Every year on Instagram Stories I share photos from our friend’s insanely over-the-top party for the Fourth of July. And each year we gets tons of requests for a post with all the photos and links to the recipes she uses, so we’re finally giving the people what they want. Our friend Justine has been hosting these backyard soirees for years – and the only way to describe them would be: EXTRA. And we love her for it. She and her husband John basically just throw this huge party every year for all of us to gather and hang out with our kids and each other. It’s such a great time of year to get together (not as hard with schedules as things around the holidays for example) and when the party ends, her prep for the following year begins. Just kidding. But maybe not…
Let’s dive right in. Each year she sets up a sun tent and decorates it to create a makeshift photo booth with some fabric, sparkly red tulle, and a banner along the back.
Now lean into your screen and really soak up this next sentence, because the success of a DIY photobooth hinges on this single solitary tip: SHE HAS THE BEST PROPS. Every July there are more of them on the little table off to the side for us to choose from. This year there were wigs and beards in addition to all of the oversized glasses and hats and giant inflatable gloves. She says whenever she sees something on sale after the 4th she grabs it for next year, so that’s how the collection keeps growing.
It should come as no surprise to longtime readers that Justine is the one who, instead of a traditional baby gift, offered to make the cupcakes for our daughter’s 4th birthday party (just a few weeks after our son was born). She turned out the most amazing stack of custom decorated treats. BECAUSE SHE ONLY HAS ONE PARTY MODE AND IT’S BEAST MODE. Which explains why she can’t resist large inflatable presidents to greet guests on the hanging daybed on her back porch, for example.
Yes, all of the kids tackled them and smacked each other with them in the yard. And yes it was hilarious.
She also made this cute wooden sign a few years ago that comes out each July. It says things like “food”, “waterslide”, “drinks”, “photobooth”, etc. Are you thinking “this party is almost like a wedding!” – because if so, you are starting to get it. It has snowballed, so every year she has so many things to break out that feel festive and hilarious and even more over the top than the year before. At this point the party momentum cannot be stopped and can only be appreciated with an Abraham-Lincoln hat-tip, which of course is on the prop table.
Speaking of fun, she always rents a two story waterslide for the kids (and the adults, once we have enough jello shooters) because… well, SHE IS THAT DEDICATED TO FUN. The waterslide really takes things to the next level when you record slow-mo videos of other adults attempting tricks like barrel rolls and flips. Five stars, would recommend.
As for other things to do, there are epic cornhole tournaments – and in case it wasn’t obvious, much like Puffy demands that everyone wear white to his parties, Justine demands that we wear red, white, and blue to her gathering each year. There’s even a series of prizes for certain costume categories (we had a big winner in our family this year when it came to an extremely patriotic swimsuit & towel combo).
This is Justine-the-host’s outfit. THAT’S AT LEAST FIVE HUNDRED FLAIR POINTS, GUYS. She decorated those flip-flips herself with ribbon. I know. Commitment level: 1000.
There’s also a leather sofa in the middle of the grass. Obviously for photo ops and general hanging out. It’s pretty much full of people the entire night long. It also makes for a great place to spectate/heckle the cornhole players.
Justine also does things like rolling silverware in bandanas and tying them with twine BECAUSE THAT’S WHO SHE IS AS A PERSON. She actually confessed to me that each year she has a ton of these left over, so they’re not that high maintenance. Note: her definition of high maintenance might be slightly different than other people’s based on her ALL IN level of party-throwing.
The food is always fun and we actually do a pot luck thing so it’s not too much on Justine & John’s shoulders. We each bring a side dish for everyone to share and meat for our own family for the grill. Also, note the sock and shoe combination here. Just saying. We do not mess around when it comes to our costumes.
Since around 20-30 people come each year, there’s always a giant amount of food – and a lot of it ends up being themed. Blue corn chips with red salsa for example, or this bean dip with little olives and tomatoes to make a flag (it’s just a layer of refried beans, a layer of guacamole, a layer of cheese, and a layer of sour cream with the tomatoes and olives on top).
These mozzarella, basil, and tomato skewers are another example of the good eats that feel sort of themed (the blueberries add some blue, right?). Add some salt and pepper, drizzle them with balsamic glaze, and thank me later ;)
We always bring what I affectionately call “pigs in a blanket,” which I’ve learned are called “Lil’ Smokies” here in Virginia. Still getting used to that name. The kids love them though – they’re always completely gone by the end of the night.
The drinks are also, to borrow a term from Lil’ Wayne: “off the chain.” These are jello shooters, for example – and the cherry is so clever because if you pull the stem it lifts the shooter out of the cup so you can suck it down and remark how amazing the hostess is. Here is a kid-friendly recipe without any alcohol (just add vodka if you want them to be true jello shots).
Justine also made these awesome red, white, and blue smoothies for the kids – all of whom raved about them except for one non-fruit-loving child. Let the record state that cute straws and the little jelly jars are the key to a ridiculous amount of serving flare, so do with that information what you will.
And you can’t have a big ol’ gathering without red, white, and blue margaritas for the grown ups. It should be noted that because I helped in the kitchen, these weren’t as beautiful as they should have been. We think if we added more ice to thicken them that the red, white, and blue layers would have been more distinct. But as Justine’s husband John so eloquently stated, “we were going for margarita speed over margarita perfection.” Here’s the recipe for ya.
One of the biggest reveals of the night (there are usually 3-5 of these surprises because JUSTINE DOES NOT MESS AROUND) were these waffle cones that she had individually decorated with red white and blue melted chocolate and sprinkles. THE KIDS WENT HAM FOR THESE.
Also, I thought her use of the teal blue milk crates was so adorable and asked if she saw that on Pinterest and she said she had been standing in her daughter’s room and looked at them and thought “those would be perfect for my cones!” which floored me. I mean this woman clearly has her own version of Pinterest running in her brain 24/7.
One other thing on the menu that I would definitely highly recommend was this amazing dessert called “Berry Lasagne” that Justine whipped up:
Yes, that’s a white chocolate drizzle that she added right before bringing it out. And let the record state that any party that required me to drizzle white chocolate during the actual party would lead to me breathing into a paper bag in the kitchen, but Justine just has that party expert gene. Here’s the recipe for the berry lasagne, and here’s a shot of it all sliced and served on a patriotic plate:
After all the food and drinks (and competitive watersliding), we gather on the back porch and the patio to watch the fireworks that Justine’s husband John takes a ton of pride in.
Every year they get bigger and more insane (for all of the Northerners who live where backyard fireworks may not be allowed, down in VA they are occasionally permitted depending on location/permits/etc – so these annual shows are all above board). There’s always a fire extinguisher nearby and it only had to be used one epic time when the table very slowly caught fire after the fireworks ended.
So that’s Justin & John’s completely over-the-top and SO MUCH FUN annual party. Hope the recipes and photos come in handy for anyone else who is walking around with their own personal Pinterest running through their brain. I always get a little mushy during the fireworks because it’s so rare to get together with friends and family that you love – so it’s such a treat to have these awesomely festive and completely committed friends to get us all in one place to enjoy each other’s company every year. WE LOVE YOU J&J! Thanks for ALL THE MEMORIES (and all the photobooth props).
P.S. Wanna see the most extra thing I’ve ever done for a patriotic party? Here’s a watermelon trick I learned years ago (John looks like a baby in that first picture).
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