all the pictures that were taken , that my place has always been the official photographer not only at family events but as a photographer, I was the photographer at our former church for over 37years (over 35 large albums loaded with pix) , I am now doing that at our new church since our move, and also for special parties for friends .
    My own family pictures are well documented through the years and are all in albums and named and since I went digital few years ago, I have a new way of saving all the pictures which can be quite daunting and is almost a full time job!

    • Caro - Claire Wiles permalink

      I continue to be our family photographer and I still like to have pictures to look at in an album in preference to looking at them on a computer!

  3. I admire what you are doing with your photo collection — taking care of them is definitely important for families. I agree it can be a full time job/hobby! Digital just adds another layer of collection. Thanks for your comments!

  4. Thank you for sharing this awesome article. I was thinking to organize a lawn party for my kid’s birthday, but had no clear ideas about how to plan it. I think now I can plan a good lawn party for my kid!

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