7 Quick Takes about my first radio show, punk rock dads, and a desperate plea for birthday party ideas

September 12, 2014 | 58 comments

— 1 —

Well, yesterday was the big day: my first live radio show


That picture was taken while I sat at a coffee shop next to the studio, about 30 minutes before air time.

I’ll just go ahead and admit that I was extremely nervous. Okay, “terrified” might be a better word. But then I sat in the chair at the studio, put on the headphones, heard the Gregorian chant / rap mashup, and I instantly relaxed. There were a couple of rough spots, but I had a blast with the show. I’m really looking forward to the next one!

(Right now there’s not a podcast that’s available to everyone, but if you’re a SiriusXM subscriber the show is available on demand.)

— 2 —

My guest on the show was Karen Hughes, an advisor to George W. Bush who gave one of the first press conferences on 9/11/01. Since yesterday was the 13th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we talked about her perspective as a White House insider on that terrible day.

One of the most fascinating things to come out of the interview was a moment she described from the morning of 9/11:

She had to go to the White House for a briefing, but it had been evacuated. She walked in — on a Tuesday morning — and the United States headquarters was empty. She called out “is anybody here?” into empty halls.

That moment of a silent, abandoned White House on Tuesday morning is a visual that will stick with me any time I think of 9/11.

— 3 —

The night before the show, I made these notes of sound effects to request from my producer. And I think this tells you pretty much everything you need to know about The Jennifer Fulwiler show:


— 4 —

Wow, we have a lot going on right now. We’re back in the swing of things with homeschool, I’m doing this radio show, we’re taking care of two dogs, I have the Washington DC book tour coming up, and a family health crisis has meant that Joe has been out of town a lot.

I’ve had a lot of “How do you do it all?!” questions recently, as if I’ve discovered the secret to managing that kind of workload while keeping my house running perfectly smoothly. Let me just tell you:

I haven’t.

I’m behind on some important stuff, I stay up too late most nights, we’ve had homeschool days that were heavy on radio show management and light on math, and I’m about to give up on my email inbox altogether. The next time someone asks me how I do it all, I think I’ll just answer, “Badly.”

— 5 —

I need boy birthday party ideas! My oldest child turns 10 next weekend, and I’m at a loss for what to do. I can’t deal with hosting a party here at the house, yet I can’t spent hundreds of dollars renting out a fancy venue. Hit me with any creative ideas you have for cool, budget-friendly, out-of-the-house boy birthday parties!

— 6 —

A friend told me about this documentary called The Other F-Word, about punk rockers who become fathers:

I haven’t watched the movie yet, but I’ve watched the trailer about 50 times because I find it to be so sweet and inspiring.

— 7 —

Psst: Edel 2015 is officially happening. Dates, city, and other great details coming very soon!



  1. Kendra

    That movie trailer is the sweetest, craziest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

    • Renee

      I know. Loved how they talked how their children gave them life, and discerning whether or not yo get a tattoo on your forehead.

      I know a father, who had a tattoo on his head thinking ‘oh, I can grow my hair in to cover it, when I get older’, but instead he went bald.

  2. Erin McCole Cupp

    Oooh! I have a birthday party idea! If you have an ice skating rink nearby, check out the affordability of their public skate time and take them skating. Afterwards, go for pizza or ice cream or whathaveyou. The nice thing about tween parties is that you don’t really have to come up with as many games. They pretty much can take care of themselves.

    Congrats on the radio show. I too use the “badly” reply quite often.

  3. Hevel

    Congrats on your new show!

    Now about birthday parties. Our twins’ 10th birthday party was at a park with a grill, we made grilled sandwiches, had an ice cream cake we built easy craft cars from empty bottles, and raced them. Then they had fun with park equipment. Another year we raced paper boats in a shallow ditch (2 inches of running water) at a kibbutz. One tenth birthday saw us renting a classroom at the synagogue’s Talmud Torah, with a lot of lego creations. Three years ago we did a big mural with birthday guests: we took a photo of the birthday party, then projected it on butcher paper on the wall. After drawing the countours, everyone could decorate themselves to be whoever they wanted to be. At the end of the party we took a photo of the “mural” and printed one up for every guest.

    • Catholic Lawyer Mama

      I was just going to suggest doing it at a park also!!! With 10-year-olds, the normal park slides and swings probably won’t be as interesting as they would to younger kids, BUT fun games and activities (like those suggested by Hevel above and April and Sara and more below) can definitely make it fun. Best news: It’s not in your house, and it’s free (except for food, games, and supplies)!

  4. Renee

    I was interviewed once for radio, no call ins (thank God). It is the call ins, that would freak me out.

  5. Mary

    Prayers for sanity as you work though a busy life 😉

    And, the trailer was awesome.
    that is all

  6. April

    We went to Nerf Gun birthday party and had a blast! Go to a park, tell everyone to bring their nerf gun from home along with a pair of sum glasses for protection. There are lots of ideas on Pinterest. You can get old boxes from liquor stores and they can build walls. It was affordable fun.

  7. Sara

    One of the best birthday parties we ever had was a detective theme. All 3 of our January kids invited friends and it was crazy with 20 guests! Fortunately, it miraculously snowed (and everyone still came), so that took care of any lull at the end of the party. Everyone had to sign in and get their spy sunglasses and name badge; they had a scavenger hunt looking for clues; they played “Murder” which can be changed to a more friendly game; and the cake was cheery with a body outline and footprints. 🙂

    Another easier party for a 10 yo boy is a Lego party. Lego cake. Tiny lego prizes. And they put together a themed project whether you buy it new or make them get creative with what you have. Maybe a contest for the most creative version of X.

    Have fun!

  8. Cristina Reintjes

    My boys all love to go geocaching and I’ve seen some fun parties that just involved going to a park with several geocaches already there and sending the kids out on a treasure hunt to find them. My husband just uses his phone to handle the gps aspect of it all–I think it was like $10 for the good app. Of course it might involve a trial run or two first if you’ve never done it before 🙂 There’s also the added homeschooling bonus of counting every excursion into the woods as ‘nature study’ and mentally checking off science for the week from your to do list…… http://www.geocaching.com/

    • Jolene

      One time we did a Nature Scavenger Hunt. It’s along the same lines, but you don’t have to get gps’s. Just make (or Google) a list of outdoor things for the kids to find, split them into teams, and the team that comes back with the most things on the list wins! We had things like “purple leaf, rock, penny, live bug, etc.”

  9. chris s

    Does your son like sports? One year my son and all his friends wore football jerseys and had a huge game of touch football in the gymnasium at our church. If the weather was nice you could also do it at a park. We had pizza and a football cake and it was my son’s favorite party by far. It was so easy. We gave the kids packages of football cards as take home treats.

  10. Rita @ Open Window

    Paper plates. That’s how I do it, but I don’t have nearly as much to balance, so maybe that won’t help for you.

    Birthday party ideas: Do you have nature trails? Can you do a scavenger hunt type thing on one? Give them lists, split them into groups, send them forth, and see what they come up with. Picnics inside or outside are fun. If you don’t already have them, go on amazon, order a few stomp rockets and go to a field. HOURS of fun. Give them a stack of cardboard boxes and tell them to build a fort. Do you have Legos? We went to a party once where the parents dumped Legos on a table and everyone built different creations. It was awesome, simple, cheap, and fun for the parents too…at least the ones who like building with Legos. Do you have an airport near you? Ours has a play room that is fun, free, and you can watch the plans take off and land. You just have to pay $5 to park. Not sure that’s an option for you, and maybe that’s too young for him.

  11. Lynn

    Our go-to party is to head to the park with a gazillion water balloons and cheap squirt guns, at a time of day when no meal is required, so ice cream is all that’s required. I give my kids a $30 budget and let them figure it out. My labor is free, and I never charge for having a handful of kids for a real meal.

  12. Amelia

    Birthday party…just go to a park or a beach or a lake or someplace that’s free and in your city. Bring food and cake and maybe a few balloons and you are all set. You already have entertainment (swimming or the playground). Easy and fun. You don’t even need to plan activities…just let all the kids run around while the adults talk.

  13. Kathleen

    My 9th or 10th birthday party was just taking a couple of close friends (maybe 3 or 4) on a hike in a local state park. I don’t remember food or birthday cake, but I’m sure my parents must have brought something along. Cupcakes might travel better than cake.

  14. Susan

    How about a bowling party? Often they offer a package for kids parties. They are usually not too expensive during the day, the kids stay busy AND you don’t have to clean your house!

  15. Sue

    “Sometimes you think about… ‘Oh, should I have tattooed my forehead?'”


  16. Christine Johnson

    I really need to see if there’s any way I can get to DC. Such a drive, though. Why can’t your book tour just focus on little towns no one has heard of with Catholic populations of about 4%?

    Birthday idea:

    We once reserved a pinic area in a park when our daughter was about 10, brought cones and a couple soccer balls (she invited her entire team), and then had Nathan go pick up half a dozen Little Caesar’s Pizzas when it was time for that. Out of the house. Free venue. Cheap pizza (for ten year olds who didn’t care). Lots of things to do on the playgrounds. And any parents who stuck around could lounge on the picnic tables while the kids ran around the playgrounds.

    Congrats on the radio show, and I really hope it becomes a podcast. Or that you call me at home every afternoon to do a personal show. 😉

  17. Alissa Molina

    I was about to throw out some party suggestions for our area because I have a boy that will be 10 in a month and I have the same criteria for our parties, but man these suggestions rock. If you end up doing something like the nerf gun war or the football game, I do have a suggestion for a park. My husband is a coach and did some summer camp stuff for homeschoolers this summer in RR. Frontier Park in RR is minutes from St. W, has a playscape, tennis courts, a bball area, a small shaded pavilion and a wide open field. I had never heard of it before we scoured the area looking for a place to host his camp. It was perfect for a wide variety of ages.

  18. Lew

    B-day party…

    Check out a park day. There are a lot of games that can really only be played with a decent sized group (ultimate Frisbee, red rover, touch football, blob tag etc.) that might be fun and something the children don’t get to do everyday.

  19. LPatter

    Not sure if outdoor is an option this time of year down there, but 10 year old boys could really get into an awesome scavenger hunt in a state park or other cool natural setting – I know you have the creativity to make it awesome! Might need Joe around to pull it off. Good luck!

  20. Lynne

    Congrats on your first show going so well. The sounds: I would be disappointed with anything less hilarious. Karen Hughes: surreal. What a terrifying moment that must have been for her.

    As for Edel, I must have missed that Fill the Cathedral post. Or possibly I deleted it from my inbox without reading because I couldn’t bear to know all the fabulous details. Your words, especially that final line about having “found their people” makes my heart ache. Those “people”, my “tribe”, are what I long for, what I have longed for these last ten years since moving from my former home. It’s just what I would have hoped the conference would be. But HEY! Now that I know that Austin isn’t the permanent conference home, I have a renewed hope!! Maybe you’ll be coming to a city near me….

  21. Madeline

    I was also going to suggest geocaching. If you’re feeling really ambitious you could go out early and add to the cache something birthday-like. Then grill out at the park. Just pick a park with bathrooms and you’re all set.

    The best party I have ever been to was a photo scavenger hunt in the Mall of America. We had a list of things to take our picture by and split into 2 groups. After it was complete we had dinner and waited for our prints to develop. (Or just print off these days.) Have any malls by you? Or heck even downtown as long as you had enough adults to supervise. Then we got awards for “best picture” and “fastest find” etc.

  22. Lynne

    I keep thinking about Karen Hughes and all these questions arise. So they evacuated the White House. Does that mean there were no security people at the gates to tell her, “Nobody is home?” Did the security people leave, too? I picture random strangers taking self-guided tours through the First Lady’s lingerie drawer and jewelry box or raiding the White House fridge and watching Food Network in the President’s bed.

  23. Amity

    Boy’s birthday party: nerf guns at a park. We got cheap little nerf knock-offs from Target (3 for $9) and some extra nerf bullets, and encouraged kids to bring their own as well. The kids had great fun.

  24. Connie Rossini

    Wow, God is really using you these day! God bless your new show.

  25. Renee

    Warrior/Spartan style obstacle course…. DIY with the mud and all.

  26. Rachael

    Birthday party ideas. We are having our next birthday party at Michaels craft store. We are doing a superhero theme so we will have the kids decorate capes and masks. It was $50 for the room and we have to buy craft supplies but we got to pick any craft and we can get whatever supplies we want. We also get a discount on any supplies we buy at the craft store. We also get to bring whatever food, drinks, decorations we want. The store will have someone in the room to help the kids with the crafts.
    Another friend had a party at a nickle video game place. They said it was really inexpensive. For party favors they gave everyone a small bag of nickels to play video games.

    Hooray for Edel 2015!!!

  27. Jessica Carney

    “The Other F Word” is fantastic. I watched it on Netflix a few months ago. It starts out like a behind-the-scenes look into the lives of these now-grown punk rockers, but it turns into a really moving testament to importance of family and the transformative power of love.

    So. Good.

  28. Casey@MyLoveIsTooLittle

    I definitely agree with the many suggestions of going to the park. Fortunately Texas (or at least Dallas) is starting to cool down a little now that it’s September, so outdoors shouldn’t be too suffocatingly hot.

    If geocaching or scavenger hunting doesn’t appeal, consider kite flying. Kites are fairly cheap, or if you want to be a little more creative, buy some supplies and let them make and decorate their own kites.

    And congrats on a successful first radio show!

  29. Mary Virginia

    As some say, “there are some things that are better to do badly than not at all.” 🙂 God bless your juggling!

  30. Elizabeth

    Is your DC schedule actually posted somewhere?

    I’ve only heard of two events so far (the one at the conference which I cannot attend on the 27th) and with a Google search, one at the CIC.

  31. Rakhi @ The Pitter Patter Diaries

    Very excited to hear Edel 2015 is a go, and waiting on the edge of my seat for the details! Well, in reality, I’m probably running after children, but metaphorically I am on the edge of my seat.

    Congratulations again on the radio show – I’m just sorry we never activated our Sirius account so I won’t be able to hear it.

    And the real answer to “how do you do it” is none of us do…and what we do manage to make happen is all a work of grace. So, there ain’t no badly there at all says the mom who may be considering a refreshing beverage before noon today. 😉

  32. Cheri

    I heard a great birthday idea from somewhere and I’m just waiting for my boys to be a little older to do this with them: give the birthday boy $100 – and let him decide how to spend it. But it covers everything: the party, food, cake, gift, decorations, etc… So he can skip the party and buy himself something really nice. He can invite 50 friends and only have ice cream sandwiches, he can take 2 friends to the movies and fast food. $100 is enough that it feels substantial to a kid but would probably save the parents money (and stress!). And I think there are a lot of cool life lessons here. When/if we do this it’ll be interesting to see how each kid works through the decision making process and what it reveals about him.

  33. Julie D-D

    Jennifer, you’re in Austin; I’m in Houston. While going to a fun park with a pavilion is usually inexpensive and fun, it’s still hot in TX. Chances are next weekend is still going to be summer-hot. What about going to your neighborhood pool (or finding out the “renter’s fee” for one nearby)? A friend just had her 10-yr old’s bday party as a luau pool party at her sister’s backyard pool last week. It was a blast!

  34. Janet

    For birthday parties, you should also consider your local zoo, science center, or natural history museum in addition to parks. Many of them have special programs that you can request (20 tickets to a feed the snakes show, with a herpetologist to answer all those tweeny-boy questions, that sort of thing). The advantage is, if the weather is bad, you’re inside… also you can pretend to yourself that you’re giving your kids an educational experience. (Heh. As if they’re thinking about science when they watch a python swallow a rat whole. Fabulously popular, though.)

    Also, not sure about your area or whether you follow baseball, but there are often deals for X kids, hotdog + soda + bleacher seats + name on the Jumbotron. Minor league games are actually a LOT more fun than the major league games, as well as cheaper; but I think you’ve missed the season by now (next year maybe). You can also look into college sports, if baseball isn’t your thing.

  35. Sarah

    yay! edel gathering! I already told my husband I am going… of course, he says: save up now.

  36. the other Becky

    About the b-day party: one advantage of not letting your kids do much most of the time is that very simple things become PARTY! Is there anything, anything at all, that you your son often asks for and you keep saying “not right now, there’s not time”? For my kids simple parties included things like a water gun fight, with only a limited amount of adult supervision of the hose (no one team or person could monopolize the hose entirely).

    About the dogs: DON”T (really DON’T) watch Cesar Milan. Don’t try to channel any Dog Whispering. Love the dogs instead. If you want to learn a little about dog training, and while you’re at it a whole lot about other things, look for Karen Pryor’s website, and read her book “Don’t Shoot the Dog.”

    And you said that at least one of the dogs belongs to Joe’s Dad? Is there another whole story here?

    • nancyo

      Karen Pryor is great! Good luck with the pups (and the party and everything else, too)

  37. Jenny

    Have the birthday party at your favorite margarita restaurant, and bring a babysitter.


  38. Sara McD

    I watched that documentary. What I got out of it? Living the punk lifestyle (as opposed to making punk music) is not a great way to raise a kid. Of the parents interviewed, some grew up and became responsible parents which precludes living the f-u life, and some did not – and their parenting reflects that.

  39. Amy @ Motherhood and Miscellany

    Hooray for your show! Congratulations. I’m truly so excited for you. I just wish I could hear the show.

    I am so eager to hear the details for Edel 2015!

  40. Erin Kelly

    We just did a Captain America party for our 10-year old. We hit the dollar store and bought cheap giant mesh plastic frisbees (to use as shields) and some water guns so they could have a real battle at the park down the street. (My husband put some duct tape handles on the back of each shield.) Each kid was also able to decorate his shield with markers and stickers. They all had a blast.

  41. Rach

    ‘The Other F Word’ is one of my absolute favorite documentaries. I have seen it three times, which is more than any other documentary I have seen by two times!

  42. Eva

    Birthday idea- Treasure hunt in a park/ local area. Takes a little preplanning but work out clues, leave them in different locations and have a surprise at the end. Always work well for us!

  43. Kris

    I echo the park birthday party – have 4 boys and we do a lot of outside stuff like that. Bring some cupcakes and good “boy” snacks and you will be golden.

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  45. Amy

    For my son’s 11th birthday party, I got a Groupon for a trampoline arena for 4, and if you want, have a friend or your husband get a second one. Go during a time when it will be less crowded, like a school weekday, during open jump time, and you can all go back to your house, or meet at a park after for cake and pizza! In our case, they came back to the house after for cake and presents, but at that point, the boys were just ready to relax, play minecraft till their mom’s came..;) It was a great way to get a birthday out somewhere, without paying for all the crazy costs of having it completely AT their location..;)


  46. Elizabeth L

    Party ideas: Go to a really nice park or lake. Order pizza, finger foods, and cupcakes.

  47. Theresa @ A Mom in the Making

    Congrats on launching your new show 🙂 I don’t have Sirius radio, but I think I’m going to have to check of the free trial to check out your show 😉

  48. Mary

    I once witnessed a birthday party in a park for which the parents had hired a fencing instructor/cosplayer/reenactor/local college kid/? to give a group of kids a fencing lesson. The kids were charging each other with blunted foils while the instructor barked commands, and the parents sat at a picnic table and drank beer. It looked perfect.

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  50. Pat

    As far as birthday ideas go, I echo the park idea (if weather permits in your area). If you’d rather an indoor option – when my best friend’s son was about 10 she rented her local civic center (the place had an indoor gym with basketball hoops and place to set up tables etc.). If your son like sports – you could play some games of HORSE or knockout if basketball hoops are there. Our church picnic this summer had a large baseball net/baseballs and a speed radar gun to measure the speed of the pitches. If you have a large crowd you could do extreme dodgeball to music. You could set up either an indoor or outdoor obstacle course either at a park or a civic center type place. My 10-year-old daughter was just at a party where the birthday girl had an obstacle course set up in her yard and had a blast. You could get creative with your ideas for obstacles and do individual competitions or relay teams. Good luck!

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