Corban’s 5th birthday party

I have fond memories of my fifth birthday party. It’s always stuck in my mind as one of my favorite childhood birthday parties. I don’t know if there are pictures or videos recording parts of it (probably, but I haven’t seen them in decades) so all that my mind really has is a vague sense of fun and joy, and memories of jumping in a bouncy house in our backyard on a warm summer day.

It’s strange to me that my firstborn is now old enough to have these types of memories for himself—perhaps an internal recording of excitement and happiness that will stick with him in the coming years. With that in mind, I wanted his fifth birthday party to be a special one.

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(I should note it was nearly three months ago, but birthday parties are apparently the one thing I feel obligated to record here regardless of how long it takes me to do so.)

While I wanted the party to be special for Corban, I also wanted it to be really simple for me to plan. After Mara’s Three Little Pigs shindig a few months earlier and his pirate party last year, I wasn’t really up for DIY and creativity. So I booked a party at our favorite local gymnastics place (Swiss Turners) instead of hosting it at our house.

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The party included an hour of gymnastics fun for Corban and a small group of friends followed by a half hour of scarfing down pizza and cupcakes and opening presents in the party room upstairs.

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The kids had a blast in the gym. The two instructors did a great job keeping the little ones in line (with some parental support).

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Pretty much all I did was jazz up the invitations provided by Swiss Turners, bake cupcakes, slice some raw vegetables and make a birthday banner. We didn’t need to do much to the party room.

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I used two tried and true recipes: Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes and Buttermilk Chocolate Cupcakes with this fudge frosting.

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There isn’t much else to say about the party. Corban had a ton of fun with his friends (he said the trampoline “boat” game was his favorite) and it was sweet for me to just sit back and watch him and the other kids run, jump and play.

I shot a bunch of blurry, poorly lit photos to try to capture the moments. Here are some highlights.

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It’s a little late to end by saying “happy birthday, Corban,” so instead I’ll get emotional for a moment after looking back at these photos.

Five is such a milestone age in my mind. It feels lightyears older than four, and it’s the age at which Corban will go off to school for the first time. (Sob!) Birthdays are such a bittersweet reminder of how quickly the months go by and how fast our little people grow and change. I love this boy so much and am enjoying every stage with him.

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Three Little Pigs 3rd birthday party

Every day, Mara asks me to tell her a story. “Three Little Pigs?” I say, knowing the answer.

“Three Little Pigs.”

At Mara’s request, the pigs are girls. Their names are Flopsy, Mopsy and Toesy. Sometimes Flopsy is the smart one who builds her house of brick; sometimes it’s Mopsy. But usually it’s Toesy.

When Mara jumps in to tell the tale, it gets very condensed.

She races on with the story, skipping words in her excitement: “Not by hair my chinny chin. I’ll huff and I’ll blow your house away! [blows] Ahhh!”

So, for Mara’s third birthday, I couldn’t think of a better theme than the Three Little Pigs.

We celebrated with two different parties (more than a month ago now)—one at our house with my parents and a handful of friends and one in Missouri with Peter’s family.

Here are the highlights. I’ll start with my pride and joy, this cake.

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I painted wooden pegs to make the three little pigs (inspired by a photo I saw on another blog) and made a tiny bunting from construction paper.

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The cake is my favorite simple buttermilk chocolate cake recipe (also seen here). Except I multiplied it to make four layers, and added stabilized whipped cream filling.

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Despite wooden skewer reinforcement, it didn’t quite last through the party.

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So maybe next time I’d cut it down to two or three layers. But it was delicious, so no complaints! (Seriously, try that recipe next time you want chocolate cake. I love it so.)

The cake toppers made a second appearance at birthday party no. 2 (I did not make this cake).

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My other pride and joy were these pig party hats I made from construction paper and tissue circles (and lots of Mod Podge).

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There were also a few black and gray wolf hats. Don’t ask how much time I put into them, or why, for that matter, but they were a good excuse to spend a few nights binging on “Bachelor in Paradise.”

We also brought out our traditional Mara birthday banner for both parties (here it is at party no. 1).

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And the party favors were these creepy pig snouts from Oriental Trading.

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We had water balloons—something that my kids are obsessed with, yet still don’t quite know what to do with once they get their hands on some. Praise hands for those contraptions that fill 100 balloons in 10 seconds. Worth it.

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The kids also played “Pig, Pig, Wolf” (Duck, Duck, Goose), set off stomp rockets and built some impressive structures from our giant Jenga set.

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Dinner was Portillo’s Italian beef and chopped salad. Drinks were a few growlers of beer.

Oh, and there was cotton candy! We purchased a small cotton candy machine for the occasion, and I think Mara would have bathed in the stuff if we let her.

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Party no. 2 also featured cotton candy and pig party hats.

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Instead of Italian beef, we ate grilled burgers, hot dogs and pork tenderloin.

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And instead of “Pig, Pig, Wolf” we played lots of baseball.

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Despite this fake pout, Mara had a pretty spectacular double celebration for birthday number three.

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Pirate-themed 4th birthday party

Ever since Halloween, Corban has had his heart set on a pirate birthday party.

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I thought this would be a good age to have his first “kid” birthday party (as opposed to past birthdays where we’ve either just had family or invited all of our friends). We kept it small (by our standards) and resisted the urge to invite everyone we know, instead letting Corban pick a handful of friends and their families.

The invite

Of course every party starts with an invitation, and I’m game for any excuse to mail one. I used this ship font to make it in Photoshop. (This site has a bunch of awesome, free pirate fonts.)

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I wanted to add an interactive element, so I cut bands from red construction paper and tied them around the invites with baker’s twine.

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Inspired by all my reporting on hand lettering (for this story) I attempted a little pirate lettering on the envelopes. Not easy!

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I also get giddy over picking out stamps, and was pleased with this vintage rose option in stock at our post office. I know, nobody notices stamps, but it made me happy.

The decorations

On to the party itself! I think this was the most fun I’ve had planning a party.

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To start, I designed a few posters to get printed as engineering prints (black and white) from Staples.com. Unfortunately there are no Staples stores near us, so although the prints are a steal, the shipping fee is not. Anyone know of a place near Milwaukee for affordable engineering prints?

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For the banner, I just cut 8.5-by-11-inch black paper into quarters and painted the white letters on with a paint brush. The framed skulls and anchor are also just white paint on black paper.

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I found a bunch of huge black frames in Corban’s closet. I bought them on Clearance from Michael’s YEARS ago and never had a use for them, so decided to put them to use for the party. I desaturated and upped the contrast on some Halloween photos of Corban and us dressed as Jake and his crew and printed them out.

Then, of course, there wasn’t really anywhere to hang them so they ended up as the backdrop for the drink station.

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I also framed some Jake quotes (possibly will be putting the designs in my etsy shop). However, as my mom observed, most of the kids couldn’t read and most of the adults probably didn’t recognize the quotes. Oh well!

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My mom put up crepe paper, which is still hanging because I love how festive it is.

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This was my favorite detail (printable from etsy).

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The food

We kept it really simple. Jimmy John’s sandwiches for lunch (our go-to for parties), chips, veggies, dip, grapes and pirate bananas. I forgot to put out the cheese I bought.

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I saw this pirate ship-from-a-loaf-pan idea on Pinterest and attempted to re-create it using my favorite chocolate cake recipe. The results weren’t quite Pinterest perfect, but still fun. I used this fudge frosting recipe.

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I also made vanilla cupcakes using this recipe (which I will definitely be saving) and this vanilla buttercream frosting. Flags are just toothpicks and red Scotch tape.

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The games

We gave Corban his birthday gift the night before the party—another Jake toy to add to his collection of pirate ships—and I had all of his pirate toys out for the kids to play with as they arrived.

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I also offered each child a red bandana, spyglass, pirate sticker and Jake temporary tattoo.

Peter made a little “walk the plank” game that none of the kids really paid attention to.

We had name tags out with a framed sign to help everyone find their pirate names. Peter’s name was the best—Stinky Creeper Chumbucket. I designed my own version of this and changed a few names.

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The first official game was a treasure hunt. It needed to be appropriate for ages 19 months to 6 years old, so I drew pictures of spots around our house on index cards, with a red “X” on the back of each card. The kids (as a group) had to use the picture to figure out where the next clue was.

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They got pretty into it (at least the older ones did).

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The treasure hunt ended in the basement, with little goodie bags and treasure map sticker activities for everyone.

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I had way too much fun picking out junk for the goodie bags. In each bag there was a bag of fruit snacks, pirate stamper, pirate notepad, gold doubloons and stickers.

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Next we played pin the eye patch on the pirate. The pirate face is a framed engineering print, and I punched the eye patches out of black paper using a 2-inch circle punch and painted the kids’ names on.

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After the party, my heart was full. It means so much to have friends and family who love our kids. Corban and Mara had a blast, and I actually felt like I was able to relax and enjoy it (which can be hard when you’re hosting). It was a really sweet celebration of our boy and we all felt very loved.

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Corban at age 4

I told Corban his birth story for the first time the other day. I relived out loud the joyous memory of meeting him for the first time, and he was all smiles. I think hearing it made him feel very special and loved, and that makes my heart leap.

Then I relived it on my own yesterday. This is the first year since Corban was born that I worked on his birthday. Walking out of the building at 5:30 p.m. unexpectedly brought me right back to that exact place and time four years earlier, when I hurried to my car in the freezing cold, tears pulling from my eyes due to the wind, mind racing with nerves and questions, knowing I was likely going into labor.

The memories were so vivid, it felt like I could have been thrown right back into that night (only it was much warmer and I was walking to a different parking garage this time). How little has changed since then, and yet how very, very much.

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On his 4th birthday.

Corban and Mara both have this birthday book, which includes a questionnaire for each birthday. I sat Corban down yesterday to record his answers using the StoryCorps app (which is excellent, by the way).

There’s one point in the interview that embodies the spontaneous and surprising hilarity that is a hallmark of this age: he gets frustrated with me and calls me a “nasty [or possibly naughty] hedgehog.” No idea where that phrase came from.

Here is the full interview.

The photos I rifled through for this post are a measuring stick for the subtle changes Corban has gone through between his third and fourth birthdays. Not just in his appearance, though look at the comparison from last year:

The changes that were more apparent in the photos were the fears he’s overcome and the skills he’s acquired in the last year. He’s matured in measurable ways.

For example, in January, this was as far as he would get in a pool without screaming.

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And here’s Corban today at swim lessons.

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He even jumped in without holding the teacher’s hands for the first time today.

And last year at Lindner Pumpkin Farm, he was afraid to ride the barrel train. This year…

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Last year at Cozy Nook Farm he was afraid to feed the cows. This year…

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He’s a machine on his balance bike (I’m betting age four is going to be the year he rides a regular bike without training wheels).

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He learned how to ride the big kid swings this year, and is pretty successful at pumping his legs.

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(He must have worn that outfit every day this fall, ha.)

Corban at age four is is so very observant. He sees, hears, learns, remembers everything (good or bad). He is curious—he’ll “Why?” you till you give up answering, and then some—and is so refreshingly open (though I’m starting to see some self-awareness creep in on this trait I love so much).

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He loves us and his extended family so purely and fervently. And he is so cuddly. It. is. glorious. I want to snuggle his soft little self forever.

But he’s not so little anymore! At 40 pounds, he’s getting harder to pick up.

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He is definitely an extrovert at this age, in the sense that he loves being around people. He takes advantage of every minute with his aunts, uncles and grandparents, and asks every day if he’ll get to see his friends. It’s a huge challenge to get him to leave any social situation.

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Corban can be so sweet and loving toward Mara. In some ways, I know he looks up to her.

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Of course, they fight and bicker at this age (and probably will at every age), but I am so thankful they have each other and pray they will remain close. It makes me so happy to see their relationship develop as they play and scheme together.

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Corban is also very active and loves sports of every kind. Baseball, racquetball…

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He became obsessed with mini-golf this summer, and has played in three states with more holes-in-one than me.

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He was so excited to go to dance class with our nanny’s daughter recently. I think he was expecting something a little more wild than preschool ballet, though.

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Bocce ball… he’s on it.

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Snow… he doesn’t ever want to come inside.

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Hiking… he’ll complain at first, but then hike two challenging miles and proclaim, “I love hiking!”

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Some other favorites:

  • Jake and the Neverland Pirates
  • Beatrix Potter stories
  • Go Fish
  • Candyland (and other board games)
  • Toy cars and trucks
  • School buses (I always know when there’s a school bus nearby)
  • His “activity books” (these two preschool workbooks he does)
  • Playing outside
  • Building forts
  • Taking pictures with my big camera
  • Sunday school, and any songs with hand motions they do in church
  • Candy/treats (ever since Halloween this has been a big thing)

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Sunday school Christmas song this past week.

Being Corban’s mom has slowly but dramatically changed my heart and grown my capacity to love in new ways. I love every part of him, even his tantrums and lies and ridiculous stunts and unreasonable behavior. I can’t imagine stopping loving him.

It is such a sweet, small picture of God’s love for me. Beautiful.

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We did have a little birthday party for Corban on Saturday that was so much fun. I will share details soon!

Mara at 2 years old

Mara turned two in September (can’t believe it’s already been more than two months since then),and she is indeed every bit a two-year-old.

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I wrote this post much closer to her actual birthday, but had been putting off going through photos to add. So here’s Mara at age two.

Independent (yet still my shadow), stubborn (but if you wait long enough she might change her mind), chatty (unless she’s not sure about you) and full of energy.

I love this girl so much.

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Mara has always been easygoing, and although the two-year mark has given her a new air of toddler feistiness, she still is a go-anywhere gal. We took three major road trips this summer (plus a bunch of small ones), and even a terrible, horrible viral rash she suffered on our 16-hour drive to Colorado didn’t slow us down too much. It helps that she’s still snuggly and loves to be held and worn, so our Ergo is our secret weapon.

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Asleep while hiking.

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Poor sicky while on vacation, and just before her birthday.

Despite having an older brother, Mara has some girliness in her that I didn’t expect. She has been telling me from a very young age that she wants earrings in her ears, and loves to pick out her clothes and shoes and wear purses around.

Bocce ball bag becomes a purse.

Bocce ball bag becomes a purse.

She loves caring for baby dolls and stuffed animals. She enjoys coloring and can’t be trusted with a writing utensil (doors, wood floors, newly painted cabinets and tables in our house have all gotten the Mara treatment). Her favorite books mostly include fuzzy animals that she can pet—she often points to cute animals in books and says longingly, “I want hold it.”

At the zoo she gets to pet a live animal.

Mara is not shy (usually) about singing or dancing, and she’s great at both. I’m amazed at how quickly she learns the words to songs.

Dancing at an outdoor music night.

Dancing at an outdoor music night.

Her latest dance move (and general mode of transportation) is jumping. Just call her Jumping June.

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You can often hear her singing “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” to herself (she actually is right now, ha!), but she also has a huge thing for a song from Vacation Bible School this summer. It involves sign language hand movements and a lot of excitement.

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Duck face with cousin Delaney.

Mara loves to be around other kids, and gets really giggly and huggy when she’s with her friends. She’s also a big fan of Corban (most of the time) and they can be absolutely precious and sweet when they play together.

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She seems to be nearly fluent in spoken English, though I sometimes have to ask Corban to act as interpreter. He can usually figure out what she’s saying faster than anyone else. It’s hilarious when she strings together long sentences to people who don’t know her well and can’t fully understand her dialect. They just smile and nod.

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People often think Mara is younger than she is, probably because she still has wispy baby hair and likes to be held. While her hair is long enough for barrettes or tiny pigtails, she usually rips them out promptly, much to my chagrin.

Her neon pink baseball cap is more her thing.

Her neon pink baseball cap is more her thing.

Parenting a second child is way different than a firstborn, and that has become much more evident over these past months. When you’re sibling is older and bigger than you, you learn to assert yourself earlier. And it just seems like Mara has jumped right into some older toddler (mis)behaviors that Corban didn’t learn until he was a little older.

It is strange, though, the juxtaposition between Mara being the baby and also growing and advancing so quickly. She’s in my arms cuddling one minute, then running around and singing all the words to a song or acting like a moody teenager the next. I’ll take all the snuggles I can get, though!

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I am so incredibly thankful for this dear little girl God has placed in my care.

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Mara’s many birthday celebrations included…

Cake (failed altitude baking) with friends on her birthday eve at the house we rented in Colorado:

Still not 100% after being sick :(

Still not 100% after being sick 😦

Birthday morning balloons:

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Opening a gift from grandparents (clearly Corban was more into it…still not quite herself after sickness):

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On her birthday, we went to Breckenridge and rode the gondola up the ski mountain:

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At the top, we played her brother’s favorite game:

In Missouri, we had pie to celebrate both Mara’s and Peter’s Mom’s birthdays:

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And in Illinois, doughnuts (her favorite treat) to celebrate with my siblings and grandparents:

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She certainly is loved!

My progress on 100 life goals

I officially have less than one year left in my 20s. This feels big. But also inevitable. And right, I suppose. I mean, I have two kids. I’ll fit right in when I hit my 30s. (I’m certainly not rushing it though!)

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My 29th birthday was one of the best. It fell on Friday, one of my usual days off work. It included doughnuts (hello, National Doughnut Day), a hike with a friend and her kids (Wehr Nature Center — on my big list of summer fun), a massage at The Pfister in the afternoon and dinner with  Peter at Ardent that night. The whole day felt like a mini-vacation.

One of eight (actually more like 10) courses at Ardent. Escargot with garlic puree and parsley cracker, among other things.

One of eight (actually more like 10) courses at Ardent. Escargot with garlic puree, fennel puree, parsley crisp, etc.

30 seems like such a milestone year, and one that people often use as a deadline to accomplish a set of goals. I love hearing about “30 before 30” lists, but I think my 20s have been pretty epic on their own, so I wasn’t planning on tackling one myself.

Then a few weeks ago I came across a list of 100 life goals I wrote my senior year of high school. It was for an assignment in religion class, to simply write down 100 things, large or small, attainable or bold, you want to do in your lifetime. It’s certainly a good picture of what my priorities and passions were at age 17 (six of them related to the musical “Rent”).

I thought it would be fun to assess, roughly 11 years later, how many of those goals I’ve accomplished, how many I still think I have a shot at and how many I no longer have any interest in pursuing (there are quite a few!).

As it turns out, I’ve only solidly accomplished 19 on the list — 20 if I stretch it a tiny bit (which I am). More if I stretch quite a bit (but I won’t). So…

My version of 30 before 30

I’m going to pick out 10 more from my list of 100 goals to try to knock out in the next year. Then I will have completed 30 of my 100 goals by age 30.

Here’s a breakdown of my list. Some of them are truly embarrassing.

Accomplished

1. Study abroad — Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2006

2. Get rush tickets for the touring production of “Rent” — St. Louis

3. Work in a coffee shop

4. Go snowboarding — took a lesson; after half a day still couldn’t make it down the bunny hill without falling

5. Live in the city–any city — Buenos Aires and Milwaukee

6. Throw the best birthday parties for my kids — probably too soon, but counting it anyway

7. Participate in Relay for Life again — shortly after meeting Peter he walked laps around Stankowski Field with me at 2 a.m.

8. Scrapbook the rest of my senior year

9. Learn to crochet or knit — both!

10. Never stop writing — don’t think I could

11. Sing my children to sleep

12. Plant and cultivate a vegetable garden

13. Drink coffee but never become addicted to it — starting to become debatable whether I’m addicted

14. Get to know the person sitting next to me on an airplane

15. Take a photojournalism class

16. Sail on Lake Michigan

17. TP someone’s house — I know this happened at some point in college. Maybe we TP’d our own house? What a terrible life goal!

18. Get a massage

19. Write letters home by snail mail during college

20. Be in the audience of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno — I was in the audience of The Late Show with David Letterman (far inferior, in my opinion) but I’m counting it anyway

To accomplish before age 30

21. Sleep under the stars

22. Keep in touch with Mr. Stracco — high school AP English teacher

23. Help paint a mural

24. Write a song and perform it

25. Run a mile in under 7 minutes

26. Do the splits — if it’s gonna happen, I suppose it’d better happen soon.

27. Take guitar lessons

28. Go to a Reel Big Fish concert — hmm… looks like they will be in Madison this month.

29. See a concert at the House of Blues

30. Watch all of my friends’ favorite movies at least once — I need to decide who will be counted in this elite group considered “all of my friends”

31. (an extra one just in case) Raft down the Colorado river — we are going to Colorado this summer so this could be a possibility

Sort of accomplished

32. Win a photo contest — I was a finalist in one in college

33. Never buy another greeting card; only make them — technically I have bought a card or two over the years, but I still make 95% of them (not counting blank notecards)

34. See “Wicked” on Broadway with Idina Menzel — saw it in Chicago and Milwaukee, but no Broadway/Idina

35. Run a 5K or another race once a year until I’m 75 — I think I may have missed a year or two

36. Be an anchor for the NBC news — I reported for the NBC affiliate in college, but never anchored

37. Always have lip gloss with me — I do usually have some sort of lip balm. You have to understand this absurd goal in the context that I was a lip gloss addict in high school.

38. Have my own column in a newspaper — My grandma Nana used to call my Journal Sentinel cooking blog my “column.”

39. Stay in close touch with my high school best friends — I’m saying “sort-of” to it because while we do keep in touch, it’s probably not the closeness that I anticipated at age 17 when they were my world. This is normal, since none of them live in the same state as me, but I do treasure their friendships and aspire to grow closer to them rather than further apart.

40. Build a house with Habitat for Humanity — I helped paint the interior of a Habitat house…

41. Decorate a house on my own — I mean… yeah-ish, but our house still has a ways to go.

42. Celebrate Crazy Sweater Day every Dec. 5 — this is a holiday I invented when I was 16. I was a crusader for it in college, but it’s sort of slipped into oblivion.

43. Have at least three children — two down…

44. Plant and cultivate a flower garden — I’ve planted flowers in our yard before. I wouldn’t say I’ve cultivated them.

45. Work in the restaurant industry — I worked at a bagel shop and a sandwich shop in college, but I was thinking sit-down restaurant when I wrote the goal.

46. Get published in a magazine before age 20 — I interned for Time Out Buenos Aires for a few weeks before my 20th birthday, but wasn’t published till months later.

Still on the list

47. Finish all the books I haven’t finished reading this year [senior year of high school]

48. Organize all my photos and keepsakes

49. Find and keep a pen pal

50. Sew a quilt

51. Invent a secret recipe for delicious brownies

52. Pass said recipe down to my children and grandchildren

53. Donate an item to the Benet auction [my high school’s annual fundraiser]

54. Ride in a hot air balloon

55. Participate in a triathlon

56. Start a business selling handmade greeting cards

57. Learn all the constellations

58. Teach all the constellations to someone I care about

59. Model for a catalogue — hahaha, but who knows…

60. Go scuba diving

61. Call in to a radio show and get on the air — I kind of don’t want to ever do this, but again, who knows…

62. Teach

63. Direct children’s theatre

64. Visit Riano, Italy, where my grandfather was born

65. Meet at least one original Broadway cast member of “Rent”

66. Accompany someone on piano

67. Be in a commercial

68. Make a beautiful scrapbook for each of my children and present it to them when they graduate high school

69. Photograph my way across Europe — hmmm how much of Europe would this entail?

70. Go camping in the Boundary Waters again

71. Raise a baby chick from egg to adulthood

72. Voice a cartoon character

Um, no

73. Play intramural Frisbee in college — I played pickup games, does that count?

74. Go to Mass each Sunday in college

75. Drive aimlessly around the country without a plan or a map — this no longer sounds fun to me

76. Own a bookshop — bad financial decision

77. Play Belle in a stage production of “Beauty and the Beast” — I wish

78. Rescue an injured wild animal and nurse it back to health — cliche

79. Become fluent in another language (Spanish or Italian) — I think that ship has sailed

80. Run for a political position

81. Be the editor-in-chief of COSMOGirl! magazine — I adored Atoosa

82. Fly an airplane

83. Publish my journals

84. Audition for “Rent”

85. Work on a political campaign

86. Never live in a house with white walls — white is in! None of our walls are white though.

Just good advice

87. Show my family I appreciate them through my actions

88. Be known for my generosity more than anything else

89. Always remember what it’s like to be a kid

90. Wake up early during the summer

91. Never spoil my kids but spoil my grandkids

92. Be able to say, “I am fairly agile. I can bend and not break, or I can break and take it with a smile.” — The Ataris Dashboard Confessional anyone? I still love these lyrics.

93. Marry my soul mate and stay married forever

94. Never miss an opportunity because of laziness

95. Listen more than I talk

Ridiculous

96. Talk to Todd, the Starbucks employee at Barnes and Noble — ???

97. Capture the majesty of a gothic cathedral in words

98. Put a flower on Jonathan Larson’s grave — he’s the creator of “Rent”

99. Get back the roll of film confiscated from me when I saw “Rent” tonight

100. Maintain my undefeated chess record — I had played one game when I wrote this list

101. Have something I say become a famous quote

102. Burn incense and write poetry on the roof of an apartment with a view of the lit up city of San Francisco at night — LOL. This does sound nice, though.

103. Give a homeless person the last, crumpled ten dollar bill from my pocket — dramatic much?

104. Meet someone from the “Rent” message boards — major LOLs

Conclusions after typing up and reading this list:

-I guess it was 104 goals.

-Can you tell I like(d) performing?

-Can you tell I’m right-brained?

-This pretty much sums me up at age 17.

So the countdown begins! I’ll keep you posted as I hopefully cross off the next 10 goals from the list before my next birthday.

First birthday sign

A garden/bunny-themed first birthday party

Our dear niece Isla turned one last week and over the weekend we attended her birthday party on an especially sunny, warm spring day. So beautiful, in fact, that the party was held outside! (Not something to be taken for granted in April in Chicagoland.)

My sister, Lauren, kept the garden/bunny theme simple and subtle. Here are some of the details that made this party casual yet adorable.

The spread was sandwiches, an incredible salad that included figs, avocado and roasted chickpeas, some addictive dips and popcorn.

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And bunnies!

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First birthday sign

Isla’s monthly photos lined the patio door as we swooped inside and outside throughout the afternoon.

First birthday photo collection

First birthday photo collection

Lauren made the cake — strawberry cake with strawberry cream cheese frosting. Isla’s smash cake was blueberry (her favorite food) and Corban enjoyed a dirt cup (“gummy worm cake,” as he called it yesterday when he mentioned out of the blue, “I liked Isla’s cake!”). Pictures of those to come in a minute.

Pink strawberry first birthday cake

There were four little ones in attendance and they each received one of these sweet bunny baskets filled with a little seed planting kit, a chocolate bunny and rabbit ears (where were those when I was making Corban’s Halloween costume?!).

Bunny-themed party favors

Look at that glorious patio sunshine!

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And pink roses…

Pink roses

The kids donned their bunny ears for an Easter egg hunt in the backyard.

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Birthday girl and her mama.

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Little Peter Rabbit in full force.

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Isla’s cousin was not cool with wearing his bunny ears or sitting still for the group photo, but no worries… he successfully photobombed it.

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Cake time.

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Step one: remove and consume all blueberries.

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Why are you trying to shove this other junk in my mouth when I see BLUEBERRIES?

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She was not into the cake. Until she was.

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And then she was really into it.

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Baby’s eye view of the remnants:

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Proof that Corban loved his “gummy worm cake.” I don’t blame him; dirt pudding is the best.

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Gratuitous Mara photo.

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And we’ll end with a look back at one year ago. Crazy how much they’ve all changed!

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A ‘Peter Rabbit’ themed 3rd birthday party

I have several things I have been wanting to write about for the past few months, so I’m just going to catch up in chronological order. First on the docket: Corban’s 3rd birthday party! (Yes, it was back in December, but… time flies!)

As hinted, we had a Peter Rabbit-themed party with Peter’s and my immediate families. Our little Peter Rabbit was excited to have four grandparents, one great-grandma, two aunts, four uncles and one cousin all come in from out of town for a “bunny brunch.”

I kept things really simple, but still enjoyed playing around with little details for the party… starting with these paper invitations.

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Keeping it old school with handwritten invitations. I gave them a little modern update with some “font” mixing.

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Kudos to Peter for picking out these farmers market stamps. I love a good coordinating stamp.

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We said the party was at Mr. McGregor’s garden, so…

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The brunch menu started with carrot and beet hummus with crudités in a clay baking pot.

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It’s sitting on a cube from a Peter Rabbit block set my aunt gave Corban for his birthday.

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I used the other blocks in the set as part of the table decorations…

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…along with burlap, radishes, a watering can and lots of kale and carrots.

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The menu was very simple, but it still managed to destroy my kitchen, my sleep and nearly my spirit the night before. But in the end it was worth it. 🙂

Breakfast strata (adapted from this recipe from Food52 — I added sausage and zucchini, eliminated mushrooms and generally futzed with it).

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Fruit salad (tried to keep it easy with grapes, honeydew melon and pomegranate, but I owe my mother-in-law big time for seeding the two pomegranates!)

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Cinnamon rolls from scratch. Oh yes! This was my first attempt at homemade cinnamon rolls and I would definitely recommend this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. It’s simpler than other recipes I came across since it only requires one rise. They’re topped with a coffee glaze (not a strong coffee flavor though).

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Roasted red potatoes, sweet potatoes and purple sweet potatoes — nice and colorful.

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For drinks we had coffee, orange juice, mimosas and chamomile tea (a Peter Rabbit reference: “Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea: ‘One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime.'”).

It was a relaxing meal.

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(At least for the adults.)

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I wanted to do some sort of guest book type thing, but not anything too formal, so I printed out some cards and asked everyone to write a little time capsule message about Corban. This worked since the party was all family.

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The cake was chocolate carrot cake, a compromise between my theme obsession and Peter’s desire for chocolate cake. The recipe was a State Fair winner, but next time I would pick either chocolate cake or carrot cake and not combine the flavors.

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Decorating the cake was a blast. I taped a popsicle stick to the invitation and stuck Peter in the middle of the garden. Chocolate cream cheese frosting made good dirt.

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I used this easy method to make the carrots and radishes (but used a wide, round pastry tip) and a star tip for the lettuce.

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The “three.” shirt was a steal from Old Navy (much, much easier than sewing a shirt like I’ve done in the past!).

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(A little egging on from Aunt Lauren…)

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We forewent the afternoon nap for him, and instead relaxed with family. It was so sweet to have everyone hanging around our home.

Of course there were presents, too.

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This Hot Wheels set was the big winner. (Thanks, Uncle Brian!)

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After Mara’s nap the two of them got to work playing with every new toy simultaneously.

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I love big bashes with lots of friends and family, and I seriously considered having this be a kid party and just inviting Corban’s friends, but in the end I think a small family brunch was the perfect way to celebrate this year. Corban got to spend quality time with those who love him most, and vice versa. And the fact that Peter Rabbit was included in the festivities? Well, that just made it extra-Corban-special.

Happy 3rd birthday, my favorite little boy

Three years ago today, my favorite little boy came into the world.

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On Corban’s third birthday, the biggest thing on my heart is overwhelming appreciation.

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Appreciation for God’s loving creation. For the incomprehensible detail of our bodies, minds and hearts. For the privilege of witnessing this little boy’s healthy growth. For Corban’s curiosity and sense of humor, his funny phraseology and lack of self-consciousness. For his abiding love for his family and friends. For the luxury of spending time with him (even if every minute isn’t easy — sometimes far from it). For the gift of being a mom — his mom — and the growth that it has brought to me as a person and a Christian.

Corban’s first two birthdays made me reflect a lot on his birth and newborn days, but this year I’ve had to consciously bring back those memories. No, at age three Corban’s birthday is all about Corban at age three. He has been eagerly anticipating it for months (ever since Mara’s birthday in September) and has reveled in the rituals of songs, gifts, family visits and cake. He also knows that December 8th = his birthday, so while there has been some confusion between what was his birthday party (Saturday) and his actual birthday, all I had to tell him was that today is December 8th and he understood that it’s “still” his birthday.

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It worked out for me to take the day off work today, so we’re headed to the children’s museum and out to lunch with Peter. I considered setting up a play date with his friends today, but that would distract me from spending time focused on him, so we’re keeping it low key. We celebrated formally with family on Saturday, and I’ll share the details of the Peter Rabbit-themed party soon.

I just can’t overstate how thankful I am to be entrusted with this little life — and to be able to celebrate a happy, healthy “big boy” today. I don’t want to take for granted what a blessing this moment in time is.

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Golden first birthday party

Mara turned one on September 1, so from the day she was born I knew her first birthday party theme would be easy: golden birthday!

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I made the poor girl a gigantic, glittery, gold tutu (just tied strips of tulle to a circle of elastic) and a “one” onesie (just like Corban’s one shirttutorial here — except vastly more frustrating because I had to use several layers of tulle for the letters). She also got a gold flower headband (made the fabric rose from the tulle and hot glued it to gold elastic).

In the end she was a gold, glittery mess, and had an overwhelmed blank stare on her face for the first 30 minutes of the party.

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Eventually she warmed up and forgot about the huge nest around her waist.

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The baby shower I threw for my sister back in February was gold-themed, so I was able to re-use a lot of the decorations (that may or may not have been in the back of my mind when planning her shower… nothing wrong with that, right?) including this wreath, which originally was a table decoration.

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(Re-purposed the chalkboard idea from an Oscars party story I wrote earlier this year!)

I gave myself some grace and didn’t finish (or even seriously start) a year recap photo album for Mara in time for the party. I intend to do one (since Corban has not only a first year album but a second year album, too)… but let’s be honest, I still haven’t done it. The first birthday is such a sweet time to look back on all the many milestones of the first year, though, so I still incorporated many photos into the party.

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I bought a bunch of gold frames at Goodwill and was going to display them on tables outside, but it was raining right up until the party started. Thankfully the sun came out just in time so we could be outside, but all the frames ended up on one table, like a little Mara shrine. (Complete with tea light candles that were also supposed to be outside.)

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I did a monthly photo of Mara on our tan bed sheet, which ended up looking like a gold backdrop — not planned, but worked out well for this little photo project.

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Here’s the similar monthly photo display I had at Corban’s first birthday:

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I busted out this digital photo frame Peter and I got as a wedding gift (just took six years to open it) and let it scroll through a memory card of first-year photos.

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Oh yeah… the cake! My friend Rebecca, who is a professional pastry chef and cake artist, made this beauty for us. It tasted just as good as it looked!

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I made a small chocolate smash cake (using Pyrex containers to bake the layers) and decorated it with edible gold spray paint (found at JoAnn Fabrics) and edible gold pearls.

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One of my favorite details was the flowers I picked up last minute at the grocery store. Goldenrod was in full bloom.

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Cake time!

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She ever-so-daintily dipped one finger in, licked it and repeated while we all stared and commentated.

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Big brother waited eagerly for the green light to pounce.

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We eventually had to extricate the destroyed cake from her frosting-covered hands. She wasn’t happy with that.

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Gold decorations, photos, cakes… those were the facts of the party, and they were good.

But the truth of it was even sweeter: Loved ones gathered to celebrate the first year of a sweet, sweet girl who has brought such joy to our lives. I’m still in denial that Mara is every day less and less a baby, but I really can’t be anything but grateful for the privilege it’s been to hold her close and kiss her soft head incessantly for the first 365 days (and counting) of her life. That is to say, I love being her mom.

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Her birthday celebration was also a time to reflect on how wonderful it is to have the support of loved ones in this adventure of parenthood. It’s a blessing to watch those around us love our daughter.

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(Even when she’s partied out and crabtastic.)

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(By the way, that vinyl banner is so coming out at all of Mara’s birthdays to come!)

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