I am a massive fan of birthdays as you can imagine being a toy blog and gift guide site, so when I was introduced to Jo Power aka “Happy Birthday Girl” extraordinaire I had to find out more about her.
Jo is the head honcho over at Things By Bean and has been since she started the company in 2011. Things by Bean is an awesome stationery brand based in Melbourne that now stocks in over 50 retailers in Australia! A phenomenal effort in such a short space of time, oh and did I mention Jo became a Mum during that time as well.
Jo has even had the honour of travelling to New York City for the National Stationery Show which I think is pretty awesome as basically stationery stores are like my FAVE stores after toy stores. There is just something about cards, gift wrapping and all that paper. I have been known to be lost in stationery stores in NYC, Paris and even Tokyo!
This year, Jo expanded Things by Bean introducing an awesome blog and podcast. The blog has heaps of cool DIY party ideas as well as some pretty crazy kind of cake recipes.
The podcast is next level, hosted by Jo Power and Jeremy Gay, Happy Birthday the Podcast is about all things birthday and celebrations. Introducing some fab ideas I had never known, like Ancient Egyptians were the first to give birthday cards! Given my major at University was Archaeology, that is one of the coolest things I have heard all year.
So I wanted to have a chat with Jo to find out more about Things by Bean, how she got started and where her love of Birthdays came from.
Meet the Maker – Jo Power aka Things by Bean
Tell me a little more about your background as you are now a card making genius, podcast extraordinaire and a birthday party whizz, what started you on this incredible journey?
Genius, extraordinaire and whizz, why thank you! I’m a natural-born wordsmith and my first job out of Uni was in copywriting. I loved crafting copy for clients but I always had a notebook in my bag where I’d jot down ideas for snappy one-liners that didn’t really seem to have a place in any of the work I was doing. At some point, I figured out exactly where those one-liners belonged; on cards! It was a super-exciting realisation because I’ve always loved cards. I made them by hand throughout childhood and my hand-drawn creations only got more elaborate in high school. So, I picked my ten favourite lines and then… had to teach myself how to design, haha! I didn’t know anything about design software, so it took some time to grasp the basics of those tools. Once I did, it was easy! I knew exactly how I wanted the cards to look, so I slapped them together and got the first-ever Things by Bean cards printed. Happy Birthday Podcast and the Things by Bean blog are recent additions – I launched both in January of this year. Giving someone the perfect card can make them really happy – it’s not a cop-out that saves you from having to say something; it’s an opportunity to make a gift MORE personalised and make the recipient feel even MORE special. And my recent projects are just extensions of that! The blog is full of more ways to make people feel special, whether it’s making them a cake or a crafty little gift. And the podcast explores the tradition, science and pop culture behind the day that people should feel the most special – their birthday!
Your greeting cards are bright, colourful but most importantly humorous, they have been around as you say since Ancient Egyptian times, so how do you keep being inspired to create a new card each time?
How awesome is it that ancient Egyptians were giving out greeting cards? They knew how to party, those Egyptians. Sometimes I make a card and I think, “Maybe that was my last good idea.” I think most creative people feel like that but somehow, the ideas do keep coming! I pay attention to the little details about the world around me – vibrant words, silly situations, interesting shapes. Sometimes I’ll notice something and it’ll spark a train of thought that ends up as a card! Life stages also influence the cards I make; when I was pregnant, for example, I banged out a bunch of baby-related cards!
You started a podcast the “Happy Birthday Podcast” this year; tell me more about it and your co-host Jerry.
The Happy Birthday Podcast is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done! I’ve always seen birthdays as a phenomenon. It’s this one day each year that’s steeped in emotion and energy. It forces you to acknowledge your past, your future and your present. And in western society, at least, we all do the same things – have a cake, sing a song, blow out candles. I knew I wanted to get to the bottom of birthdays and I thought that talking through it would be the best way to do it.
Within hours of settling on the idea, I knew I wanted Jerry to be my co-host. We’ve been friends for years and we’ve always had brilliant conversations but tend to take totally different approaches to topics. We met up and I told him about the idea and he was not only into it, but immediately brought heaps of cool ideas to the table. Since then, we’ve recorded 18 episodes and every single one has been so much fun to record (except episode 11 which was about the actual day of birth; I told the story of my son’s birth and it was intense and tearful!). I’ve learned oodles about psychology, culture, history, science and cake.
Where do you want to take “Happy Birthday Podcast”?
It’s so much fun – I honestly want to keep doing it forever. Surely we’ll run out of topics to talk about at some point, but we’re not even close at this stage. Our topic list is two arms long! When I find the time, I’m planning on recording interview-style episodes with awesome people, either on or near their birthdays. I’d release them between the topical episodes to give listeners insight into one human’s best, worst and most formative birthday experiences. Mostly, I just want people to listen and have a great time while they listen!
I have always wanted to try a mug cake, can you let me in on any secrets on the best way to create one?
Mug cakes, while highly convenient, always end up just a little too spongey for my liking. But if you do find yourself super short on time with a brain-bending cake craving, just douse your mug cake in heaps of chocolate sauce or melted chocolate. And cream! I came up with a Crazy Easy 15 Minute Cake for One to replace mug cakes – it’s much yummier and way cuter. It’s on my blog!
What is the craziest cake you have ever made?
I love making cakes that look like other things. I think my most successful lookalike was my Eggs in a Frying Pan Cake. It’s a fudgey chocolate skillet cake with cast iron icing and crazy realistic-looking white chocolate ganache and apricot fried eggs. I know all that sounds pretty fancy, but it’s actually easy to make! And, of course, it’s delicious.
What is the mainstay cake recipe, your go-to that never fails?
I’m constantly mixing my cake-making up to try new things, but the cake I make most often is a dense white cake with a sticky golden crust. The recipe is in a few blog posts but the Colourful Broken Egg Easter Cake is my favourite. Keep in mind that the stickiness is heaven to chomp into but it can cause you trouble if you don’t line the pan with baking paper.
I love Birthdays much like you and enjoy celebrating them with cake, presents and the whole she-bang but I find families especially in Australia are turning away from all the sugary treats and want something different for their kids growing up. They want to create fun celebrations but with no sugar involved, what are your thoughts on that?
I’m all for people being conscious of nutrition, especially with their little ones! It’s entirely up to each family how they want to handle treats, but for my own son and family, I’m more than happy to put together treats for special occasions. Humans have a ritualistic attachment to food that dates back centuries, so it’s natural for us to make it a part of our celebrations.
What makes the perfect birthday gift?
The perfect birthday gift will vary from person to person! Research shows that people generally appreciate “experience” gifts more than “object” gifts, so that’s a guideline to think about. There’s this theory about love languages that categorises people into five groups based on the way they express their love and how they like love to be shown to them in return. The five love languages are words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Have a think about which category the birthday person falls into and maybe that can guide you to the perfect present!
Lastly, what is the best birthday gift you have given and also received?
For my friend Jen’s birthday one year, I told her to be free on a certain Saturday. I told her to wear a dress and pack a change of comfy clothes and that I’d pick her up at a 9am. I picked her up and we sped out of Melbourne and out to Daylesford.First, we had a lovely high tea in our pretty frocks and then we hopped back into the car to make our way into the bush. Once we were well and truly nowhere, I parked the car, opened the boot and whipped out two animal costumes. For the next hour, Jen and I pranced through the bush dressed as a giant frog and a giant lion, snapping blurry photos of each other, Bigfoot sighting style.
It was all a surprise and we had the best time!
As for the best gift I’ve ever received, I think it’d have to be my 15th birthday. My family had just moved from Arizona to Pennsylvania (which is clear across the United States), so I started high school knowing no one. I fell into a great group of friends pretty quickly but it takes awhile to really find your place in a new situation, especially when that situation is high school. So when my new friends threw me a surprise 15th birthday party, I felt unbelievably special and for the first time in months, hardly homesick for my old life in Arizona.
I have to say I think I want Jo as my friend! What an incredibly thoughtful gift giver she is and alongside her awesome card designing expertise not to mention her cake baking and DIY party artistry and her love for Happy Birthdays, she is like the perfect friend.
Definitely go and check out Jo for more greeting card fabulousness over at Things by Bean
And her socials and podcast are over at :
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/thingsbybean
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/thingsbybean
Disclosure: I was compensated for this post; however all opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.