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

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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.

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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?!).

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Look at that glorious patio sunshine!

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And pink roses…

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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.

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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Lamb-themed baby shower (and my new etsy shop!)

Corban and Mara got their first cousin this April when my sister had a baby. In October they’ll welcome another! Peter’s eldest brother and his wife are expecting and we are thrilled to see our family grow.

I had the privilege of co-hosting a baby shower for my sister-in-law the other weekend in St. Louis. Planning from afar was low-stress since my co-hostesses took care of the food and venue. I was in charge of invitations, games and some of the decorations (a.k.a. my favorite parts!)

Since the mom-to-be, Jenny, is planning a lamb theme for their gender-neutral nursery, we ran with that as the theme for the shower. It was a lot of fun incorporating sheep into every aspect of the shower — I was especially excited to come up with some puns.

I’ll share details from the baby shower, but first I have some exciting news: I opened up an etsy shop! After planning several showers and themed parties over the past few years, I’ve designed a small collection of printable items — games, favor tags, invitations and the like. I definitely would have paid a few bucks to have modern designs for printable baby shower games at my fingertips when I was in planning mode, so there have got to be some people out there who would appreciate having these designs available, right?

I guess we’ll find out. I’ve listed a handful of instant download baby shower games (two of which you’ll see below) and plan to add a couple more listings, including one for the gold confetti themed invitations I designed for my sister’s baby shower and some lobster/sea creature art I designed for Corban’s room. I’m excited to see where (if anywhere) this goes — right now it’s just fun to see my work listed on the site!

On to the lamb-themed baby shower details. First, the invitations (from zazzle):

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front and back.

Now, the party itself!

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Table decorations were fun and simple to make. Jenny made an impressive diaper cake for my baby shower (here it is) so in a nod to her diaper artistry I made very unimpressive diaper circles wrapped in burlap.

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To keep with the lamb theme, and the sub-theme of books (the invitation suggests — not demands! — that guests write a note in a baby book instead of a card) I topped the diapers with a lamb book. There are quite a few cute options out there.

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Here is what the tables looked like in action:

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Love this book!

Also seen on the tables: games! And glittery pencils from Michael’s, and favors (which I’ll get to in a minute).

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These are my lovingly designed table games, some of which you can purchase for a few bucks in my new etsy shop!

Name the baby animals (buy here). Harder than you may think! My mother-in-law won this one.

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Name the children’s book (buy here). I thought this one was going to be too easy, but everyone was sufficiently challenged by it.

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Gift BINGO (guests fill out a BINGO card with items they think she will open). I downloaded it for free from here and customized it a tad using Photoshop.

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We also played “Don’t Say Baby,” where everyone starts with a bracelet, and if you get caught saying the word “baby” you have to give your bracelet to the person who catches you. At the end, the person with the most bracelets wins. It was a hoot seeing some of the ladies get into it.

My favorite games are the ones that involve the dad, so we played one called “Dad Knows Best.” I had my brother-in-law James answer some questions about the baby in advance and we all had to guess his answers. The questions I asked:

Will the baby be a boy or a girl?
Do you want the baby to be a boy or a girl?
Will the baby be born with a lot of hair?
If Jenny had no say, what would you name the baby?
If you had no say, what would Jenny name the baby?
Will you or Jenny be the disciplinarian?
Will you or Jenny be the first one to hear the baby cry at night?
Out of every 10 diapers, how many will you change?
What personality trait do you hope the baby will inherit from Jenny?What personality trait do you hope the baby will inherit from you?
Bonus: What sport will the baby play in high school?

Jenny did impressively well; the rest of us did not. Here is the little prize stash I picked out from the dollar bins at Michael’s.

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I also made a burlap bunting that Jenny can now hang in the nursery — “baaaby sherwood,” get it?

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The food was simple — chicken salad sandwiches, fruit salad, veggies and spinach dip.

Lamb detail on the bunting was my favorite. It’s just cut out of paper and hot-glued on, as are the letters.

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Lamb cupcakes were homemade by a friend of one of the co-hostesses, and they were divine.

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My mother-in-law found two lamb vases that she received — get this — when James (the dad-to-be) was born(!) and had them filled with beautiful flower arrangements.

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The guest book was fun to work on. I bought a burlap canvas, punched a bunch of circles from three different patterned sheets of scrapbook paper and hot-glued the dots (and some black legs and a head) into a lamb. Nursery art?

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Yes, but also a guest book! Everyone signed their name on a circle to be glued onto the canvas (either on the lamb itself or across the bottom).

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My co-hostess/partner in crime made these cute diaper decorations.

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And one last lamb pun: “Thank Ewe” tags (designed in Photoshop) for the favors, yogurt-covered pretzels tied with burlap strings in these bags.

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The mom-to-be (pictured with my co-hostess) had lots of laughs and (hopefully) felt very loved by the lovely group of ladies who attended.

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Meanwhile, these ruffians had fun at home with the men.

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It was a fun weekend overall, with the shower being the centerpiece. I’ve got a few more party recaps to share with you soon, so look forward to some more fun details!

Toddler Valentine’s Day

In all the hype surrounding the romantic side of Valentine’s Day… gifts, cards, dates, chocolate recipes (especially when you’re planning content for a lifestyle site – I have been living and breathing all of those topics), I had almost forgotten how much fun Valentine’s Day was as a kid.

Disney Princess valentines torn along the dotted lines. Candy hearts. Stickers. A pink hair bow. An exciting whirl of an afternoon slipping cards into your classmates’ decorated shoeboxes.

Peter and I did go out for a nice dinner this year on Valentine’s Day eve. It was romantic and very adult. I tried foie gras. But Friday morning I was reminded how fun and festive the holiday of pink and red is for those to whom a kiss is the thing that makes an owie better and a heart is one of the five shapes you can identify.

We went to a little party with some of Corban’s best buds and their moms. It started with lots of playing – with 11 kids ranging from age 5 months to 5 years it’s more like strangely choreographed chaos interrupted by occasional tears – and eventually moved to craft time for the older kids.

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Yes, Corban is now one of the “older kids.” I don’t know when that happened and why it now seems like he’s always been one.

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They decorated picture frames for their dads with fun Valentine’s Day stickers.

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Then they made drawings to put in the frames.

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Somehow the pictures make this seem like a calm and controlled affair, but it was more like trying to keep a bunch of cats sitting at a table. I’m glad I was able to sneak away to snap some pictures, but crafts with a two-year-old are always very hands-on adventures!

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After Corban completed his frame, he decided to rip all the stickers off and throw them on the floor. I may have done a bit of reconstruction.

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Next on the agenda: cupcakes.

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Not hard to keep kids still for the approximately 2 minutes it takes to eat a cupcake!

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Then, the valentine exchange.

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There are so many cute ideas out there for DIY kid valentines. Oh, the puns! I promised myself I wouldn’t get too ambitious this year, but I wanted Corban to have some sort of hand in what he gave to his friends. Here’s what we ended up making:

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These were very easy to throw together the day before. I made a heart stamp from an empty toilet paper roll and had Corban (admittedly with the help of his nanny, not me) stamp hearts with white paint onto folded pieces of red construction paper.

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Then I filled resealable sandwich bags with about an inch of Valentine’s Day M&Ms…

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…and folded the tops down and stapled the construction paper sandwiched over the bag.

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So simple and fun to put together.

If you’re wondering what little Mara looked like on her first Valentine’s Day… well, I’d be happy to show you.

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Sweet and smiling as usual.

Hope you had as lovely a Valentine’s Day as we did. I’m hoping to get back here with some more updates soon since it’s been a while!

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!

Baptism celebration and easy, make-ahead menu

Mara was baptized on Sunday. Such joy!

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Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Corban talked through our time up front, asking for his “boc,” a.k.a. pacifier. No amount of discreet shh-ing can quiet a toddler who wants to be heard!

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Elmer Sparks photo

After, he got his wish.

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Elmer Sparks photo

We were blessed to have Mara’s grandparents, great-grandparents, aunt and uncles there to share in the occasion.

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Elmer Sparks photo

After the service, we had lunch at our house with a simple, make-ahead menu.

Mara’s baptism lunch:

Since I knew we’d all be arriving back at our house at the same time, and right around lunchtime, I wanted to have everything pretty much ready to go when we walked in the door. The key to making this work? Using the slow cooker, delegating side dish duties and getting the house 100% ready the night before.

Peter’s mom brought her signature dinner rolls. My mom brought the potatoes, ready to just pop in the oven for 20 minutes, and the green beans (haricot verts from Trader Joe’s), which she sautéed in olive oil for about five minutes and tossed with sliced almonds. My grandma brought the appetizers. Their help really made the meal come together easily!

I set the two tables the night before with a simple, fall theme.

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I used my Goodwill mismatched “china,” dollar store placemats, my favorite (er, only) chargers and homemade coffee bean candles.

Just like when Corban was baptized, Peter chose two verses of scripture for Mara. The first, from our perspective. The second, from her perspective. Cards with the verses also went on the table to share with our family.

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3 John: 4: I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in the truth.

Psalm 139: 14: I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are you works; my soul knows it very well.

I also made a point the night before to get out every serving dish, pitcher and utensil that I’d need. That way it was all out on the counter and I wasn’t digging through cabinets when our guests were here.

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The slow cooker Italian beef turned out great – juicy, tender and full of flavor. I mixed all the spices the night before then zombie-walked out of bed at 5 a.m. to put it all in the Crockpot. The recipe is, appropriately, from our church cookbook (and too good not to share so it’s at the bottom of this post).

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I made two easy cocktails, one alcoholic and one not.

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Sparkling Cranberry Punch (left) and Champagne and Cranberry Juice Sparkling Punch. And that’s her birth announcement (more on that in another post) and newborn footprint and handprint in the background.

I also have to mention the cake. I had high hopes for the cake recipe I selected, White Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting from Add a Pinch.

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It’s a triple layer cake, which I had never attempted before. Sadly, I greased my pans but forgot to flour them, so one of my layers would not come out of the pan, and ended up in a huge pile.

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Fortunately, I was able to piece it together as the middle layer, and you really couldn’t tell the difference! Unfortunately, my layers didn’t seem to rise as much as the photo at Add a Pinch, so while I thought the cake had an excellent flavor, the texture was denser than it should have been. There also wasn’t quite enough frosting to cover all my messy crumbs from the jumbled layers.

Despite its imperfections, we enjoyed the cake and I have had no trouble polishing off the leftover pieces over the past few days.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon enjoying time with family and, of course, enjoying lots of Mara snuggles.

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I was in love with her little outfit and didn’t want to take it off her at the end of the day.

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How wonderful it is to be able to celebrate God’s covenant to us and publicly welcome Mara into our church family.

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Slow Cooker Italian Beef
Makes 14-18 servings

6 pounds boneless chuck or rump roast
1 packet onion soup mix
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning (I used a pinch each of basil, oregano and parsley)
1/2 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt
1 teaspoon Ac’cent (I didn’t know what this was so I used Mrs. Dash — don’t ask why I own that…)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 to 1 cup water

Place meat in slow cooker, sprinkle spice mixture over it and add water. Cook on low 8 hours. When beef is done, slice or shred and leave in juices (the longer it sits, the better it tastes) until serving on buns.