2.5, 9 and 28

What do 2.5, 9 and 28 have in common? They’re the ages Corban, Mara and I all turned this week. Mara was 9 months old on Sunday, I turned 28 yesterday and Corban will be 2.5 this Sunday.

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2.5/9 months/28 and doing all right.

I feel like my age is finally starting to match my stage of life. I got married at 22, had a baby at 25 and another at 27. Statistically speaking, that’s not normal.

Up until the past year, I’d say my mind was still in my early to mid-twenties even if my lifestyle wasn’t. But now, at 28, I actually feel 28. I am not only OK with a night at home with no plans; I look forward to it. I’m happiest sitting on the living room floor laughing with Corban or bouncing Mara in my lap. My focus isn’t as much on doing something all the time, but just enjoying time itself with loved ones.

My aunt sent me a horoscope yesterday describing those born on June 5, and this line is particularly true for me:

These active, mercurial people have a high level of energy and never seem to sit still.

I think the biggest change I’ve seen in myself this past year is that I’m learning to sit still, even preferring it at times. I spend a lot of time doing things and going places and seeing people, and I need that (when I read those “you know you’re an introvert when…” lists I absolutely cannot relate to needing alone time. Let me socialize day and night, please!). But as much as I love and need that, I also have come to treasure my time spent relaxing and playing at home (maybe it’s because with two kids I’m almost never alone).

As I enter the home stretch of my 20s, I’m dreaming of big adventures for the future, but content with the small pleasures of now.

This week’s small pleasures:

Cutie pie Mara at 9 months in our blooming backyard.

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Cousins.

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Birthday lunch date with Peter – downtown dining week special at Coquette Cafe.

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Udon noodle salad for birthday dinner, prepared by our nanny (a.k.a. not me!).

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Corban’s first Oreo (er… Roundy-O. Sorry, kid.) He really savored it.

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Zoo today with friends.

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Basketball-themed 2nd birthday party

If only every birthday could be as joy-filled as a 2nd birthday!

My baby Corban turned two years old yesterday, and if I stop and ruminate on that for too long I’ll get teary eyed. He had a most wonderful day celebrating with family, and I had the best time watching him enjoy himself so much.

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We decided for birthday #2 to do a family party, and since none of our families live in the same state as us, we moved the festivities to my parents’ house. One of Corban’s main loves right now is basketball, so a basketball-themed party it was. This was definitely an easy theme to pull off.

Basketball eating paraphernalia…

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Basketball cake on a basketball court table cloth…

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Basketball cookies…

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Basketball mandarin oranges…

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And (not pictured) basketball cutouts hanging from the ceiling and other assorted basketball decorations. I had to resist buying a basketball piñata from the party store…

The menu:

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We just did appetizer foods since the party was at 2:30 in the afternoon. It’s not easy picking a party time for a 2-year-old, and we failed miserably with our 2:30 gamble. Corban would not fall asleep for his nap when we put him down at noon. I’m sure the fact that he knew it was his birthday and that we were having cake later did not help. As our final last-ditch effort, Peter lay down with him until he passed out… at 2:15. So we let the birthday boy nap for an hour and be late for his own party.

After being woken up from his nap and presented into a basketball-laden basement full of both strange and familiar faces, Corban was a little overwhelmed. He quickly warmed up, though.

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Aside from his little sister, C was the only kid at his party. And Mara snoozed almost the entire time.

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He I was honored to have some of my dear high school friends in attendance, though.

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After a while, Corban got ahold of a dessert plate and a fork and made it known that he was ready for cake.

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“Cake? Cake?”

He had this very disconcerted look on his face the entire time as we sang to him. His head turned from one side of the room to the other, slowly taking it all in.

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But at the end of the song, he knew what to do.

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And then he stuck his fork in the cake, claiming it as his own.

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I debated telling guests not to bring a gift, like we did for Corban’s first birthday, but I’m glad I didn’t because Corban had SO much fun opening gifts.

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He reacted with such genuine pleasure after each one. He wanted to stop and play with each gift immediately after opening it.

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We had to whisk them away from him to keep things moving along.

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“The first Elmo that hugs back” — a little creepy, but C is in love with “Big Elmo.”

Corban slept on our long, snowy drive back home last night. He woke up as we pulled in, so I sat him in my lap in his room to read a book before putting him back to sleep. After we read, he groggily murmured, “Birthday,” followed by, “cake…” and “people…” and I could see the little wheels turning in his head as he processed the day and his very special party. It makes me so content to witness such pure toddler joy and wonder every day, and when it comes to joy and wonder his second birthday just couldn’t be topped.

Since I probably won’t get the chance to write a separate two-year update, here are just some of the things I don’t want to forget about my sweet little Corban at age two:

  • The way he pumps one arm up and down so fiercely when he runs.
  • Playing fire truck on the basement couch. He demands that I drive (fast), he honk the horn and we both get out and fight the fire with pool noodles.
  • His little voice saying, “Miss!” when he or someone else misses a basketball shot.
  • His backseat renditions of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
  • His repeated requests for “Monkey song” on my phone.
  • The way he counts — adding emphasis to every third number or so (“one, two, THREE!! four, five, six, SEVEN!!”)
  • The way he eagerly points out, “Open eyes?” when Mara wakes up, and always looks out for his sister’s wellbeing by putting her pacifier back in her mouth, alerting me when she spits up or rocking her car seat if she starts fussing when we’re at the grocery store. He also points out when she smiles, or asks me to make her smile.
  • The way he pronounces Corban (“Corgo”) and refers to himself in the third person.
  • His love for Biggles and daily requests to have him sit in his lap or come play with him.
  • How his imagination is just beginning to blossom: he treats his stuffed animals like best friends, soaks in the pretend games I teach him (like fire truck, picnic and singing performances) and reads to himself.
  • The irrepressible fun he has with his little friends, and how he mentions them by (mispronounced) name when he’s not with them.
  • The feel of his snuggly head on my shoulder as I hold him and sing to him before bed.

I finally did a quick glance through all the video clips I’ve collected over the past two years and put together a snapshot of Corban’s life thus far to screen at his party. Here it is. Amazing how quickly these two years have gone by!

Party planning tips [and a paper airplane-themed first birthday party]

The end of the year was crazy, and I have a feeling Decembers will get even crazier in the years to come. It started with birthday party prep, then Christmas prep, then Christmas travel. January has been much more relaxed so far, yet somehow Corban is already 13 months old and I’m just now sitting down to share his first birthday party.

I’m no party hosting expert, but I do enjoy planning a good little fiesta. Here is an assortment of things I learned while planning Corban’s first birthday party.

 

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1) Choose a theme – or at least a color scheme – and let that guide the rest of your planning. When it comes to parties (and, well, anything creative) I get easily swept up in brainstorming. This is good, up until a certain point, when it becomes overwhelming. There are SO many cute ideas out there (if Pinterest had existed when I was planning our wedding, I think my brain would have exploded into a million vintage farmhouse-inspired pieces) so it helps to have some focus. A cute invitation design inspired my original theme idea and color scheme – airplanes; sky blue and red. Then after Pinteresting it up, I found this stamp and decided paper airplanes are even cuter and easier to pull off.

The paper airplane theme gave me good direction for decorations (hello? Paper airplanes everywhere!), activities (decorating paper airplanes), snacks (peanuts and pretzels) and little details (signs like “in-flight beverages” by the drinks, which of course included ginger ale).

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Simply using colors as a theme works well too. Light blue tablecloths, red plates and silverware, light blue decorations — it pulls the room together without much effort.

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2) E-invitations can be just as cute as paper invites. I love (LOVE) paper and also am a big fan of sending (and receiving) mail. But I wanted to keep this party fairly low key, so a mailed invitation seemed inappropriate. There are quite a few sites out there for sending e-invitations, and some of them have really nice invite designs. I fell in love with Paperless Post, which may be the next best thing to mailing custom invitations. Their designs are exquisite, with details right down to envelope liners. It’s not free, but it costs far less than mailing invitations, and for this party it perfectly accomplished my goal of sending a formal invitation in a casual way.

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3) Grocery store cakes can be just as cute as bakery cakes. Although I love to bake and decorate cakes, this party called for something a bit larger. I checked out a few local bakeries and was not too excited about the prices. While doing some shopping at a Pick N Save near our house I decided to inquire about their cakes, and ended up having a great conversation with the store’s cake decorator. She was young and seemed to really understand what I was looking for. I tasted their frosting (their buttercream doesn’t use real butter so I opted for the whipped cream frosting, which is pretty good) and went over all the details of the design I was envisioning. It helped to pull up some photos on my phone of cakes I had pinned. The result was an awesome cake for $33.99 (half sheet with a layer of chocolate buttercream filling).

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I made Corban his own layer cake (using Pyrex storage containers as baking pans) using this recipe.

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Bottom line, find the right grocery store cake decorator and you can have a fancy looking cake without the fancy pricetag.

4) Have an activity for kids, but don’t expect them to do it. We only had a handful of kids at Corban’s party, but I wanted to have a little something to keep them entertained so their parents wouldn’t have to worry about them. Folding paper airplanes seemed like an easy, appropriate craft (supplies needed: paper. (Actually, I found an old book with 20 different paper airplane tutorials that I had as a kid, so I put that out too)). I picked up some stickers from the dollar store so they could decorate them even if they weren’t interested in flying them.

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But the activity I was excited about was a paper airplane test course. I hung a hoop (embroidery hoop, actually) from the ceiling with the idea that kids (or adults) could test their paper airplane creations and try to fly them through the hoop.

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As it turns out, having a hoop hanging from the ceiling and a bunch of balloons on the floor is confusing. It turned into more of a basketball hoop. A paper airplane or two was made and decorated, but I didn’t see any flying. Actually, Corban’s birthday gift from us, a mini indoor jungle gym, was the exciting thing to play with that afternoon. That and balloons. And that was totally fine. It’s good to have a little something planned for the kids even if it’s not a kid-centric party, but don’t spend lots of time or money on it because they’re usually just as happy playing with whatever.

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5) Play with Pandora. Every party needs some music in the background. Pandora iPhone app + borrowed iPod speakers was my super simple plan for that. I spent a couple days tweaking a Pandora station specifically for the party while listening to it at work. The mix of pop, country, contemporary Christian and Christmas music worked out just fine and took no extra time to plan.

6) If you request no gifts, some people will still bring gifts, and that’s OK. We asked guests not to bring gifts because this party wasn’t really about Corban. It was about us getting together with friends, family and those who have loved Corban and supported us during our first year as parents. Our family, of course, still brought gifts, and a handful of other guests too. Some people just like to give gifts. I have trouble remembering this, but the appropriate response is “Thank you!” — not, “You shouldn’t have!” or “You weren’t supposed to!” We waited until after the party to help Corban open his presents. Opening them during the party would have just been awkward for those who honored our wishes.

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7) Hang decorations from the ceiling. Even if you’re decorations aren’t paper airplanes, hanging decorations go far in making your house look festive. I also like these pinwheels and your (now) standard tissue balls (the smaller ones look the best).

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8) The Dollar Store is a party mecca. My local Dollar Tree is my go-to place for goodie bag items (I didn’t do that for this party though), colored paper plates/utensils/tablecloths and other miscellaneous supplies. They have tons of glassware and foil balloons, too. One word of advice though: take into account quantity when shopping there. For example, their plastic silverware isn’t always cheaper per utensil (and while we’re on the subject, it’s not very high quality either – works fine for cake, though). I think that’s how they make money — some things are overpriced and others are underpriced. It takes a little experience to find the best deals.

9) Everyone loves a good photo montage. The most time-consuming part of planning this party was creating the photo album of Corban’s first year that I wanted to have displayed at the shindig. It was worth it, though, to have the completed book out for guests to peruse. I used Shutterfly because I already had a lot of photos uploaded there, but there are tons of sites that can help you create a digital scrapbook. This is also the time to put together the month-by-month photo montage you’ve been plotting all year. I took a giant frame I had bought years ago and never filled, chose a photo for each month of Corban’s first year, used Picasa to add text to the image and had prints made of the photos. Also a great opportunity to check out the familial resemblance between you and your kid by displaying some old photos of yourself.

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Peter as a toddler!

Peter as a toddler!

10) If you’re design-minded, there are free programs that can help you create logos and custom printed items for your party. I used Inkscape, which is pretty easy to pick up on if you’re familiar with Adobe Illustrator. It let me easily design things like this banner and the food tags.

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11) You can DIY a custom shirt for the birthday boy or girl for about $3.50. Expensive etsy shirts be darned! Tutorial coming tomorrow.

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12) A mini candy bar is a visually appealing way to add some extra sweets to your table without much work. I picked up some cool glassware at Goodwill, bought a few different candies in our color scheme (worked out well that Christmas M&Ms were out) and voila. I want to do this for every party from now on!

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It was kind of crunched in the windowsill.

Phew. So that was Corban’s first birthday party. I had a blast planning it, and was so happy we could share the day with friends and family who love Corban (almost) as much as we do.

Any fun birthday party themes (kid or adult) that you’ve attended or planned? Do share!

Coming soon: 13-month update, already late!

Dear Corban, on your first birthday

An excerpt:

Dear Corban,

One year ago today, I held you in my arms for the very first time. I looked at you with wonder, not yet knowing the creases of your hands or the smell of your skin. I had no way of knowing at that moment just how profoundly you would change my life.

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When I look back on this first year with you, I don’t recall very many bad times. Yes, there was sleep deprivation, and there were days when leaving the house was just too big of a challenge. But when I reflect on the past 12 months, I see scenes of laughter and games, development and discovery. I see you smiling at the sound of my voice, giddy when I walk in the door after work. I hear you laughing hysterically as I blow bubbles for you for the first time. I feel your impossibly soft newborn hair, and silky, round tummy.

You, Corban, make me so happy.  It’s impossible not to feel joy when I’m around you, no matter how bad a day I’m having.

I could postulate about what kind of man you’ll become based on your current preferences and skills. You’re learning to throw (athletic?) and you enjoy pounding on the keyboard (musical?). You love being surprised or frightened (adventurous?). But when I think about your future, there is only one thing that matters. Above all, I pray that you will love the Lord and walk with Him throughout your life.

Corban James, you are a delight. God has blessed me immensely by entrusting you to me. Your first year of life has been one of my very best so far. Happy birthday, my dear son.

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Love,

Mama