She'd make a big sign with bold letters, clowns and balloons on it. Then she'd hang streamers around the fence in the backyard and put up balloons everywhere. And she'd invite all the neighborhood kids and their parents over. There would be a beanbag toss, where Mom took cardboard and painted a clown's face on it and cut out holes for the beanbags to get tossed into the eyes and mouth of the clown. We'd have ring toss - my dad always had the glass Pepsi bottles from the vending machine at work and we'd toss our plastic rings from the pool over them. We'd have a baseball throw, where you had to knock over stuff - I am pretty sure we used the plastic bowling pins from our indoor bowling set to knock over. One year we had a sand-find in the sandbox where Mom buried the toy prizes and you had to dig around until you found one.
And, of course, a duck pond. She had a big metal bucket for gardening - more like a tub than a bucket - and she would use our bathtub toys. We had a seahorse, a motorboat and a whale that went with our Fischer Price Little People set, and then a shark that was one of those windup ones that swims in the water, and a rubber duckie. She wrote numbers on the bottom of them and put them in the bucket of water and you picked one and got a prize accordingly. For years and years, those toys had the numbers markered on the bottom of them from the carnival days. In fact, I may still have the boat and the seahorse and I bet the numbers are still on there, fading slowly away.
The neighborhood parents would bring over a bunch of Happy Meal toys to use as prizes and the kids would get little brown paper lunch-bags to hold their prizes. First you had to decorate your lunch-bag with markers and stickers and glitter and then you'd use it to hold your loot in. I am sure I am forgetting some of the games Mom made, but there was also always cookies and punch and balloons and my mom would dress up as a clown and the other parents would help man the booths. My mom also did face-painting, so everyone left with a full belly, a balloon, a bag of prizes and a picture painted on their cheek.
It was actually pretty cool! The benefits of having a mother with upswings, a great creative side and mess of artistic skills - we'd get a mother-fucking carnival in our backyard! So Happy Birthday to my mom - The Ringmaster of the Carnival!